Colin Gunton, Revelation and Reason: Prolegomena to Systematic Theology. Edited by Paul Brazier (T & T Clark, 2008) 226pp (with thanks to T & T Clark for a review copy)
Colin Gunton was a great theologian and this latest book again reminds us of the loss to theology and to the church his death was. Like The Barth Lectures, this new posthumous book is based on recordings of Gunton's annual King's College London MA lecture seminar series on revelation and reason, which he had be teaching for over twenty years. Paul Brazier, like with The Barth Lectures, has again given us an example of Gunton the theological teacher in action. The book also contains another helpful introduction from Gunton's former
student and colleague Stephen Holmes (this is now his fourth introduction/ foreword to a Gunton book), which examines some of the book's major themes and his former teacher's contribution.
As the title suggests the book explores the relationship between
revelation and reason. With Kant, we find reason is all and there is
little room for revelation, this generally continues until Barth's return to revelation as primary. Brazier in his foreword suggests the book be seen as a companion to The Barth Lectures. I think it should also be seen as the background to Gunton's 1993 Warfield Lectures A Brief Theology of Revelation, his systematic account of the doctrine of revelation. And it can also be seen as a history of Western philosophy and theology: there are sections on Locke, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Kant, Descartes, Torrance, Barth, Aquinas, Anselm, Pannenberg, amongst others. As Holmes suggests, whether you agreed with Gunton or not, he had read, taught and knew well the different philosophers.
The book has been creatively put together by Brazier, divided into three parts, each beginning with a lecture, and then sections on different theologians and philosophers based around the seminar presentations students gave. The book should not then be seen as Gunton's mature statement on a theologian or subject, but Gunton helping students, as he says, 'by Christmas to think theologically' (p.12). This makes the book both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because we feel Gunton's excitement about doing theology, frustrating because the book is dependent on the questions asked to which Gunton responds - we are left wanting more.
I found the book helpful in getting to grips with the different theologians and philosophers it discusses. Brazier helpfully has footnoted in numerous places for those not familiar with a theologian or philosopher or a particular work. For this reason, I think the book does help the reader think theologically, to consider the problems, the issues and the relationship between revelation and reason.
I also found the book interesting in its discussion of various topics. For example regarding foundationalism and non-foundationalism, which Gunton has written about in both The One, the Three and the Many and A Brief Theology of Revelation, it is discussed in Revelation and Reason (pp.32-47) what I found to be more helpful ways. As I said above it is a useful background to other Gunton works.
Both Revelation and Reason and The Barth Lectures are interesting because they are books that would have looked very different if Gunton had written them. I think they need to be viewed seperately from Gunton's other published works, but they are valuable in providing us with an example of how to do theology, of how to think theologically. I did not know Professor Gunton well, apart from the few lectures he gave, when I was an undergrad. I emailed him in January 2003, when I was in my final year, asking whether I might attend the postgraduate research seminar where he was presenting the first draft of the first volume of his projected dogmatics. He replied with warm encouragement and I remember sitting in, in what turned out be his final months, as he read to us his written chapters.I remember the lively way Colin loved to talk theology because he believed it mattered. This is appartent in page after page of Revelation and Reason.