More than twenty years ago an evangelical professor of theology at Hillsdale College, Dr. Michael Bauman (photo), decided to interview some of 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.
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 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.
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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That is a great book, John. I might just have to re-read it myself.
I am trying to get the book.
I don’t know why, but this post, particularly the comment by Bishop Kallistos Ware, that above all God is Trinity, is something I cannot get out of my head. If I were to have been asked to describe I would surely have not answered that way. But I realize in reading this post again why it is so important to listen to the whole church.
As an extension of this post and also because I am so interested in “core doctrine,” I recently did a study of the Trinity with my small group, and I used “Conviction Without Compromise” by Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes. Among other things, they do a good job of demonstrating why belief in the Trinity is essential to salvation.
It was good for me to get into this further, because although I always believed that the Trinity was a core truth, I never really understood why. And after reading Bishop Ware’s comments, it has made me strongly reconsider how I think of God.