Hans GUSTAFSON. Finding All Things in God, pansacramentalism and doing theology interreligiously. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016. Pp, 356. $37.00 pb. ISBN978-1-4982-1798-9. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Sally University, Philadelphia, PA 19141.
Four years ago in May, La Salle University offered its first class in a Doctor of Theology program. The mission of the program, like the nature of the degree, seeks to integrate solid academic scholarship with personal faith and ministerial practice. With the first graduates this past May the additional subtitle of Gustafson’s work caught the eye of this reviewer – “with an emphasis on the mediation between theology and spirituality. Come the fall this same reviewer will be teaching two courses, one on a theology of religions and the other on Christian sacraments. This book seemed to offer an excellent preparation for the coming semester.
In sum, the text offered solid preparation. Gustafson addresses two fundamental though often unrelated questions. What constitutes an appropriate relationship between theology and spirituality? And, how does one do theology with appropriate attention to interreligious experience? If one holds a sound correlation between spirituality and interreligious experience, a point the author develops rather clearly, then the two questions have an interrelated answer. Here Gustafson could make a stronger and more forceful conclusion. However, the strengths of the text deserve first consideration.
The first two chapters in Part I of the text lay a solid foundation and chart the course for the remainder of the text. Gustafson organizes the overall structure of the book as well as each chapter with a clear plan which he carefully follows. This proves quite helpful when reading the book over an extended period. Gustafson reminds the reader of what has been covered and sets the stage for what will follow. His argument in this section for sacramentality as critical for contemporary theology rings true. His description of how “past events reverberate through time” expresses well how sacramental rituals “make memory.”
After a more than adequate development of his theological perspective the author turns to lived experience in Part II. Here he describes the spiritual experience of Thomas Merton, Black Elk, as well as literary characters from The Brothers Karamazov and Wendell Berry’s “Port William Characters.” In each instance Gustafson explores sacramentality, a movement beyond dualism, and interreligious experience. Each of these chapters could be profitable reading even apart from the theoretical dimensions of the text.
With Part III the author moves to a philosophical consideration of sacramentalism and a fuller explanation of panentheism identified in the first part of his book. Throughout, Gustafson draws upon and explains with good clarity the philosophical and theological perspectives of classical and contemporary thinkers. While recognizing panentheism as an early Twentieth Century term, Gustafson convincingly suggests how its foundations lie in much earlier times. He uses Rahner to take Ignatius’ spirituality of “finding God in all things” to support a pantheistic perspective of “finding all things in God.” In addition to the classical thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Gregory Palamas, the author includes the contributions of Schelling, Peacock, and Polkinghorne. He appropriately draws on Sandra Schneider’s work on symbols along with that of Paul Ricoeur.
As a secondary consideration, what are the limits of the text? In a minor but annoying kind of way the book needs a more attentive editor. There are too many misspellings and several grammatical errors. In one chapter the author repeatedly refers to “this paper” which has now become a chapter in a book.More significantly, the author appears to attempt too much. He can do so because the text includes a number of previously written articles and scholarly presentations. The strength of this approach lies with the testing of ideas in the academy of peers. Gustafson’s work linking the chapters together makes the inclusion of the wide range of articles better than some other texts. Still some weakness becomes apparent. For example, he does not offer a strong and convincing conclusion that links his two foundational questions together in the one answer the text provides. Sacramental consciousness arises from a living spirituality that sustains and reaches beyond the boundaries of a single religious practice. Theology as “faith seeking understanding” has a necessary connection to spirituality and in the contemporary world this must be inclusive of an interreligious perspective. The book has indeed offered solid preparation for teaching in the coming semester. Gustafson’s perspective likewise confirms the mission of the doctoral program.