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Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology

Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology

by Daniel L. Migliore


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Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology

Daniel Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding has been a standard introduction to Christian theology for more than a decade. The book's presentation of traditional doctrine in freshly contemporary ways, its concern to hear and critically engage new voices in theology, and its creative and accessible style have kept it one of the most stimulating, balanced, and readable guides to theology available. This second edition of Faith Seeking Understanding features improvements from cover to cover. Besides updating and expanding the entire text of the book, Migliore has added two completely new chapters. The first, "Confessing Jesus Christ in Context," explores the unique contributions to Christian theology made by recent theologians working in the African American, Asian American, Latin American, Hispanic, feminist, womanist, and mujerista traditions. The second new chapter, "The Finality of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism," addresses the growing interest in the relationship of Christianity to other religions and their adherents. Migliore's three delightful theological dialogues are followed by a new appendix, an extensive glossary of theological terms, making the book even more useful to students seeking to understand the history, themes, and challenges of Christian belief.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802806017
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 08/01/1991
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 5.99(w) x 8.94(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Daniel L. Migliore is Charles Hodge Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

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An Introduction to Christian Theology
By Daniel L. Migliore

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-2787-X

Chapter One

The Task of Theology

Christian theology has many tasks. This is evident both from a reading of the history of theology and from the wide variety of current understandings of its nature and task. Some theologians today contend that the task of Christian theology is to provide a clear and comprehensive description of Christian doctrine. Other theologians emphasize the importance of translating Christian faith in terms that are intelligible to the wider culture. For others theology is defined broadly as thinking about important issues from the perspective of Christian faith. And still others insist that theology is reflection on the practice of Christian faith within an oppressed community.

Underlying each of these understandings of the task of theology is the assumption that faith and inquiry are inseparable. Theology arises from the freedom and responsibility of the Christian community to inquire about its faith in God. In this chapter I propose to describe the work of theology as a continuing search for the fullness of the truth of God made known in Jesus Christ. Defining the theological task in this way emphasizes that theology is not mere repetition of traditional doctrines but a persistent search for the truth to which they point and which they only partially and brokenly express. As continuing inquiry, the spirit of theology is interrogative rather than doctrinaire; it presupposes a readiness to question and to be questioned. Like the search of a woman for her lost coin (Luke 15:8), the work of theology is strenuous but may bring great joy.

Theology as Faith Seeking Understanding

According to one classical definition, theology is "faith seeking understanding" (fides quaerens intellectum). This definition, with numerous variations, has a long and rich tradition. In the writings of Augustine it takes the form, "I believe in order that I may understand." According to Augustine, knowledge of God not only presupposes faith, but faith also restlessly seeks deeper understanding. Christians want to understand what they believe, what they can hope for, and what they ought to love. Writing in a different era, Anselm, who is credited with coining the phrase "faith seeking understanding," agrees with Augustine that believers inquire "not for the sake of attaining to faith by means of reason but that they may be gladdened by understanding and meditating on those things that they believe." For Anselm, faith seeks understanding, and understanding brings joy. "I pray, O God, to know thee, to love thee, that I may rejoice in thee." Standing in the tradition of Augustine and Anselm, Karl Barth contends that theology has the task of reconsidering the faith and practice of the community, "testing and rethinking it in the light of its enduring foundation, object, and content.... What distinguishes theology from blind assent is just its special character as 'faith seeking understanding.'"

A common conviction of these theologians, and of the classical theological tradition generally, is that Christian faith prompts inquiry, searches for deeper understanding, dares to raise questions. How could we ever be finished with the quest for a deeper understanding of God? What would be the likely result if we lacked the courage to ask, Do I rightly know who God is and what God wills? According to Martin Luther, "That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is ... really your God." As Luther goes on to explain, our god may in fact be money, possessions, power, fame, family, or nation. What happens when those who say they believe in God stop asking whether what their heart really clings to is the one true God or an idol?

Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian theology is this same faith in the mode of asking questions and struggling to find at least provisional answers to these questions. Authentic faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchel full of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as they are, and continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, our world, and ourselves. Consequently, Christian faith has nothing in common with indifference to the search for truth, or fear of it, or the arrogant claim to possess it fully. True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says there comes a point where we must stop asking questions and must simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.

Theology grows out of this dynamism of Christian faith that incites reflection, inquiry, and pursuit of the truth not yet possessed, or only partially possessed. There are at least two fundamental roots of this quest of faith for understanding that we call theology. The first has to do with the particular object of Christian faith. Faith is faith in the living God, and God is and remains a mystery beyond human comprehension. Although the "object" of our faith, God never ceases to be "subject." Faith is a relation to the living God and not to a dead, manipulable idol. In Jesus Christ the living, inexhaustibly rich God has been revealed as sovereign, holy love. To know God in this revelation is to acknowledge the infinite and incomprehensible depth of the mystery called God. Christians are confronted by mystery in all the central affirmations of their faith: the wonder of creation; the humility of God in Jesus Christ; the transforming power of the Holy Spirit; the miracle of forgiveness of sins; the gift of new life in communion; the call to the ministry of reconciliation; the promise of the consummation of God's reign. To the eyes of faith, the world is encompassed by the mystery of the free grace of God.

As Gabriel Marcel has explained, a mystery is very different from a problem. While a problem can be solved, a mystery is inexhaustible. A problem can be held at arm's length; a mystery encompasses us and will not let us keep a safe distance. Christian faith prompts inquiry not least because it points to the shocking mystery that in the humble servant Jesus, his ministry, death, and resurrection, God is at work for our salvation. So while Christians affirm that God has decisively spoken in Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2), there is much they do not understand. Perhaps there will come a time when no questions need be asked (John 16:23), but here and now faith sees only dimly, not face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), and the questions of faith abound.

The second root of the quest of faith for understanding is the situation of faith. Believers do not live in a vacuum. Like all people, they live in particular historical contexts that have their own distinctive problems and possibilities. The changing, ambiguous, and often precarious world poses ever new questions for faith, and many answers that sufficed yesterday are no longer compelling today.

Questions arise at the edges of what we can know and what we can do as human beings. They thrust themselves on us with special force in times and situations of crisis such as sickness, suffering, guilt, injustice, personal or social upheaval, and death. Believers are not immune to the questions that arise in these situations. Indeed, they may be more perplexed than others, because they have to relate their faith to what is happening in their lives and in the world. Precisely as believers they experience the frequent and disturbing incongruity between faith and lived reality. They believe in a sovereign and good God, but they live in a world where evil often seems triumphant. They believe in a living Lord, but more often than not they experience the absence rather than the presence of God. They believe in the transforming power of the Spirit of God, but they know all too well the weakness of the church and the frailty of their own faith. They know that they should obey God's will, but they find that it is often difficult to know what God's will is in regard to particular issues. And even when they know God's will, they frequently resist doing it. Christian faith asks questions, seeks understanding, both because God is always greater than our ideas of God, and because the public world that faith inhabits confronts it with challenges and contradictions that cannot be ignored. Edward Schillebeeckx puts the point succinctly: Christian faith "causes us to think."

By emphasizing that faith, far from producing a closed or complacent attitude, awakens wonder, inquiry, and exploration, we underscore the humanity of the life of faith and of the discipline of theology. Human beings are open when they ask questions, when they keep seeking, when they are, as Augustine says, "ravished with love for the truth." To be human is to ask all sorts of questions: Who are we? What is of highest value? Is there a God? What can we hope for? Can we rid ourselves of our flaws and improve our world? What should we do? When persons enter on the pilgrimage of faith, they do not suddenly stop being human; they do not stop asking questions. Becoming a Christian does not put an end to the human impulse to question and to seek for deeper understanding. On the contrary, being a pilgrim of faith intensifies and transforms many old questions and generates new and urgent questions: What is God like? How does Jesus Christ redefine true humanity? Is God present in the world today? What does it mean to be responsible disciples of the crucified and risen Lord? Those who have experienced something of the grace of God in Jesus Christ find themselves wanting to enter more fully into that mystery and to understand the world and every aspect of their lives in its light.

According to the philosopher Descartes, the only reliable starting point in the pursuit of truth is self-consciousness. Cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am." The logic of Christian faith differs radically from this Cartesian logic in at least two respects. First, the starting point of inquiry for the Christian is not self-consciousness but awareness of the reality of God, who is creator and redeemer of all things. Not "I think, therefore I am," but "God is, therefore we are." As the psalmist writes, "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.... When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (Ps. 8:1, 3-4).

Second, for Christian faith and theology, inquiry is elicited by faith in God rather than being an attempt to arrive at certainty apart from God. Not "I seek certainty by doubting everything but my own existence," but "Because God has shown mercy to us, therefore we inquire." If we believe in God, we must expect that our old ways of thinking and living will be continually shaken to the foundations. If we believe in God, we will have to become seekers, pilgrims, pioneers with no permanent residence. We will no longer be satisfied with the unexamined beliefs and practices of our everyday lives. If we believe in God, we will necessarily question the gods of power, wealth, nationality, and race that clamor for our allegiance. Christian faith is not blind faith but "thinking faith"; Christian hope is not superficial optimism but "well-founded hope"; Christian love is not romantic naivete but "open-eyed love."

As long as Christians remain pilgrims of faith, they will continue to raise questions - hard questions - for which they will not always find answers. Rather than having all the answers, believers often find that they have a new set of questions. This is surely the experience of the women and men in the Bible. The Bible is no easy answer book, although it is sometimes read that way. If we are ready to listen, the Bible has the power to shake us violently with its terrible questions: "Adam, where are you?" (Gen. 3:9). "Cain, where is your brother Abel?" (Gen. 4:9). To judge the cause of the poor and needy - "Is not this to know me? says the Lord" (Jer. 22:16). "Who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). When faith no longer frees people to ask hard questions, it becomes inhuman and dangerous. Unquestioning faith soon slips into ideology, superstition, fanaticism, self-indulgence, and idolatry. Faith seeks understanding passionately and relentlessly, or it languishes and eventually dies. If faith raises ever new questions, then the theological task of the Christian community is to pursue these questions, to keep them alive, to prevent them from being forgotten or suppressed. Human life ceases to be human not when we do not have all the answers, but when we no longer have the courage to ask the really important questions. By insisting that these questions be raised, theology serves not only the community of faith but also the wider purpose of God "to make and to keep human life human" in the world.

Theological inquiry of the sort I have been describing continually meets resistance from our fears. While we may be accustomed to raising questions in other areas of life, we are inclined to fear disturbance in matters of faith. We fear questions that might lead us down roads we have not traveled before. We fear the disruption in our thinking, believing, and living that might come From inquiring too deeply into God and God's purposes. We fear that if we do not find answers to our questions we will be left in utter despair. As a result of these fears, we imprison our faith, allow it to become boring and stultifying, rather than releasing it to seek deeper understanding.

Only trust in the perfect love of God is able to overcome our persistent fears (1 John 4:18) and give us the courage to engage in free theological work. Theology can then become a process of seeking, contending, wrestling, like Jacob with the angel, wanting to be blessed and limping away from the struggle (Gen. 32:24ff.). Theology as faith seeking understanding offers many moments of delight in the beauty of the free grace and resurrection power of God. Yet it is also able to look into the abyss. It would cease to be responsible theology if it forgot for a moment the cross of Jesus Christ and the experiences of human life in the shadow of the cross where God seems absent and hell triumphant. This is the meaning of Luther's arresting declaration of what it takes to be a theologian: "It is by living, no - more - by dying and being damned to hell that one becomes a theologian, not by knowing, reading, or speculating."

The Questionableness of Theology

If Christian faith causes us to think, this is not to say that being Christian is exhausted in thinking, even in thinking about the doctrines of the church. Christian faith causes us to do more than think. Faith sings, confesses, rejoices, suffers, prays, and acts.


Excerpted from FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING by Daniel L. Migliore Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Editionxi
Preface to the First Editionxiii
Sources Frequently Citedxvii
1.The Task of Theology1
Theology as Faith Seeking Understanding2
The Questionableness of Theology7
The Questions of Theology10
Methods of Asking Theological Questions16
2.The Meaning of Revelation20
What Is Revelation?20
God Hidden and Revealed22
Revelation as Objective and Subjective26
General and Special Revelation29
Models of Revelation33
Revelation as God's Self-Disclosure Narrated in Scripture35
Revelation, Scripture, and Church39
3.The Authority of Scripture44
The Problem of Authority in Modern Culture45
Inadequate Approaches to the Authority of Scripture47
The Indispensability of Scripture in Relating Us, by the Power of the Spirit, to the Living God Revealed in Jesus Christ50
Principles of the Interpretation of Scripture53
4.The Triune God64
The Problem of God in Modern Theology64
The Biblical Roots of the Doctrine of the Trinity68
Classical Trinitarian Doctrine70
Distortions in the Doctrine of God73
Restatement of the Meaning of the Doctrine of the Trinity74
The Attributes of God82
The Electing Grace of God87
5.The Good Creation92
Christian Faith and the Ecological Crisis92
Rereading the Scriptural Witness on Creation97
Rethinking the Themes of the Doctrine of Creation100
Trinity, Creation, and Ecology107
Models of Creation110
The Doctrine of Creation and Modern Science113
6.The Providence of God and the Mystery of Evil117
Belief in Providence and the Reality of Evil117
Providence and Evil in the Theological Tradition121
Rethinking Providence and Evil125
Recent Theodicies128
The Triune God and Human Suffering131
Providence, Prayer, Practice136
7.Humanity as Creature, Sinner, and New Being in Christ139
Interpretations of "Image of God"139
Created Humanity142
Fallen Humanity149
The Meaning of Original Sin and of Death as Enemy154
New Humanity in Christ160
8.The Person and Work of Jesus Christ163
Problems in Christology163
Principles of Christology167
Patristic Christology169
Rethinking Classical Affirmations of the Person of Christ174
Rethinking Classical Interpretations of the Work of Christ182
Violence and the Cross187
Dimensions of the Resurrection of Christ191
9.Confessing Jesus Christ in Context197
The Particularity and Universality of the Gospel198
Latin American Christology200
African American Christology204
Feminist, Womanist, and Mujerista Christologies209
Hispanic Christology212
Asian American Christology216
The Local and the Global in Christology220
10.The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life223
Neglect and Recovery of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit224
A Sketch of a Theology of the Holy Spirit226
The Christian Life: Justification235
The Christian Life: Sanctification239
The Christian Life: Vocation246
11.The New Community248
The Problem of the Church249
New Testament Images of the Church251
Critique of Current Models of the Church254
The Church and the Call to Communion262
The Church and the Call to Mission265
Classical Marks of the Church269
12.Proclamation, Sacraments, and Ministry274
Proclamation of the Word274
What Are Sacraments?279
The Meaning of Baptism282
The Meaning of the Lord's Supper288
Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Ethics293
The Meaning of an Ordained Ministry295
13.The Finality of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism301
The Ambiguity of Religion301
Types of Christian Theologies of the Religions306
Toward a Trinitarian Theology of the Religions316
Salvation in Other Religions?319
Christians and Jews323
Witness to Jesus Christ in a Religiously Pluralistic World326
14.Christian Hope330
The Crisis of Hope in an Age of Terrorism331
Principles for Interpreting Christian Hope337
Classical Symbols of Christian Hope342
Eschatology and Ethics348
Appendix ANatural Theology: A Dialogue354
Appendix BThe Resurrection: A Dialogue370
Appendix CPolitical Theology: A Dialogue384
Appendix DA Glossary of Theological Terms402
Index of Names and Subjects429
Index of Scripture References436

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Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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Daniel Migliore's book 'Faith Seeking Understanding' is one of the best books on Christian Theology I have ever encountered. He lays out the basic prinicples in an orderly, understandable fashion, and gives the reader a strong desire to keep learning and exploring on their own.