[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0521558263″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51kuYQI5OmL._SL160_.jpg” width=”107″]Page 3: Sarah Coakley – God, Sexuality, and the Self
Coakley’s theology in via, this theologie totale, is then a talking with God. Rather than engaging in a discourse about God as the object of our reasoning, Coakley presents a way of doing theology that takes seriously the spiritual longing enflamed by the activity of the Spirit. This is far from a subjectivism, but an acknowledgement of God’s own reach towards humanity. For it is God’s desire, internal to the perichoertic dance of the economic Trinity and in the Spirit’s incorporation of humanity into that same movement of love, that defines the theological project itself. Thus, the reason and dispassionate endeavor of the Enlightenment is set aside for a holistic approach to understanding God and ourselves. In this way, Coakley’s skillful discussion of discursive and aesthetic theologies, as well as the ideas of past and present Christians, is not just a methodological decision but an acknowledgement of God as subject and actor in the conversation.
Whether Coakley achieves a new way of doing systematics is now up to the reader. Certainly there will be detractors, those who find her perspective too hierarchical, or to embedded within the church institutions. Such criticisms, however, are more indicative of the reader than they are of Coakley’s meticulous work. Some may even say quite plainly that she does not fully understand a century’s worth of significant deconstruction of hegemonic and patriarchal theology. However, given Coakley’s regular acknowledgement and incorporation of this work, and the detailed bibliographic narratives following each chapter, the burden of proof lies with her critics.
This is clearly a book for theologians. Despite Coakley’s protests of the current ways of doing academic writing in the Preface, and her acknowledgement that this book ventures into a new way of doing theological writing, it is still a book that requires a significant degree of theological vocabulary. As publishers struggle to keep up with rapidly changing technologies, and seek out wider audiences for their publications many writers have adjusted to the expectations of an increasing population of arm-chair theologians. That is not to say that God, Sexuality, and the Self will not be widely read. Rather, those of us among the guild of professional theologians have a long way to go to make the language and content of our disciplines part of the ecclesial vernacular. Thus, this is a book that longs to be read in community. The range of her sources, the assumed background in the basics of church history, and the interdisciplinary nature of her overarching argument begs a wider audience. This certainly is a book that begins to chip away at the academic silos of disciplines and invites theologians into dialog. Even to bring this book into classrooms, whether in church or academic settings, requires a guiding companion. That should not detract from the significant contribution this book makes, but to acknowledge that theologie totale is a communal way of doing theology.
Only time will tell if Coakley has resuscitated the once dead systematic mode of theology. However, from the opening sentences to the final period, it is clear that this book moves theology into a new set of expectations. Scholars of antiquity, practical theologians, and sociologists of religion will certainly all include God, Sexuality, and the Self in their bibliographies. Coakley’s contribution finally addresses trinitarian, ecclesiological, and practical questions beyond entrenched positions that have formed in the last fifty years. Rather than dismissing or polemicizing the positions of these encampments, Sarah Coakley brings them into a constructive, and yet critical, conversation.