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Recent Reading: Participation in God

Withought getting into a heavy theological discussion of these texts, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention some of the stuff I’ve been reading lately, particularly on the theme of participation in God, which is clearly a recurring theme in my thought.

Firstly, Andrew Purves’ Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation does a great job of exploring what it might mean to understand pastoral ministry from a distinctly theological and Christological standpoint. He decries the ministerial dependence on phsychology and insists that pastoral practice must be grounded in Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity and Soteriology. The key theme informing his account is union with Christ by the Spirit as the basis for the church’s participation in the missio dei. He relies heavily on Barth and T.F. Torrance. Worthy guides indeed.

Second, Samuel Powell’s Participating in God: Creation and Trinity offers a helpful discussion of divine-human participation from the standpoint of the relation between theology and science. Powell does a good job exploring the biblical framework for thinking about what it means for creatures to participate in the life of God and goes on to explore what that might mean for thinking about the nature of creation and science.

Third, Alan Torrance’s rigorous study, Persons in Communion: Trinitarian Description and Human Participation does an incredible job of exploring the nature of the lanaguage of “persons” for the members of the Trinity and exploring how we are able to speak of the participation of human persons in the Triune life. Torrance, I think does what the British do best: rigorous, detailed, and distinctive dogmatic theology.

Fourth, Ian McFarland offers a helpful discussion of theological anthrpology in his Difference and Identity: A Theological Anthropology. His whole thesis centers on the contention that knowing how we are constituted as persons in relation is less important than understanding the One who thus constitutes us. He argues that we come to be human persons in all our difference from and relatedness to God and one another through being brought into conformity with Christ by the Spirit, thereby being drawn into a sharing in the Triune life of God.

Finally, Kathryn Tanner’s little book, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology offers some helpful discussions of how we allow the Trinity to inform our understanding of the human person and salvation. Tanner critiques those that have advanced relational understandings of personhood based on the idea of human persons as the image of the Triune God’s relational nature. Rather, she argues that we are first called to become persons through our incorporation into Christ, thus sharing in the trinitarian relations. While I think Tanner gets some key points wrong, here and elsewhere, her work is very helpful.


  1. GoobyNelly wrote:

    Thanks Halden. Looks like a good bunch to be reading.
    I studied with Alan for a semester at St. Andrews, and what a gentleman he is!
    I’d be curious what you think of Hunsinger’s critique of his book, which can be found in “Disruptive Grace” (I forget where).

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 4:20 am | Permalink
  2. Dan Morehead wrote:

    You have some good books on your list…read on!

    Friday, September 29, 2006 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Bob wrote:


    First – thank you.

    A group of our pastors ( have been paying attention to your reviews and you’ve lead us to some real jems.

    Secondly –

    I’m fascinated with the subtext of death through the plotline of biblical narrative (From the death dealing environment of Genesis 1:2 to the death of the fall to the death of the sacrificial system to death of God himself to the end of death in new heave/earth, etc. etc.)

    I’m finishing a stint of 10 years of college ministry to go back and study theology. I’m powering through Lewis’ Holy Saturday (based on your high recommendation) which has lead me to explore a disseration unpacking the theology of death of a major theologian.

    Two questions:

    First, Do any theologians come to mind who you think would provide fertile ground for such a project?

    Second, could I buy you a beer sometime?


    Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I’ve just found your blog on the ‘Theology Blogs’ list. I also have a blog on that list – ‘THe Theology of G C Berkouwer’. I wonder if you might be interested in my other blog –

    Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  5. a. steward wrote:

    Torrance and McFarland sound very interesting. Mannermaa just came in, so I bought it while I was working today. I’m excited for it.

    I just read Morna Hooker’s essay “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” and it is one of the best treatments on that issue that I’ve read. What might interest you in light of your recent readings is her approach to the whole thing, which is to understand justification in terms of participation, sharing, and interchange, over and against more forensic approaches which would like to separate sanctification, seeing it more in terms of imitation. This is a great discussion of how the faith of Christ necessarily implies a reciprocal faith on the part of the Christian, that we can never speak of our faith apart from Christ’s work of obedience which gives rise to it. Ultimately, Hooker finds herself placing these phrases of Paul into a category which Diessmann halfheartedly argued for once upon a time: the mystical genitive, “because it indicates mystical fellowship with Christ.” She calls this essentially a subjective-genitive, to which Diessmann gave the name christusglauben, and we Englishers must awkwardly refer to as Christ-faith.

    Anyhow, stellar essay, unfortunate name.

    Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 1:09 am | Permalink
  6. daniel greeson wrote:

    hey man,
    have u read Being With God by Aristotle Papanikolau? or any stuff from an Orthodox perspective? Lossky? Zizioulas?
    looks like some great books youve been plowing through


    Tuesday, October 10, 2006 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Thanks for all the helpful comments, guys. I’ve been out of town for the last three weeks or so, but thankfully I’m now back.


    Books on the theology of death that I would recommend can all be found in Lewis’ footnotes. But, Arthur McGill’s Death and Life: An American Theology is one of the most notable. Hans Urs von Balthasar’s wonderful book Mysterium Paschale is also very helpful.


    Thank you, I’ll check out your blog(s).


    You should defiantely check out Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ. I can get you a copy if you want.


    I am about two-thirds of the way through Papanikolau and I find it an excellent work on Orthodox theology. I’ll probably post something on it when I finally finish it.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

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