Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Many Faces of the Worshipping Self: David Ford's Anglican Vision of Christian Transformation

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Many Faces of the Worshipping Self: David Ford's Anglican Vision of Christian Transformation

Article excerpt

This essay explores the substantive and methodological contours of David Ford's Self and Salvation, an imaginative re-visioning of Christian selfhood in the postmodern world. Ford fashions a model of Christian identity around the key images of "facing," "worshipping," and "feasting." We are moved toward salvation, Ford argues, by allowing the radical hospitality of self-giving love that is offered in Jesus' life to transform our relationships with one another, by renewing our practices of piety, and by celebrating the superabundance of God's love in our community life. Ford's seemingly eclectic theological method-one that is eager to engage a plurality of postmodern voices while at the same time remaining true to biblical witness and to the values expressed in our shared life of worship-is in fact a promising example of how a classically Anglican way of doing theology can be adapted to provide a fruitful framework for theological reflection in an increasingly diverse world.

One of the more creative Protestant theologians at work in the English language today is David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. Yet, aside from some scattered and polite book reviews, Ford's work has received little serious attention on this side of the Atlantic. That is a shame, for Ford has developed a model of theological discourse that is at once refreshingly interdisciplinary and culturally literate, while at the same time firmly grounded in biblical witness and liturgical life. His theology is also one that takes the demands of the moral life with the utmost seriousness.

Ford's most ambitious and interesting work of constructive theology to date is Self and Salvation: Being Transformed.1 In it, Ford seeks to answer two fundamental questions. First, what does it mean to be a Christian self entering the twenty-first century? And second, how can such a Christian self be saved? Ford's aim is "to write a theology of self and salvation that responds to God as adequately as possible in the polyphony-and cacophony-of contemporary living" (p. 12). The book was published by the University of Cambridge Press in a series of theological texts designed to "engage critically with the traditional doctrines of Christianity, and at the same time to locate and make sense of them within a secular context" (back cover).

The parameters of the Cambridge series are useful to keep in mind, for they help to locate Ford's project within the broader typology of modern and postmodern theologies. As Ford himself notes in his introduction to The Modern Theobgians, one important hermeneutical key is to understand "the social and institutional context in which theology is produced."2 This is as true for Ford's work as it is for those who came before him. Broadly stated, Ford's approach in Self and Salvation is to do what Hans Frei once called "Type 3" theology.3 That is, Ford tries to draw upon a myriad of conversation partners within different contemporary philosophical and theological traditions (without being slavishly tied to any one of them) in an effort to elucidate the fundamental truths of the Christian life. Although Ford's philosophical orientation is largely phenomenological, he quite self-consciously draws upon a diversity of philosophical and theological partners to illustrate his conception of a healthy Christian self, including, most notably, Emmanuel Lévinas, Paul Ricoeur, and Eberhard Jüngel.

In this essay, I offer a reading of Ford's Self and Salvation that places him within a classically Anglican tradition. Although Ford is a postmodern thinker in many obvious ways,4 he is also Anglican at his core. He is methodologically Anglican in his fundamental commitment to mediating discourse: he sets up numerous conversation partners from different philosophical and cultural traditions and weaves them into a uniquely postmodern Christian anthropology. Substantively, he is Anglican in his focus on worship more than doctrine, his emphasis on religious experience and its transforming power rather than on theology's metaphysical underpinnings, his stress on the ethical dimensions of Christian discipleship, and his fundamentally incarnational celebration of God's "superabundance. …

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