The Theology of Altizer: Critique and
Edited by John B.Cobb, Jr.
269 pp. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1970. $7.50.
Reviewed by William
Hamilton, Portland State University
Theology Today 28:1 (April, 1971)
"You've come a long way, baby," as the saying goes. Five years ago, Westminster Press, carefully covering its bets, made publishing history by being the first publisher ever to print, on the cover of one of its books, an explicitly hostile and negative blurb. The book was, of course, Altizer's The Gospel of Christian Atheism, and the blurb-penned by one of the best American theologians-predictably declared that the book was neither gospel, Christian, nor atheistic. The blurb author proved to be one-third correct.
Today, from the same press, comes this valuable and fascinating account of the theology of the ogre of 1966. In a superb preface, the editor quite properly declares that Thomas Altizer is the most influential contemporary American theologian, the most original and creative, and, above all, a theologian whose primal category is, when all is said and done, neither death-of-God, coincidentia oppositorum, dialectic, but faith.
A review of this book does not require a summary of Altizer's systematic vision. Cobb provides that in a masterly fashion. It requires only a message to the reader on the content of the book. Two former colleagues present critical, yet warm tributes to his work. Two Catholic scholars indicate something of the impact of the death-of-God theology on the Catholic tradition. Richard Rubenstein presents, with accustomed clarity and candor, his own appropriation of the radical vision. Daniel Noel faces the question of Altizer's supposed gnosticism, and Nicholas Gier presents an excellent study of the relation of process theology to the death of God. I suspect that the dialogue he sets in motion in this essay will prove to be the most fruitful and long-range of any here, at least for the Protestant community. Winston King analyzes with great care the connections between Altizer and Buddhist thought, and as if a cake already iced needed further icing, the book properly draws to an end with a witty, loving, and obscene Altizer parody, done by Altizer's friend and colleague, the late Walter Love.
I miss here perhaps only one theme-that of Altizer's ethics. In the recent The Descent into Hell, Altizer has an admirable opening chapter on faith and revolution, and if he has not precisely done it himself, perhaps an attempt should have been made to locate the connections between Altizer's radical theology and his radical politics. Altizer has been working for years with a theological interpretation of the war in Vietnam, not unlike that of Norman Mailer, and an ethics chapter here would have served to relieve the anxieties of some of the superficial skimmers of the journalism of the death-of-God movement that there is no political substance to the radical theological vision.
Portland State University