A Time to Keep

Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life

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Ephraim Radner
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , July
     2016.
     304 pages.
     $49.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781481305068.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Creatureliness lies beneath so many significant conversations today: death and illness, sexuality and gender, work and consumption. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto, explores ways in which the doctrine of human creatureliness—especially its intrinsic involvement in the gift of time—shapes human life in these myriad ways.

The volume takes its own time, as it were, by moving from discussion of clocks to matters of mortality. Eventually Radner sums up his concerns: “Thinking about who we are as created beings comes down to numbering our days” (229). To help show how this theological fundament plays out across the realm of faithfulness, Radner turns to topics such as death, the “arc of life,” singleness as vocation, and the calling to work and to eat (especially, notably, as experienced by singles). In each sounding, he plumbs the depths of what it means that “we are fundamentally limited creatures who depend on God, and that will never change” (34). While this timeliness and finitude is not itself a dogmatic locus, Radner does at times commend its necessity for making sense of dogma, such as the cross of Christ (34) or the triune character of God (229-230). Further, focusing on creatureliness and timeliness flies in the face of the so-called “Great Transition” shaped by scientific culture and expressed in “life span extension, along with birth survival,” a dramatic “demographic transition” (21-34), and perhaps best exemplified by the transhumanist movement of recent years (41). Significant insights regard the vocation of singleness in the varied interactions of single people with one another and with married persons (185-186) and in response to liberationist opponents of David Kelsey’s magisterial anthropology (231-232). The volume brims with worthy topics and occasionally offers notable insights.

What might we say of Radner’s work here? The prose can be challenging, as in his several other works, and is not for the faint of heart. The difficulty of the style comes not from a lack of mindfulness by the author, but from the almost overwhelming fecundity of his claims. A Time to Keep is rich allusively, literarily, and, yes, theologically. Sometimes clarity is lacking: for example, what does he mean by speaking of “transfigured” creatureliness from time to time? (96, 189, 218, 221, 241, 247). The mode of argument can accurately be classified as, well, Anglican. Indeed, the volume offers a commendable and lengthy essay that at times shifts into figural reasoning, or philosophical comment, or cultural analysis, and even occasionally into poetic jaunt. Dogmatic order, exegetical grounding, confessional citation: none of these modes of doctrinal argumentation are present. The book is not thinner, nor its matter less because of those absences, for it brims to overflowing with intelligent and substantive interactions with varied topics, questions, and sources. In many ways, we might say that its expression manifests and demonstrates its thesis: Far from offering any poised sketch of the whole with some sort of presumed sapientia that stands above the fray, it moves piece by piece through lively conversations, treading its finite way through significant existential and intellectual and—in their own way, often indirectly—theological questions.

For pointing to the fundamental nature of finitude and creatureliness and for writing in a manner manifesting that very mode of being, we are in Radner’s debt. The book is commended, though the reader must be warned that, as in life, time will be taken to assimilate it.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael Allen is Associate Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.

Date of Review: 
September 28, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ephraim Radner is Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. His books include A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian ChurchThe End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West, and Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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