Christopher Roberts Creation & Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in the Moral Theology of Marriage
Does sexual difference matter for marriage? Are there good theological reasons why the two main characters in a marriage should be a male and a female, or is marriage a more flexible covenant, which any two people can keep? Creation and Covenant analyzes latent but under-examined beliefs about sexual difference in the theology about marriage which has been dominant for centuries in the Christian west. The book opens by studying patristic theologies of marriage, which rested on mostly implicit and often incompatible beliefs about sexual difference. However, Roberts argues that Augustine developed a coherent theology of sexual difference, according it a shifting significance from creation to eschaton. Roberts traces how Augustine’s theology influenced and was developed by subsequent theologians, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Barth, and John Paul II. Finally, Roberts engages today’s debates about gay marriage.
Before becoming an academic, Dr. Roberts was a journalist. On behalf of PBS television, he covered both the Lambeth Conference in England and the World Council of Churches in Zimbabwe. During those years, he was disappointed by both the liberal and conservative arguments on homosexuality. Left-wingers seemed more interested in privacy, autonomy, and experience than in theology, and right-wingers seemed to have lots of prohibitions but little good news. In the final chapters, this book tries to do better, inviting liberals to improve the standard of their arguments, and explaining what is beautiful and persuasive about the traditional case.
This book articulates often latent and under-examined, but nonetheless significant, beliefs about sexual difference in the theology about marriage which has been dominant in the Christian west. Chapter one explains that patristic theologies of marriage rested on mostly implicit beliefs about sexual difference, and sometimes these beliefs were incompatible with one another. However, chapter two argues that Augustine developed a coherent theological anthropology of sexual difference, according it a shifting significance from creation to eschaton. Chapters three through five show that for the major subsequent pre-modern theologians, the significance of sexual difference was rarely the subject of direct discussion. Nevertheless, Augustine’s most important successors both presupposed and occasionally developed his beliefs about sexual difference. Bernard of Clairvaux shows how sexual difference in marriage is privileged material for allegories of God’s love; Aquinas emphasised the procreative significance of sexual difference; and the Reformers argued that because God made the sexes, marriage should be central to Christian life. Chapters six and seven study Barth and John Paul II, who each discuss sexual difference with a hitherto unknown degree of sustained systematic attention. Their anthropology and biblical exegesis is rooted in Christology, which leads them to conclude that humanity is created for fellowship, and that sexual difference is necessary for this fellowship. Chapter eight explains why certain contemporary and revisionist theologies of marriage, notably ones which seek a rationale for gay and lesbian marriages, are problematic. These contemporary theologies have not yet reckoned with theologically important and defensible claims about the meaning of sexual difference. The conclusion suggests that renewed clarity and selfconsciousness about the theological significance of sexual difference should strengthen any Christian ethic of sexuality and marriage, enabling the church to be more articulate in its dialogue with contemporary culture and science, and more coherent in its own internal practices.
â??The question of the significance of sexual difference is at the heart of many divisions within contemporary society. It is producing hurtful tensions within all of the major Christian Churchesâ?¦.Robertsâ?? contribution to the debate is forceful and scholarly, while always charitable. This powerfully argued case for the abiding importance of our sexual identity shows how rich can be the contribution of the Christian tradition to our societyâ??s present search to understand the meaning of our lives. Even those who do not accept all of the authorâ??s conclusions should be grateful for this beautifully written and profound book. It will help us all in our journey towards understanding who we are in Christ.â?? – Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master General of the Dominican Order
â??Sexual ethics and gay marriage — Creation and Covenant is essential reading for anyone who wants to think about these issues in light of the Western Christian tradition. Roberts helps us see and resist the Gnostic temptation that so dominates the moral imagination of modern cultureâ?¦.A very fine book – just the sort of patient survey of the classical tradition we need, and absolutely on target as far as the core theological issue is concerned. It’s the sort of book that will be very helpful for teaching a seminar on sexual ethics.” – R. R. Reno, Creighton University, and editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.
â??In Creation and Covenant, Christopher Roberts has done both church and society a great service. â?¦We cannot go forward with any of these issues in the future without Roberts’ excellent guide to the past.â?? – Don Browning, University of Chicago and author of Marriage and Modernization Creation and Covenant
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