Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

This review is part of my fulfilment of an agreement with the editors of this text in exchange for a free advanced copy of this book.

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

What I enjoyed about this book:

Relational theology is a Protestant phenomenon, that is it is primarily an intra-communal conversation between Protestants, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, nondenominationals and the like. What is Relational theology? It is a theology that emphasizes God‘s interaction with humanity and creation, as well as the Creator’s capacity to be affected by the creation. In this theology, the passage, “God is love,” is invoked repeatedly.  Nothing is predetermined or foreordained in this perspective, and both the divine and humanity have more or less, libertarian free will, but for the sake of community.  My favorite essay from this collection SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT (it ‘s about postcolonialism) was “The Cross Or Caesar?: A Postcolonial Query” by Gabriel Salguero. I don’t know how many times I have said that the post in post colonialism is about hope more than anything else, but this quote is golden: “The ‘post’ in postcolonial is a call, a vision, a prophecy. ‘Post’ means that we hope. We can dream about and work for a day in which God’s shalom reign of Isaiah 11 is a reality. We can anticipate the lion and the lamb dwelling together. ‘Post means that love conquers our appetites to colonize, enslave and control. ‘Post’ in postcolonialism means that God’s love will bring to its knees all the kingdoms of this earth and establish a reign of love and justice for all of creation.”

WHAT I DID NOT ENJOY ABOUT THIS TEXT:

First of all, the chapters were too short for my taste, but this was an introduction geared towards probably laypersons. Okay, fine. I get why the brevity. Still, some ideas need to be explicated. My other dislike about this text was that it severed completely, as Dirk von der Horst said, discussions of oppression and suffering from God’s relationality.  In fact, probably the fact that this conversation is a white Protestant male lead book on relational theology is part of the reason that the work of Catholic feminists such as Elizabeth A Johnson’s work is overlooked significantly.  We can’t talk about God relating people without talking about God’s suffering with persons in specific contexts, i.e., gender, race, and class injustice.  One of the more problematic essays in this collection, “Worship As Relational Renewal And Redemption of the World” by Brent D. Peterson is probably an example of what happens when male relational theologians  turn a blindeye to suffering. This essay is very problematic with the claims it made, and in only FOUR pages! First, Peterson ignores significant biblical texts in the Jewish canon where God accepts sacrifices (animal and produce), and where YHWH punishes for wrong sacrifices. But no no no no, Peterson argues, that “the Israelites‘ worship was inauthentic” and that it was like a “Wal-mart transaction.’  In other words, the rituals and ceremonies that Jesus himself participated had no meaning, that intentionality is something that God detests. This very brief but succinct argument is typical in white evangelicalism and white liberal protestantism. It is supersessionist, and anti-Jewish (not to mention a-historical). Peterson has privileged his (white) Gentile place above the Hebrews in his reading of the biblical narrative.

Peterson goes on to argue that because God is relational, we cannot “earn healing” by caring for the poor. (There’s one major religion that argues this, I’ll let you take a guess, even though Peterson gets them wrong hint hint). “The church cares for the downtrodden as an act of doxology:thankful worship.” See, relational theology leads back to conservative political notions of charity.  When you take away notions of duty (Christ’s commands, as well as all of the oh say relevant Hebrew Bible passages about justice), relational theology then become nothing more than a deity with a nicer image, smiling with the heart of Wal-Mart.

Relationality when separated from suffering, makes conversations about solidarity impossible.  The poor just remain charity cases to remain dependent upon the good graces of “THE CHURCH.”

 

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7 thoughts on “Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

  1. I haven’t read the book but I very much appreciate your sensitivities with regards to the book. Coming out of the reformed tradition as I do, not only do I not hear anything that is relational, there is nothing said about the self-righteous oppression that comes from colonialism. You know us reformed people have our authority figures to obey. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the difference between the Roman Church from the churches that come from Reformed Theology is that while the former submits to one infallible pope, the latter is obedient to many fallible popes.

  2. Pingback: What is Relational Theology? | Unsettled Christianity

  3. “and ceremonies that Jesus himself participated had no meaning, that intentionality is something that God detests. This very brief but succinct argument is typical in white evangelicalism and white liberal protestantism. It is supersessionist, and anti-Jewish (not to mention a-historical).”

    About Jewish sacrifices. I don’t know about that! In “who Wrote the Bible”, Richard Elliott Friedman, a Jewish scholar, says it is more complicated than that.there were the Aaron priests, who did the sacrifices in the temple, and the Shiloh priests descended from Moses who did not emphasize animal sacrifices. One of which was Jeremiah. So I think it is a little more complicated than that. Gets into the split between Israel and Judah too, so the Jews were not a monolithic bloc at all.

  4. was there a helpful bibliography of where to go from the intro into other relational texts? it’s a pet peeve of mine when a book tries to be an introduction to anything and it doesn’t provide any next steps.

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