PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Sessions
A26-121
Christian Systematic Theology Unit
Theme: Trauma, Disability, and Grace
Jessica Wong, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding
Tuesday - 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Convention Center-21 (Upper Level East)

How do recent studies in the areas of trauma and disability affect our understanding of the nature and communication of grace? This session will explore these questions, as well as the notion of covenant and its relation to norms.

Hannah Jones, University of Chicago
God, Trauma, and the Grace of Survival

Trauma is paradigmatically the suffering that remains, haunting the survivor in ways uncontrollable or unwelcome. As such, trauma has posed problems for Christian conceptions of redemption. I make explicit the conceptions of God which underlie reformulations of redemption attempted by theologies of trauma. I argue that these theologies either present a God who does not fully identify with the traumatized or present God in ways that valorize human suffering. Ultimately, I aim to sketch an account of God that falls into neither problem, turning particularly to Christ’s incarnation and the role of grace. Drawing on Friedrich Schleiermacher along with feminist and womanist theology, I contend that if one gets clear on the relevant distinctions between the human and divine natures, which are nevertheless unified in Christ, one can see how it is that God can both identify with traumatic suffering while not justifying such suffering in human life.

Calli Micale, Yale University
Touch, Disability, and the Communication of Christ’s Spirit

Disability theologians have seriously critiqued Christian accounts of redemption as reproducing figures of intellectual normalcy. These theologians argue for an alternative framing that does not emphasize the criterion of cognitive assent, but rather relationality—especially a kind of relationality derived from experiences of touch. Responding to recent developments in disability theology, which tend toward either a positive or negative evaluation of touch, this exploratory paper elaborates a more nuanced position. For example, I consider ways that benign, or even benevolent, touch can elicit negative affect. In the end, I argue that if interactions of touch are genuine sites for the transmission of Christ’s spirit, then the social forces and personal histories that distort action and its reception cannot be ignored. While remaining sensitive to the inevitable risks, the paper concludes to gesture toward a theological solution, allowing for communication through touch, that depends exclusively on grace.

Charles Guth, Princeton Theological Seminary
Binding Grace: On Covenants, Norms, and Conditions

Divine-human covenants are central to the Reformed tradition’s theology of grace, but post-Barthian critics claim that much of this tradition was corrupted by “legalism.” According to J. B. Torrance, God’s covenant is truly gratuitous only if unilateral and unconditional. Drawing upon philosophical work on normative pragmatics, I argue this understanding of covenants is importantly mistaken. Covenants are essentially multilateral and are not unconditional in one salient sense because they essentially confer normative roles and obligations on each party. Recognizing this is crucial for avoiding the danger that ideals of unconditionality will ideologically reinforce oppression, a danger I illustrate with empirical evidence concerning abusive marriages. The grace of God’s covenant consists not in unconditionality but in God’s binding Godself to humans, and humans to God, in a relationship that is valuable for its own sake. I conclude by showing how worries about legalism can be accommodated within this understanding of covenants.