Farrowing

The intriguing Douglas Farrow is the author of the stupendous takedown published in First Things of David Hart’s treatise on universalism. What an interesting public venue for that engagement. I have not read Hart’s treatise, but I have enjoyed the annoyance it occasioned online. I also think Hart is intriguing; it is hard to think of a more interesting book than The Experience of God. He and Farrow seem to me to be real heavyweights of theological disputation. Of course they hit a lot harder than the featherweights! Don’t you think there is a grand magnificence to watching the heaviest blows being calculated and landed, regardless of the side you are on? Besides his ability to go to war, you will also notice in Farrow’s bio the puzzling statement that he is “sometime holder of the Kennedy Smith chair in Catholic Studies.” What speech act is going on with that?

I do not know at what point Farrow swum the Tiber, or indeed why. He also has a lament of the Pope’s latest legislation on First Things. First Things has been walking a tightrope all through the pontificate of a Pope named after a barbarian tribe, struggling to remain within the bounds of loyalty and deferent disagreement. That Farrow is accorded the response to the latest encroachment on that particular space tells you something. I gather he was at that point on the other side of the Thames. I just read his Ascension and Ecclesia, which takes Calvin’s view of the supper as the point of departure. I am not sure that it would have caused perplexity to be known for such a book and then swimming the Tiber, but that also is a bit intriguing.

Farrow is a penetrating thinker and a dense and acerbic writer. One of the benefits of reading Ascension and Ecclesia (which is cheap because it is now outdated) is that any subsequent book you read will be so much easier. The argument is difficult indeed, depends on making much of Irenaeus, disparaging Origen, and eventually . . . a takedown, yes, of the whole tendency of modern theology, including of course all of its major proponents. (That’s actually where I get bored; 20th century theology consistently fails to intrigue me at all.) It may be that Irenaeus is to be rated over Origen as a theologian, though I am somewhat dubious. Still, even if you don’t agree with Farrow, following his arguments—let alone going up against them—is a salutary and invigorating activity. He is definitely not among the Christian Platonists, but then, it is good to have intelligent opposition. Christian Platonists can be grateful for any intelligent opposition since at least the adjectival part if not the substantive is notably rare.

I obviously enjoy Douglas Farrow. I wrote to my sometime advisor asking him how he rated Farrow, and the reply was that Farrow was top notch, worth reading even when you disagree. It is good advice.

The argument of Ascension and Ecclesia is to highlight the importance of a right understanding of the doctrine of the ascension. This doctrine shapes ecclesiology. His argument is that getting the ascension wrong has warped the identity of the church and diluted its mission. A substandard interpretation of the ascension of Christ as been used to “dissolve Jesus’ humanity” and one of the knock-on effects of this is to render the Church irrelevant.

What did the ascension accomplish? Where is Jesus? How do his physical absence and mystical presence define the church? And once you answer the question of space, what about time? It is worth winding through all of Farrow’s argument in order to find out. He has published a more recent book for those whose research is more efficient than mine: Ascension Theology. I understand it is more accessible and no doubt more complete.

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