Thursday, 29 June 2006

For the love of God (21): Why I love Colin Gunton

A guest-post by Douglas Knight

The truth of the God of Jesus Christ is its own reward. Communication of that truth makes for joy and a life well lived—a second reward. Colin Gunton taught me this.

Colin Gunton showed that the doctrine of God is not only about the truth of God. It also secures our own identity, our worth and our responsible freedom as children of God. The temptation to aspire to something we mistakenly identify as greater than created humanity makes us less than human. The truth that we are not God, but creatures of God—the doctrine of creation—is the really great gift of the Christian faith to the world. This is why Gunton focused on these two doctrines: God and creation.

Gunton taught that we creatures are able to know God because the Holy Spirit enables us to confess Jesus, who confesses God the Father. Often quoting Irenaeus to say that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father, Gunton showed that the doctrine of the Trinity provides us with a doctrine of mediation—God himself is not only the (christological) content but the (pneumatological) medium and bearer of that content. He argued that God is now at work making possible not only our worship and knowledge of him, but also our recognition of one another. God is the means by which I may see you for who you are, and let you become what God intends you to be—a unique and particular person.

In the years Colin Gunton taught systematic theology at Kings College, London, worldwide interest in trinitarian theology grew dramatically. Postgraduates would come to Colin to study Barth and other heroes of the Reformed tradition, but with him they also discovered the Church Fathers and learned how to think across the whole Christian dogmatic tradition.

In the weekly seminar, Colin hosted an intense encounter of ideas. With the first-timers he always wrestled through the issues again and found better ways to frame them, forever expressing delight in the richness of the Christian tradition. We would arrive with the patronizing assumption that we moderns have discovered crises of previously unknown complexity, but in seminar after seminar Colin would enable us to see that such self-consciously “modern” theology was self-deluding. It is much more likely that we have to catch up with the intellectual rigor of previous generations of Christian thinkers.

The result was not only Gunton’s powerful written work, but students who could think for themselves precisely because they could faithfully listen to what many generations of Christians had been saying. We who knew Colin Gunton are grateful to God for him.

[Note: Thanks to Colin Gunton’s widow for providing this photo.]

8 Comments:

kim fabricius said...

Beautiful, Douglas.

I knew Colin as a ministerial colleague in the United Reformed Church, and we worked together for several years on the URC's Doctrine and Worship Committee. Christoph Schwöbel was with us at the time too. The meetings were great - the table-talk over beers in the evening even better!

After D & W we seldom met up - Swansea is a long way from London - but we corresponded several times. To coin a phrase (yours!), Colin always had "time and hospitality" for you. I sent him some hymns I had written for his honest opinion just a few weeks before he died. Alas, Colin never got around to responding. His approval would have meant much more even than the subsequent publication of some of my work.

I fianlly got around to reading the second volume of Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology earlier this year. Jenson, of course, was a mentor of Colin's. Jenson approvingly cites Jonathan Edward's vision of heaven as "a society in the highest degree happy . . . sweetly singing to each other." It made me think of Colin, enjoying the "great fugue".

Terry said...

I studied under Colin as an undergraduate back in the mid-90s. At the time, I never realised just how insightful his theology was. Only years later do I now realise that there was so much more I could have learnt from him had I paid more attention in class! On the few times I had one-to-one conversation with him, I found him to be truly gracious and eager to listen to my questions.

Without wishing to sound sappy, not least because if anything we were acquaintances and not 'friends' like Douglas and Richard, I miss him.

byron said...

Thanks Douglas - I am one of many who dreamt of a PhD with Gunton, only to be rudely awoken by his death. Reading The Triune Creator and The Promise of Trinitarian Theology were some of the best things I've done in the last few years. And thanks particularly for raising the importance of contingency in creation.

Douglas Knight said...

Andy Goodliff (http://andygoodliff.typepad.com/my_weblog/colin_gunton/index.html) has a great little series ‘Gunton on…’ various topics - capitalism, fundamentalism, modernity, and another on Gunton’s theological heroes – Barth, Owen, Irving and the gang.

Anonymous said...

His work is definitely commendable and... a blessing to the academia as well was to a person merely seeking more knowledge about God.

I am reading the The Christian Faith and it is amazingly insightful. Can anyone tell me how Dr. Gunton passed? I see infomormation online about when he passed but I did not see any documentation stating how.

Douglas Knight said...

Andy Goodliff (http://andygoodliff.typepad.com/my_weblog/colin_gunton/index.html) has a great little series ‘Gunton on…’ various topics - capitalism, fundamentalism, modernity, and another on Gunton’s theological heroes – Barth, Owen, Irving and the gang.

Terry said...

I studied under Colin as an undergraduate back in the mid-90s. At the time, I never realised just how insightful his theology was. Only years later do I now realise that there was so much more I could have learnt from him had I paid more attention in class! On the few times I had one-to-one conversation with him, I found him to be truly gracious and eager to listen to my questions.

Without wishing to sound sappy, not least because if anything we were acquaintances and not 'friends' like Douglas and Richard, I miss him.

byron said...

Thanks Douglas - I am one of many who dreamt of a PhD with Gunton, only to be rudely awoken by his death. Reading The Triune Creator and The Promise of Trinitarian Theology were some of the best things I've done in the last few years. And thanks particularly for raising the importance of contingency in creation.

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