This Side of God: A Conversation with David Tracy
Holland, Scott, Cross Currents
University of Chicago theologian David Tracy is an old friend of Cross-Currents. His books, Blessed Rage for Order, The Analogical Imagination, and Plurality and Ambiguity, established his reputation as one of the twentieth century's most important revisionist and public theologians. Many readers of this journal remember an engaging piece we ran in which Tracy discussed why theologians attentive to the life of the mind and the passions of heart should pray, for forms of worship or spiritual practice, he suggested, do structure our thoughts. (Fall 1994).
For the past decade Professor Tracy has been at work on what his friends and students describe as "a huge God-project." He has given Cross-Currents two articles that present the critical and creative core of his project: "The Hidden God: The Divine Other of Liberation" (Spring 1996) and "The Post-Modern Naming of God as Incomprehensible and Hidden" (Spring/Summer 2000). He recently presented part of this new work as the Gifford Lectures and the University of Chicago Press will be publishing it sometime next year.
I recently caught up with Tracy at his office in Swift Hall at Chicago and talked with him about his current projects and asked for a brief update on his work.
Scott Holland: Some of our readers have noticed an interesting shift or a turn in your recent work. Where is your theological imagination taking you?
David Tracy: Well, as you know, for the past ten years or so I have been at work on the question of God or the naming of God in ways that recover the languages of both the Hidden-Revealed God and the Comprehensible-Incomprehensible God. Your readers have seen some of this in my article on Luther's Hidden God and in my article on postmodernism the apophatic mystics. This project will be three volumes.
The first and now completed book is titled, This Side of God. The second volume will address Christ or Christology and volume three will discuss Spirit and Christianity in relationship to the other religions.
SH: So, God, Christ, Spirit? Has this planned trilogy replaced your earlier hopes to complete the theological trilogy in which Blessed Rage and The Analogical Imagination were envisioned as the first two volumes awaiting a final, projected book on practical theology?
DT: Yes, I think so. I continue to value and learn from the many modern debates on God -- theism, atheism, pantheism, panentheism -- but these modern "isms" of theological argument and persuasion no longer provide for me the best way to approach the question of God. When one shifts from modern argument, speculation, and persuasion to a Godcenteredness one shifts to mystical and prophetic approaches for naming God, and thus to the notions of hiddenness and incomprehensibility.
SH: For most of your career your theological program has been attentive to both the analogical and the dialectical movements of the imagination. This was expressed first in the classical categories of manifestation/proclamation and later in terms of the mystical/prophetic, with more accent now on the Hidden-Revealed God or the Comprehensible-Incomprehensible God. Is this really a shift or is it a development?
DT: There is a shift to the apophatic, the apocalyptic, and also quite importantly to the fragment.
SH: Please say more, for this shift or turn seems to have given rise to the important question you raise in the Luther article, "Does God lead history -- or disrupt it? Appear at its center -- or at its margins?"
DT: Few modern theologians have been willing to speak about the apocalyptic but history is apocalyptic for Luther. An openness to the apocalyptic suggests that God enters history not as a consoling "ism" but above all as an awesome, often terrifying, hope-beyond-hope. God enters history again not as a new speculation but as an unpredictable, liberating, Hidden God. …