For the Life of the World

Theology That Makes a Difference

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Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun
Theology for the Life of the World
  • Ada, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , January
     2019.
     208 pages.
     $21.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781587434013.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In today’s world, theology has definitely lost the place of significance it once held, and not many people see its relevance. However, what Miroslav Volf and Mathew Croasmun manage to offer in this excellent and powerful book, For the Life of the World, is a beautiful and persuasive argument precisely about the present-day significance of theology—a theology that makes a difference in the world, one that is in the service of life in the world.

This book is a manifesto, a plea, not simply for the legitimacy of theology, but also for the specific contribution that theology makes to the great dialogue of disciplines about the purpose and meaning of life. As such, the book captures the reader’s attention almost instantly, from the very first pages, as it discloses just what kind of “job” theology does: it addresses the ultimate questions of human existence, of a life worth living, and of human flourishing. The authors convincingly assert that this true, good, and flourishing life is the fundamental human quest and that theology contributes significantly to this quest (11).

The book is centered around two key concepts, “human flourishing” and “God’s home,” and it is, first and foremost, a call for theologians to believe that these are the fundamental goals of human endeavors and so to make these the focus of their thinking and truth-seeking. Flourishing life is synonymous with “true life,” “good life,” “life worth living,” “human fullness,” “life that truly is life.” And Volf and Croasmun capture the basic tripartite structure of flourishing, elements found both within the great religious traditions and philosophical attempts at defining a flourishing life: the “circumstantial” dimensions of a life going well; the “agential” dimension of a life led well and the “affective” dimension of a life feeling as it should (16). The fundamental claim of the book is that Christian faith offers just such a vision of flourishing life. And theologians must continue to be engaged in this global conversation with all others who acknowledge that life cannot be lived by bread alone and are therefore concerned with this extremely important question for human beings, that is, the concept of a flourishing life.

Those interested to know why and how theology has declined from the queen of science status to a position of almost total neglect and irrelevance in today’s world will discover an excellent chapter on the “crisis of theology.” Not only is the internal crisis well analyzed—offering an explanation for the reason why theology is where it is today in the academia—but Volf and Croasmun also offer a constructive way forward: instead of a defensive cultural stance which condemns the moral decline, they insist that theologians are followers of Jesus Christ, ‘the bringer of the good news to the whole world,’ and so the key response to a culture in moral decline ‘should be to articulate a positive vision of life that calls us forward’ (53, emphasis original).

The authors elaborate on the central argument of the book in the chapter on “The Renewal of Theology,” in which the authors detail their main thesis about the purpose of theology: “to discern, articulate, and commend visions of and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and its highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life” (61). While not new, this is a bold proposal and comes at a time of peculiar and new circumstances of our contemporary cultural juncture dominated by “instrumental reason,” “social pluralism,” and “radical privatization of good life” (63), all of which made the important question of a truly good life fade into insignificance. 

The fundamental conviction that animated the entire project of doing theology from this perspective is that flourishing is perceived to be the ultimate purpose for human life and creation, namely their existence as the “home of God.” The goal and the purpose of God has always been the flourishing of the entire creation, “in all its richness as it finds itself fully at home with itself by God dwelling in it” (71). That is why, for the authors of the book, the question of God, the classical locus and subject matter of theology, is “always and inescapably the question about truly flourishing life” (71). Jesus Christ (in his person, life, and mission) is both the embodiment of God’s home and the prime example of flourishing life.

Reading through this book, one wonders if there was ever a better time for such a manifesto, for a passionate plea for the place of theology within humanities and for the contribution that theology does bring to the public discourse on true and flourishing life. The book is thus important because it “rescues” theology from irrelevancy, from dry speculations and brings it back to the real world, to deal with questions of true life in the world. Volf and Croasmun show convincingly that theology is uniquely qualified to address the deepest questions and longings of human life because it represents the connection between issues of everyday life and the undeniable and unavoidable human longing for transcendence; it is about Jesus, the Word of God, about the Lamb of God. It is about a new social order, about the truth and beauty of human existence, about peace, joy and justice, which are the highest desiderata of humankind.

Lastly, the significance of this book goes much beyond a strict theologian’s interest, toward addressing also one of the most important challenges of the contemporary societies, which is “to discern with intellectual integrity the shape of genuinely flourishing life” (51). In this way, the book reaches towards a larger group of people concerned with human life, with its complexity and beauty, and prompts the reader to ask the most important existential questions about human purposes and direction of human life.

 

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Corneliu Constantineanu is Professor of Public Theology at ‘Aurel Vlaicu’ University of Arad, Romania.

Date of Review: 
January 15, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture in New Haven, Connecticut.

Matthew Croasmun is Associate Research Scholar and Director of the Life Worth Living Program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

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