Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Two wonderful books

Ben Meyer's last published work, Reality and Illusion in New Testament Studies, bears the sub-title A Primer in Critical Realist Hermeneutics. It is certainly a primer on critical realism, no question, but as an introductory text it leaves something to be desired. Truthfully, although he had a first-rate mind, Meyer is at times a quite opaque writer. Yet given that Lonergan's two key works--Insight and Method in Theology--together run in excess of 1100 pages, and that these constitute but two volumes of the twenty-odd volumes planned but not yet all published in the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, such introductory and summary volumes are a virtual desideratum for those first encountering Lonergan and his thought. I am always on the look-out for such volumes, both to enrich my own understand and also to recommend to others.

To this end, I just recently happily discovered a wonderful little book: Mark T. Miller, The Quest for God and the Good Life: Lonergan's Theological Anthropology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013). In just over 200 pages Miller, assistant professor of theology at the University of San Francisco, manages to make the basics of Lonergan's thought accessible to the uninitiated. Not only does it accurately and fairly represent Lonergan's thought but it does so in a remarkably lucid and fluent fashion. It is sufficiently succinct and well-written that one could easily consume the entirety in a couple days of dedicated reading. Moreover, unlike Meyer in Reality and Illusion, Miller abundantly references Insight, Method, and other of Lonergan's works; particularly happy is the fact that in the case of Insight his references are to the pagination found in the 1992 Collected Works edition. It occasions little surprise that on the back cover Robert Doran, one of the editors of the Collected Works, not only praises the volume but recommends its use in introductory courses on Lonergan.

I recently also discovered Neil Ormerod, Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014). Actually, "discovered" is not the right word: I knew about the volume before it was released and in fact swallowed the bullet and paid international shipping to get it delivered from the US to Canada as it was going to become available in the former country a bit earlier than in the latter. I was not disappointed. If Miller's book is an excellent introduction to Lonergan then Ormerod's is an excellent extension of Lonerganian thought and ideas in new and exciting directions. As the title might suggest, Ormerod is a systematic theologian. Yet the title should also suggest that he is a systematic theologian who recognizes the importance of history in doing his work. This is only proper from someone working in an explicitly Lonerganian framework, for Lonergan envisioned his own work as the introduction of historical thinking into Catholic thought. Consistent with this vision Ormerod argues that a "systematic ecclesiology" must be empirical/historical, normative, dialectical, and practical, giving a specifically Lonerganian sense to all these terms. He draws heavily on the work of the aforementioned Robert Doran, especially the latter's 1990 volume Theology and the Dialectics of History, to articulate a historical and dialectical account of the Catholic Church.

Incidentally, it should be noted that Ormerod's focus upon the Catholic Church comes from a recognition that ultimately one cannot do everything in one volume, and since Ormerod is a Catholic theologian drawing upon the thought of other Catholic theologians it makes good sense for him to focus upon the Catholic Church. This does not mean that his ideas are of exclusive relevance to studying Catholicism however. For instance, his student Shane Clifton has worked with many of the same notions in his own investigations into Australian Pentecostalism; cf. Pentecostal Churches in Transition: Analyzing the Developing Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia (Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies; Leiden: Brill, 2009). Whilst reading and re-reading Ormerod however what I find truly thrilling is that his work helps open up the possibility of a New Testament scholarship that on the one hand can integrate its discoveries into something much like what the Annales School called the longue durée (i.e. development taking place over the course of centuries) whilst on the other hand facilitates the work of the later "functional specialties" of the theological endeavour, what Lonergan described as foundations, doctrines, systematics, and communications. IMHO, Ormerod's Re-Visioning the Church stands as an example of an all-too-rare breed: a study that produces genuine, indisputable, breakthroughs in the conceptual apparatuses necessary for the work of theology.

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