Developing a "Theology in the Order of Discovery"
This dissertation seeks to develop the theological method operative within James Alison's growing theological corpus, which he describes concisely as a "theology in the order of the discovery." I will argue that the value and contribution of his method lies in the careful and consistent attention that he pays to the ongoing, reciprocal relationship that exists between persons' experiences of receiving faith (that is, experiences of conversion) and persons' attempts to understand the content of that faith through a process of self-reflexive appropriation of it (that is, through engagement in the activity of theological reflection). In the introductory chapter, after defining the key terms of the project, I situate my investigation into Alison's method within the context of several twentieth and twenty-first century Christian theological movements: experiential/transcendental theology, dialectical theology, narrative or postliberal theology, and a theology of proclamation. These comparisons allow for an initial articulation of the characteristics of what I will present increasingly more explicitly throughout the dissertation as Alison's "inductive" theology. Part I of the dissertation, consisting of chapter two, presents the mimetic anthropology of René Girard as the primary intellectual influence on Alison's conception of theology. It considers Girard's gradual development of the terminology that he has employed to express his deepening understanding of the operation of mimetic desire, rivalry, and conversion in order to show that Girard's attempt to develop "a Gospel anthropology" requires a systematic theological perspective to give it greater coherence. With this context in place, Part II proceeds with my study of Alison's theological method. Chapter three develops Alison's implicit understanding of one movement in the reciprocal relationship between the experience of conversion and the activity of theological reflection, namely, the movement from conversion to theological reflection, and it presents theology as a fruit of conversion. The primary aim of the chapter is to show that Alison's view of the New Testament accounts of the resurrection appearances leads him to begin to understand the reciprocal relationship between conversion and theology that has guided his theological performance throughout his career. Chapter four develops Alison's implicit view of the reciprocal movement from theological expression to the potential conversion experiences of others, that is, it presents theology as an occasion for conversion. It draws out Alison's implicit understanding of theology as an act of witness which can provide an occasion for the Spirit of Christ to make the crucified and risen Christ present both to the one giving witness and to those that receive that witness. I conclude in chapter five by demonstrating Alison's inductive theological approach as it is operative in several excerpts from his writings. I then begin to demonstrate the fruitfulness of Alison's inductive method by exploring how this method might contribute to three theological and ministerial questions in need of renewed consideration.