Dogmatics after Babel

Beyond the Theologies of Word and Culture

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Rubén Rosario Rodriguez
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , September
     2018.
     275 pages.
     $40.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664261658.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

One of the divisions of 20th-century theology is the methodology of how humanity knows about God. Rubén Rosario Rodriguez presents both sides of the division well in his Dogmatics after Babel: Beyond the Theologies of Word and Culture, yet rather than settling on one answer or the other, he offers a third alternative. First, some know about God through means of divine revelation. These would be the people who understand divine revelation through the teachings of Karl Barth, which results in a very scripture-driven theology. The second option is an anthropological approach, which is most associated with Paul Tillich. This understanding originates within culture by analyzing questions about God, and only then turning to God for answers.

Rosario offers a third alternative, detouring to inquire about the other labels that theologians use as identifiers—from patristic theology, to womanist theology, to liberation theology, and so on. Rosario steps away from the methodological division between revelation and anthropology to inquire as to whether the two methods have done anything to bring about unity between these other theological identifiers. This pondering results in a desire to move beyond methodologies, and into asking the provocative question “what happens when we stop viewing theological pluralism as a problem to be solved (Babel) and embrace it as a gift of the Spirit (Pentecost)?” (xiv-xv). Rosario points out that, in all the confusion prompted by the theological identifiers, both methodologies are still found wanting, suggesting that a third methodology ought to be offered. Here, Rosario calls his readers to a reconceptualization of divine revelation as sacramental encounters demonstrated and affirmed by wherever the Holy Spirit is working.

Rosario recognizes that theological diversity demands movement beyond the Barth-Tillich methodological impasse, and into a recognition of the movements of Spirit revelation outside the boundaries of controlled religion. He begins by first reviewing what originally brought academia to this Barth-Tillich standoff, then calling for a new line of understanding which is both comparative and inclusive in order to adequately answer a radically pluralistic 21st century. As Rosario writes, it’s only then that the conversation can authentically begin to take place between Christianity’s sub-divisions and other world religions.

Rosario does recognize that other theological solutions have been proposed to move academia out of the modern Barth-Tillich logjam, and into dealing more adequately with the postmodern world. He takes the time to investigate Sallie McFague’s metaphorical theology of manifestation in Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Fortress Press, 1982), as well as John Milbank’s transcendental ontology of proclamation in Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Wiley Blackwell, 1990). He then reviews Miguel De La Torre’s The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)and the theology of liberation. However, Rosario also moves to look beyond the North American and European academies and towards a global theological scene and that’s when Rosario hits on the book’s key thought—to practice commonality across religious divisions is to emphasize the work of the Spirit in “preserving human dignity and emancipating the victims of oppression” by promoting tolerance, compassion, and patience.

Rather then just dwelling where the book begins, with the Barth-Tillich debate, this is where the Rosario shines. Instead of looking towards methodologies that are unable to bring others together, Rosario makes the plea for another concept of revelation substantiated in the ongoing work of the Spirit; and here’s where he sounds the call for a fresh pneumatology that affirms the work of the Holy Spirit in creating, intervening, and directing the world. It is from his survey of the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur’an that he finds an understanding of the Spirit that promotes acts of liberation alongside the preservation of human dignity.

In a postmodern world that demands acknowledging tradition, celebrating plurality, and resisting domination, Rosario breaks free from the modern theological impasse and pushes for another form of revelation—where God may be known through divinely-inspired acts of justice, compassion, and liberation. Rosario anticipates the question of how to identify these workings of the Spirit by suggesting a rubric of liminality, integrative vision, and emancipatory desire. In doing so, he’s obviously passionate about his observation “that wherever the work of establishing justice, extending compassion, and facilitating human liberation occurs, there is the true Spirit of God” (176). In dealing with these issues and topics, Rosario is spot-on in calling for a methodology that withholds judgment, allows God to speak, and is open to the ministry of the Spirit wherever it manifests itself as a sign of God’s justice and compassion. It’s a refreshing plea to move from dogmatics and towards a praxis that is already demonstrated as faithful to the divine will, revealed in the Abrahamic tradition’s sacred scriptures. From the time of both Babel and the Pentecost until today people still ask, “who is my neighbor?” With Dogmatics after Babel Rosario reminds us that “our neighbor is the one we go out of our way to help simply because they need our help. This is intentional community in the truest sense … brought together by the work of the Spirit for human liberation” (195). Just as his subtitle suggests, it’s time to move beyond theologies of Word and Culture, and this book does exactly that by encouraging its readers to return to acknowledging more of the Spirit.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Timothy McNutt is a graduate student in Theological Studies at St. Louis University.

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rubén Rosario Rodríguez is Associate Professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, where he also serves as International Studies Director for the Mev Puleo Scholarship Program. He is the author of Racism and God-Talk: A Latino/a Perspective and Christian Martyrdom and Political Violence: A Comparative Theology with Judaism and Islam.

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