Conversations with Theologians

More than twenty years ago an evangelical professor of theology at Hillsdale College, Dr. Michael Bauman (photo), decided to interview some of Image1 Europe’s leading theologians. He selected Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Orthodox and Catholic thinkers. He sought out eleven people because he thought they had in them the unmistakable marks of having lived a truly theological existence. The theologians included Hendrikus Berkhof, Alister McGrath, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Bishop Kallistos Ware, Sister Benedicta Ward, Thomas Torrance, Gareth Moore, John Macquarrie, Bishop Graham Leonard and Dorothee Sölle.

This excellent small book, now available only from out-of-print sources, was titled Roundtable: Conversations with European Theologians. As I was recently going through my library to purge several thousand books I re-discovered this little book of only 142-pages. I found it so immensely interesting that I decided not to part with it quite yet.

Michael Bauman suggests that evangelicals are often extremely insular when it comes to doing theology. We are far more likely to read authors that we already know and agree with. If we do not know a writer, or think that we should not trust him/her for any reason, we generally avoid them. We do not relish listening to people who challenge our beliefs. I consider this one of the biggest marks against modern evangelical life and practice.

Bauman articulates my own thoughts well when he says, “But if we feed only on versions happening to be in favor with our own small coterie of evangelical theologians, we doubtless shall miss a great deal that would have made us better thinkers, better theologians, indeed better people” (13). Bauman sought out these eleven theologians in order to glean something from their wisdom and to gather their own pious reflections upon the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Some of the theologians he interviewed struggled for decades to bring the Christian gospel, and its manifold implications, to bear upon all that we think and do as Christians possessed with an active, inquiring mind. While Bauman’s interviews reveal answers that I do not share, at least in some instances, but they all show that the particular person being interviewed has been deeply touched by both human life and the divine.

Kallistos_Ware The first theologian interviewed, at least in the order of the book itself, was Bishop Kallistos Ware. Kallistos Ware is now Metropolitan Ware, one of the world’s great Orthodox scholars and a serious ecumenist, something not overly common in the world of Orthodoxy. I have had the joy of reading a great deal of Ware’s excellent work. His two books on Orthodox theology and history are the best you can read from an English/American perspective. I have also enjoyed meeting Metropolitan Ware and hearing him speak on several different occasions.

In each of Bauman’s interviews the theologian was asked to “describe God.” Ware answered that God is above all Trinity. This is how we understand divine love, in and through Trinity. He then adds:

I deeply regret the way in which the Trinity is passed over in so much Christian thinking today. Karl Rahner [Roman Catholic] rightly observed that one could remove the references to the Trinity from most contemporary books on Christian theology and their arguments would remain unaltered. All too many Christians today are simply monotheists, not Trinitarians. One of the most important tasks of the Orthodox Church in the inter-Christian dialogue of our time is to stress the centrality of the doctrine of the Trinity, not as a piece of abstract speculation, but as an expression of practical theology that can make a huge difference to your and me personally. In all our struggles for human rights, for justice, for the abolition of oppression, we are active in the name of the Trinity (20)!

This underscores once again why ecumenism matters so profoundly. By listening to the whole church there is so much to learn that will only add strength and bulk to your own life and thought as a Christian.

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