Category Archives: Spotlights

Theologian Spotlight: Julian of Norwich

This post was written by Emilee Snyder, a Masters student at Princeton Theological Seminary specializing in Church History. It’s part of the “Theologian Spotlight Series.” Other posts in the series can be found here.


Ever since being introduced to the life and work of Julian of Norwich, she has quickly become one of my favorite, and most impactful, theologians. For me, the key to capturing the heart of Julian’s theology and legacy is to recognize her quiet modification of the character of the Godhead, reintroducing into medieval thought Trinitarian compassion and closeness, traits previously reserved strictly for Christ – this is precisely what I hope to convey in this brief post, for her innovations were momentous not simply in her time, but continue to be so in our time, as well. All communities, not simply late medieval Norwich, are enriched by the sound reminder of the divine pathos, particularly a context entrenched in suffering as Julian’s own community was.

julianJulian of Norwich (c. 1342 – c. 1416) was a female anchoress in fourteenth-century England, spending the later years of her life secluded in a cell adjoining a Norwich church so as to devote the entirety of her days to the contemplation of the Divine. Over the course of her religious experience, she received various “revelations” from God, recording these first in 1373; twenty years later, in 1395, she supplemented this shorter text with greater theological insights and subtle, yet sharp, theological innovations. These works, collected in Revelations of Divine Love, make up the gravity of her religious influence.

Before we tackle the great innovations of Julian, let’s begin with the theology she inherited (and ultimately revised). Any reader of Julian’s Revelations (or of mainstream medieval spiritual works in general – more on this to come!) will likely be struck by her emotional, vivid depictions of the suffering Christ, a dominant theme in most medieval forms of piety. This affectionate piety, or cruciform contemplation as I like to call it, passionately recalls the suffering of Christ so as to realize the magnitude of love displayed therein. For example, Julian graphically describes the “great drops” of Christ’s “thick, dark red” blood falling “from under the crown of thorns … as though they had come out of the veins.” His pierced and broken flesh, she continues, was “slashed all over” and “in weals from the scourging,” “[sagging] with its own weight from hanging for such a long time” as the grip of thorns and nails widened his fresh wounds.

Jarring as Julian’s imagery may be for modern readers, we must recognize this contemplative style as wholly normative in her time. For Julian, as with affectionate piety as a whole, these graphic images are evoked as expressions of Christ’s unfailing love for humanity, a love so vast that he was compelled to endure the pains of the cross. This suffering love is the heart of Julian’s cruciform piety, the realization of which is precisely the end of this spiritual pursuit. These two components are thus tightly tethered to one another: Christ’s “love for our souls is so strong that he chose the pain willingly and eagerly, and suffered it meekly and was well-pleased to do so,” she argues. Though agonizing and excruciating, Christ’s love for humanity, both individually and universally, was so infinite that enduring the passion was, in fact, nearly irresistible: “I truly saw that he was willing to die as often as he was able to die, and love would never let him rest until he had done it.”

In terms of Julian’s compliance with orthodox spirituality – so far, so good. From Anselm of Canterbury, to the Franciscan spiritual tradition, the humanness of Christ, his willful suffering and extravagant love therein was center stage in medieval devotion. At this point, it seems Julian is simply a product of her spiritual age. But let’s take another step back into medieval spirituality as a whole, briefly. For all of the unparalleled fixation on the suffering love of Christ, medieval piety was equally insistent on the righteous vengeance of God. The two, in fact, went hand in hand. For, the suffering Christ endured was ultimately to satisfy God’s wrath toward human sin, avenge the ultimate injury and offense committed by humanity. The selfless, cruciform love of Christ, in this scheme, necessarily implied a wrathful God with justice to settle.

Not so, for Julian.

With impressive boldness, Julian reconstructs the character of God so as to reintroduce the Trinity’s compassion, closeness, and kindness to a context accustomed to God’s wrath, justice, and vengeance. Commenting on the Trinity’s involvement in Christ’s suffering work, she dictates from her revelation that “Jesus wishes us to consider the delight which the Holy Trinity feels in our salvation.” She radically continues, “The whole Trinity took part in the Passion of Christ … dispending an abundance of virtues and fullness of grace to us through him.” Preserving God’s immutability, she clarifies that “only the son of the Virgin suffered,” yet her theological innovations are nonetheless sharp: that the whole of the Trinity was involved in the passion of Christ, that the Cross is ultimately revelatory of the Trinity, went far beyond traditional medieval thought. For, to suggest that the cross is ultimately revelatory of the Trinity is, for Julian, to posit that the Trinity itself is “nothing but love, compassion, and pity,” components of a divine characterization that differed drastically from prevailing understandings of God in her day, ones which centered on wrath, anger, and judgment. Herein is Julian’s masterful deviation.

That her audience was inflicted with countless trials makes this reconstruction particularly telling. By the time Julian wrote the Short Text in 1373, England had suffered through three episodes of the Black Death, a fatal epidemic that, some scholars argue, sliced the population in half by the end of the fourteenth century – intersecting these visitations of the plague in England was a harvest failure in 1369, that triggered economic decline and national disorder. All such trials simply exacerbated sentiments of divine wrath and eternal punishment; Julian’s emphasis on divine empathy, closeness, and compassion finds its antecedent here.

Julian even takes this a step further, extending the gracious companionship of God to the context of sin. Not only were the trials of Norwich not to be seen as punishment for sin, but sin itself was reconstructed by Julian as an accident incurred amid honorable duty, an event God looks at with pity and kindness, rather than fault and blame. The implications of this nuanced view of sin are unmistakable. Here, we have a female anchoress altering the reigning account of human failure to accentuate the unfailing companionship of the Godhead.

Julian is also frequently remembered for her “Christ as Mother” idea, calling Jesus “our true mother,” who feeds us “not with milk, but with himself, opening his side for us and claiming all our love.” Julian’s theological goals here are unchanged: by way of this maternal imagery for Christ, she further reiterates God’s nearness and compassion. That this maternal understanding of Christ is representative of the Trinity as a whole further reiterates Julian’s emphasis on an intimate God who is a companion and comfort in suffering and trials.

Julian’s resolve to affirm God’s compassion and closeness to a culture accustomed to the opposite, particularly amid suffering and confusion, is compelling to me. Sure, you and I may not be inflicted by the Black Plague, but to reduce Julian’s spiritual theology to her own context alone is, I believe, to miss her point entirely. It is rather a theology applicable to all Christians, societies, and ages, for there are instances for all of us when the vast love and close comfort of God seems all but true.

As Julian affirms, in fact, our errors often lay in our failure to see God right beside us, rather than our own flight from God. With a promise such as this, it’s easy to see why Julian is so insistent that all shall be well. There’s no better way to end this piece than with these very encouraging words from Julian herself:

There is a deed which the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done. And he wants us to know this because he wants us to feel more ease in our souls and more at peace in love, rejoicing in him and no longer considering all the tumults which might keep us from the truth. This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.

My (5) Favorite Living Theologians

In no particular order; although if you’ve been to my blog before, you probably already know my bias!

  1. Sarah Coakley

sarah coakleySarah Coakley is currently Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. A theologian in the Anglican tradition, she is well known for her creativity, and attention to distinctly contemporary issues in the Church – frequently utilizing the categories of Christian desire and contemplation. She is currently in the process of writing a multi-volume systematic theology, the first of which was published in 2013 titled God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay on the Trinity. I enjoy her refreshing, yet unique, takes on theological issues, and she always seems to draw out the significant implications from her prayer-grounded vision of the Christian Life.

2. Ian McFarland

ian mcfarlandIan McFarland is currently Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge (chair established in 1535!). While his theological potential is surely yet to be fully realized, as he is only now beginning to enter the heart of his career, McFarland has already written some very interesting books on creation and on sin (In Adam’s Fall). I first came across Professor McFarland when writing a undergraduate paper on creation; his newest book revitalizing the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, titled, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation, is a quite rigorous treatment of creation in McFarland’s unique style of theological precision and use of historical theology. He studied under Kathryn Tanner at the University of Chicago, receiving his PhD in 1995.

3. Joerg Rieger

joerg riegerJoerg Rieger is currently a constructive theology professor at Vanderbilt. Generally located in the liberation tradition of theology, Rieger has prolifically tackled issues such as economics, globalization, and empire. Connected with his academic writing, he has been a community activist advocating for labor and broader social justice for many years and speaks often in such contexts. I first became acquainted with Rieger’s economic theology work in No Rising Tide, but have since then moved beyond to his short text, Globalization and Theology, and his book Christ and Empire. Just this month, he released a new book on labor, inequality, and theology, Unified We Are a Force.

4. Kathryn Tanner

kathryn tannerKathryn Tanner is currently the Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. Arguably one of the most influential theologians of this generation, Tanner’s powerful theological vision is nothing short of profound. I first read her short systematic text, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity, and was immediately hooked, then was subsequently inspired to embark upon my own journey of theological education. First, she developed her concept of the non-competitive relation between God in Creation (God and Creation in Christian Theology), then directed her attention to how traditional Christian theology has radical implications for social justice (Politics of God) and argued for a heightened understanding of culture (Theories of Culture). Turning toward systematics more explicitly, she has outlined her theology in the above-mentioned systematic text, and then fleshed out her Christological emphasis in Christ the Key. In-between those two works, she outlined a Christian approach to economics, a task which she has recently engaged in further as part of the 2016 Gifford Lectures. Tanner has dabbled quite widely in her theological writings, turning at times to sociology, philosophy, economics, critical theory, and feminist theory to name a few.

5. Katherine Sonderegger

kate sonderregerI’m a relative newcomer to Katherine Sonderegger, Chair of Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary, and though I often disagree with her approach, I have included her on this list because she is a fascinating thinker, unique in her use of extensive biblical commentary in her theology. Active both as a priest and an academic theologian, Sonderegger hasn’t published too much throughout her career, but when she does, she seems to make it count. Professor Sonderegger has just this past year published her first of a planned three volume systematic theology, on the doctrine of God. She does quite a bit of reworking contemporary theological themes; most notably, she reverses both the trend toward beginning with Trinitarian theology, favoring the unity and oneness of God, as well as the Christological turn in much recent theology, again favoring grounding Christian claims in the doctrine of God more strictly than the revelation of Christ. For these, admittedly grand, theological moves, she is certainly worth attending to and reading closely.


Feel free to list your favorites in the comments!

Theologian Spotlight: Martin Luther

This post in the Theologian Spotlight series was guest written by Emilee Snyder, a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary, whom I’ve had the pleasure of studying Christianity alongside for 3 years – and someone personally shaped by our figure for this week, Martin Luther.


As many close to me know, I have quite a soft spot for Luther’s theology and what he was trying to do in his time. As a Christian who has experienced personally much of the religious legalism that Luther was avidly seeking to refute in the 16th century, I’m encouraged by his works and convictions. A great deal of the spiritual healing I’ve found in the last few years has much to do with my exposure to the works of Luther (among many other theologians and personal mentors, of course). But I’m also aware of some of his downfalls and occasional disgraces, and even more aware of common disenchantment with and disregard of Luther because of these. Some, I must say, may be warranted, but let me start by being candid: I’m not convinced that Luther is irrelevant for us in the 21st century; in fact, I tend to think quite the opposite.

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So, let’s start with a little preliminary overview of some of the popular conceptions and criticisms surrounding this historical reformer. First, his infamous nailing of the 95 Theses often suggests that he’s an outrageously polemic instigator of religious division; his ongoing offensive remarks don’t help in repairing this image… although some, I must say, can’t help but make you laugh (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this Luther-insult-generator). Other people, fixated on his famous line, “justification by faith alone,” perceive a problematically passive understanding of the Christian faith. In short, it may seem that no activities or responsibilities are required of the Christian, except to receive Christ’s justifying righteousness.

Some of these, as I said, are justified. Based on a selective view of his work, in fact, it is easy to see Luther as a trouble-making figure, obsessed with God’s unconditional grace. But I’m suggesting a different method to exploring this Luther madness, one that takes into account his context and culture. For, when we look at the larger picture and explore what Luther was aiming to accomplish in 16th century Christian Germany, these popular conceptions may prove to be slightly less warranted, maybe even closer to misconceptions than conceptions. Of course, I cannot genuinely hope to radically alter anyone’s opinion of Martin Luther through a brief blog post such as this, but my hope is that you may, at the very least, give Luther and his theology a closer look, and allow it to speak on its own terms.

Martin Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany and died there too, in 1546. In between these years, however, he spent a few years as a monk in Erfurt, before travelling to Wittenberg, Germany in 1507 to become a priest and eventually teach theology at the university there. This progression from monk to priest to professor is important to remember, for as he was teaching theology at the university level, he was also engaging first hand with congregants on a pastoral level, bringing to the table all his experiences he had as a monk. Equally important, however, is his time: Historians commonly cite 1500 as the end of the Middle Ages, which would place Martin Luther as a figure operating at the end of one era as well as on the cusp of another.

But first, flashback to 1483 and Luther’s early years, where he was raised in a home in which spiritual superstition and religious anxiety were central. His father was a miner, one of the most dangerous occupations at the time, and common practice was to attribute all accidents on the job to Satan. He also endured harsh discipline under his father, and grew up watching his mother engaged and consumed by perpetual spiritual warfare on an everyday basis.  Needless to say, Luther’s early life was dominated by the same spiritual anxiety that tormented his mother, coupled with the constant fear of his father’s strictness. Luther’s concept of God, as a result, was painstakingly similar to that of his earthly father.

In 1505, he began his stint as a monk, carrying with him all the religious torment he had from his earlier years. A regular day consisted of multi-hour confessions of his sins hoping that this would appease God’s wrath toward him. He fasted so excessively that portraits of him from these years depict a frail and withered figure. And not to mention, we have his own writings from these years. The uncertainty he harbored concerning his salvation was chronic and constant: how can I know I am saved, that I’ve done enough to please God? This was his piercing question.

Let’s take a step back and look at the broader religious culture of the late 15th century. Cultural factors such as the Black Death and outbreaks of other horrific diseases compelled Christians to believe that God truly was punishing all of humankind, that his wrath was relentless. With the development of early capitalism came also new developments in the religious system: just as hard work was rewarded economically, God also rewarded your “spiritual” hard work “eternally.” The dominant theologies at the time, as such, taught that Christians have necessary “grace” within them to live righteously and please God, and that by exercising these graces through good works, God bestows further grace to do even better. In simple terms: justification was a gift to be earned, certainly not without God’s grace, but it was dependent on the believer to activate and maintain this grace.

To make matters worse, popular preaching shouted about the wrath of God, leaving any mention of God’s mercy and forgiveness to a silent whisper. To those who had any comfort in God’s forgiveness, they were still virtually guaranteed an “eternal delay” following their death called purgatory, an unpleasant place where one’s remaining sins were purged before eternal life with God. Even the greatest strives toward holiness, in other words, were still ultimately insufficient for immediate eternal life with God. Yet, the Church had a clever idea to alleviate these terrors and concerns: unsettled Christians could pay a fee to the priest in order to lessen this time spent in purgatory – the technical term for this is an indulgence. Eventually, and this is important, these payments to lessen purgatorial penalties escalated into payments for salvation. And it is precisely this evolution in indulgences that Luther’s 95 Theses were most directly detesting to. Not to the Catholic church as a system and not even to indulgences altogether, but simply the unchecked development of indulgences, that had resulted in laity coming to believe that salvation could be bought. Again, to reiterate, his concern was for the laity, the common people of the Church, who knew minimal theology and were ill-equipped to denounce such an error as this when it appeared. It is precisely these people that Luther sought to be an advocate for. For people such as you and me.

And this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. For a monk who spent most of his time consumed in these same anxieties, whose early life was dominated by them, Luther was uncannily sympathetic to these issues he perceived amid congregations. He empathized with their persistent attempts to appease God’s wrath, to present God a perfect or satisfactory “spiritual report card” and he empathized even more with the ensuing spiritual disappointment and despair. He knew their exhaustion and he knew their misery.

Now, of course, this is not to say that Christianity in the Late Middle Ages was unwaveringly legalistic as a whole, or that all individuals suffered under spiritual anxiety with the same intensity that Luther did. Such a generalization is not only inaccurate, but it’s historically inappropriate. What’s important for us, rather, is simply that this is what Luther perceived, these were issues that did exist, and they were ones that Luther believed adamantly and deeply needed to be resolved, for the sake of laity who knew not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the distorted path to salvation prominent in the Late Middle Ages. Whether it was truly pervasive across all of Christendom is a question for another time. For now, it’s sufficient to say that it was pervasive in Luther’s immediate context.

And so, it’s within this context of immense spiritual uncertainty, wherein Christ’s forgiveness was mentioned minimally and God’s love was demoted to secondary, that Luther advocated for an alternative form of righteousness — one he believed was far more faithful to the God of the Bible and Christ the Redeemer than the prevailing system of righteousness of the day. This he called passive righteousness, or “alien righteousness,” righteousness instilled by Jesus into Christians, following their confession of faith. In Luther’s model, God did not watch and wait for the weak Christian to conjure up enough spiritual goods to merit His forgiveness and justification. He turned the tables, and instead made Christians the recipients of God’s forgiveness and righteousness on account of faith. For, as Luther reasoned, if salvation was a matter of merit, then what did Christ die for?

Luther didn’t stop at alien righteousness, however. After having been justified by faith, Christians lived a life of holiness and grew in “proper righteousness,” which was a fruit of alien righteousness. Holy living and Christian sanctification, in other words, was not neglected by Luther, but resituated into its proper place: as a result of Christ’s love and forgiveness, rather than as a prerequisite.

As I mentioned, I found this proposal of Luther to be one of the most life-giving works of theology I had ever encountered. I learned from him (as well as none other than St. Augustine!) that God wanted me to serve him not out of the fear of punishment, but out of genuine love. This was to be the sole motivator of my Christian endeavors, the fuel that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthens me to grow in conformity to Christ throughout my Christian walk.

If I would have been a 16th century layperson in Luther’s German congregation, who was exposed not primarily to the Gospel, but to God’s judgment and wrath, who lived a life of striving for God’s approval rather than resting in God’s love, who understood holiness as grounds for love rather than the fruit of it, I think Luther would have been an advocate for people like me. Perhaps he may be an advocate for you, too, compelling you to re-fix your eyes on the overwhelming and unchanging love of Christ that longs for your heart and promises to form you in holiness along the way. Really, I think he can be an advocate for all of us. Because who doesn’t need to be reminded that we’ve been justified by Christ?


To learn more about Martin Luther, be sure to read some of his own writings such as his Commentary on Galatians and The Freedom of a Christian, both of which are contained in Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings.

In addition, for top-notch biographies, see Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Baiton and Luther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko Oberman.

Theologian Spotlight: Kathryn Tanner

I’m starting a series of Theologian/Biblical Scholar/Philosopher spotlights in order to introduce my readers to new people and ideas. Each post will highlight who the person is, what they did/wrote/their main ideas, and why Christians should study them today. If you’d be interested in writing a guest piece on a particular figure, feel free to contact me!


kathryn tannerKathryn Tanner is a contemporary theologian who currently teaches at Yale. Educated with a BA, MA, and PhD from Yale University, Tanner has to-date authored six books and hundreds of academic journal articles as well as taken part in countless invited lectures or conferences on current issues in theology. She initially taught at Yale, moved to the University of Chicago’s divinity school for 15 years, but returned to Yale in 2010. Her work has always been marked by relevance, meaning that she tackles issues that are under discussion in her field, and contributes to furthering Christian theology’s scope by applying her system to traditionally outside topics like economics, culture, and feminism. In 2016 she will give the prestigious Gifford lectures with talks on theology and financial markets (the Gifford lectures are by far the most prestigious invitations in the realm of theology, check out a list of past recipients of the honor here).

I’m choosing to write about her on this blog because I think she has some great ideas that Christians of all types, not just fellow academics, should become familiar with. However, because she has written so much, I will be limited to explaining only a few of her ideas. Tanner writes from the reformed tradition of theology, but looks nothing like your typical american reformed person. Here’s a few of her most influential ideas.

Her earlier work was highlighted by an attempt to understand how God relates to the world, especially with regard to the Incarnation. Throughout history, many have thought of God as a being just like us, but perfect. This way of thinking implies that God somehow inserts Godself into the chain of events so that certain actions are considered God’s and others human. This is also related to a profound misunderstanding historically of Thomas Aquinas’ argument for God based upon first cause. People have taken theologians to mean that God acts in the world just as we act, as an agent who initiates (or is affected by) chains of events. The transcendence of God has often been understood as God being the opposite of many human qualities, or their perfection.

However, Tanner circumvents this idea by appealing to the intention behind the mass of theology that is church history, and it’s continual proclamation of real transcendence. God is not limited by what is not God in the same way that we are limited, finite creatures who are constrained by time, space, and other physical objects. God is simply not like that. God is beyond all contrasts (God is like that, we are like this, etc.). She introduces this idea under a couple different names, “non-contrastive” and “non-competitive.” The former is used within a doctrine of God, while the latter is primarily deployed within Christological contexts. God is transcendent, and to say God is a being like us, yet perfected, is to make God finite.

In Tanner’s mind, only a truly transcendent God could have made the Incarnation possible. Historically, the church has struggled under concepts of two-natures Christology, i.e. Christ has a divine and a human nature (or was fully God and fully human). But, how can this actually work if the two are supposed to inhabit the same person? Wouldn’t it require Christ to be part (50%) God and part (other 50%) human? Or perhaps there is a strict inverse relation here so that the more Christ is God (say 75%) the less he is human (25%). Of course, this kind of talk is not limited to the Incarnation but comes up in Christians’ daily lives when we proclaim that God did something in the world recently, or that a particular action was God’s and not our own. In other words, some think an action is done either by God, in which case it cannot be attributed to a human, or it is done by a human, in which case it cannot be considered divine.

Let’s get back to Tanner’s thought on the Incarnation. Do the two natures have an inverse relationship? Perhaps this explains why some theologians throughout history have pointed to specific actions of Christ as coming from either the divine or human side of Jesus (e.g. healing the blind man is divine, while torment in Gethsemane is human). Often this is upheld through discussions of high vs. low Christology (either Christ is more God than human: high Christology, or he is more human than God: low Christology). But, once again, this kind of idea limits God by what is not God. By proclaiming Christ FULLY human and FULLY God the Church rejects the possibility of this inverse (or competitive) relation between God and the world.

God relates non-competitively with creation, including within the human Jesus Christ. The transcendence of God allows for the existence of this paradoxical God-human Jesus Christ just because God is not limited in ways that humans are. The two natures do not compete with one another in that the less of one means more of the other. Rather, the humanity of Jesus becomes God’s own in the Incarnation in a perfect union (the “hypostatic union” of patristic Christology). Once again, this is not 50/50 so that half of God and half of a human are combined to make a whole person. Jesus is not a demi-God, he is God, but he is also human, both remain fully intact without losing out to the other.

I’ll now move on to a couple more of Tanner’s ideas. One of the most significant aspects of Tanner’s theology is the centrality of the Incarnation to salvation. For her, the Incarnation is not just a one-time event at Jesus’ birth, but is rather the term used to describe the whole of Jesus’ life. She also does not think that Jesus only saves at the cross (or even only at the resurrection). Many evangelicals, and other protestants have erred in this way. Many think that the only thing that really matters about Christ is that he died on the cross for our sins. Though they wouldn’t likely admit it, many Christians relegate the actual life of Jesus to no salvific significance. For them, all that really needed to happen was that God became man, and died on a cross, all else is inconsequential extra workings with no real meaning to us (besides perhaps the wise teachings of Christ). In fact, most of their theology would work perfectly well if, as soon as Jesus was born, God struck him down with the weight of all of our punishment and then rose him back to life at the age of 3 days old, at which point he returned to heaven! (if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll notice I seem to put a little jab against penal substitution in each of my posts!)

This type of theology neglects nearly all of historical Church’s proclamation, and reduces the life of Jesus to pragmatism with regard to their sinner’s prayer. On the contrary, Tanner renews within Protestant circles the idea that the Incarnation is what saves. The cross is a product of that Incarnation, yes, and perhaps the culmination of it along with the resurrection, but all of Jesus life is saving. Jesus overcomes sin when he is tempted, overcomes sickness when he heals, overcomes despair in Gethsemane, redeems the life of children as a child, sanctifies our friendships as he relates to his disciples, and then overcomes death by dying and resurrecting.

In this way, all of the events in Jesus’ life are saving, and this result should not be limited to just the cross. All of the events in the life of Jesus can be seen as part of the process of his perfecting of humanity, through the various examples I just mentioned, which results in our salvation. Jesus’ humanity is not perfected only at his birth or the resurrection, but undergoes a process, similar in kind to our own sanctification (though Jesus is certainly way ahead of us!) which provides salvation, and allows for our own unity with Christ as a by product of his life, death, and resurrection.

Lastly, I would like to touch upon some of Tanner’s ideas about theology and economics, as they comprise a great deal of her more recent work. You may be thinking, “what on earth does theology have to do with economics?” Her answer would be that it should have a lot to do with it! For far too long, Christians have tried to remain in their own sphere. This was manageable when entire empires were synonymous with Christianity in their day, but not in our current situation. Today we are marked by recessions, money management advice, and an entire economy based upon debt and repayment among other things. One of the best things about Tanner is that most of her ideas have far-reaching applicability, like in economics. I can only briefly mention a few things.

She highlights the unconditional and free character of God’s gifts to us and uses that idea to supplement our own economic thinking into a reality that is much more beneficial to all of humanity. God’s economy does not run on the model of debts and repayments like ours does, but is unlimited and unconditional in character. God does not lose anything when he gives (contra our losing money when we buy something), and neither do we when we do acts of benevolence. Grace is not something to be hoarded and possessed by individuals (unlike how we treat money), but something to be given without loss to others in need. Grace is given universally by God, and not just to a select few as payment. Grace is not based upon whether someone is a deserving recipient of that grace, but is based solely on our’s and others’ needs for grace. Grace is not just given for the sake of individuals, but for the good of entire communities. Of course, Tanner develops the results of this analysis much more in her writing.

Far from some sort of negative communist utopia, the economy of grace does have much to teach us in our modern financial situation. Her ideas are especially timely during a period in which more and more people are recognizing the pitfalls of unchecked capitalism: how it affects the rich and poor, and molds humans after the image of profit and efficiency rather than the image of God. The way we structure our economies heavily influences the way we think about God. It is no wonder people who have bought into the system of creditor/debtor in economic life (especially in America) usually put forth this idea into the very workings of salvation as if God were just like our own banker or debt collection agency. Most Christians, whether you agree with its theological principles or not, are completely unaware that the Church, for the majority of its existence up to modern times, has rejected the concept of charging interest as a form of sin that disproportionately exploits the world’s poor. Alas, another debate for another time. I’ve realized I’ve inserted too much of my own opinion when I’m supposed to be telling you hers. The point is, Christian theology has a lot to say about economic matters.

To close, we should continue to read Tanner (or be introduced) because her ideas are closely related to the current situation of the world, while yet extraordinarily faithful to the Christian tradition. Her vision of God as the giver of good gifts culminated in Christ helps us to remember who God is. Her talk of God’s interaction with the world helps us to understand our daily lives when we try to look for God’s presence. Her talk on grace inspires all of us to be more of a blessing to others as we re-give the gifts God has given to us to others who are in need like ourselves. In Tanner, any Christian will find a challenging, yet immensely refreshing voice for the Church. For all of these reasons, she is one of the foremost theologians in the world today, and her influence will continue for many years to come.


Below are links to purchase her books, with my short comments about their worth.

Jesus humanity and the trinityJesus, Humanity, and the Trinity. I’ve already written about this work here. It’s a very brief systematic theology, barely over a 100 pages, that outlines what she thinks are the core ideas of Christianity. This book should be required reading, in my humble opinion, for every Church-goer, especially those interested in learning about theology.

christ the key

Christ the Key. I’ve also already written about this one here. Enough said.

economy of graceEconomy of Grace. This is her book on theology and economics. It is dense in sections, but only because complex economic concepts require explaining. Overall, it’s a wonderful read that promises to shift the way one approaches both economic policy making in government AND personal finance decision in the everyday.

politics of godPolitics of God. I didn’t refer to this much in this piece, but it is definitely worth the read. She tackles issues of how beliefs affect people’s actions, and how the Christian community can be a force for good in the world backed by their beliefs.

Theories of Culture. In this work, Tanner outlines a postmodern understanding of culture theories of cultureand uses it to suggest new avenues for theological reflection. I particularly liked the section on the relation between academic theology and the everyday Christian life.

god and creationGod and Creation in Christian Theology. This was her first book. Most of it’s on the use of theological language, but it’s also in a few chapters here that she gives the most thorough treatment of her idea of non-competitive relations between God and Creation.