Book Review by Amos Yong: Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit

By: Enoch Charles
Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

Ben Quash, Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). xvii + 317 pp. Paperback, $34.95, ISBN: 0567517926.

Ben Quash has a chair in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College, London, and this book presents a constructive proposal at this interface. What makes it noteworthy for readers of this Renewal Dynamics blog is that Found Theology is also an exploration in pneumatology and pneumatological theology. Three interrelated pneumatological theses are worth noting in this regard.

First, Quash’s argument, while detracting nothing from the givens of Christian theology – including Scripture as normative, and the church as the matrix of womb that nurtures faith – also wants to emphasize that Christian theologizing is an ongoing task that retrieves, reappropriates, and receives these givens in ways that are generative for new perspectives and understandings on this side of the eschaton. This thesis includes the idea that it is the Holy Spirit that is the theological engine that not only sustains but also helps human creatures to appreciate and join in such developments. In other words, the study of the Spirit (pneumatology, as such has traditionally been demarcated) unfolds in this book as a consideration of theological method: how is it that history contributes to theological and even doctrinal or dogmatic development? The case study here (part one) is on the translation of scripture, although Quash’s focus is not on translation into non-Western languages since the colonial era of Christianity (which has been the domain of the work of Lamin Sanneh and others) but on the emergence of Bibles in the English vernacular in the later medieval and early modern periods (here engaging Jewish theologian David Weiss Halivni, who some readers will recognize as being part of the contemporary Scriptural Reasoning conversations).

Second, aside from being an extended reflection in the ongoing methodology of finding, Quash’s discussions of the arts also are suggestive of how to recognize what is found. Deliberation on Vittore Carpaccio’s (1465-1525/1526) “The Entombment of Christ” and “The Meditation on the Passion” within a Gadamerian framework in general and through extended engagement of Hans Robert Jauss’s reception aesthetics and hermeneutics opens up a window into how new theological insights are uncovered. Quash further explores how these insights then influence and redirect the tradition of Christian theological reasoning. The moves made in this second part of the book could, however, have been made more robust pneumatologically with the use of Patrick Sherry’s pneumatological aesthetics (Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological Aesthetics, SCM Press, 2nd ed., 2002) or Robert Johnston’s pneumatological theology of revelation and the arts (Johnston, God’s Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation, Baker Academic, 2014).

Part three moves from the finding of the present and the found of the past to the anticipation of both in the future. Here Quash focuses on the imagination, in particular on human abductive capacities forged through the epistemology and philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), within the broader context of the achievements of Peirce interpreter and Jewish philosophical theologian in his own right, Peter Ochs. It is precisely such imaginative hypothesizing that is both nurtured by the work of the Spirit and that enables human minds, and hearts, to be open to the creative findings that lie beyond the horizon of any present moment.

One of the endorsements on the back cover highlights that Found Theology advances “a major pneumatological current in British theology.” I emphasize the last three words not because Quash ignores completely North American thinkers (obviously not, given the prominent role Ochs plays through the book’s pages) but because the book otherwise overlooks groundbreaking theologians of the imagination like David Tracy and, more relevant for Renewal Dynamics readers, pentecostal theologians who have done significant work on pneumatological epistemology, pneumatological imagination, and pneumatological-theological method (e.g., Wolfgang Vondey, Nimi Wariboko, James K. A. Smith, and their dialogue partners). Yet since Quash forges his case with the help of important British theologians like Rowan Williams and Daniel Hardy, his book can be read beneficially as complementary to works such as Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (by Amos Yong, Ashgate/Wipf & Stock, 2002) that chart the major pneumatological thrusts of Found Theology – the theology of the arts excepted – along trajectories mapped by the North American philosophical tradition.

Amos Yong

Professor of Theology & Mission

Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

Enoch Charles
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