Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why I Love Eberhard Jüngel

The post below was written as part of Ben Myer's excellent series "For the Love of God", and it describes my affection for Eberhard Jüngel, that cuddly Lutheran theologian from Tübingen. Please check out the original post for some interesting comments.

In a world where faith is usually on the defensive, confidence is an essential quality for a theologian. And Eberhard Jüngel has confidence in spades. Indeed, it seems to me that the expression “no apologies” (or “no apologetics”) could serve as the overarching motto for his entire theological program. Whereas others try to ground Christian theology in philosophical principles or human nature, Jüngel asserts (again and again) that “God has spoken”—in Christ, on the cross, once and for all. Despite the complexity of his thought, Jüngel is first and foremost a listener to the Word of the gospel as revealed in Scripture, and his theological method is therefore a daring “chasing after” the Word.

Unlike others who have contributed to this series, I do not have an interesting story about how I came to love and admire Jüngel. I have never met him, or heard him speak, or taken a class on his theology. But on the recommendation of this blog, I naively requested a copy of God as the Mystery of the World (1977) via inter-library loan. The experience of reading this sprawling masterpiece, so dense and so rich, was both frustrating and exhilarating. I learned quickly that Jüngel does not accommodate himself to the reader; instead, the reader must accommodate himself to Jüngel (again, “no apologies”!).

But the theological workout paid sizable dividends, as reading God as the Mystery of the World triggered a seismic shift in my theological perspective. Here I found a thinker whose brilliance was so enormous that his theology could somehow encompass the great minds of the past, both theological and philosophical. Barth and Bultmann, Luther and Aquinas, Hegel and Nietzsche, Descartes and Heidegger—all contribute in different ways to Jüngel’s symphonic theology.

Jüngel also has a polemical side—another admirable trait, in my opinion—that was on display during the controversy surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. His desire to bring “clarity” to the debate resulted in the book Justification (1999), a masterly presentation of the essence of Lutheran theology. In keeping with the spirit of his entire career, Jüngel declared that Justification “is not a book that takes pleasure in compromise. An ordered theology makes no compromises.” For Jüngel, the gospel needs no apologies.


GoobyNelly said...

Thanks for this post, Thomas. It was very well done. My reading of Jungel is bound to kick in as soon as I meet David Congdon down at Princeton in three weeks and we start a reading group. I'll start with God's Being is in Becoming, since it's the only one I own so far.

If I may ask a personal question, do you mind telling me how you became a theologian (if this coincides with a story of awakening to a conscious life of faith, feel free to tell that too).

Keep up the good work.
~Chris TerryNelson

Thomas Adams said...

Goobynelly -- Thanks for your kind comments; however, I do not consider myself a theologian. As the title of the blog suggests, I have essentially no qualifications: I am not a pastor or a seminarian, and I have never taken a class in theology or philosophy. I'm just a chemist who enjoys reading theology in his spare time, and anything I write here is completely "without authority" (a phrase that I stole from Kierkegaard).

As you suggest, my interest in theology does coincide with an awakening to faith. Just a few years ago, I was either a causual agnostic or a casual theist, depending on the day of the week. But, in the summer of 2003, I found myself in church on a few Sundays, and it seemed like the Gospel texts were speaking straight at me. So I investigated further, read Scripture and theology, started going to church regularly, and here we are… I’m still not sure what happened, but I’m glad it did.

D.W. Congdon said...

Thomas, I just want you to know that your essay on Jüngel is great. Thanks for the post. I can only hope that Jüngel continues to gain a wider readership.