Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. – Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the Key, by Kathryn Tanner



Christ the Key (Current Issues in Theology) 1st Edition
by Kathryn Tanner
Through the intensely intimate relationship that arises between God and humans in the incarnation of the Word in Christ, God gives us the gift of God's own life. This simple claim provides the basis for Kathryn Tanner's powerful study of the centrality of Jesus Christ for all Christian thought and life: if the divine and the human are united in Christ, then Jesus can be seen as key to the pattern that organizes the whole, even while God's ways remain beyond our grasp. Drawing on the history of Christian thought to develop an innovative Christ-centered theology, this book sheds fresh light on major theological issues such as the imago dei, the relationship between nature and grace, the Trinity's implications for human community, and the Spirit's manner of working in human lives. Originally delivered as Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, it offers a creative and compelling contribution to contemporary theology.


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Christ the Key

reviewed by Lois Malcolm
August 2, 2010

How is God involved in our lives? We often have difficulty answering this question. And when we do answer it, our ideas tend to be simplistic. We either think of God as an alien, almost magical force that immediately and directly intervenes in our lives, or we think of God as an enhancement—a better and larger version—of our natural capacities. Throughout her writing, theologian Kathryn Tanner, who recently joined the Yale Divinity School faculty, has provided us with more nuanced understandings of God’s activity.

In Christ the Key, she presents a theological vision based on the premise that God gives the fullness of God’s own life to us through Christ. Although she draws on Neoplatonic strands of early Christian theology, her approach is eclectic (for example, Karl Barth is also an important, if implicit, influence). Her intent is to exercise a “creative deployment” of the history of Christian thought in order to help us better understand how Christ is key to what God is doing everywhere. She then uses this vision to open new ways of approaching “otherwise tired theological topics.”



 Yale University Bio

Professor Tanner joined the Yale Divinity School faculty in 2010 after teaching at the University of Chicago Divinity School for fifteen years and in Yale’s Department of Religious Studies for ten. Her research relates the history of Christian thought to contemporary issues of theological concern using social, cultural, and feminist theory. She is the author of God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Blackwell, 1988); The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Fortress, 1992); Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Fortress, 1997); Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Fortress, 2001); Economy of Grace (Fortress, 2005); Christ the Key (Cambridge, 2010); and scores of scholarly articles and chapters in books that include The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, which she edited with John Webster and Iain Torrance. She serves on the editorial boards of Modern Theology, International Journal of Systematic Theology, and Scottish Journal of Theology, and is a former coeditor of the Journal of Religion. Active in many professional societies, Professor Tanner is a past president of the American Theological Society, the oldest theological society in the United States. For eight years she has been a member of the Theology Committee that advises the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops. In the academic year 2010–2011, she has a Luce Fellowship and will be on leave researching financial markets and the critical perspectives that Christian theology can bring to bear on them.

Read an article about Professor Tanner here: http://divinity.yale.edu/news/kathryn-tanner-constructing-theological-economy-transform-global-capitalism


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I heart Kathryn Tanner’s Christocentric Christology!


by Tripp Fuller, November 2, 2010


Kathryn Tanner’s newest book is an impressive, creative, and inspiring work of theology.  It brings to life the historic conversation within the tradition around Jesus and enlivens it with her keen sensitivity to the present challenges we are facing as a church.  I have no idea how many posts I will get out on the book but here’s my attempt to get heart of the book….a book you should just read for yourself! Ohh there is a podcast with her coming your way this Advent!!!

In Christ the Key she intends to display the force of her most central theological commitment, that God desires to give humanity the fullness of God’s own life in deepest way possible – through Christ.  For her Christ is indeed the key but in a very specific way.  It is through God’s participation with us and for us in the hypostatic union that all of humanity comes to participate and share in the divine life.  The nature of the human, the trinity, God-World relationship, atonement, and whole host of other theological topics are developed out of this central thesis such that from her account of the incarnation unfolds more than simply her Christology.

No concept has as much interpretive power in Tanner’s account than participation.  Throughout her description the work of the Cappadocian Fathers and Gregory of Nyssa in particular play an essential role.  From them she is able to appropriate a modified Platonist vision  of participation in which all particular human beings participate in the human being par excellence, Jesus Christ the image of God.  In contrast to a more traditional Platonist scheme, a strict ontological divide is placed between the Creator and creaturely reality.  Because there is a strict dichotomy between the two there cannot be “an ontological continuum spanning the difference between God and creatures” (18).  Instead it is the Christological commitments fashioned in response to the Arian controversy that reveal a two-fold participatory relationship between the creature and their Creator, both of which take as their origin the eternal Son.  The Son is both the Word from whom all creation comes and the incarnate one in whom the perfect union and image of God is given to the world.  Creaturely existence which is composite and has being only through participation in that which it is not leads Tanner to distinguish between weak and strong participation, both of which are divine works of grace originating in the Son.

Weak participation is our givenness as a creature of God brought forth from the Word.  Prior to the act of creation what we receive preexists in God the Word and our coming into being is then a movement that originates in God, making our image-bearing identity something we do not possess but derived from our participation in the Word, the image of the invisible and incomprehensible God.  This weak form of participation, while not our own, is part of our created identity before God.  Strong participation, in Tanner’s mind, is our coming to participate in what we are not, namely God.  This intense form of participation took place and is made possible through the incarnation in Jesus Christ.  Here in this particular human being God was redemptively present in a unique way with a universal horizon.  As Tanner puts it, “Jesus, in so far as he is divine, does not just have the divine image within himself through participation but is it” (35).  In Christ his humanity shared fully in the derivative dignity of humanity, its weak participation, and yet because of Christ’s divinity God’s own being is given and shared with humanity as a whole.  Through the Word’s incarnation “the Word has us in a new way and that means we can have the Word in a new way” beyond the previously available possibilities (36).  The hypostatic union is the means by which the ontological gap between the Creator and God’s creatures is bridged.  This makes the life of Jesus more than simply a model of the perfectly faithful human being but neither is the life of Jesus relegated to the neglected preface of God’s redemption through the cross and resurrection.  Through the dynamism of her two forms of participation she is able to follow Athanasius who saw that the Word is known both in the act of creation and redemption through his work.  In Augustinian fashion, the eyes of faith are necessary to see the incomprehensible God present in Jesus.  In fact, for Tanner seeing in faith does not mean comprehension but participation for in being one with Christ, “incomprehensible in his divinity, we take on the very incomprehensibility of the divine rather than simply running after it, working to reproduce it in human terms” (56).  Through the uniting of humanity and divinity in the one human Jesus, he becomes both the pattern and the cause of a new form of reconciled human life – a human life that participates by grace in the divine life.

Having established both forms of human participation in God as derivative from the Son it follows that her Christology would be centered in an exploration of the nature of grace.  Here the intricacy of her ground breaking account come to the fore.  One way of setting the stage for the contribution of her work is by considering how she is able to weave the Christological concerns of the Cappadocians together with the Reformers.  Of course the centrality of grace for Christology is vintage Protestantism, yet her incarnational approach allows her to nest it within the cosmological frame of the Cappadocians.  How she accomplishes this becomes clear in her account of the human predicament.

For Tanner it is nature and not sin that is the primary place of departure for understanding the character of grace.  Human beings are images of God by grace and not by nature.  This difference is important for distinguishing humanity from the eternal Son and incarnate Christ.  Only Christ is the image of God by nature and we were created to participate in God.  The human predicament is not then, our failure to live up to the potential that was rightfully ours in our own nature, namely being a sinner before God.  Humans “cannot be the image in virtue of the human nature with which we were created.  Grace is necessary to make us strong images of God because our nature as human creatures is incapable of doing so” (59).  Our coming to strongly participate in the divine life comes through God’s own free loving initiative that was present in our creation through the Word and redemption through the incarnation.  It is hard to exaggerate how this shifting of the human predicament from sin to nature transforms her account of grace.  The problem is not humanity’s fallen status because of our participation in sinful humanity.  Grace is not God’s creative response to a failed and fallen project.  Instead we are given grace through our originating status as beings from God created to live before God.  One could say that Tanner’s redemption story from creation to consummation could be summed up as ‘grace upon grace.’

The removal of sin is not key to the Christological metanarrative of grace, it is God’s initiative and intention to bring a creature into existence who could come to participate in God’s essence.  That humans are not divine yet created for it is the predicament in which the grace of God’s strong participation with us in Christ is best understood.  As Tanner puts is plainly, connecting the two works of grace, “humans have to be given God in addition to being given themselves” and it is in Christ that both God and humanity are one so it follows that “the grace of God in Christ becomes the highest way of addressing the impediment to God’s design posed by creation, irrespective of any problem of sin” (60).  Important to note here is how Tanner’s account of grace does not require sin to create the conditions for its coming.  In differentiating her grace laden account from the Catholic view of the nature-grace relationship she restates the function of grace by distinguishing it from a continuum view.  In a world where sin is present there can exist a continuum between humans and their natural responsiveness to God, yet “there cannot be any such continuum between God and creatures.  Grace that takes the form of the gift of God’s own presence is for this reason never anything less than unexacted” (133).  Human nature cannot exist apart from grace and its coming is not a supplement to what was already present precisely because it was created from and for grace – participation in God.  The human, even one in sin, is not in the process of overcoming what they have become to become what they are not.  The human is in the process of receiving the fullness of the divine life that God chooses to freely give in Christ.  Here one becomes exactly what one is, God’s.  Human nature differs then from other animals because its nobility comes not from being itself apart from God but by being itself before God.  It is constitutive of our very nature to adhere to the goodness of God for our ultimate value depends on something outside ourselves (139).

If human nature is given in grace and completed in grace then specific attention needs to be given as to how both of these acts of grace are given.  On multiple occasions Tanner uses a helpful distinction by differentiating between conceptions of participation that inhere within the human and those that adhere.  Even in the above discussion about humanity’s weak participation in God as creatures Tanner consistently wants all our goodness to come from adhering to God.  This distinction being employed even the account of our created status clearly serves to emphasize the nature of grace but more than that it enables her to make the connection between the Cappadocians and the Reformers more robust.  By centering the story of redemption on the transformation of human nature rather than the conquering of sin, Tanner is echoing the theological heart beat of Gregory of Nyssa and yet this peculiar grace laced account enables her to speak it in the accent of Luther.

For Tanner in both creation and redemption it is the divine that is being given to us so it must never “become some kind of ‘inherent form,’ some odd but still human quality of a supernaturally elevated sort.”  No it “remains the power of the divinity itself, made ours by clinging to what we are not.  Rather than being inherent in us, this power merely adheres to us in virtue of that clinging” (104).  The goodness given by the Word in creation and redemption is properly alien to us, the pure gift of divine participation.  Grace is not the result of a process with incremental improvement but a disjunctive leap to a different condition.  Just as the creature is given their existence in a free decision of grace from God, so too is our redemption an act of God’s grace that brings what we lack by nature.  Humans are no more responsible for their recreation in Christ than they are for their creation from the Word.  Our divinity is always external to our nature, an adherent to our being that comes from God by grace.  By making that which is divine in the human an adherent our human nature remains unchanged under the effects of sin.  Our corruption is not the corruption of what we were but the loss of what we are not (65).  Here her previously developed anthropology that emphasized a natural openness, malleability, and plasticity in the world bears theological fruit.  If sin does not entail the transformation of human nature then to what is sin directed?  For Tanner it is the status of the divine power within us that is the focus.  By locating sin’s distorting effects to our environment “our operations are corrupted because sin alters what is available in our surroundings for our proper nourishment.  Without any disease or damage to our natural capacities, we are poisoned or polluted from without, because of what we have done to the only environment suitable for us” (68).  If the human is by nature in need of divine nourishment then a different environment substantially alters the human’s relationship with God and World without altering human nature (42).  In this way Tanner is able to affirm both total depravity and the preservation of our created nature in spite of sin.

The final observation to make about the nature of Tanner’s grace led Christology is how the incarnation of God in Christ is able to transform our human nature.  Tanner is clear that “the incarnation is for the sake of human redemption,” which means it is “not to give the Word a human shape but to bring about an altered manner of human existence, one realizing on the human plane the very mode of existence of the second person of the trinity” (147).  The incarnation ultimately serves neither a pedagogical intention of God nor a preparatory purpose but is “the primary mechanism of atonement” (252).  Humanity, sinful through the hardening of our hearts to God’s influence we become closed off to God.  In a sense our weak participation in God is weakened as we more openly embrace our sin-filled environment.  Sin’s influence on the individual is dramatic.  For Tanner sin’s solution is not a return to a more open human nature, through a renewal of our weak participation, but the completely new way in which the Word and Spirit are ours in Christ.  For this reason the human needs from God precisely what it cannot do for itself in two respects.  The human needs both its sinful context changed so that it can freely love God and it remains in need of a new nature so that it may participate in the God.  The hypostatic union is the context in which Tanner sees both acts take place.  In Christ the attachment of humanity to the divine is closer, stronger, and categorically different than that which is available to the human nature alone.  Jesus’ relationship to the divine is not simply one of radical human faithfulness and devotion to the divine but the humanity’s assumption “into the unity with the second person of the trinity to form a single person; a hypostatic union” (71).  To be clear about the nature of the divine initiative in the incarnation Tanner emphasizes how the hypostatic unity is a precondition for the life of Jesus and the means by which both sin’s influence can be negated and the human nature transformed.  Because it is precisely God who is acting in Christ, all of humanity is transformed.  Tanner compares the gain humanity makes through Christ as “comparable to the natural connection that the Word enjoys with other members of the trinity” (73).  Because Christ is attached to us in virtue of the humanity he shares with us, we share in the divinity that he participates in.  Justification then is “a matter of the incarnation and of the divine powers possessed by the humanity of Christ in virtue of that unity with the Word.  Sanctification refers to what happens to the humanity of Christ on that basis over the course of his life and death” (99).  In Christ we receive the gift of God’s own life and its impact both justifies us and enables us to participate in Jesus’ own sanctification.  Tanner’s vision has this thoroughly Protestant chant of grace and yet it is amplified through connecting to the cosmic vision of the Cappadocians.  The individual Christian indeed comes to know God through God’s benefits and yet God’s gracious intention has always been to give all creatures the fullness of God’s own life and this story swallows sin, defeats death, and transforms our nature.


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I heart Kathryn Tanner’s Christocentric Christology!


by Tripp Fuller
March 14, 2011

Kathryn Tanner has written (at least personally) the most compelling, creative, and constructive Christology in a long time. This interview was actually conducted in person by Philip Clayton.  They were both students together at Yale as the ‘Yale School’ was in its formative period.  Being friends and familiar with each others’ work makes for a fun conversation.

A while back I wrote a review of her Christology, Christ the Key, here.  You can check out all her books (and get Christ the Key) here.

The book itself came out of a series of lectures she gave at Princeton.  Bloggers showed up and got a clickin’ Lecture I, Lecture II, Lecture III, Lecture IV, Lecture V, Lecture VI, Memoria Dei has a series of posts that go through the book and there is a brief post on theopolitical. She is also loved at Faith and Theology!

Audio Player


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Christ the Key – Book Review
Laurie Theology Papers

This book review — Christ the Key (Current Issues in Theology) by Kathryn Tanner — is part of my coursework for my Master of Theological Studies degree. I’m studying at Regent College in Vancouver, BC; this summer I took a week-long intensive course called THEO 500: Theology 

Overview.

Here’s the course description of THEO 500: “In a postmodern age marked by suspicion of truth, it is all the more important to be rooted in the essential teachings of the Christian faith. Deepen your faith and your understanding with this systematic survey of the basic elements of Christian doctrine. Investigate the biblical foundation and historical context of theological truths, considering their implications today. Leave equipped to bear witness to Christ more effectively wherever you are.”

The course description may not sound appealing, but I learned so much about the history of the church — beginning with Justin Martyr, who lived 100 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ! I wouldn’t recommend taking a dense course like Theology Overview in a week (like I did); you don’t have a chance to absorb the information. That said, however, this book review of Christ the Key and the take-home exam weren’t due for six weeks after the week-long class lectures ended. So, there was time to sink into the two textbooks (Christian Theology: An Introduction and The Christian Theology Reader, both by Alistair McGrath)…but not enough class time to discuss the difficult theological concepts.

I’m sharing this book review (as well as my other academic theology papers and Christian writing) here on Echoing Jesus to help divinity and theology students in their own work. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below; this is my second Master’s degree, so I’m an experienced undergrad and grad university student!

Christ the Key by Kathryn Tanner — Book Review

In this book review I briefly explore some of Kathryn Tanner’s arguments and insights in Christ the Key – Current Issues in Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2010). I begin with a glimpse into Tanner’s theological tradition and primary sources, then critically analyze her thesis.

I describe how and why I believe Christ the Key succeeds (a point of affirmation), then suggest how the book is lacking and what might improve it (a point of criticism). Finally, I end with a personal reflection on how Christ the Key relates to my theological context.

a) Theological tradition and primary sources

Tanner is currently the Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. According to YaleNews’ announcement of her new position in January 2011, Tanner is a “proponent of ‘constructive theology,’ focusing on how Christian thought might be brought to bear on contemporary issues of theological concern using social, cultural and feminist theory” (Kathryn Tanner is appointed the Frederick Marquand Professor). She is a past president of the American Theological Society and has been a member of the Episcopal Church’s Theology Committee, which advises the Episcopal House of Bishops, for over 15 years. 

Christ the Key is Tanner’s sequel to Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity — a brief systematic theology that discussed early Christian accounts of Jesus, his significance for today, the ethical and political implications, and the eschatology in Christ. According to Tanner, the central theological vision of both books is the same: 

“God wants to give us the fullness of God’s own life through the closest possible relationship with us as that comes to completion in Christ. In the incarnation one finds the immediate convergence of the most disparate things — God and humanity suffering under the weight of sin and death — as the means by which the goods of God’s own life are to be conveyed to us in fulfillment of God’s original intentions for us” (vii). 

This thesis isn’t easy to summarize in a sentence or two, which is why Tanner wrote a whole book! I didn’t fully understand everything she wrote, but I believe she argues that Jesus Christ’s incarnation, fully man and fully divine and through the animating power of the Holy Spirit, is the cornerstone of God’s plans for an intimate and intense relationship with humans. I need a second close reading of Christ the Key to discern exactly how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection fits into this picture. Tanner’s primary sources in Christ the Key are early church theologians such as Augustine, Athanasius, Aquinas, Cyril of Alexandria and (especially) Gregory of Nyssa.

b) Critical analysis of Tanner’s thesis

As far as I can tell — given my ignorance of early theologians and church history, complicated by Tanner’s dense academic writing and depth of education and experience — she does frame her thesis well. Each chapter (Human nature, Grace, Trinitarian life, Politics, Death and sacrifice, and The working of the Spirit) points to her argument that “When the Genesis verses (1:27 and 5:1) say that human beings are created in the image of God that means, not that human beings have something in them that images God, but simply that they were made for a relationship with God, one perfected in Christ” (vii). 

While Christ the Key revolves around the seemingly simple idea of humans participating in a personal relationship with God, Tanner dives deep into both sides of theological debates that have been argued for centuries. For example, she devotes two chapters to grace, human nature, and the conflicting perspectives of Catholics and Protestants. She describes and attempts to reconcile the difference between East and West views of the Trinity. She even explores a Trinitarian approach to current political and economic systems. Yet underlying the debates, and at the end of each chapter, Tanner keeps pointing back to Christ as the key to our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit, and fellow human beings.

This sentence early in the book represents her work: “The problem that stands in the way of our being strong images of God and that grace remedies primarily has to do with human nature and not sin. We cannot receive the highest good that God wants to give us, the good of God’s own life, while remaining mere creatures” (60). That sentence contains several issues that theologians have wrestled with and argued about for almost 2,000 years: imaging God, grace, human nature, sin, God’s own life, God’s highest good for human life, and sinful humanity. Throughout the book Tanner weaves her thoughts on these issues with quotes from a variety of early church theologians.

Because Tanner quotes snippets of writing from many theologians on several complicated issues, it’s difficult to know — without reading their original work or knowing much about their theologies — if their words are quoted appropriately. Sometimes she disagreed with them, such as Irenaeus’ view of immature humanity (34) and von Balthasar on the obedience of a subordinate as characteristic of Jesus’ relationship with the Father (187). Often I couldn’t tell if Tanner was disagreeing with people, such as in Politics when she said the theological judgements of the proper relationship between individual and community seem (italics mine) very easy and clear-cut (207). Her preceding sentence contained names such as Moltmann, Zizioulas, Volf, Boff and LaCugna; I presume Tanner was implying that their ideas for the establishment of human society were easier in theory than practice (which she does make clear later in the chapter).

d) Affirmation

Tanner explored many complicated, crucial theological issues in Christianity. Most of the concepts were academic, theoretical, and abstract — but her chapter on Trinitarian life was surprisingly applicable to my own perspective of and relationship with the Trinity. She explored the ongoing relationship between God, the Son and the Holy Spirit as a continual rhythm or cycle of ascension and descension. “The Spirit sent out to us makes it possible for us to enter into the Trinitarian movements and follow along their own circuit of descent and ascent. The Spirit enables us first to ascend or return to the Father as Christ does with him” (197). I found Tanner’s further description of how God draws and keeps us in relationship with the Trinity deeply moving spiritually, emotionally, and practically. Not only did Tanner thoroughly explain God’s relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit, she also made it meaningful.

e) Criticism

It’s hard for me to say what Christ the Key is lacking because this book and Tanner herself are so far beyond my scope of knowledge, education, and experience! I’m way out of my depth. I hadn’t even heard of Athanasius or Gregory of Nyssa until last month. 

That said, however, I was disappointed by the Politics chapter. I wasn’t surprised to read a chapter on political systems in a book written by a constructive theologian; I was dismayed by how much time and space Tanner dedicated to arguing against the application of the Trinity to socio-political systems. The idea of a Trinitarian model in politics seems like a fantasy, though I gather it’s been explored in depth by scholars. It just seems impractical and unbelievable — even to Tanner herself. “My first caveat about appeals to the trinity for socio-political purposes has to do with the inflated claims made for the trinity in contemporary political theology. Many contemporary theological over-estimate the progressive political potential of the trinity” (208). 

Instead of arguing against political theologians such as Moltmann and Boff, I wish Tanner had reflected on realistic applications of the Trinity to human relationships in society today. How do Christians reflect the Trinity when they have no political, economic, or social power? Instead of imagining or imposing an economic structure, how do we reveal the Trinity from within and underneath?

f) Reflection

Reading Christ the Key — even though I didn’t understand most of it — was an excellent way to conclude my coursework and prepare for future Regent courses. Tanner’s references to early church theologians reinforced what I read in McGrath’s books and heard in class lectures. She pulled together threads of grace, atonement, incarnation, trinitarianism, sacrifice, death and resurrection. I was particularly pleased to read her thoughts on the East and West’s differences regarding the Trinity — a question I tackled in the take-home exam! Unfortunately, I read Christ the Key after writing the exam so didn’t benefit from her reconciliation of the two perspectives.

I’m not sure how Christ the Key fits into my theological context, but I value Tanner’s reflection on her own writing process. In an interview she said: “I’m trying to do something with the history of Christian thought that is comparable to what Christians have often done with the Psalms…read them over and over again and incorporate that language, that discourse, that way of looking at things. You make it part of your own way of looking at things, and then you extend it” (Christ the Key with Kathryn Tanner podcast interview with Tripp Fuller on Homebrewed Christianity).

Tanner added that she was doing a “thought experiment” with Christ the Key. She was playing with, living into, and writing about ideas to shock and startle readers. She wanted to take concepts to the extreme and push them to see what would happen. 

“How far can I get with this idea?” Tanner asked herself…and then she went as far as she could. I admire this, partly because Tanner participates in the Episcopal Church’s Theology Committee and teaches at Yale University. She’s pushing the theological envelope, yet she’s accountable to communities. As a fledging theological student, that may be my most valuable take-home lesson.

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Your thoughts, big and little, are welcome below. If you’re thinking about going to grad school — whether or not you’re considering a theology degree — you might find How to Get Into Grad School helpful.

In peace and passion,

Laurie

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Bibliography

Fuller, Tripp. “Christ the Key with Kathryn Tanner.” Homebrewed Christianity, Podcast audio,March 14, 2011. https://trippfuller.com/2011/03/14/christ-the-key-with-kathryn-tanner-homebrewed-christianity-92/ (accessed July 2, 2019). 

Tanner, Kathryn. Christ the Key. Current Issues in Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Yale University. “Kathryn Tanner is appointed the Frederick Marquand Professor.” https://news.yale.edu/2011/01/21/kathryn-tanner-appointed-frederick-marquand-professor (accessed July 6, 2019).


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Christ the Key

January 2011 | Toronto Journal of Theology 27(1):141-142
DOI: 10.1353/tjt.2011.0009

by Christopher Holmes

Holmes, Christopher. (2011). Christ the Key (review). Toronto Journal of Theology. 27. 141-142. 10.1353/tjt.2011.0009. Kathryn Tanner writes seriously theological, informed, and dense books on Christian doctrine. Christ the Key is no exception. Indeed, it is a creative and ecumenically minded re-inhabitation of the doctrines of human nature, grace, Trinity, and Holy Spirit. In keeping with the title, her thesis is that Christ is the key to the whole of Christian doctrine. What makes Tanner’s contribution matchless in contemporary North American theology is her willingness to revisit classical christological themes with a view to how those themes recast traditional Catholic/Protestant as well as East/West divides. Championing a non-competitive account of both concerns, she offers a truly evangelical and catholic account of Christ that has deep roots in the Fathers.

Her account of human nature (chapter 1) is a case in point. Acknowledging the Creator/creature distinction, she argues that the creation, in particular human nature as created in God’s image, is not self-contained. It is proper to creatureliness that humans participate in the image of God. God’s power manifest in Christ gives human beings the power to be “human versions of the divine image itself” (40). The human being is thus utterly dependent on her environment; she is implicated in it, for she is made for grace. However, human beings, unlike Christ, are not—because of sin—plastic to their environment or to their true nature. Accordingly, grace does not simply add to what is present. Grace, rather, remakes humans in accord with the one who is not only the pattern of the image of God but also the one who causes human beings to exhibit in what they do in their true nature.

When it comes to grace (chapters 2 and 3), Tanner understands nature to be the primary reference point. To be sure, this is a decidedly “Catholic” move. And yet “grace completes nature not by building on what nature is positively but by remedying what it lacks” (61). Advancing her concerns from chapter 1, she proposes that human nature is not a container of divinity. Because of sin, God’s power and grace is inaccessible to us. Thus the “hypostatic union ... is the precondition for humanity’s attachment in will and deed to the divine in Christ” (71). Tanner uses the language of justification and sanctification to draw out the character of this attachment as effected in the hypostatic union. Attachment to Christ is justification; sanctification is the benefit of that attachment. Furthermore, in reconsidering the often-contested nature–grace relationship, Tanner argues for “a grace-centred account of the creature” (116). That is, she starts with “God’s gracious intent to give us God’s own life as our own end” (116). Desire for God is of God; nature does not supply that desire. Although grace is alien to us, it does not alter our nature, but rather makes us receptive to it.

Tanner’s account of Trinitarian life sponsors a rich account of the unity of the immanent and economic Trinity in a way that does not erase the priority of the former. The persons of the Trinity are among us in such a way that we are enabled to image them, which is the chief effect of the incarnation. Human life is now life in Christ. Human life is made over into the form of the Word to the end that the Word’s life might recur in ours. In like manner, the Son and Spirit go forth from the Father only to “return and re-ascend with us” (161). In the economy of grace, human nature is simply caught up into the Trinitarian relations, immanently conceived, and allowed to share in them. Indeed, Tanner argues that it is through the Spirit that we share directly in the Spirit of the Son’s body. The Spirit realizes the form of the Son in us, which is the very mission of the Son—to give us his own Spirit—and so we can speak truthfully of the immanent life of God, because the movements of that life are laid out in time for our benefit.

In her chapter “Politics” (chapter 5) Tanner offers a devastating critique of those who would argue that...


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Publications by Kathryn Tanner


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Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
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Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
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Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
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From "Life and Death Decisions: Faculty Panel on Covid-19 Ethics Issues", Recorded on May 20, 2020. Kathryn Tanner, Frederick ...
Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
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Professor Kathryn Tanner the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, delivers the Gifford Lecture ...
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Intersection of Religion and the Rationality of Religious Belief Videos of the entire Conference: ...
Kathryn Tanner, Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, discusses the theological and moral issues ...
Kathryn Tanner, Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology.
From "Life and Death Decisions: Faculty Panel on Covid-19 Ethics Issues", Recorded on May 20, 2020. Kathryn Tanner, Frederick ...


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How Kathryn Tanner’s theology bridges doctrine and social action

Lots of theologians want to challenge economic injustice.
Not many draw their arguments from Anselm and Aquinas.

by Amy Plantinga Pauw
June 21, 2017

"A Protestant anti-work ethic.” That’s how Kathryn Tanner characterizes the theme of the Gifford Lectures she delivered at the University of Edinburgh last spring, which will be published under the title Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism. This title recalls Max Weber’s famous argument about the connections between the Protestant work ethic and the rise of capitalism. However, Tanner comes to the opposite conclusion: the spirit of finance-dominated capitalism is inimical to Christian visions of human flourishing.

One feature of these lectures is a stunning reworking of the financial metaphors that have become a standard feature of Western theology. Traditionally, human sin has been portrayed as an unpayable debt to God, a failure to make good on God’s investment in us. We continually default on our obligation to please God, and indeed our sinful efforts in this regard only increase our debt. Since God is implacable in demanding full repayment and we are unable to do so, we must rely on Christ to repay what we owe to God.

Tanner undermines the assumptions of this economic framework for depicting God’s relationship to humanity. She shows instead how commitment to God—who sustains our life and works unstintingly for our good—interferes with a total investment in any human profit-making venture. For Christians, God takes on money’s character of putting every other good into perspective. In financial terms, money is the universal equivalent, the value that underlies that of every other commodity. For Christians, “God is the universal equivalent of all objects of value” in that their ultimate, underlying value is to enable all our pursuits to be turned toward God. In these lectures, Tanner takes familiar financial vocabulary and refashions it in a way that is genuinely good news for those crushed in the jaws of economic insecurity and injustice.

Capitalism is not an altogether new topic for Tanner. Her theological interest in confronting economic inequities was already evident in Economy of Grace (2005). But these recent lectures represent a culmination of Tanner’s theological work, bringing together the expansive theological vision she has spelled out in previous books with keen social and economic analysis of an urgent contemporary problem.

Sad to say, this kind of dynamic synthesis is not very common in contemporary theology. Tanner’s work bridges a common divide among her theological peers. She stands both with theologians whose work is oriented toward social action and with doctrinally focused theologians who tackle perennial issues in Christian theology, such as the relationship between nature and grace, the character of Christ’s atonement, and the working of the Holy Spirit. Tanner pursues central doctrinal issues in her books Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity (2001) and Christ the Key (2010). At the same time, she is vitally concerned with theology as a practical discipline that offers guidance for human life. Whether the issue at hand is human sexuality or contemporary forms of capitalism, the task of the theologian, as Tanner sees it, is to bring the rich resources of Christian traditions to bear in creative and persuasive ways. In her own elegant fashion, Tanner is about the same task that preachers face every week: doing theology with the goal of shaping a way of life.

At a session on Tanner’s theology at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Religion (where scholars typically disperse into narrow interest groups) the panel of theologians engaging her work reflected her ability to bridge this common divide. It is hard to imagine another theologian whose work would attract commentators with interests ranging from “Christ’s Saving Death in Selected Greek Fathers” to “Antiracist Activism.”

One of the reasons Tanner’s ability to bridge different theological conversations is rare is that it requires so much reading. In addition to her wide knowledge of contemporary political and social theory, Tanner has the history of Christian theology at her fingertips. Her writing invites readers into conversation with an enormous range of Christian thinkers, from Cyril of Alexandria and Thomas Aquinas to Jürgen Moltmann and Janet Soskice. Her attention to early church theologians is especially distinctive: Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and others are regular conversation partners. For Tanner, figuring out in some detail what Christian faith is all about is an essential part of being a responsible Christian theologian, and that requires drinking deeply from the well of classical sources.

So what is Christian faith all about for Tanner? It is centered in Jesus Christ and develops around two main ideas: a noncompetitive understanding of God’s power and a stress on God as gift giver. We will explore these ideas one at a time.

For Tanner, divine and human agency are not in competition with each other. Because God is not in the same order of being as creatures, God’s agency operates on a different plane. God’s power, unlike the power of creatures, is universally extended beneficent power, immediately and intimately at work in all things. It is the kind of divine power Joseph speaks of when he says to his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). God is at work on our behalf often in ways unbeknownst to us, or even contrary to our own intentions, yet without compromising our agency.

This noncompetitive view goes against the grain of a common Christian assumption that there is a zero-sum game between divine and human action—the more God acts, the less room there is for creatures to act. In this zero-sum understanding, God’s power needs to withdraw in order to make room for creaturely agency. God’s power needs to be a persuasive rather than coercive power, for example, or be otherwise checked in order to guard space for human freedom. God’s power, like creaturely power, is understood as external to other centers of agency, having to work from the outside to affect them.

Tanner rejects this view. Because God is the Creator of all, God’s agency is the ground of creaturely freedom and agency, not a threat to them. There is no incompatibility between “God’s universal, direct creative agency” and “the creature’s own power and efficacy.”

Another way this zero-sum understanding frequently appears is in assumptions about divine immanence and transcendence—the more God is transcendent of creation, the less God is immanent in it, and vice versa. According to Tanner, this approach also creates theological problems. When immanence receives too much emphasis, God stands as part of a single continuum of reality that embraces both creatures and Creator. When the stress is on transcendence, the temptation is to think of creatures as arranged in a hierarchy from those least like God to those most like God. This makes God’s relation to “lower” creaturely reality less immediate than God’s relation to the “higher” creatures.

Tanner insists that divine and human agency are not in competition with each other.

Tanner refuses to see divine immanence and transcendence as a zero-sum game. The paradigm for her is Jesus Christ. The incarnation brings about the closest possible relation between the human being Jesus and God. In this union, neither the divinity of God nor the humanity of Jesus is compromised. Christ demonstrates God’s capacity to be in intimate relation with the world (immanence) without compromising God’s radical otherness (transcendence). Both fully immanent and fully transcendent to creation, God is neither to be opposed to creaturely reality nor identified with it.

A second central idea for Tanner is the notion of God as gift giver. As Creator, God is the giver of life, making all creatures totally dependent. This relation yields what Tanner calls a “weak” form of creaturely participation in God. But Tanner also makes gift giving central to her understanding of God’s redemptive work. Through Christ, God gives the world “God’s very own life and not simply some created version of it.” God saves us by establishing “the closest possible relationship with us.” This relationship happens through God’s Word taking on human flesh. Through this union, humanity is purified from sin, and given what, by nature, is beyond it: a “strong” participation in the life of God. The grace God gives us “is not ours by nature,” but in Christ by the power of the Spirit it becomes “naturally ours, or natural to us.” This gift of the goods of God’s own life is not something we have to earn or even consciously seek. Tanner can even say that in Christ we are “joined to God whether we like it or not.”

Tanner’s stress on the universal reach of God’s gifts through Christ and the Spirit renders the role of church uncertain in Tanner’s theology. What does salvation in Jesus Christ look like here and now? How important is our conscious participation in it? Tanner has not addressed these questions as explicitly as some of her readers would like. Still, her theology is attractive and persuasive to many because it revolves around an expansive vision of God’s ongoing work to overcome all that stands in the way of creaturely participation in the divine life.

Tanner has not always been so fearless in articulating her theological vision. In a 2010 Century essay (“Christian claims: How my mind has changed”), she reflected on her shift from a preoccupation with justifying the theological enterprise in general to an exploration of how Christian theology can address the most pressing human problems. In the years since that essay, the import of this shift has become clear.

Because of her concern for real-world engagement, Tanner has become wary of too much emphasis on theological method, which tends to lay down general rules instead of attending to concrete cases. According to Tanner, where a theologian ends up is more important than where she starts—and where she starts is no guarantee of where she will end up. Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, for example, with their very different theological approaches to revelation and human experience, both opposed National Socialism.

Attention to theological method was in vogue when I was in graduate school at Yale 30 years ago, when Yale and the University of Chicago represented competing approaches. Shifts in faculty and larger changes in the theological field have made this contrast less sharp than it once was. Yet Tanner remains unusual in that she has divided her career between both places. She studied at Yale, taught there for a few years, then spent 15 years teaching at Chicago before returning to Yale in 2010 as professor of systematic theology. In her work at both institutions, she has joined a wide variety of contemporary theologians who engage the social sciences.

Tanner’s contribution to the conversation between theology and the social sciences is spelled out in her 1997 book, Theories of Culture. While retaining the ecumenical spirit of her teacher George Lindbeck, she responds to his widely discussed book The Nature of Doctrine by insisting that cultures are never self-contained, consistent wholes. A group’s cultural identity is always in motion, forged in complex relation with others. This means that Christian attempts to delineate a clear and unchanging set of practices and beliefs in order to establish a definite social boundary between the church and the world are misguided. A Christian way of life is always parasitic on other ways of life. Christian practices, Tanner insists, are “always the practices of others made odd.” Testing the spirits of the larger culture (1 John 4) is an ongoing task for communities of Christian faith. The relationship between Christ and culture, to recall H. Richard Niebuhr’s famous title, always has to be worked out piecemeal.

Christ is the key to what God is doing everywhere in the world.

This means for Tanner that theology’s work is out in the world. But it also means that theology’s audience is out in the world too. It is tempting for theologians to stay inside the academic guild and write only for other professional theologians. Tanner chafes at these boundaries. Her Gifford Lectures are the best evidence yet of her identity as a public theologian. This identity as a public theologian does not mean that her theology is easy to read, or that pastors will find in it an abundance of ready-made sermon illustrations. (A few of those would be welcome in Tanner’s writing!) What this identity means is that the audience for Tanner’s theological work begins with the church and extends far beyond the circle of Christian faith. Her theology has its roots in sources and assumptions distinctive to Christianity, but it makes proposals that address the concerns of the wider community. It offers recommendations for human life in general, not just for Christian life, confidently engaging other voices in the public square.

In the contemporary Western context, Rowan Williams has distinguished an appropriate “procedural secularism,” which refuses to give advantage or preference to any one religious community over others, from a problematic “programmatic secularism,” which seeks to rid the public space of all religious allegiances. With Williams, Tanner embraces the former. She does not assume that Christian convictions deserve a privileged place in public discourse, but she insists that Christian theology is not a purely intramural exercise. As a theologian, she seeks to join a larger civic conversation with the goal of addressing the issues that concern our common creaturehood in all its social and ecological ramifications.

Some public theologians attempt to gain a hearing for their proposals by sanding off the sharp corners of Christian belief, downplaying distinctive Christian claims about Jesus Christ, for example. Tanner’s public theology does not take this route. Christ is for her the key to what God is doing everywhere in the world. Tanner makes Christian theology compelling not by diluting its distinctiveness but by showing the radical implications of basic Christian claims for the needs and concerns of all people.



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CHRIST AMONG THE DISCIPLINES
CONFERENCE NOTES

by R.E. Slater
November 22, 2020

Please note: I write these notes to myself. They are not intended to be exact transcriptions from the speakers themselves. What I have written are not their words but my own thoughts. - res

Please note: All panelists provided textual statements for comments to attendees. These are not allowed to be publically published as they are intended to form to the moment-in-time not replicable beyond the panel discussions themselves as very specific conversations to one another in the AAR setting

Panelist Bios:

Lucy Peppiatt is the Principal of Westminster Theological Centre, where she teaches systematic theology. Her interests include Christ and the Spirit, charismatic theology, spiritual formation, 1 Corinthians, and women in the Bible. She is a licensed lay minister in the Church of England and leads a group of Anglican community churches with her husband, Nick Crawley.

Julie Canlis received a masters in Spiritual Theology from Regent College (University of British Columbia), and then pursued her PhD under Alan Torrance at the University of St Andrews, focusing on Calvin and his rendition of human participation in Christ. She is liturgical director for Trinity Church in Wenatchee, Washington and is an adjunct lecturer at Whitworth University, in their Graduate Studies in Theology program. She received a Templeton Award for her book, Calvin's Ladder, and has written a microbook for lay persons called "A Theology of the Ordinary." With her husband Matt, she produced the short documentary "Godspeed" about parish ministry in Scotland, and together they are raising four children, five sheep, and a dozen chickens.

Christa McKirland is a lecturer in systematic theology at Carey Baptist College. With degrees in philosophy, bible exposition, and systematic theology, she enjoys bringing these disciplines together in order to speak into what it means to flourish. Ultimately, to be a flourishing human is bound to God’s personal presence and thus her doctoral work focused on the concept of fundamental need and how human beings are uniquely suited to need God in a particular way. Christa is also the Executive Director of Logia International, an organisation that encourages women to pursue postgraduate divinity education for the sake of the academy and church. Logia seeks to highlight the excellence of women who are already established in their fields, while also developing the next generation of scholars who will lead the way in theology, philosophy of religion, and biblical studies.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea C. White is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. She has served as Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and chair of the Black Theology Unit for the American Academy of Religion. Her research specializes in womanist theology and critical theory, philosophy of religion and phenomenology. Her forthcoming volume is The Scandal of Flesh: Black Women’s Bodies, God, and Politics. She is also the author of The Back of God: A Theology of Otherness in Karl Barth and Paul Ricoeur, and editor of several future volumes including, Political Theology on Edge with Catherine Keller and Clayton Crocket, and The State of Black Theology. Prior to her appointment at Union, she served on the faculty at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She holds a Ph.D. in theology from The University of Chicago Divinity School, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School with a concentration in philosophy of religion, and a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College with honors in philosophy. She is also an ordained American Baptist minister and served as a church pastor, hospice chaplain, and chaplain for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

(Author) Professor Tanner joined the Yale Divinity School faculty in 2010 after teaching at the University of Chicago Divinity School for fifteen years and in Yale’s Department of Religious Studies for ten. Her research relates the history of Christian thought to contemporary issues of theological concern using social, cultural, and feminist theory. She is the author of God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Blackwell, 1988); The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Fortress, 1992); Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Fortress, 1997); Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Fortress, 2001); Economy of Grace (Fortress, 2005); Christ the Key (Cambridge, 2010); and scores of scholarly articles and chapters in books that include The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, which she edited with John Webster and Iain Torrance. She serves on the editorial boards of Modern Theology, International Journal of Systematic Theology, and Scottish Journal of Theology, and is a former coeditor of the Journal of Religion. Active in many professional societies, Professor Tanner is a past president of the American Theological Society, the oldest theological society in the United States. For eight years she has been a member of the Theology Committee that advises the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops.


Observation by Lucy Peppiatt
see online statement

Observation by Julie Canlis
see online statement

Observation by Christa McKirland
see online statement

Observation by Rev. Dr. Andrea C. White
see online statement

Response by Kathryn Tanner
see online statement