Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Eternal Objects: Whiteheadian Idealism or Empiricism?

What I want to explore in this post is one of the most controversial concepts in Whitehead’s metaphysics: the “eternal objects” (EOs), which he also calls “pure potentials” or “pure possibilities.” In the end, how one interprets EOs largely determines one’s view of Whitehead’s overall system: whether in terms of idealism or empiricism.

At a basic level, EOs make sense of the conviction that “thought is wider than nature” - or better, that potentiality is wider than actuality. For Whitehead, reality cannot be reduced to the actual, which would imply a static world without genuine novelty or creativity. There would be no unrealized potential in such a cosmos. Some sphere of genuinely real possibility is therefore required to make sense of alternatives, contingencies, the “could-have-been-otherwise.”

This sphere is different from – although continuously interpenetrating – actuality. While actuality is intrinsically agential and determinate, EOs are indeterminate and non-agential (i.e., powerless “quasi-causes”). Borrowing Deleuzian language, Roland Faber therefore likes to say that while the actual exists, EOs insist as transcendental conditions for novelty and creativity. Both are real, but differently. As such, EOs

...answer the question of how the creative passage of…becoming can be a passage that is also creative and still escapes these two pitfalls of mere perpetual perishing into worthlessness, on the one hand, and mere eternal repetition of the Same, on the other. (DM, 139). 

More specifically, EOs account for things like sensory qualities (‘redness’), tactile qualities (‘softness’), conceptual abstractions (shapes and numbers), contrasts, relations, patterns, and emotions that differently condition actualities. Without pre-determining anything, EOs uniquely contribute to an entity’s becoming. Although comparable to universals like Ideas, Platonic forms, and predicates, Whitehead denies that EOs are universal essences in any traditional sense. They are not a priori logical structures for the world's particulars, but dynamic conditions for novelty and creativity.

As a radical empiricist, Whitehead argues that concrete actualities are “the only reasons.” As such, one cannot talk about eternal objects as the more ultimate reasons behind things. Actualities are not simply built up out of static universals. And unlike Platonic forms, EOs cannot be encountered outside of actual experience (as in a realm of pure reason or contemplation). As such, Whitehead converts Platonic idealism into radical empiricism. EOs are therefore not the ultimate ground of intelligibility or rationality, for reason/intelligibility refer exclusively to actual experience. This is also a consequence of Whitehead’s further – and deceptively simple – definition of eternal objects:

The first principle is that an eternal object…is what it is (SMW, 159) 

According to Stengers, this implies that EOs are singularities that are not primarily defined as “models” or “analogues” for actual entities. In other words: actual entities do not “resemble” the EOs that condition them. If they did, an EO would then be something other than “what it is”, having instead become a model for something other than itself and thus capable of being “characterized on the basis of some of its privileged cases of ingression” (TWW, 211). But even if EOs do remain in some sense transcendent to actuality, Whitehead strips them “of any ‘eminent value’, to which things of this world owe their legitimacy” (TWW, 208).

With this in mind, Steven Shaviro explains the function of EOs as adverbial rather than substantive: they merely express how actual entities relate to one another, rather than dictating what they in fact become. Consequently, EOs are ultimately unknowable and unnamable, as Stengers notes, because “the verbs ‘to know’ and ‘to name’ refer to (sophisticated) modes of feeling, which presuppose the [actual] determination of the ‘how.’” Again: the only reasons are concrete actualities. Stengers continues:

[EOs] are not determinant, but ‘potential for determination.’ They are what determination requires, the definition of the ‘how’ of each feeling, but no particular ‘how’ constitutes a privileged path allowing us to rise back up toward an eternal object…in other words, they explain nothing, justify nothing, guarantee nothing, privilege nothing, especially not intellectual operations in search of abstraction (TWW, 302-303). 

This interpretation of Whitehead is not the only one possible, and it is not without difficulties. It foregrounds some of Whitehead’s convictions to make sense of a very difficult concept in his metaphysics, but one can go about this in another fashion. I have relied primarily on Stengers, Shaviro, and Faber’s readings of Whitehead, but even these careful readers of process philosophy admit to some ambiguous statements in Whitehead’s texts that favor a more idealistic interpretation – which I should note has influenced a great deal of process theology (see Gary Dorrien’s idealistic reading of Whitehead in Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit). Ultimately, one’s theological commitments will strongly influence one’s interpretation of Whitehead, whether along idealistic lines or through an empiricist lens.

Having said that, the empiricist reading is intriguing to me, in part because it brings Whitehead closer to Deleuze. In fact, Deleuze implies such a reading of Whitehead in his late work, The Fold, where he relates his concept of the Virtual to EOs. Deleuze opposes the virtual to most concepts of the possible, which tend to function as universal essences that the temporal world actualizes as a sort of pre-formatted blueprint that merely lacks reality. As such, the possible is able to explain reality. But as I have tried to show, EOs are more like the virtual in that they do not lack reality, and they are not universal essences that can be experienced beyond the actual. Thus Stengers notes that, like the virtual, EOs take on differential “modes of ingression” within the actual, so it is impossible for an EO to be “conceived in the image of its actualization” (TWW, 214). On this reading, Whitehead's EOs are less like an eternal model and more like conditioning problems; correspondingly, actualities are creative responses to such problems rather than imitations of models.

In another post, I want to begin to think through the theological implications of this interpretation of EOs. Because Whitehead introduces God as that infinite process that necessarily provides a “place” for eternal objects, one cannot rethink the nature of the possible without also rethinking the nature of divinity.

Works cited:

Roland Faber, The Divine Manifold
Isabelle Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead 
Steven Shaviro, "Eternal Objects" (see also Without Criteria)
Philip Rose, On Whitehead
Gilles Deleuze, The Fold
Gary Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit
AN Whitehead, Process and Reality
------------------, Science and the Modern World

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Video Presentation at 2015 Whitehead Conference

Below is the video of my presentation at one of the many tracks at the 2015 Whitehead conference in Claremont, CA. In the paper, I discuss the ways in which Whitehead's philosophy offers an ecological corrective to Western anthropocentrism. I focus on Whitehead's critique of the bifurcation of nature - a problem that was arguably radicalized by Kant and his followers - and that is now being appropriated by so-called "New Realists" like Steven Shaviro, Tim Morton, William Connolly, Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, and others. I also point out the eco-theological implications of Whitehead's theo-cosmology as it has been explicated by John Cobb and David Ray Griffin. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of Connolly's Whiteheadian critique of neoliberalism and his call for secular and religious persons to form "pluralist eco-assemblages" that resist the ecologically destructive ideology of neoliberalism. You'll also see my friend Tripp Fuller pushing me to unpack some of the deeper theological implications of the paper for the last 10 minutes of the video. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God, the All-Enfolder: Josiah Royce's Idealism

I've been reading the great American Idealist Josiah Royce (1855-1916) this week and enjoying it immensely. I've read a good amount of Hegel, the most important philosophical Idealist, but Royce offers a clarity that one does not find in the former. What interests me at the moment about Royce is his early argument for the Infinite Thought or Spirit as that which grounds the reality of error - and therefore truth and goodness. Royce then went on to argue that religion is not primarily about the individual, but about communal "loyalty", which becomes his defining theme and ultimate virtue: "Loyalty to loyalty," he wrote. While Royce's idealistic panentheism evolves over time - in ways that anticipate both Tillich and Whitehead, interestingly - I cannot resist sharing this quote from an early essay, "The Possibility of Error":

"Everything finite we can doubt, but not the Infinite. That eludes even skepticism. The world-builders, and the theodicies that were to justify them, we could well doubt. The apologetic devices wearied us. All the ontologies of the realistic schools were just pictures, that we could accept or reject as we chose by means of postulates. We tried to escape them all. We forsook all those gods; but here we have found something that abides...No power it is to be resisted, no plan-maker to be foiled by fallen angels, nothing finite, nothing striving, seeking, losing, altering, growing weary; the All-Enfolder it is, and we know its name. Not Heart, nor Love, though these also are in it and of it; Thought it is, and all things are for Thought, and in it we live and move."

Josiah Royce (right) with William James
In particular, I am intrigued to find Royce's theological metaphor of the "All-Enfolder", which resonates with Catherine Keller's recent work that synthesizes Cusa, Deleuze, and Whitehead to think of God in similar terms: the divine enfolding-unfolding, or the "Ultimate Entanglement."

One final quote that I'd like to share from Royce's later writings anticipates Whitehead's emphasis on the God who suffers, along with Moltmann's distinctly Christian image of the crucified God:

"But now, as it is, if we have the true insight of deeper idealism, we can turn from our chaos to him...the suffering God...who actually and in our flesh bears the sins of the world, and whose natural body is pierced by the capricious wounds that hateful fools inflict upon him - it is this thought, I say, that traditional Christianity has in its deep symbolism first taught the world, but that, in its fullness only an idealistic interpretation can really and rationally express...What in time is hopelessly lost, is attained for him in his eternity." (quoted in Cornel West Reader, 181-182)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moltmann, Whitehead, & Process Theology

For the last few years, I have done a fair amount of work with the theology of Jurgen Moltmann and the process philosophy of Whitehead. I even wrote my masters thesis on the ecotheologies of Moltmann and John Cobb. Before that, I wrote a paper for a course on Whitehead that explored the ways that Moltmann appropriated the former's cosmology in various ways. It was a paper that I was proud of, but it needed quite a bit of work before I was comfortable sharing it. I did, however, post a portion of the paper on this blog (until recently), which was titled "Is Moltmann a Process Theologian?" (the short answer: no, but he does affirm open theism and elements of Whitehead's cosmology).

I have finally had a reason to thoroughly rewrite that paper over recent weeks and have decided to share it on my Academia profile. It now includes a more substantive analysis of Moltmann's post-Barthian methodology and what I think is a far more nuanced reading of Whitehead's metaphysics (thanks largely to my studies with both Catherine Keller and Roland Faber). For Moltmann and Whitehead nerds: while the paper draws most heavily on the former's God in Creation and the latter's Process and Reality, I engage most of their major publications in the paper.

In just one month, I'll be at AAR in Atlanta and am really looking forward to hearing Moltmann speak at the Homebrewed Christianity event on Friday and the open and relational theologies group over the weekend. Especially if you plan to be there too, maybe this essay will prove interesting or even helpful for you as you gear up to engage one of the world's greatest living theologians.

READ THE ESSAY HERE: "God & Creation in Process: Moltmann's Critical Appropriation of Whitehead's Cosmology"

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Altizer's Death of God Theology

It was in the spring of 1966 that radical death of God theology broke through the academic barrier and into the awareness of the general public in the United States. On the cover of what turned out to be its best-selling issue at the time, Time Magazine featured the controversial words, “Is God Dead?” The magazine article explored the challenges that modernity posed to faith and theology, including the rise of secularism and the natural sciences, which seemed to increasingly make God an unnecessary idea to make sense of the world. The leading death of God theologian, Thomas J.J. Altizer (b.1927) was also briefly mentioned in the article as proceeding to do theology without God. Altizer even received death threats in response to his theological claims, which are perhaps most clearly expressed in his 2002 book, The New Gospel of Christian Atheism (a revision of his 1966 manifesto, The Gospel of Christian Atheism). As Altizer explains in the book’s preface, his goal is to explicate the “most radical ‘dogmatic’ theology, one that attempts to discover the death of God as the very essence of the Christian faith, and to do so by unveiling a uniquely Christian crucifixion as apocalypse itself” (viii). But despite the negativity that drives Altizer’s project (a concept that is indeed crucial for him), he argues that the apocalyptic negation of the transcendent God makes “possible an ultimate affirmation and an ultimate joy” in life (x, my emphases). Perhaps more surprising is that Altizer’s work is not only joyful, but profoundly Christocentric – and arguably just as much as Barth’s theology. For in Altizer’s thinking, the Crucified Christ is indeed the very center of history and the absolute Incarnation of the Godhead.

The central philosophical sources for Altizer’s theology are undoubtedly Hegel and Nietzsche, followed by Heidegger and Kierkegaard. He often draws on the poetry of William Blake, Melville’s Moby Dick, and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Altizer also engages three of the most revolutionary Christian theologians: Augustine, Luther, and Barth. His radical theology is thus a critical synthesis of some of the most challenging thinkers in Western philosophy, literature, and theology. While this can make for difficult reading at times, if one can discern the basic narrative at the core of Altizer’s project – which is inspired by his radical interpretation of the bible – the essence of his death of God theology can be grasped.

It is important to note that Altizer does not oppose Christian faith, but rather “manifest” Christianity (i.e., “Christendom”). He is a radical theologian for the sake of a “new Christianity” that challenges the “old Christianity” of orthodoxy. For Altizer, orthodoxy is profoundly reactionary, and even anti-Christian in its efforts to cling to a primordial ground. It is thus a denial of the apocalyptic origins of Christianity, the very opposite of the orthodox desire to return to a primordial ground: it is the forward-moving affirmation of the radically new in history, the “absolute novum” (26). Focusing on the crucifixion, Altizer claims it reveals “death [as] absolute in Christianity…only the ending or death of the old creation makes possible the new creation, and Paul knows that ending as occurring in the Crucifixion, a crucifixion thereby manifest as apocalypse itself. This is the very apocalypse that is renewed in a new Christianity…but now death is total as it never is in…ancient Christianity, a totality of death inaugurated by the very advent of the modern world, and one only consummated in our world” (30). Despite the Christocentric particularity of this death, it is only with the birth of the modern world that the death of God becomes truly universal. Indeed, secular modernity is to be understood as “a repetition or renewal of the Crucifixion [that] universalizes the Crucifixion” (31). This points to the Hegelian-Nietzschean narrative of Altizer’s theology: in the Incarnation, the transcendent Godhead absolutely empties Godself (kenosis) into the human Jesus, and literally dies in the Crucifixion (contra the orthodox belief that only the human nature of Jesus suffered and died). God thus becomes absolutely immanent Spirit in the world after the negation of abstract “heavenly transcendence” in the Crucifixion (45, 54).

While this is a certain kind of “atheism”, Altizer specifically argues for the death of every “given or manifest God” (52, my emphases). Having become absolutely immanent, the resurrected Spirit is now “truly all in all” and “identified with actuality itself,” Altizer writes (53). His Christian atheism is thus difficult to distinguish from pantheism. Indeed, Altizer claims that Spinoza’s pantheism becomes truly “comprehensive” with Hegel’s Absolute Spirit (54, 77-78). Thus in Altizer’s reading of Hegel, the concept of Resurrection is rendered “unrecognizable” for Christian orthodoxy (56), because it is inseparable from Crucifixion and now signifies “an absolutely transfigured God, a God who is pure and total immanence as opposed to pure and total transcendence” (57). This is the final “ending [of] every beyond” (61), of every primordial ground: an absolute “No” to the nihilistic powers of transcendence and an absolute “Yes” to embodied life (66).

Barth’s “Christomonism” also prepared the way for Altizer’s Christian atheism. Barth made “impossible any Neoplatonic understanding of the Godhead” because he banished “every understanding of God that is not an understanding of Christ” (82). And yet Altizer believes that Barth did not go far enough, because he still remained partly Neo-Platonic with ancient Christianity in his view of “Godhead itself as absolutely primordial…whose primordial movement is understood as the movement of eternal return, as manifest in the Trinity itself.” By contrast, Altizer claims that it was Hegel who thought the Trinity most purely in terms of absolute apocalypse rather than primordial ground: “a death of the Father releasing the totality of the crucifixion of the Son, and one wherein the Father passes wholly into the Son, but whose culmination is that resurrection that is the advent of the final age of the Spirit…an absolutely immanent Spirit” (83-85). Following Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity as the reversal of the “life-giving” gospel of Jesus – because its logic produces extreme guilt and impotent passivity in humanity, rather than freedom and empowerment – Altizer argues that the self-annihilation of God releases the liberating gospel of Jesus from oppressive and alienating theistic transcendence, which Altizer identifies as “Satan” (following Blake, 94-96).

There is much to admire in Altizer’s radical theology, although I found myself struggling with his frequent use of words like “absolute,” “total”, “complete”, “purely”, “ultimate”, “comprehensive”, “wholly”, “final”, etc. To be sure, this totalizing style flows out of his Hegelian-apocalyptic thinking. But I do not share his confidence that history has “absolutely” moved toward secularism, or that modernity “finally” killed God. Not only are such teleological metanarratives difficult to maintain from a postmodern perspective, but religion is also a more complex phenomenon than Altizer acknowledges. Furthermore, the concepts of transcendence and immanence remain unclear in his work. I wonder: in what sense is God now immanent in the world? Why would the death of the transcendent God lead to pan/atheistic immanence rather than a finite God of some sort (as in William James or Henry Nelson Weiman)? Is it really the case that God must totally die for the sake of human liberation? Or is the problem less that God is transcendent (in some sense) than that God is often uncritically viewed as an all-determining, moralistic, and exclusively male despot? This continues to be the response to Altizer’s work from many process and feminist theologians, who are otherwise sympathetic with much of his thinking. As Catherine Keller has suggested, perhaps “God is not dead, but becoming.” With this in mind, perhaps "radical theology" - broadly defined - need not depend on the absolute death of God.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reflecting on Karl Rahner's Theology

In the 20th century, Karl Rahner (1904-1984) was for Roman Catholic theology what Karl Barth was for Protestant theology, and some have even placed him in line with the greatest theologians, such as Aquinas and Schleiermacher (see Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology, 550). His work continues to be discussed throughout the Catholic world, beyond the context of Europe and North America. For example, during my visit to El Salvador in early 2015, a number of Catholic activists who I spoke to referenced Rahner (alongside liberation theologians like Sobrino and Gutierrez, of course) as crucial to their own Christian thinking. Indeed, both Catholics and Protestants are often impressed by Rahner’s efforts to strike a balance between traditional Catholic dogma and modernism (i.e., post-Enlightenment philosophies, biblical criticism, history of religions, the natural sciences, etc.). Like Paul Tillich, Rahner was therefore a mediating theologian who recognized the “pluralism” and “fragmentation” of theology in modernity, while nevertheless arguing for a robust conception of Christian existence (FCF, 7). As such, Rahner hoped to give “an intellectually honest justification of Christian faith” (FCF, xii), and claimed that theology succeeds only when it makes “contact with the total secular self-understanding which man has in a particular epoch” (FCF, 7-8). As these quotes indicate, Rahner and Tillich share strikingly similar theological positions. This is due in part to their common philosophical sources, namely the works of Martin Heidegger and German idealists, which infuse their theologies with certain existentialist and mystical sensibilities (FCF, 24).

Perhaps Rahner’s most well known position is that persons of other religious traditions can be considered “anonymous Christians”, and thus ultimately included within salvation through Christ. He is also frequently quoted for his embrace of Christian mysticism: “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” Rahner’s inclusivism and mysticism point to one of the defining characteristics of his theology: a core concern to overcome any sharp dualism between God and creation. Rahner thus offered an intriguing doctrine of God in Foundations of Christian Faith that aimed to balance revelation and reason, transcendence and immanence. This did not result in a loss of God’s radical otherness. On the contrary, although Rahner viewed God as the “innermost center of our existence” (FCF, 12), he also spoke of God as absolute “mystery” and “abyss” (FCF, 2-3, 42).

Like most Catholic theologians, Rahner affirmed a certain kind of natural theology: that God can be partially known outside of special revelation: “theology itself implies a philosophical anthropology which enables [the] message of grace to be accepted” (25). For Rahner, there is indeed an essential “point of contact” between God and the creature. He thus disagreed with Barth’s “too narrowly Christological approach,” and advocated a transcendental theological method that begins with an analysis of human existence. This existential analysis ultimately demonstrated for Rahner that all humans have an “unthematic” knowledge of divinity as the absolute mystery of existence (FCF, 13, 18, 21). This is not an “objectifying” knowledge of God, and it is insufficient without the explicitly “thematic knowledge” of God derived from religious activity (FCF, 53). But thematic knowledge (i.e., revelation) requires an unthematic ground in order to be received, Rahner believed. He even claimed that this existential argument for the existence of God is “the one proof” that is legitimate, while all other “reflexive” arguments for God (whether cosmological, moral, etc.) only serve as necessary pointers to or clarifications of God as existential ground (71).

Thus Rahner paradoxically concluded that “holy mystery” is that which is “most self-evident,” because it is the presupposed ground for human knowledge of anything. Without this mysterious ground that gives everything existence, human comprehension of the world would be impossible: “Man is a transcendent being insofar as all of his knowledge and all of his conscious activity is grounded in a pre-apprehension of ‘being’ as such...” (33). But with Heidegger, Rahner maintained that this pre-thematic awareness of the ground of existence is always indirect and “never captured by metaphysical reflection.” It can be approached “if at all, in mystical experience and perhaps in the experience of final loneliness in the face of death.” (35). Thus in God’s radical immanence as the ground of existence, God remains simultaneously transcendent to the creature (58).

But why must this ground be named “God”? Part of Rahner’s surprisingly simple answer is that “God” is that enduring historical name for the uniting ground of reality, which humans necessarily wonder about as finite beings. In other words, “God” provides the most reasonable answer to the ontological question: “why is there something rather than nothing?” While Rahner thus identified God with Being-itself – as “holy mystery” – he admitted that one might call the ground of being “a thousand other names,” apart from thematic knowledge of God in Christ (60). This point raised some questions for me at this crucial moment in Rahner’s argument: why is it necessary to view the world as grounded in an original “unity” of Being at all, as Rahner claimed? Why not a differential abyss (Derrida), an unconscious ocean of virtual singularities (Deleuze), or a process of becoming without origin or final goal (Whitehead)? Why must existence be grounded in an original cosmic purpose, as Rahner claimed, rather than ungrounded in sheer chance? Can Rahner truly justify his Christian appropriation of Heidegger’s nontheistic ontology while yet transforming it into a kind of panentheism (this is always a problem for Heidggerian theologians – e.g., John Macquarrie)? I simply do not see how any existential analysis of humans “proves” that either God or unity grounds all of reality.

Although Rahner claimed to have avoided ontotheology by denying explicit conceptual knowledge of Being-itself (much like Tillich), he nevertheless attributed to it – without any apparent justification – a quasi-teleological function of unity (FCF, 64). How is this not thematic/conceptual knowledge of Being/God? This logocentric assumption that the world’s finite multiplicities are ultimately grounded in and derived from an original unity remains highly contestable, to say the least. I actually found this same rationalistic assumption in Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology I, in which he appropriates Rahner’s notion of an unthematic knowledge of God as uniting ground of being. Perhaps this is the enduring legacy of Hegel’s rationalism in so much European theology: that unity must be primordial, while difference is derivative. But in my view, this rationalistic-monotheistic assumption can only be defended (if at all) on the “grounds” of special revelation – and thus on a groundless risk of faith. Even so, I am not convinced that theology necessarily collapses into either total fideism or chaotic relativism when it departs from Rahner by more thoroughly resisting ontotheological temptations.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Theological Studies Reading List

Thinking about studying theology? Wondering what books to read in order to prepare? Then check out these practical, brilliant, but also highly accessible books that were especially important for my academic theological journey over the last five years of graduates studies:

1) Theology: The Basics (Alister E. McGrath): This was recommended as a preparation book for my first theology class, and it proved to be immensely useful. McGrath is a respectable and well-known historical theologian who offers a very readable overview of the basic components of Christian systematic theology.

2) A Handbook of Theological Terms (Van A. Harvey): Before my first semester at Claremont School of Theology started, I received an email from the school that had a list of recommended books for new students - and this was at the top of the list, for good reason. This is an extremely helpful text that is filled with basic terms that you will want to know as a theologian-in-training.

3) A New Handbook of Christian Theologians (Joseph Musser, Donald Price [ed.]): There are so many books out there that provide overviews of Christian theologians, but this one has always been my favorite. I love the format, which typically has a younger theologian write a brief summary of a more established theologian, and the selection of theologians that it covers is fantastic (process, liberation, evangelical, feminist, black, radical, neo-orthodox, Catholic, etc).

4) Philosophy and Theology (John Caputo): This is not only a great introduction to the crucial debates about the relationship between philosophy and theology ("What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"), but it also gives a good sense of postmodern theological trends, particularly from a deconstructive/continental perspective.

5) Transforming Christian Theology (Philip Clayton): When I started seminary, I was deeply concerned about the Emergent Church movement, having previously been a part of an emerging church for a number of years. Clayton was one of my teachers at Claremont, and he wrote this timely book with an eye on the emergent-mainline church conversation. For any progressive/post-evangelical Christian who cares deeply about the future of the church, this is essential reading.

6) God: A Brief History (Paul Capetz): Because theology just is the study of the nature of God, or "God-talk," this little book by one of my former teachers is essential reading for any aspiring theologian who wants a historical overview of the debates over the last 2000 years about what we talk about when we talk about God. You will get a great perspective on the debates about the trinity, the development of liberal and neo-orthodox theologies, existentialism, process theology, and liberation theologies.

7) Divinity and Diversity (Marjorie Suchocki): Although there are many ethical and political issues that contemporary Christians must address, religious pluralism is certainly an important challenge that must be considered by theologians today. Suchocki presents an extremely accessible and brilliant Christian theology of pluralism that must be taken seriously.

8) Quest for the Living God (Elizabeth Johnson): Written by one of my favorite living theologians, this is a beautifully written text that will familiarize readers with some of the most important trends in contemporary theology, including feminist, black, liberation, pluralist, ecological, and trinitarian theologies.

9) On the Mystery (Catherine Keller): This is an excellent introduction to process and postmodern theology, as well as the growing field of theopoetics - and not to mention, it is written by my doctoral advisor at Drew University. In a sense, this is Keller's mini-systematic theology, which includes her reflections on theological method, God, creation, Jesus, and eschatology.

10) God of the Oppressed (James Cone): Certainly one of the most timely theology books on this list, Cone remains one of our most important theologians, and this is a great way in to his work. While almost any of his books are worth reading, this one remains my favorite.

What did I miss? Feel free to add your own suggestions to this list of books, or even to tell me why I'm wrong about my choices.