My friend Wesley Hill recently posted a wonderfully concise and elegant outline of what we might call first steps in theological anthropology. I’m wondering if for those of us living in the Anthropocene — so obsessed with everything we humans do and are, for ill and for good — theological anthropology might have to be first theology, the place from which we need to begin, for rhetorical if not principial reasons. Something like that seems to be the driving impulse behind Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self, a first volume of a systematic theology that is an “essay on the Trinity” but that begins by trying to situate and make sense of human sexual desire.
There are dangers in this way of going about things. (Theology is always dangerous, of course.) A theology that begins with us may never really achieve escape velocity, may remain within the gravitational pull of the merely human. Certainly that’s a risk. So then we might turn to the also ongoing systematic theology of Katherine Sonderegger, who begins with the doctrine of God — with particular emphasis on the oneness of God, before getting to Trinitarian considerations.
One way to be theologically coherent and sensible at this moment is to cultivate this binocular vision: for example, to read Coakley, but read her towards Sonderegger; to read Sonderegger, but read her towards Coakley. A doubled reading, starting perhaps necessarily with our human self-understanding, but then moving quickly to occupy the other pole of theological awareness, with the God who is One, not even, yet, the God of Israel, but the God who constitutes and manifests Being, Consciousness, Bliss. And then we read and think and pray our way towards the convergence of the paths, which is Jesus Christ. To read in this doubled way is one aspect of the imitation of Christ. After all, in Augustine’s words, “As God he is our goal; as man he is our way.”