Found Theology: History, imagination and the Holy Spirit.
London: T & T Clark, 2013
ISBN 978 0567517920,336pp, p/b, [pound sterling]19.99
In this inventive, thought-provoking book, Ben Quash fosters a creative dialogue between theology and the arts in order to explore the Holy Spirit's dynamic engagement with humankind through history and the imagination. For Quash, God is alive and active in the world through the Spirit, who summons us to ever-new 'finding' as we engage imaginatively with the particularities of history. The author masterfully weaves together Scripture, art, philosophy and theology in order to advance a highly adventurous theological method characterized by imaginative openness to the Spirit's leading. Throughout the book, Quash sensitively yet convincingly challenges theological models that rest comfortably in 'givens' (doctrines that make determinate claims about God or faith). He proposes a boldly pneumatological approach to theology and Christian discipleship that will particularly stimulate readers who are interested in the intersection between imagination, faith, theology, and the arts.
Quash frames his study between an introduction called 'Historical finding,' and a final chapter titled, 'Vertiginous at-homeness'. The former grounds his method in concrete history and particularity, and the latter explores how adventurously imaginative thought draws us into the life of God while simultaneously deepening our relationship to the world. Between these two framing chapters, the author builds his arguments around three core concepts that help elucidate his notion of pneumatological finding. In Part One, he considers maculation theory, the idea that gaps and contradictions in biblical texts are stimulus to ever-new engagement and discovery. Part Two examines reception aesthetics, a hermeneutical theory in which new meanings are generated in each fresh encounter with a work of art. And in Part Three, the author studies abduction, an ambitious and creative mode of inferential reasoning in which the imagination plays a central role.
Quash devotes a 'pairing' of chapters to each of these core concepts. Each pairing begins with an extended 'case study' in which the author explores a specific work of art or artistic tradition. For his first case study, Quash examines the textual and doctrinal challenges of Scriptural interpretation that arose during the 16th Century as Protestant reformers sought to translate the Bible into English. In his second case study, he compellingly traces the reception history of Vittore Carpaccio's painting, The Dead Christ, c.1520, focusing especially on how the figure of Job has been interpreted at different points in history. Quash's final case study centers upon the poet Henry Vaughan, and he proves his creative analytical skill as he identifies a tension in Vaughan's verse between living in the present and longing for the future. The author's critical studies of these artistic resources neither daunt the reader nor trivialize the material: in each case study, he provides insightful, lucid explanations of his chosen subjects and their respective relevance to his thesis. In other words, one does not need to be a biblical scholar, art historian, or literary critic in order to appreciate Quash's sensitive engagement with the arts, but those with training in these fields will find his study equally provocative and refreshing.
Each artistic case study opens onto a complementary theoretical chapter in which Quash draws upon several critical interlocutors--particularly Talmudic scholar David Weiss Halivni, German theorist Hans Jauss, and logician C S Peirce--in order to extend his analysis into a wider field of theological discourse. By rooting his theoretical arguments in the case studies, Quash brings art and theology together in a refreshing and highly generative way. Unsurprisingly, the author's arguments become more and more complex, demanding, and ultimately rewarding the further one reads. This elegantly resonates with Quash's pneumatological method: we start with 'Historical finding,' and, as we engage with the particularities of this world, the Spirit opens for us greater and greater depths until we find ourselves vertiginously at home with God and all creation.
Though Found Theology offers a highly refreshing and provocative theological method, readers may wonder how such a theology might work in practice. While the author acknowledges that what we find in the Spirit must be tested by tradition and the Christian community, his account of human nature and discernment seems, on the whole, overly optimistic. Thus, readers might rightly ask: 'Does Quash's model sufficiently account for human sin? How exactly does the Christian community justly discern the Spirit's leading? And, how might his pneumatological method be vulnerable to abuse, both by individuals and communities?' Importantly, I think this book is meant to provoke these kinds of questions. It is in the spirit of Quash's developing method that the reader wants to go deeper, to question potential assumptions, and to seek new horizons of understanding. Found Theology is a challenging yet highly readable study that exemplifies how discourse between theology and the arts can simultaneously provoke our further questioning and deepen our understanding.
Devon Abts is a doctoral student in theology and literature at King's College, London, where she is researching new theological themes in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
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|Publication:||Art and Christianity|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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