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Editor's Notes

Charles Hefling

The breadth and richness of what is meant by "theology" are strikingly represented in this issue of the ATR. Theology, we say, with an eye to the derivation of the word, is some sort of discourse about something--an "ology" of God. Yet it has always been recognized that it is a discourse with something odd about it, and the oddness has often been specified by saying that theological language is inextricably analogical. That explanation, however, has fallen on hard times, owing to the difficulty of saying in a convincing way just what an analogy is and does. Robert Masson, in his fine review article, explores in twenty theses how analogizing might function within a postmodern understanding of what we are doing when we are meaning, and by so doing he illuminates the whole range of theological utterance.

Considered from another angle, theology as Christians have usually practiced it has been a discourse that stands in relation--sometimes a problematic relation--to the church. Hence the important transitions in the life of Christian communities have a bearing on their theological constitution, and vice versa. That the English Reformation was such a transition, and one of special interest to readers of this journal, needs no argument. Margaret Christian examines newly discovered evidence for one of the most significant documents belonging to the preliminary phase of reform in England: the official statement of faith published in 1543 and known as the King's Book.

Statements of faith--creeds, confessions, doctrinal formularies--represent another mode of theological practice that has tended, in recent times, to recede into the background. The value of believing as such, let alone believing this or that, can be and has been called into question in various ways. In her "Gleanings" article, Catherine Wallace surveys a number of recent books that illuminate the question "Why Bother with Belief?"--with any any believing at all? "Because," she writes, "the alternative is certainty, which in our times is a particularly dangerous self-indulgence."

The address that opens the issue is in many ways a complement to this discussion. Beginning from the enigmatic quality that works of art often exemplify, Christopher Herbert considers imagination under three aspects: its playfulness, the obverse of this, namely its cost; and the limits it encounters, especially in the effort to articulate transcendence. Bishop Herbert then draws a parallel between imagination, so construed, and faith, proposing that the same three qualities belong to faith in its approach to "that place where, in the presence of the Word, all words fail."

No one, perhaps, was more strongly convinced of imagination's pivotal role in the communication of Christian meaning that John Henry Newman. It is through imagination that cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart, as Newman's motto avers. And whatever may may be true of his followers in the later, "subtractarian" phase of the Oxford Movement, preaching was for Newman himself a centrally important way in which such speaking occurs. Lawrence Poston's study of Newman's homiletics shows that the application of this principle to both the wording and the delivery of his own sermons helps to explain why they were, in their day, more influential than the Tracts for the Times.

If the sermon has been a principal means of conveying Christian belief and the identity of the believing community, it has never been the only one. In the student essay that won the journal's 2004 Harris Prize, Martha Smith Tatarnic of Trinity College, Toronto examines what might be called inverse theology--not Christianity's self-declaration to the culture in which it is practiced, but contemporary culture's commentary on the character of Christianity and Christian institutions, as conveyed to Christians and everyone else by the mass media. While televised representations of the church and its message are often woefully one - dimensional, there is something to be learned from them in our transitional time, and their impact presents a challenge for the church to rediscover its own theological voice.

 
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