Wednesday 14 June 2006

For the love of God (14): Why I love Kathryn Tanner

A guest-post by Chris Tessone

“[In the Incarnation], God is doing what God is always doing, attempting to give all that God is to what is not God” (Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, p. 15).

This conviction about the constant, unconditional grace of God lies at the center of Kathryn Tanner’s theology. There is no moment at which God chooses to withhold the constant stream of grace from creation—it is part of God’s identity that God wishes to share with humanity and the rest of the world all that is shared between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This leads Tanner to some tremendous conclusions.

First, this universal access to grace leads her to stress the importance of non-competitive economies of grace in human life. If the Divine wishes to bring us into the shared life of the Trinity no matter what short-comings we bring, this should radically transform our relations with one another. In her most recent book, Economy of Grace (2005), Tanner expands this to include financial economies that are non-competitive or that seek to distribute wealth downward, to the neediest and the least in society.

Her theology is also deeply Eucharistic, highlighting the role of the Eucharist in training us to accept and freely distribute the grace of God. “[T]he character and quality of our union with Christ must be bettered, heightened from weak union to strong, for example, through the repeated performance of the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit.” This permits us to “live in God and not simply in relationship with God,” sharing the grace we receive in a profligate manner, not worrying that it will be diminished or wasted on the “undeserving.” One reason I love Tanner’s theology is that this understanding of the Eucharist speaks more directly to my experience of it than any other I’ve encountered.

Kathryn Tanner’s theology is located at a very fruitful “sweet spot” between the mystical and the exoteric; the church of the Eucharist and the church of social justice; our powerful, transcendent God and our intimate, immanent God. Her central concepts of profligate grace and non-competitiveness can challenge and transform our deeply divided church of today.


Anonymous said...

I read Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity (2001) when it came out, and I admired the directness and comprehensiveness of its vision and the centrality of grace in it. Then I put Tanner mentally aside until a few weeks ago when Ben mentioned that someone would be doing an "I Love . . ." post on her. So I thought, Let's get up to speed, and ordered The Politics of God (1992) and Economy of Grace (2005). I have just read pp. 62ff. of the latter, on God's promiscuous love and excessive grace, with its implications both for economy and atonement. I was blown away.
I was in a cafe at the time. I felt like shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" (as in When Harry Met Sally)!

Splendid post. To steal an image from Tanner's framework, right on the money! Thanks.


Ben Myers said...

I found out recently that Kathryn Tanner gave a lecture on the economy of grace here in Brisbane last year. Somehow I didn't know about it at the time—so, needless to say, I'm terribly disappointed that I missed out on hearing her in person!

David Williamson said...

This is such a great series. There must be the potential for a book!

Anonymous said...

I was in a cafe at the time. I felt like shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

I know exactly what you mean, Kim. Reading her has been a revelation! :-)

(Now I need to get down to reading The Politics of God and her book on culture...)

guanilo said...


Excellent post. Tanner is brilliant on the 'non-competitive relation' of God and humanity, and does very nice work on christology in the brief ST (finally a Western Protestant recovering the incarnation itself as a soteriological category!).

One question - what do you make of her eschatology? I'd be curious to hear your perspective, as it's certainly the most problematic point in her theology.

Kyle said...

I particularly like this sentence:

Kathryn Tanner’s theology is located at a very fruitful “sweet spot” between the mystical and the exoteric; the church of the Eucharist and the church of social justice; our powerful, transcendent God and our intimate, immanent God.

All I can say is, yep, yep, that's our Prof. Tanner.

Anonymous said...

Gaunilo, I'm curious what you find problematic about her eschatology. I have to admit, it's a topic I'm really under-educated on. (That and atonement—the later is what I'm trying to focus my summer and fall reading on.)

I like the way her eschatology grows so organically out of her orientation toward ultimately subsisting in God. I personally am not terribly interested in the notion of an historical end times (that is, an end times that will exist within history at some future point). I also find her emphasis on the permeability of the barrier between life and death really positive. However, she's really vague about what precisely is happening there (other than that the dead continue to be in relation to the world and to God), which is frustrating.

That's a really long non-answer answer. :-)

guanilo said...

Hey Chris, thanks.. I ask because I and several colleagues have had several conversations about the last chapter and I'm genuinely curious about the kind of reaction people have. My main complaint is precisely the vaguery you point to - it reads very much (to me) like she's avoiding coming out and saying that the resurrection is simply a poetic mode of description for an eternal existence in God's memory, which seems to me to be the import of her argument.

I'm influenced sufficiently by the C20 eschatology revival to highlight the resurrection as a central claim of Christian theology, and that's one issue, but my real frustration is precisely what you allude to.

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