50 Key Concepts in Theology by Hug Rayment-Pickard

By Hug Rayment-Pickard

In fifty really good brief essays one of many UK's liveliest younger writers on faith introduces the most important topics, routine and thinkers in theology. George Pattison, Professor of Divinity on the college of Oxford says: 'Hugh Rayment-Pickard is without doubt one of the clearest thinkers at the British theological scene, and 50 Key options in Theology opens the door to theology for college students and basic readers alike. He has provided a legitimate consultant for the at a loss for words and a stimulus to argument among the interested.'

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If God is unchanging, how can he change from ‘living’ to ‘dead’? And if God is omniscient, would he not know about his resurrection in advance, thereby making his ‘death’ a charade? Here we see trinitarian doctrine collapsing, as it often does, into a tangle of paradoxes. As the hymn puts it: ’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies – Who can explore his strange design? The idea of ‘the death of God’ started to gain a new relevance when the nineteenth-century philosopher Hegel put the concept at the centre of his theology.

Abelard proposed an alternative ‘exemplar theory’ of the atonement, arguing that Jesus’ death on the cross provided us with a life-changing example of stoical love in the face of injustice, cruelty, violence and death. Christ’s death showed us the way out of sin and the path back to reconciliation with God. Abelard’s version of the atonement has recently been championed by René Girard, who rejects penal substitution, seeing it as a form of scapegoating. Girard argues that Jesus made a self-sacrifice of his life to show precisely that there is a non-violent alternative to scapegoating.

This is why the Roman Catholic Church waited until 1992 to change the doctrinal position that it had taken in 1633 on Galileo’s astronomical theories. In practice, of course, doctrines have changed over time, with new doctrines being added to the body of teaching, and with others being amended (see ‘Atonement’). In recent decades theologians have been re-thinking the status of doctrine, particularly in the light of twentieth-century developments in the philosophy of language. Wittgenstein, in particular, argued that language does not merely describe the world or express our ideas: all language is embedded in a ‘form of life’ and cannot be understood apart from the cultural milieu in which it is used.

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