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The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong [Paperback]

By William Placher (Author)
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Item description for The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong by William Placher...

Taking a careful look at the "classical" views (e.g., Aquinas, Calvin, Luther) and later trends beginning in the 17th century, Placher says theology has taken a wrong turn in terms of transcendence, and asks us to reconsider the nature--grace controversy in pre-modern thought.

Publishers Description

William Placher looks at "classical" Christian theology (Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther) and contrasts it with the Christian discourse about God that evolved in the seventeenth century. In particular, he deals with the notion of transcendence that gained prominence in this era and its impact on modern theology and modern thinking today. He persuasively argues that useful lessons can be drawn from premodern thinking about God, especially when viewed within the context of contemporary objections to it. This reexamination, according to Placher, has practical and profound implications for modern theology.

Citations And Professional Reviews
The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong by William Placher has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Library Journal - 05/01/1996 page 100
  • Booklist - 03/01/1996 page 1109

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Westminster John Knox Press
Pages   240
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.04" Width: 6.12" Height: 0.56"
Weight:   0.77 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 6, 1999
Publisher   Presbyterian Publishing Corpor
Edition  New  
ISBN  066425635X  
ISBN13  9780664256357  

Availability  107 units.
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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Pneumatology
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong?

Great book - a brief reply to 'theologicalresearcher'  Jan 21, 2008
Placher has written a helpful book, and it is frustrating that "theologicalresearcher" has misrepresented this work. First, he quickly judges this to be a poor book simply because it disagrees with his own point of view (e.g. the inspiration of scripture, Federal theology, etc.). Just because one can disagree with various aspects of a book does not mean it should be given a lower rating. Placher's book is clear, educational, and exposes many shortcomings of modern conceptions of the doctrine of God. His desire is also to "urge on theologians today virtues like caution, modesty, and reticence: learning to rest more content with how little we can understand about God and to be more willing to live with ambiguities and puzzles than much of modern thinking about God has been" (p. 3). It is unfortunate that theologicalresearchers takes this to mean that Placher won't give "clear cut answers." If he paid attention to Placher's Intro he would have understand his 'caution' in doing so. Overall, this book is an example that postliberalism is in fact a movement that requires our attention. I hope readers will disregard theologicalresearchers poorly conceived and unhelpful review and give Placher's book a read.
Educational, but challenging  Oct 26, 2007
This book was a very good, but difficult, read. Placher tackled quite an amazing concept in his book - he examined how some of the classic Christian fathers of the faith wrote and talked about God and then compared that to the modern thinkers of today. Lost over time, according to Placher, is a sense of awe and wonder about God, the transcendence of our mighty God has been reduced to common language and common thought. I thought the best part of this book were the three chapters on Aquinas, Luther and Calvin - it made me appreciate even more how incredible these men were in their thoughts about God and how their impact truly revolutionized how we think about God still today! But, Placher thinks, too much of that has been lost.

Placher is a Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Indiana and this book would be an excellent text for a college or seminary level course examining this issue. Most of the names that Placher brings up in this writing were new to me, which made it a very educational read, but also was more difficult than I had originally anticipated. Placher also did an incredible job in the book of bouncing back and forth between Catholic and Protestant thinkers over the past 400 years - you can tell he is obviously well-versed in this area of study.

Overall the book was an educational and challenging read. I wouldn't recommend this book to the average reader, but to a mature, well-read Christian, this book will provide some additional insight and thought which will help you understand and appreciate some of the great men and women of the faith who have gone before us.
Good, but not great  Mar 31, 2006
If there is a book that you want to read that challenges the traditional Christian assumptions about God and grace then this book might be for you. Though Placher insists that his presentation of God and grace is faithful to the premodern theologies before the 17th century, I believe that he just challenges the Bible on God and grace. Placher's book is divided into four sections: 1) Three Premodern Theologies; 2) The Modern Turn: God; 3) The Modern Turn: God and the World; and 4) Some Critical Retrievals.

The first section deals with the theologies of Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. Though flawed in some areas (for instance, Placher argues that Calvin differed with the later Calvinists on predestination) he does provide some stimulating discussion on how these theologians tackled issues that were important to them (Aquinas on God's transcendence, Luther on the Cross, and Calvin on methodology).

The second section deals with how "modern" theology domesticated God and grace. Placher's discussion on how 17th century theologians viewed God's omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite goodness on human terms (i.e., trying to explain God's attributes through a rationalistic box) is interesting. His discussion on the domestication of grace is also interesting. Though I would seriously disagree with his assertion that modern theologians domesticated grace (i.e., made the obtaining of salvation partly by human works) for the sake of maintaining social order (I guess Jesus and Paul were trying to maintain social order too).

In the third section, Placher talks about God's transcendence, the role of miracles, grace and works, and the Trinity. Again, one can see that Placher really doesn't want to give clear cut answers to these problems but merely tries to say that many things are just too mysterious for the human mind to understand. Though I strongly agree with his argument that God and human beings are BOTH 100% responsible for what goes on in the world, I thought his view of the relationship between grace and works is flawed (for instance, he believes that Federal Theology domesticated grace by advocating a bilateral covenant which demanded human cooperation - which is untrue).

The fourth section dealt with the image of God and theodicy. This was the weakest section of his work. Placher basically denies the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture and opts for some Barthian view where the Bible is merely a dead book unless people are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Also, his discussion of theodicy was also weak. Like a typical postliberal, Placher argues that we should not seek rational and biblical explanations for why evil exists in the world. Instead, we should just trust God that he will in the end bring about the good and leave it at that. Of course, this implies that God will someday restore everything and everyone to himself (which leads to universalism - something that the Bible teaches against).

Though the book is a stimulating read, there are many gaps and holes that Placher does not fill in. Of course, this is a sign that postliberalism is really a dead-end theological movement. It provides no clear cut answers and leaves most of the things of theology as mysteries of God. I would recommend this book to provoke many students of theology to examine their own theological paradigms, but one should be warned that Placher will leave many in the dark room of mystery where truth has no place in Christian thinking and living.

Ten Stars, Actually  Sep 27, 2004
I am sorry that this book is not available in hardcover; it's one that my library cannot be without. One cannot describe it without superlatives. Although I am an Orthodox Christian, the author has convinced me that there is profound theological thought outside Orthodoxy. (Not all Orthodox Christians feel this way.) Placher's thesis, that the way we think about God went awry back at the dawn of modernity, and that theology has not recovered from its ill-advised dalliance with the moderns, is superbly argued from cover to cover. If one reads between the lines, however, one realizes that the book raises questions which no religious believer can afford to ignore--questions such as "what does it mean to be a believer?", and "what does it mean to be human?" The epistemological ideal which animates the discourse of modernity is that of the detached, disinterested, impersonal spectator of reality. It started with Descartes and we've not seen the end of it yet. Placher understands that when this cognitivist presupposition informs our theological enterprise, the result is a "theology" which is more like Vedanta, Buddhism, or New Age monism than Christianity. (He doesn't mention them, but he would, if he were interested in getting into comparative religion.) In truth, these "Eastern" religions, especially as they appear in the West as "the New Spirituality," owe more to modernity and the ideals of the European Enlightenment than they would care to admit. A corollary of the Cartesian model is that man is cognitively self-sufficient. And since knowledge is our human way of making sense of the world, it's a short step to the notion that human being is wholly self-sufficient. We all know that Spinoza took up this idea and ran with it. Be that as it may, how anyone (except, perhaps, Bishop Spong) can square this idea with the fundamental Christian tenet of finite, fallen man is a mystery to me, as it must be to any Christian inclined to critical thinking. To endeavor to have a "God's eye view" of God (or anything else) is, in essence, to forsake one's humanity for the sake of becoming God. This is the cardinal sin, which is responsible for our fallen state in the first place. And it is just what "the New Spirituality," however it is packaged, would have us believe. It all started here in the West when one Swami Vivekananda gave an electrifying speech at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893. Ever since, people who are for one reason or another disenchanted with their own religious tradition have been standing in line to get their share of whatever it is that works the marvelous alchemy of transforming men into gods. (Why is it that so many people manage to read Genesis 1 and 2 nowadays, and come away believing that the point of the story of man's fall is that Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit?)

Placher does a masterly job of discussing Luther and Calvin, as I would expect him to. But his knowledge of and appreciation for the Scholastics make this book an excellent source of information for anyone working in that area. His chapter on the use of analogy in Aquinas and Cajetan is the best introduction to that subject I've ever seen. What tipped me off that Placher really knows what he's talking about is that he referred to Aquinas' magnum opus by its correct name "Summa Theologiae," rather than "Summa Theologica"--the variant preferred by pedants, dabblers, and name droppers since time immemorial.

In the coming years, I believe, Placher's thesis or something very much like it will come to dominate theological discourse, especially when Christian theologians wake up to the fact that to do theology in slavish deference to modernity is to take it down a dead-end road. Nowadays, even honest religious seekers are running with the herd headlong into the abyss of "the New Spirituality." They don't need any encouragement in that direction from misguided theologians. The professionals would do well to read and learn from a theologian's theologian. For my part, I'm no theologian, but I've been reading Placher's book along with Heidegger's "Being and Time," with tantalizing results. (Again, the section in "Domestication" on analogy is a gold mine.) I don't know whether Prof. Placher would approve of his work being used this way, but if he wants to know, he's invited to contact me.
Las Vegas, Nevada, September, 2004.

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