Thursday 28 January 2016

Sonderegger and Coakley: an update on the current state of systematic theology

The systematicians are systematising again. The last two years have seen a considerable number of new systematic/dogmatic works appear. At AAR last year, it was difficult to turn around in the book halls without bumping into a new systematic project or dogmatic cycle. Brian Gerrish has written an enticing little one-volume dogmatics, somewhat modelled on Schleiermacher and Barth. Similarly, Anthony Thiselton has released a single-volume systematics to the world.

But, without a doubt, the most interesting of these new projects is Katherine Sonderegger’s new systematics that launched last year with her volume on the doctrine of God. (I wrote briefly about it before its release here). Sonderegger’s theology is perplexing, edifying, mildly inexact, and undeniably true all at once. One afternoon in Atlanta, a friend (Chris Green) summarised perfectly the uniqueness of Sonderegger’s work: more than Sarah Coakley, she succeeds at talking about God rather than talking about talking about God.

Coakley, of course, is the other great creative systematic theologian of today. Which is why the latest issue of IJST should be of interest. Sonderegger has written a review essay of God, Sexuality, and the Self. The review is almost purple with admiration and appreciation for Coakley’s work, but Sonderegger also gently asks some interesting methodological questions of théologie totale. Is there room in Coakley’s work for the creature to be a creature, Sonderegger wonders. “The method outlined here coordinates the infinite with the finite closely and essentially, such that the logical subject of all finite being could be just the infinite” (p. 96). Sonderegger wants to know precisely how Coakley moves so seamlessly from experience to divinity. Has a collapse occurred? Reading Coakley, one would suspect not, but I think the question remains: can théologie totale accomodate the questioning of whether experience should inform the doctrine of God, or is this very questioning discounted by the method itself? If we cannot ask these questions, can we speak of God as a se? Sonderegger is hoping for more clues in the next volume.

As much fun as it is to read a new systematics, it is even more fun to see two solar systems colliding. I wouldn't mind more Sonderegger in Coakley's analytical and experience-driven theology. But at the same time I wouldn't mind seeing more Coakley in Sonderegger's abstracting prayerful theology. I look forward to discovering what collisions occur in their future volumes.

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