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Record Type: Review   ID: 106

Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology

McClendon, James W., Jr.

McClendon attempts to consider biography as a way of revealing theology. He works with the lives of four 20th-century persons: Dag Hammarskjöld, Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Jordan, and Charles Ives. McClendon is a Christian theologian and conceives of these lives in terms of Christianity, but presumably this approach can be used with exceptional human experience, for a kind of theology is implicit in such experiences, and the backdrop of an entire lifespan may be the only one that can provide an adequate picture of the role they can play. McClendon sees that the relevance of the lives of these four people lies not in what they may say about their own theology. Rather, if you or anyone else were a pastor with people such as those four in your congregation, then you must come up with a theology that is adequate to the lives they lived. One of course wonders how many Christian churches today present a theology that is adequate to the life of their founder? Many, I think, do not even attempt it. In a sense, these biographies are what I have called EHE biographies or portraits—attempts to reveal what seminal experiences made these men religious and to respond, as they did, by saying Yes to life and to their God. He quotes Hammarskjöld on his aim. Hammarskjold appears here to refer to the experience of what William James called the More, which generally one can only come to via an EHE. His aim was "to shift the dividing line in my being between the subject and the object to a position where the subject, even if it is in me, is outside and above me" (p. 39).

In demonstrating the connection between biography and theology, McClendon notes that a key to these lives is the dominant imagery and visions that informed them. He points out that studying biography is not only a way of revealing lived theology, but biography can confirm the worth of those ruling images and visions. McClendon points out connections "between biography as theology and some of the main Protestant and Catholic theologies of the recent past" and sketches 7 areas in which theoretical work still needs to be done in regard to biographic theology. This is a thought-provoking work and needs to be read more than once. What I take from it is this: he points out how biography is particularly suited to the expression of Christian theology and that "living" and growing theology may be glimpsed in Christian biographies. I say that the process of "at-once-ment" and "atonement" continues, but that it is springing up beneath and beyond existing theologies. The universe within us is reaching out to the universe without us. Revelations are coming in the form of many kinds of exceptional human experience—some of them religious—and theology or maybe even cosmology is best revealed today in exceptional human experience autobiographies.

Publisher Information:Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International, 1990. 192p. 2 figs; Index: 185-192
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