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This was an excellent summary and analysis of Karl Rahner, and his creative thinking that helped reinterpret the Roman Catholic Church in the modern and contemporary context. I had had the pleasure of reading Rahner on occasions over the years, and found him thoughtful, refreshing and creative in trying to clarify the ideas and frames of reference behind the forms of faith and devotion.
Rahner was particularly helpful with his compassionate attitude toward followers of other world religions, in reference to the exclusivist claims of Christianity. One aspect Kilby really brings out well here is how integrated Rahner's personal and academic thought was.
Rahner was an active preacher, teacher, speaker, writer and devotional leader. He wrote meditations and prayers and lived and worked in an active and practical worship context, integrating his thoughtful rational and historical analysis with an application to everyday life and personal worship.
Rahner was able to draw upon certain perspectives in Hegel and Existentialism without becoming a slave to the systems those schools entailed. And his thought presaged the later Process Philosophy movement in taking seriously the relational aspects of a Creator god in entering into true relationship with his human creatures.
I see also powerful aspects of Process Philosophy in his formulations, though Kilby never mentions that, and I do not know if that was ever overtly mentioned by Rahner himself. He works on integrating the concepts of Grace, for instance, in such a way that the experience of Grace is in focus. This emphasis on the experience of Grave, the feeling of forgiveness, the feeling of relationship, fits the pattern of thought and core themes of Existentialism.
Rahner enlivens the discussion about the relationship of symbols to their referent by focusing on the process of mediating Grace. Rahner notes that an observance often becomes part of the experience of Grace, as the prayer form that enables an actual internal prayer focus, the act of kneeling serving to induce the actual reverent attitude it represents. These emphases fit the pattern of Process Philosophy, which emphasizes the idea of change and "becoming."
This Process perspective breathed new life and possibility into western thought after Alfred North Whitehead developed teh basic schema of Process as an approach to Reality. Charles Hartshorne developed this format into a strong, dynamic "neo-classical" philospophy that could account for true, dynamic, relational characteristics of God.
The 20th century saw the refinement of Hartshorne's Process Theology which focused on the dynamic characterisitics of God so much in focus in the Old Testament and the Incarnation. These dynamic, relational concepts were integrated into the dominant philosophical concept of God as Ultimate Other and totally good.
More recently Shubert Ogden was the premiere representative of Process Theology in the Christian arena, emphasizing the dynamic aspect of God's personality and the relational character of his acts in what is sometimes referred to as "Salvation History."
Rahner does not overtly reference Process thought in the sections of his writings I have read. But the strong relational theme is active throughout Rahner's thought, in terms very similar to Process Theology. This dynamism is brought out well in Kilby's review of the key concerns in Rahner's thought and published works.
Process Theology enables us to deal more realistically and account more fully for the biblical portrayal of God as a personality who interacts with his human creation, who experiences and initiates real relationships with God. It is not a fad theology of the times, but a serious correction in "Classical Theology" of the Middle Ages.
The Process concepts overcome the conflict of St Thomas' thought brought over from Aristotle, in defining God as an unchanging and unchangeable entity. In Aristotle, the term "God" did not represent a living entity, but a logical principle, an organizing principle of order and direction that draws the universe to some final ultimate purpose.
A Static God
Aquinas was unable to successfully overcome this inert idea of God, and western theology has never overcome this impasse, the Protestant Reformers taking this aspect of late medieval theology totally for granted. Luther deals with the dynamics of relationships much better than Calvin, whose followers developed a stultified and mechanical concept of a God who could not change and had in fact predetermined everything in an unchangeable manner.
This was a form of the Rationalist view of an objective universe operating on the basis of "laws." This accounted for the regularity of the external macro universe, and led to a sense of causal mechanism that eliminates any sense of true free will and independent action. That leaves little if any room for any sort of dynamic relational freedom.
Yet the Bible and the historical Judeo-Christian stream of thought and worship has consistently proclaimed that God is in the business of making relational covenants, of interacting with fallible humans. He cannot be unchangeable if he is going to be in a relationship.
Relationships by definition are dynamic. They change and as the human participants change and they develop as the relationship progresses. So there were some definitional problems here, and conclusions drawn from some implications that contradicted very basic biblical declarations about God's relational character.
Rahner reclaims this dynamic interrelational aspect of the Gospel, enlivening the various observances of Roman Catholicism with a look behind the observance and ritual to its intent and personal relational meaning. Kilby brings this out admirably in this review, while likewise never overtly mentioning Process Philosophy and its theological derivatives in the 20th Century.
A great example of a similar earlier Catholic thinker was Tielhard de Chardin, who emphasized the progressive character of God's relationship to the creation, and the discovery aspect of the human experience of relationship to the Divine. Rahner is similarly creative in thought and re-evaluates the accepted boundaries and ideas of Thomism, and finds new ways to critically reform Catholic thought.
A strength of Rahner's method and result is that he has reclaimed the focus in creation theology so obscured in medieval European thought (in contrast to Eastern and Oriental Christian thought) that the creation remains good.
In Rahner's perspective relationship of God to the creation is still strong, and especially God's relation to the human creation. This self-giving, relational aspect of God's character, his grace inititive, is the basis of salvation.
Rahner emphasizes the image of God inherent in the human entity, and the Presence of God in each aspect of life.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Critical Thought Construction: Schubert Ogden
Denominations, Doctrines and Fellowship
Faith Discovery Quest
The Master Communicator
Petros the Rock and the Rock of the Church
The Pope and Peter Revised
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First reading notes written 23 March 2011
Review written and posted on Amazon 3 April 2011
Developed 8 July 2011
Last edited 14 November 2015
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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