Saturday, June 01, 2013

June Book o' the Month - Michael Welker's “Creation and Reality”

Over the past several months I have been reading Michael Welker, professor at the University of Heidelberg. I’ve become enamored to the point of being confident that he will be one of my "comp and dissertation theologians," so I’m excited to introduce him to the DET audience with his book Creation and Reality. In this first post I want to limit myself to a couple introductory remarks about Welker’s project that are also articulated in the introduction to this book.

In Creation and Reality, Welker appears to see himself within the continuing quest to do theology after “the collapse of classical bourgeois theism,” yet he argues that “it is necessary not to give up the christological, pneumatological, and other debates with classical theism but to supplement them in the area of the theology of creation" (1-2). Welker believes that the doctrine of creation still has a major role to play in theology after the collapse in creating “a pre- or post-theistic understanding of God’s creative power and of the creation intended by God" (2).

To do so Welker employs a kind of “Biblical Theology…developing in interdisciplinary and interconfessional collaboration since the 1980s, particularly in Germany and North America" (2-3). He immediately goes on to describe this biblical theology, and given my other reading of Welker, it seems important to quote this description at length:
These approaches depart from all earlier attempts to take a single form—for example, personalism, existentialism, social criticism—or a single theme—for example, reconciliation, covenant, reign of God, God’s glory—and to highlight it as the form or the content of the biblical traditions, or to read it into those traditions. Instead these approaches are consciously pluralistic. They take seriously the diverse biblical traditions with their different situations in life, with the continuities and discontinuities in their experiences and expectations of God, since those experiences and expectation are sometimes compatible with each other and sometimes not directly so. (3)

Part of the reason Welker is “interested in these differences” is because “Precisely those tensions between relative commonalities and relative differences in the expectations and experiences of God in the different biblical traditions are essential to theological self-criticism” (4). The upshot of all this (as I've observed and gleaned from here, here, here, and here, in addition to Creation and Reality) is that some traditional “problems” with the bible are turned into strengths (ibid), and throughout much of his writing Welker wants to stress that problems with how we read the bible or do theology occur when we employ “abstraction,” “reduction,” or "common sense" to handle these tensions (see pp. 3-4 and ch. 1). For Welker tensions and discontinuities aren't problems, they're "tools of the trade."

Hopefully this sets the stage for a coming post where I will examine Welker's reading of Genesis 1-2, where one can see some of how Welker's approach actually fleshes out.



Alexander said...

Thanks for your impressions of the book. As an aside, I don't think trouble starts when we use abstractions; instead Welker would argue that we're in trouble when we no longer recognize our own abstractions or when we're unable to transform them in creative ways. But this wouldn't be directed against abstractions per se, but against the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness."

Derek Maris said...

Hi Alexander,

Thanks for your thoughts. I think it is fair to say I've been imprecise in my characterization here, and I'm glad you've pointed it out. In fact, a quote of Whitehead by Welker in chapter 1 of C & R summarizes your point:

"You cannot think without abstractions; accordingly, it is of the utmost importance to be vigilant in critically revising your modes of abstraction" (18, originally from Whitehead's "Science and the Modern World").

Thanks again for the comment. Lastly, if I may ask, are you Dr. Alexander Maßmann, Dr. Welker's assistant?

Alexander said...

Hi Derek: Yes, Whitehead is helpful here. And good guess, I am still working as Dr. Welker's assistant ;) BTW, we're hoping Welker's Christology will be published in English this fall or winter (with Eerdmans).
Best, Alex

W. Travis McMaken said...

Ooohhh! Alex, be sure to let me know when that is published. Perhaps you could write up a blog post here to advertise.

Derek Maris said...

That's great to hear Alex, I will be looking for it! Thanks again for commenting!