It is rather a theology which defines God as a God of compassion which informs discipleship today and which needs to be reclaimed because of the failure of the triumphalism (theologia gloriae) of Christendom to address the deep spiritual void of the soul’s sense of nothingness and meaninglessness. (He appreciates Kierkegaard.)
Why is theologia gloriae, which shaped the religious and secular cult of Christendom a failure? Hall maintains that it buttressed a theological position of a “… world view whether religious or secular, to present themselves as full and complete accounts of reality, leaving little if any room for debate or difference of opinion expecting their adherents’ unflinching belief and loyalty …” (p. 17). It gave backing for political license to back its view of the truth with absolute power. The implications for him are clear then for church and society.
Hall maintains that a theology which emphasizes a God of majesty, power and might lends itself to be abused by our selfish desires. Rather a theology of the cross defining God as compassion is about confronting that which abuses human life, sin in all of its many faces. It is about the identification of a suffering Christ in a suffering world by disciples willing to suffer through compassion for others as Christ does. It is “incarnational theology.”
In reading this treatise, one realizes how influenced the author has been by Bonhoeffer, who is often quoted. A key chapter is the third, “Engaging the World,” in which Hall delineates the crucial difference between text and context. To lose the perspective of text (all the facets influenced by revelation) is he says to lose touch with the basis of why we have become involved in the world. Hall then revisits the great debate between Barth and Brunner in the 1930s set against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism in Germany.
For me, ch. 8, “The Theology of the Cross and Crisis of Christendom,” reaches a crescendo ahead of the final two chapters. The failure of Christendom gives the Christian communities of faith a new opportunity to reclaim their preconstantine mission and witness in the world. Apart from a theology of a God of power, might and majesty, we are shaped by a theology of the cross to demonstrate the gospel of God’s salvific love in Christ through his identification with the suffering of the world cause by human sin. That cross is present in our own identification with others as sinners saved by grace. The call still comes, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Discipleship is costly. In ch. 9, “On Being Christian Today,” I agree and also disagree with several examples of what that means. You take your choice.
This thought-provoking book presents a different orientation for many of us schooled in Reformed theology shaped by Calvin’s Sovereignty of God, which at times Hall caricatures to make his point. Keep the Institutes close at hand as well as Barth and Brunner. This is a book worth reading and pondering.