Discipleship as theological prolegomenon implications for the relation of theory and praxis in the work of Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Bonhoeffer

Dunn, Patrick (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Theologians in South Africa have long wrestled with how the work and activity of Christians should stand in relation to the articles of Christian belief. The hope is that a theological the-ory more responsive to the prophetic praxis of the church’s mission might save theology from the manipulative influences of oppressive agendas. The opposing concern, however, is also about ideological influences—that theology beholden to praxis can equally find itself gov-erned by agendas divorced from the self-disclosure of God. In this respect, both the radical theologian and the traditional theologian presume an anthropology in which thought is prior to action, and principles are worked out in order to guide praxis. This thesis investigates whether this needs to be the case. It sets out to explore how the notion of discipleship of-fers—from within the Christian tradition—a way of understanding God’s self-disclosure in activity. The priority of discipleship yields a different assumption, that action is the medium of God’s revelatory self-disclosure, the transcendence both within and beyond human concre-tion. Three Christian thinkers interested in the philosophical, theological, and epistemic im-plications of discipleship will be considered—Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Taken together, these three exemplify not only a critique of rationalism, but a critique of language as the medium of divine revelation. The Incarnation suggests that lived human existence is the medium for knowledge of God, and the discipleship of Christ is the space in which human particularity finds itself reconciled with divine life. The implication of their insights revises the criteria by which the truthfulness of theological language ought to be judged. Rather than being pre-determined by the primacy of autonomous notions of either theory or praxis, true theology arises from the prior unity of universal and particular in the space of discipleship. After exploring the origins of this insight in the work of Pascal, Kierke-gaard, and Bonhoeffer in chapters two, three, and four, a fifth chapter considers contempo-rary debates about embodiment as a case study for this claim. Finally, as conclusion, a sixth chapter weighs the implications for theological language after discipleship in its relation to 20th-century Catholic and Protestant debates about the relation of divine and human thought in light of the Incarnation.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die vraag oor hoe Christene se werk en wandel met die Christelike geloofsartikels in verhouding behoort te staan, het van vroeg af vir teoloë in Suid-Afrika besig gehou. Die hoop in hierdie diskoers is dat ’n teologiese teorie wat vanuit die profetiese praksis van die kerk se missionêre roeping ontspring die teologie kan beskerm teen die manipulerende invloede van benouende ideologieë. Die teenoorgestelde kommernis het egter soortgelyks te make met die invloed van ideologie, naamlik, dat ’n praksis-gerigte teologie ewe veel onder die heerskappy van agendas kan beland wat teen die selfbekendmaking van God indruis. So veronderstel sowel die ‘radikale’ teoloog as die ‘tradisionele’ teoloog ’n antropologie waarin denke aksies voorafgaan en beginsels vooraf uitgewerk word om aan praksis leiding te gee. Hierdie tesis stel die vraag of dit noodwendig die geval hoef te wees. Die vertrekpunt is ’n verkenning van hoe die begrip ‘dissipelskap’ as ’n manier kan dien om – vanuit die Christelike tradisie – God se selfopenbaring in terme van ‘aktiwiteit’ te verstaan. Die vooropstelling van dissipelskap kan potensieel ’n ánder veronderstelling teweegbring – dat God se openbarende selfbekendmaking deur aksie bemiddel word as die transendensie wat menslike beliggaming sowel bewoon as oorstyg. Drie Christelike denkers word oorweeg wat elkeen ’n besondere belangstelling toon vir die filosofiese, teologiese en epistemiese gevolge van dissipelskap: Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard en Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Tesame beskou bied hierdie drie denkers nie alleenlik ‘n kritiek op rasionalisme aan nie, maar op taal as die medium van goddelike openbaring as sodanig. Die Vleeswording suggereer dat geleefde menslike bestaan die medium vir kennis van God is, en dat volgelingskap van Christus die ruimte is waar menslike partikulariteit binne die lewe van die Godheid versoen word. Die implikasie van hierdie denkers se insigte lei tot die hersiening van die kriteria vir die beoordeling van die waaragtigheid van teologiese taal. Eerder as wat die primaat van outonome konsepte van teorie of praksis voorafbepaal is, ontspring adekwate teologie vanuit die vooraf-gegewe eenheid van die universele en die partikuliere binne die ruimte van dissipelskap. Nadat hierdie insigte in die werk van Pascal, Kierkegaard, en Bonhoeffer in onderskeidelik hoofstukke twee, drie, en vier aan die orde gestel is, bied hoofstuk 5 ‘n bespreking van die huidige debatte rakende beliggaming as ‘n gevallestudie vir hierdie kern-aanspraak. Ten slotte ondersoek hoofstuk ses die implikasies vir teologiese taal “na dissipelskap” in verhouding tot 20ste eeuse Rooms-Katolieke en Protestantse debatte rakende die verhouding tussen goddelike en menslike denke in die lig van die Vleeswording.

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