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Preview: Gunton Research Discussion Group

Gunton Research Discussion Group

This blog is intended to serve as a discussion forum for all things related to the study of Colin Gunton's theology. Try out ideas, ask questions, point others to a good book or article, or give good criticism here.

Updated: 2014-10-06T21:50:07.429-07:00


PhDs and Masters


Well, this blog does seem to be springing back into life again, so it's time I emerge out from under my rock and make a post.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see a number of folks recently completing PhDs or Master's theses on Gunton. We could all do the laborious task of tracking down these nuggets the old fashioned way, or if you have recently completed a thesis, are about to finish a thesis, are working on a thesis and really should be finished by now, or just starting a thesis on Gunton, or incorporating Gunton in some way you could post all the pertinent details below to aid your fellow Guntonian researchers. If you are not of an entirely altruistic mind, then you could at least post your details below to make sure no one else nabs your topic before you submit.

I'll get the ball started with my own:

Nathaniel Suda, 'The Difference the Trininty Makes: A Critical Examination of the Theology of Colin Gunton', University of Aberdeen (not yet submitted). The one sentance summary: a doctrine-by-doctrine account of Gunton's theology paying particular attention to the influence Gunton's doctrine of the Trinity has on each of those doctrines.

What's New


Graham McFarlane has kindly agreed, and his editor has graciously given permission to reproduce an article written a few years ago on the influence Gunton has had on theology in the last twenty years. For those less familiar with Gunton's presence in the theological scene, and especially for our North American readers, it is only a very slight exaggeration (if that at all) to describe Colin Gunton's presence in British theology as ubiquitous. The very character of theology in the UK shifted enormously during the time Gunton was writing. He of course was not the sole influence of this change, but he was certainly a leading voice. Gunton mentions this change in the preface to the second edition of The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, Douglas Knight alludes to it in his essay posted here, and now we have the most extended treatment of Gunton's influence that I've seen in Graham McFarlane's piece. I am sure you will enjoy.

A couple of interesting pieces of news; whether you are in Tokyo or the frozen food aisle, Gunton’s works will be close by. Worth a look!

Launched: GuntonResearch Email. Just enter your email in the little box to the right, click join, and you will have the latest posts and comments sent directly to your inbox. Enjoy!

Two new papers for your reading pleasure. First up is Douglas Knight's paper 'From Metaphor to Mediation: Colin Gunton and the concept of mediation' You might have seen this one before, as it was previously published in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie. You can also find it on Douglas' excellent web-site Resources for Christian Theology. If you like Douglas' stuff, then you will want to check out his blog, packed with good theological posts, and perhaps take him up on his offer for a free e-copy of his latest book forthcoming from Eerdmans, or you can order a copy from Amazon here.

My own more modest 'Aspects of Colin Gunton's Reading of Genesis 1 and 2' is also newly posted, written for presentation at the SST a couple years back (incidentally where I first met Douglas). As ever, if you take the time to read these papers (it's worth it), then take the time to leave a comment - it only takes a few minutes, and not only does it help advance the discussion of Gunton's thought, but it is a great boost to the writers.


This blog exists as a community for those wanting to discuss Gunton's work. If you have a paper, short essay, or a few collected thoughts which might grow into something more, please let me know and I can post them for discussion - you are sure to get constructive feedback.

Gunton's Impact


reprinted from Catalyst 27 (2001) 2, by Graham McFarlane; used with permissionPROFILE: COLIN E. GUNTON In a recent book from the North American evangelical stable (Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World [Baker, 1999]), R.E. Webber states that before the church learns to be contemporary, it must learn to be historical. Interestingly, another North American, systematician D.H. Williams, argues for a similar return to the historical traditions of the early church (Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants [Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1999]). Such critical insights are hardly benign. As a British systematician I read them with interest and excitement; they reflect, after all, a significant development from within evangelical systematic theology. In addition, they parallel seismic changes taking place within contemporary, British systematics. As the song goes, “the times they are a changing.” The question that has to be asked in response to such change concerns the reasons why it has occurred at all. Admittedly, the sociological tributaries that feed it are various: the postmodern turn in the last two decades and the steady establishmentarianism of the evangelical constituency as it becomes more mainstream economically and politically. However, there are also significant theological reasons for such a change in attitude from that which once described the evangelical mind and which is best articulated in D. Wells’ critique of evangelicalism—namely, that “what orthodoxy had and what contemporary Evangelicalism so often lacks is a theology at its centre that defines the faith and prescribes the sorts of intellectual and practical relations it should establish in the world” (No Place for Truth [Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1992] 96). His critique may have been pertinent a decade ago, but this is a churchmanship in serious search of a theological identity and is in the process of re-discovering it. Surprisingly, one of the main contributors to this renewal within evangelical theology is a theologian who would not instinctively describe himself as “evangelical.” When we turn to look at the significance of the English, United Reformed Professor of Systematic Theology, C.E. Gunton, at King’s College, University of London, we see clearly the influence one man can have and the difference he can make. Gunton succeeded to the chair in Systematic Theology within a department of Theology renowned for its highly liberal stance. And yet, within the space of two decades, he has turned this department around to the extent that it attracts undergraduates and postgraduates from around the world, many of whom would identify themselves from within the evangelical constituency. For brevity’s sake we can identify two major influences for this. First, there is the methodological reason. From his doctoral studies in Barth and Hartshorne onwards, Gunton has articulated a contemporary Reformed, trinitarian theology, and sought to unpack its systematic implications. As a result of Gunton’s influence, English Systematic Theology has moved from being a purely prescriptive theology of the likes found in L. Berkhof (Systematic Theology [Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1996]), which can be learned parrot-fashion, to one that is much more open-ended and fluid. As Gunton argues, this discipline must have an overall consistency in what it says as well as be aware of the relation between one’s theology and the Bible and wider culture. After all, a systematic theology is not so much one that is rigidly logical, but rather one that has an internal coherence and an external relevance. The second identifiable reason for Gunton’s impact is theological. That is, the content of his theology is rigorously trinitarian, based on the personal revelation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is salutary to note that when I commenced my own doctoral studies under Colin the whole trinitarian agenda was on the point of deco[...]

Gunton in Japan


Forget Bill Murray, something is gained in translation. A quick look at the logs for this site shows me Gunton has a worldwide appeal, but mostly in English-speaking countries. So I was pleasantly surprised when Taku Suda contacted me about his Japanese translation of Christ and Creation. Taku is a minister in Japan, but is currently studying at Cambridge doing a PhD on John Owen’s Trinitarian theology; before that he completed a M.Div thesis on Pannenberg and a B.Th. thesis on Gunton’s Trinitarian theology. The Japanese edition includes a brief introduction to Gunton’s theology in the afterword, and a short introduction by Gunton himself.

Also, to be seen on the shelf soon is a translation of Theology through Preaching by Hiroo Yanagida.

Taku added “My translation of Christ and Creation and Yanagida's translation of Theology through Preaching (not yet published) are the only translations of his book in Japan. Sadly enough, Gunton is not yet well-known in Japan so far, though similar interest in theology has been widespread. But after my publication, it seems he [is becoming] recognized by some scholars.”

Well done Taku and Hiroo!

P.S. Taku and I have the same last name, but no relation.
P.P.S. If you will be at the SST Conference in Leeds next week look up Taku, he will be there.

Theology in the Marketplace


Shopping List: potatoes, carrots, milk, pork chops, bread, sugar, cereal, and . . . Act and Being? Apparently now you can pick up some of Gunton’s best while walking down the frozen foods isle at Tesco’s. What’s next, The One, the Three and the Many on Oprah’s Book Club?

(for our non-UK readers, Tesco’s is a major supermarket)

Launched: GuntonResearch Email


As more and more people are visiting this site, I thought it would be useful for folks to get the latest posts and comments sent directly to their inbox. With that in mind, see the new 'Join GuntonResearch' section in the sidebar. Enter your email in there, click join, and you will receive all new posts and comments directly in your inbox! No more need to venture back to this site every day, or subscribe to the syndication feed. No catches; just one way of helping this expanding community grow.

PS: If you are a blogger, and want to put something like this into your blog, contact me (either by posting a comment to this post or via email which can be found in my profile page) and I'll help you through it.

From Metaphor to Mediation


From Metaphor to Mediation: Colin Gunton and the concept of mediation. Douglas Knight The context of English theology at the beginning of the nineteen-eighties was The Myth of God Incarnate. What right did theology have in the university and Dare we speak of God in public? were deemed the questions of the day. Theology was written in conditional mode, sentences took the form ‘If, as Christians have traditionally believed,…’, with the truth of statements deferred to the arrival of permission from ‘rationality’, or some such abstraction. There was an audible cringing and sneering. Doctrines were examined to ask which of them insulted the dignity of ‘modern man’ and ought to be expunged. Tradition, imagination and the indeterminability of the relationship of language and world had to be laboriously defended. Reason and faith were invariably set in opposition, the doctrine of the atonement was losing to theodicy, and Father Son and Holy Spirit were discovered to be names, and therefore less adequate than concepts. The crisis was taken with the utmost seriousness. The pace of change was increasing exponentially, nothing could remain as it was, everything had to be dumped in favour of something not yet constructed. It is the Church's task to make its confession against claims about the imminent passing away of all knowledge, but English theology seemed to be without resistance to this sort of cheap millenarianism. The declarations of the absolute newness of the time were nothing more than a vacuous rhetoric, but voices saying so could hardly be heard. Amongst those not impressed by the declaration of crisis was Colin Gunton. Gunton believed that the tradition had seen all this before, indeed, that far from being alarming because utterly new, these self-styled new challenges were composed of elements as old as the tradition and were quite familiar to those prepared to immerse themselves in its history and make diachronic comparisons. In Yesterday and Today he argued that the Church had cut its teeth on exactly these challenges, and that the scars of honourable war-wounds sustained against them remain in the creeds precisely so we should not forget this. In ‘modernity’ we were being offered the familiar gnostic ingredients re-warmed; these ingredients did not make an intellectual alternative, being composed of nothing more than breathless excitement. The Church has always encountered such claims about the coming of some new aeon, with its new leader and his claims to new revelation, and it has always been the job of theologian to meet them with laughter and sober scholarship. Belief in such an aeon is no more than the demand theology give away (to the enemy) the resources of memory and imagination entrusted to it, and which constitute its weapons. The mistakes attributed to theology ‘from above’ were to be rectified by a theology that started from history and humanity and believed itself able to arbitrate on what fell within the definition of the human, and what constituted acceptable extrapolations from human history to divine. Gunton argued that theology from below was simply the reverse of what it took to be the approach of its opponent, not a serious attempt to question a crass polarity from the perspective of the Church's confession. Just as there is no talk of man without God, so there is no account of God except as he has made himself known and continues to control his own appearing and our knowledge of it. Gunton argued that theologies, including secular theologies, that start from one side or the other were opposites sides of a single debased coin. Since the nineteen-eighties the strong monist drive of modernity has flipped over to become a rhetoric about plurality, though it is no clearer about how particularity and thus plurality can be secured. Within this altered context the theological scene has recovered some self-respect and [...]

Gunton on Genesis 1 and 2


Aspects of Colin Gunton’s Reading of Genesis 1 and 2Nathaniel Suda Colin Gunton is a theologian not known for his exegetical powers, and while it would be fair to say that he pursued his theology in commitment to the biblical story, he rarely made direct use of extended biblical passages in his writing. However, Genesis 1 and 2 is at least one exception. Early in his work The Triune Creator Gunton gives a series of readings of key passages in the creation narrative. While even this treatment could not be called a detailed exegesis by most, Gunton’s writing on Genesis 1 and 2 provides us with a remarkable insight into both the doctrine of creation, and Gunton’s theology as a whole. We begin with Gunton’s reading of the Genesis text.Genesis and the Old Testament In the second chapter of The Triune Creator, Gunton gives an interpretive reading of five short passages within the account of creation. He begins with: 1.) ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.’ Gunton first notes that exegetical attention on this verse should not centre on the question if or if not the phrase ‘in the beginning’ implies a creation out of nothing. Gunton recognizes that this text does not directly speak of what could be called a creatio ex nihilo, and to make it do so do so, presumably, would be to force an improper understanding on the text. This is significant, for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is critical for Gunton’s larger theological project. However, he does comment that this verse and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have a large area of overlap. Gunton writes: “Yet the theological function of the expression is clearly similar to that which the doctrine of creation out of nothing was later to perform. It is to show that the world in which we live is established firmly by the action of God . . . something once and for all.” More importantly, thinks Gunton, we should focus on the words ‘heaven and earth’. While this has often been interpreted as the creation of a bipartite creation – the ‘spiritual’ realm of heaven and the ‘material’ realm of the earth, Gunton notes that this verse should be read in conjunction with those verses which follow, specifically those “which affirm the goodness of all realms of creation – the earth (v.10), the heavenly bodies (v.18), the creatures of sea and air (v.21), the beasts of the earth (v. 25) and finally, after the creation of the human race, come the words, ‘God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good’ (v.31).” Second, 2.) Gunton asks what we should make of the ‘days’ of creation. Are these literal 24-hour periods, eras, or have no temporal reference at all? To introduce his own contrasting opinion, Gunton offers a summary of Augustine’s interpretation: “Like other features of Augustine’s thought, [his embarrassment with this verse] derives from a refusal to recognize the self-limitation of God in creation, the fact that he [God] can be conceived to ‘take his time.’ For Augustine, creation ‘must have been’ instantaneous, and the days only introduced as a concession to human limitation.” Gunton thinks that such understandings of God’s relation to time presume that the act of creation was an act of abstract omnipotence, inadequately relate the act of creation to the doctrine of salvation. For, just as we hear of Jesus of Nazareth’s life to be a divine event that occurred through time, then we should likewise recognize that ‘God allows time for his purposes [of salvation] to be worked out.’ Gunton finds a more adequate interpretation in the thought of Basil of Caesarea. Gunton represents him as saying ‘When scripture says ‘one day,’ he says, it means that it wishes to establish the world’s relation to eternity, and is depicting ‘distinctions between various states and modes of action’ – [...]

Google Gunton


This is probably the most exciting thing I will discover all week.

Need to find a particular sentence, or wondering how often a word occurs in one of Gunton's works? Then Google Gunton. Google has launched a fantastic service whereby you can search the text of one of many books they have in their database. You get the usual Google snippet and page reference. Unfortunately you can't always see the full page on screen, and the number of books by Gunton is limited, but if they search the book you need and you have the book you now know right where to go. I've put all the links for Gunton's works in the sidebar. When you go there, type in something in 'Search within this book' and watch the magic. Want to know which other books reference Gunton? Then do a new search for 'Colin Gunton' - that secondary bibliography is going to be growing exponentially in the next few days!

How to post a paper


If you would like to post a paper:

Fantasitc! Keep reading.

The best way is to email me your paper. I'll then give it a read (just because I'm very interested in what anyone has to say about Colin Gunton), post it on the site, and give it a high profile link on the sidebar.

Why would you want to post a paper?

This site is new, but the number of people visiting it are rising very quickly (just search for 'Colin Gunton' on MSN or Google - last I checked we are near the top of the list). By posting a paper here it will be read by many people - and you are likely to get some very quick feedback by way of comments. Oh, and the paper remains entirely your possession. If ever you want to remove it, or change it, you may.

But my paper isn't good enough.

Rubbish. That's what's called the imposter complex. Every scholar thinks that they know less than everyone else at the table and that they really don't belong, but somehow they squeaked in. Research on Colin Gunton's theology is so new that there aren't any experts and anything goes. What are you waiting for? Toss your hat in the ring and join the fun! Go on, give it a go.



We might not all have papers to contribute (but hopefully we all will in time), but what we all have are questions . . . things Gunton wrote that we don't quite understand, or ideas we just can't get our heads around. Here is a space for those conundrums. If you have a question, post it here as a comment. I personally will try to answer every question the best that I can; your question might send me back to the books to find the right quote, but all the better – we will both be edified. Then the folks casually reading will share in the wealth and may even choose to join in themselves, and Gunton will become better understood by many.

Post your questions about Gunton here.

Bibliography - Secondary Works


Campbell, Cynthia McCall. "Response to Colin Gunton." Theology Today 43, no. 3 (1986).Williams, Stephen N. "Theologians in pursuit of the Enlightenment." Theology 86 (1986): 368-374.Slater, Graham. "Some recent responses to key issues: The Doctrine of the Atonement." Epworth Review 21, no. 1 (1994): 85-92.Bartholomew, Craig G. "The Healing of Modernity: A Trintiarian Remedy? A Critical Dialogue with Colin Gunton's "The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity"." European Journal of Theology 6, no. 2 (1997): 111-130.Cunningham, David. These Three Are One: Practice of Trinitarian Theology, Challenges in Contemporary Theology Series: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.Green, Brad. "Gunton, The Gospel and the Old Problem of Modernity: Colin Gunton's Trinitarian Critique of Modernity." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the ETS Southwest Region, Criswell College, Dallas, TX 1998.Fermer, Richard M. "The Limits of Trinitarian Theology as a Methodological Paradigm." Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie aund Religionsphilosophie 41, no. 2 (1999).Green, Brad. "Did Augustine's trinitarian theology lead the West astray? a look at a contemporary trend in theology." Paper presented at the 51st National Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, Danvers, MA 1999.Long, Thomas E. "The viability of a sacrificial theology of atonement." PhD, Marquette University, 1999.Patterson, Sue. "Creation and Postmodernity." In The Task of Theology Today, edited by Victor Pfitzner and Hilary Regan. Edinburgh: T & T Clarck, 1999.Green, Brad. "Augustine and the Trinity in contemporary theology." Paper presented at the Southeastern Regional Conference Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Jackson, TN 2000.———. "Colin Gunton and the failure of Augustine: an exposition and analysis of the theology of Colin Gunton in light of Augustine's De Trinitate." PhD, Baylor University, 2000.Paik, Grace Lee. "An analysis of Sallie McFague's metaphorical theology with special reference to Gunton's trinitarian theology of creation." M.A., Trinity International University, 2000.Shaw, William H. "The trinitarian theology of Colin Gunton: a contribution to the development of an interpretive tool and model for the theological engagment of culture." M.A., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2000.Chiu, Shung Ming. "The displacement of subjectivity by particularity and relationality: a study of Colin E. Gunton's critique of modernity and his trinitarian theology of culture." PhD, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2001.Knight, Douglas. "From Metaphor to Mediation: Colin Gunton and the concept of mediation." Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie aund Religionsphilosophie 43 (2001): 118-136.Loos, Andreas. "Divine Action and the Trinity: A Brief Exploration of the Grounds of Trinitarian Speech about God in the Theology of Adolf Schlatter." International Journal of Systematic Theology 4, no. 3 (2002): 255-277.Molnar, Paul. Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity: T&T Clark Publishers, Ltd, 2002.Ndubuisi, Godfrey Chukwudi. "Assessing indicators of spirituality: comparisons and critique grounded in Gunton, Volf, Lewin, and biblical theology." PhD, Trinity International University, 2002.Horne, Brian. "The Cross and the Comedy: Dante's Understanding of the Atonement." In The Theology of Reconciliation, edited by Colin Gunton. London: T & T Clark, 2003.Höhne, David Allan. "What can we say about perichoresis?: an historical, exegetical and theological examination of Colin Gunton's use of the co[...]

Gunton on Creation


Colin Gunton’s Trinitarian Theology of Creation:Creation as Creed, ex Nihilo and Trinitarian (currently under revision) by Jonathan DodsonHumility in Theology As finite formulators of truth, theologians are forced to nurture their understanding of God within a limited span of time. How each theologian uses his or her time is a personal decision. Personal, finite encounters with a three-personed, infinite and omniscient God require humility and specialty. Theologizing requires humility of heart because in order to understand God, we need his help. Exercise of the intellect apart from dependence upon the One ‘from whom are all things’, renders the theologian philosopher, one who seeks wisdom without seeking the wise One. Such contemptuous disrespect for the God of truth characterized St. Augustine’s pre-conversion search for rational certainty. Resistant to the inspiring preaching of Ambrose, Augustine desired certainty for the things he could not see, the kind of certainty that accompanies the equation of 7+3=10.[1] In reflection upon this memory he writes: “By believing I could have been healed so that my mind’s clearer sight would be directed in some way to your truth, which endures forever and is lacking in nothing (emphasis added).”[2] Augustine distilled this realization into the oft quoted phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.”[3] Faith is the flipside of Godward humility and the healing hand for true theology. However, faith in God does not reduce God’s immensity to comprehensibility.[4] As a result, theologians (or anyone who seeks to think God’s thoughts after him) are humbly forced to narrow the depth of their understanding into specialty. The late professor Colin Gunton (1941-2003) was no exception to humility or specialty; in fact, humility fueled his theological expertise. One is hard-pressed to read his work without noting his magnanimous footnotes, crediting students and colleagues alike for their helpful insights. As King’s College professor of Christian doctrine, Gunton wrote over a dozen books, a stream of articles and served as the editor of the International Journal of Systematic Theology, while concurrently preaching and serving as the associate pastor of Brentwood church in Essex, England for a quarter of a century. The density of Gunton’s output reveals a thoughtful theologian, one who specialized in two major areas: the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the Trinity. With a doctrine in each hand Gunton, accompanied by humble skill, wove together a trinitarian theology of creation, the content of which will occupy the remainder of this paper. Gunton’s trinitarian theology of creation is articulated in, but not limited to his well-known work, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study.[5] As suggested by the title, Triune Creator is a work of theological history, an attempt to erect the dogmatics of creation upon historical critique.[6] True to Gunton’s historical-theological method, this paper will engage an influential interlocutor, namely St. Irenaeus of Lyons († c. 202 A.D.).[7] In addition, we will draw broadly from Gunton’s writings in order to allow the “historical Gunton” to speak and his theology of trinitarian creation to be heard. As a result, a trinitarian theology of creation will emerge. To that end, three major features of Gunton’s doctrine of creation will be explored: creation as creed, ex nihilo, and trinitarian. Creatio as Credo The Christian doctrine of creation was affirmed as an article of faith as early as the 2nd or 3rd century in the first sentence of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father, [...]

Bibliography - Primary Works


Gunton, Colin. "Karl Barth and the development of Christian Doctrine." Scottish Journal of Theology 25 (1972): 171-180.———. "Rudolf Bultmann and the Location of Language about God." Theology LXXV (1972): 535-539.———. "Process Theology's Concept of God: an Outline and Assessment." Expository Times LXXXIV (1973): 292-296.———. "The Remaking of Christian Doctrine." Theology LXXVII, no. 619-624 (1974).———. "Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election as Part of his Doctrine of God." Journal of Theological Studies XXV (1974): 381-392.———. "The Knowledge of God According to Two Process Theologians: a Twentieth Century Gnosticism." Religious Studies 11 (1975): 87-97.———. "Christian Belief Today: God, Creation and the Future." New Fire III (1975): 434-441.———. "Rejection, Influence and Development: Charles Hartshorne and the History of Philosophy." Process Studies 6 (1976): 33-42.———. "The Biblical Understanding of Reconciliation. Paul and Jacob before God." Free Church Chronicle XXXII (1977): 17-22.———. Becoming and Being. The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.Gunton, Colin. "The Political Christ. Some Reflections on Mr Cupitt's Thesis." Scottish Journal of Theology 32 (1979): 521-540.———. "Transcendence, Metaphor and the Knowability of God." Journal of Theological Studies XXI (1980): 503-516.———. "The Truth of Christology." In Belief in Science and in Christian Life. The Relevance of Michael Polanyi's Thought for Christian Faith and Life, edited by T.F. Torrance, 91-107. Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1980.———. "Time, Eternity and the Doctrine of the Incarnation." Dialog 21 (1982): 263-268.———. Yesterday and Today. A Study of Continuities in Christology. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983.———. "Barth and God's Story." Scottish Journal of Theology 37 (1984): 375-380.———. Enlightenment and Alienation. An Essay Towards a Trinitarian Theology. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1985.———. "Christus Victor Revisited. A Study of Metaphor and the Transformation of Meaning." Journal of Theological Studies XXXVI (1985): 129-145.———. "Creation and Recreation. An Exploration of Some Themes in Aesthetics and Theology." Modern Theology 2 (1985): 1-19.———. "The Justice of God." Free Church Chronicle XL (1985): 13-19.Gunton, Colin. "Barth and the Western Intellectual Tradition. Towards a Theology After Christendom." In Theology Beyond Christendom. Essays on the Centenary of the Birth of Karl Barth, May 10, 1886., edited by John Thompson, 285-301. Allison Park, Pennsylvania: Pickwick Press, 1986.———. "The Christian Doctrine of God: Opposition and Convergence." In Heaven and Earth. Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics, edited by Andrew Linzey and Peter J. Wexler, 11-22. Worthing: Churchman Publishing, 1986.———. "Barth, the Trinity and Human Freedom." Theology Today XLIII (1986): 316-330.———. "Christ the Sacrifice: Aspects of the Language and Imagery of the Bible." In The Glory of Christ in the New Testament, edited by L.D. Hurst and N.T. Wright. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.———. "Reinhold Niebuhr: a Treatise of Human Nature." Modern Theology 4 (1987): 71-81.———. "Revelation." In A Dictionary of Pastoral Care, edited by Alastair V. Campbell, 240-241. London: SPCK, 1987.———. "No Other Foundation. One Englishman's Reading of Church Dogmatics, Chapter V." In Reckoning with Bart[...]

Gunton on Divine Providence


Terry was kind enough to email me his paper on Gunton's theology of divine providence, and gave me permission to post it here. Questions, comments, and critiques are very welcome!Destined for Perfection: Divine Providence in the Theology of Colin GuntonIntroductionAccording to John Calvin, ‘nothing happens except what is knowingly and willingly decreed by [God].’[1] As God holds strict rule over events in creation ‘according to a sure dispensation’, there is no such thing as a chance or a fortuitous occurrence, even if to us that seems to be the case.[2] Though this theological determinism suggests that all things essentially unfold from an initial act of God, Calvin’s emphasis – and that of the Reformed tradition that followed him – falls on God’s constant effecting of things: God is the first cause of each instance, not the first cause of some chain of instances. He is not some abstract power standing aloof at creation’s primeval edge, but rather is intimately and continually involved with it.Nonetheless, the idea of an all-determining God seems to conflict with the idea of a genuinely free creation: if God decrees all things, then surely creation is not as free as it appears. Calvin himself wrestled with this problem: his plea to ‘give attention to the secondary causes in their proper place’[3] is an attempt to hold together the apparent contradiction between a sovereign God and an ostensibly free creation. The problem, says Colin Gunton, is that Calvin ‘equate[d] the concepts of contingency and chance’,[4] meaning that he ‘is able to give a more satisfying account of the universal providential care of God than of the correlative thesis that human agents are responsible for their actions.’[5] Gunton further notes that here in Calvin’s thought there is ‘little substantive part played by Christ and the Holy Spirit.’[6] For Gunton, the issue of determinism centres on the relation of the eternal God to creation’s temporality[7] and is ‘best avoided’ by focussing instead on the way in which the Father acts in the world by his Son and Spirit.[8]If, as Gunton suggests, theological determinism arises from a unitarian conception of God, then the appropriate response is to bring an explicitly trinitarian leaning to the doctrine of providence. Gunton does this without distancing himself too far from his Reformed heritage. My aim here, then, is simply to explore his thoughts on the matter in a little more detail and to advocate it, admittedly with a reservation, as a way forward for future discussions.Creation, the Project of GodOne of the claims of a truly Christian doctrine of providence is that the universe is not ‘closed’ to God’s interaction. Enlightenment-era mechanistic conceptions depicted the universe as a vast machine running according to its pre-programmed laws rather than to God’s personal involvement. However, post-Newtonian physics allows for more flexibility, and so Gunton argues that there is no reason why God, a ‘spiritual’ being, cannot interact with ‘material’ beings – not least because he is the one who gives being to all things.[9] Gunton writes, ‘Thus the creator’s love – his energy at work through the mediating action of the Son and the Spirit – not only made the universe… but also shows itself in the day to day upholding and directing of what has been made.’[10] This, at its most elementary level, is how God’s providence may be understood, and Gunton stresses that divine action does not violate the natural order. ‘God’s action… may be conceived to shape the day to day life of the world, even sometimes miraculously – in anticipation of i[...]

Starter Discussion Paper


Foundationalism, Non-foundationalism, and Colin Gunton’s Proposal of ‘Open Transcendentals’Delivered at the SST Annual Conference, 2005 Nathaniel A. SudaIntroductionDespite the fact that some bemoan discussions of theological method, the discussion is there and needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed not as some kind of prolegomena to the theological task, but because wrapped up in it are critical judgements about the nature of God and the structure of created reality. Gunton took part in this discussion frequently and fervently, but he never called it theological method – he called it ontology. What follows is Gunton’s contribution to the question ‘What is the basis for knowledge?’. First we start with his description of foundationalism and non-foundationalism with particular reference to the Enlightenment. Second we explore a few Christian doctrines by which Gunton lays the groundwork for an alternative response. Third we discuss Gunton’s proposal of ‘open transcendental’. Finally, fourth we respond and conclude. Foundationalism and Non-foundationalismColin Gunton is well known, rightly or not, as not being always the most charitable reader of the history of Christian theology. Parts of his writing have something of a Harnackian ring to them; like Harnack he thought that early in the history of Christian theology things, to put it mildly, took an unfortunate turn. Harnack of course thought the unfortunate turn was the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. Gunton thought the turn was not developing it enough.It is a theme which appears consistently throughout Gunton’s writing: that by an underdeveloped concept of interpersonal Trinitarian relationships, much of Christian theology failed to adequately explain the relationship between the one God, the three divine persons and the human creation, with the result that theology had a strong drive towards monism. Simply, everything became subsumed in the eternal, one God. Gunton’s early book Enlightenment and Alienation[1] is where this thesis first begins to take shape, and in that book another characteristically Guntonian thesis emerges. That thesis is, contrary to what has so often been the judgement by the church, the Enlightenment was a great blessing to theology. The Enlightenment succeeded in exposing an inadequacy of the form Christianity had taken: “its tendency to elevate the one above the many and make the eternal appear the enemy rather than the fulfiller of time.”[2] With the Enlightenment came another way of looking at the world, and in particular a way of speaking of human subjects, with the prerogative to an independence and freedom proper to themselves. However, as the rest of the title, ‘and Alienation’, suggests, the move was not altogether to be applauded. In sharing the basic convictions of its predecessors, the Enlightenment set about to find a more adequate basis transcendentality than could be found in God. Kant despaired of the attempt to find transcendentality in the outside world, and so turned to the conceptual framework of the mind. In doing so he exacerbated two problems in the tradition:1.) through rational unification of everything he created a new kind of emphasis on the one2.) he divided science, ethics and aesthetics, just as Plato and Aquinas fragmented truth, goodness and beautyThe failure, Gunton says, was in exposing a weakness in its “renascent Hellenism” such that its “putative new certainties . . . collapsed under the weight of their own inadequacies”[3]. The Enlightenment set out to show the particular freedom of the individual human mind, but ended up burying any concept of in[...]

Starter Discussion - Foundationalism


It's been a long time since I last checked in; I'll save the excuses, but they are good ones. Since I'm not really sure what my take on my freedom question is, I'll follow Andy's suggestion and post a paper I gave at last year's Society for the Study of Theology (SST) in Dublin. The conclusion elicited some good discussion.



It's high time we started some actual discussion, so lets get started with freedom. There are a number of ways we could take this discussion, so lets start with with a question that has a little piece for everyone.

For Gunton, is freedom an ontological concept, and how is that influenced by his Trinitarian (particularly pneumatological) reading of the doctrine?

Ideas for discussion


Post ideas for new discussion topics here . . .

How we use this site


Just a little nettiquette to get us all started . . .

There is really only one rule on this site: be polite (not to say anyone hasn't been, or that I suspect anyone won't be) . If this is your first time on this site, and you would like to contribute, first go to the 'Introductions' post and do as the title suggests (after all, aren't introductions polite?) After that, feel free to browse our postings, or add to one of our existing discussions. Have a new discussion idea? Note it on the 'Ideas for discussions' post, and hopefully you will see it appear as a new discussion soon. Share your ideas on Gunton; you'll probably get some valuable feedback, and we'll be polite in response.



Most of you should know me from meeting in person or via e-mail. I'm currently writing a PhD on Colin Gunton's theology, provisionally entitled 'The Difference the Trinity Makes: Colin Gunton's Systematic Theology', under John Webster's supervision at the University of Aberdeen. There is a short list of related papers I have presented here. You are probably reading this because you are interested in Colin Gunton's theology, so why don't you 'make a comment' on this post, and introduce yourself to like-minded people . . .