D. Stephen LONG, Speaking of God: Theology, Language, and Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eedrmans, 2009, pp. 341. $32.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-4572-6.
Reviewed by Peter C. PHAN, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057

Can we still speak of God without falling prey to fideism, projectionism, ontotheology, and the neo-scholastic notion of analogia entis? These are the four ills that, according to Long’s diagnosis, ail modern theology (chapter 1). Long’s therapy to restore theology to its full health is equally fourfold: a correct understanding of the relationship between reason and faith (chapter 2), an acknowledgment of a legitimate role of metaphysics (chapter 3), an analogical use of language (chapter 4), and subjection of power to truth (chapter 5).

Of course, prescription is only effective if the diagnosis is correct. Long, an ordained Methodist teaching in the Department of Theology at the Catholic and Jesuit Marquette University, shows that he is familiar with both Protestant and Catholic theologies. Among Protestant theologians, Karl Barth is his dialogue partner of choice, whose tendency to fideism Long however decries. Among Catholic theologians he is most sympathetic to Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac (and partially to Karl Rahner) for their Christocentric approach to human reason. Among philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein attracts Long’s admiration for dethroning philosophy as an intellectual discipline independent from faith. (He criticizes Joseph Ratzinger for his misinterpretation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy as fideistic.)

Long correctly views both rationalism and fideism as sharing the same presupposition of modernity regarding human reason, namely that reason can and must function apart from faith, the former opting for pure reason, the latter for pure faith. For Long, on the contrary, reason and faith should go hand in hand, or more precisely, philosophy must function within theology and theology in partnership with philosophy. Indeed, Long argues that it is the Incarnation, in which Christ’s divine nature and the human nature are hypostatically united and remain distinct yet united (or as Chalcedon states, without division and separation, without confusion and change), provides the only correct model for understanding the relation between reason and faith. As a result Long rejects both fideism (a la Kant) and rationalism (a la Feuerbach, for whom theology is nothing but anthropology), and even the mild version of rationalism, i.e., natural theology, of neo-scholastic Thomism.

For Long, the fatal malady of modern philosophy and theology is their separation between reason and faith, and hence, the remedy for it is their reunification in Christology. He draws on a wide spectrum of contemporary thinkers to devise a salutary medicine for modernity’s ills: “Stanley Hauerwas’s ‘natural’ theology, Victor Preller’s Thomism, the nouvelle théologie of de Lubac and Balthasar, Karl Barth’s ecclesial dogmatics and its development in the ‘Yale School’ of postliberal theology, Radical Orthodoxy, John Paul II, and even Denys Turner’s theological defense of reason will provide the theological ideas that help resist these modern ills” (89).

After this breath-taking list of disparate theologians, who may themselves be surprised to be mentioned in each other’s company, let alone in the same paragraph, one may be forgiven for asking what Long’s theological proposal is. Long argues that all these theologians, for all their differences, share a common conviction about the unity of reason and faith and therefore reject the threefold legacy of modernity, namely, “religion within the limits of reason alone; religion only based on faith; and religion correlating faith and reason as discrete internal versus external discourses” (91). Long goes on to argue for the necessity of metaphysics, one that is not based on “pure reason” but is derived form the “divine names”; for the conception of language as open to the transcendent; and for the primacy of truth over power.

Speaking of God is a learned work whose author has read widely in contemporary theology, both Catholic and Protestant. It would be unfair to pigeonhole Long as “conservative,” if that appellation is at all useful. By no means is he a theological “right-winger.” But clearly he is not sympathetic to the liberal theological project as carried out for example by liberation and feminist theologians, though, curiously enough, he cites, in a footnote, Gustavo Gutiérrez, apparently with approval, and surprisingly, in the company with theologians with whom Gutiérrez has little in common (68, note 105). On the other hand, he is quite critical of Barth, the icon of contemporary conservative theologians, and is liable to incur the wrath of Barthians.

For Long, modernity is a beast to be tamed, or at least, to be healed. The question is whether his apologetics for a metaphysics of reason and faith, language and truth that is grounded in the Incarnation will persuade those who most need to hear it, i.e., rationalists and fundamentalists (who are for Long but two sides of the same coin). The former will regard it as a gratuitous appeal to faith, a sort of deus ex machina; the latter as a faint-hearted surrender to secularism. In addition, those who are victims of all forms of oppression and marginalization will find this “Speaking of God” or God-talk ethereal and remote from their daily experiences. For them, the ills of modern theology are not mainly fideism, projectionism, ontotheology, and analogia entis but the forgetfulness of the idolatrous defacing of God and the continuing crucifixion of Christ in the poor, and unless speaking-of-God makes this reality its central concern, it speaks over their heads.

Speaking of God would not be appropriate for an undergraduate course. I recommend it for a course on contemporary theology at the master’s, and perhaps more appropriately, doctoral level.


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