Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review of Pamela McCarroll's 'Waiting at the Foot of the Cross' by Ron Dart

Pamela R. McCarroll, 
Waiting at the Foot of the Cross: Toward a Theology of Hope for Today
Foreword by Douglas John Hall 
Pickwick Publications 2014 

There has been, unfortunately so, a way of doing Christian theology that is more about success, glory and victory than of the cross. The theology of glory tradition, when delinked from the theology of the cross, too often panders to a politics of power—such a Eusebian like position genuflects to empires that embody and incarnate various forms of ruthless and subtle domination and mastery of the other (human and non-human).

There has emerged, gratefully so, two significant Canadian philosophical theologians, in the latter half of the 20th century, that have dared to differ with the dominance of the triumphalist theology of glory ideology: George Grant and Douglas John Hall. Both men have made it abundantly clear that the dishonest tradition of the theology of glory distorts the depths of the suffering and vulnerable Christ: the God-Man of the Cross. The sheer beauty and rigorous probes of Pam McCarroll’s PHD thesis turned compelling read book is the way she accurately and accessibly renders the thinking of George Grant and Douglas John Hall transparent and window clear to the attentive reader---there is, in short, nothing opaque about this translucent and limpid book.

Waiting at the Foot of the Cross is about both the inner discipline of waiting and doing so at the foot of the cross—I never easy to attentively wait in such a graphic and raw place of gruesome suffering. Waiting at the Foot of the Cross is deftly divided into eight readable and incisive chapters: 1) Hope at the End of Hope, 2) Luther’s Theology of the Cross and Theological Method, 3) Grant’s Method of the Cross, 4) Hall’s Method of the Cross, 5) Theology of the Cross and Contextuality, 6) Grant on Mastery and the Possibility of Hope, 7) Hall on Mastery and the Possibility of Hope and 8) Toward a Theology and Practice of Hope.

The contribution and burnished gold nature of this book is the way Pam McCarroll has brought together the wide ranging nature of both Grant and Hall’s way of doing philosophy and theology---she has, wisely so, highlighted how both men are fine pointers and guides into a notion of hope that wards off a Pollyanna optimism and a form of realism that often turns cynical and skeptical. Grant and Hall have certainly looked into the heart of darkness and their way of attentive waiting to the message and meaning of the cross illuminates much in the pseudo-light yet deepening darkness of modern liberal progressivism.

The fact that Grant and Hall are Canadians makes this book a must read. Many Canadians are dutiful colonials—they constantly look elsewhere for the important thinkers and activists. The USA and England are often seen as the great and good places, polaris stars of sorts that guide woe begotten and disoriented Canadians.  The fact that George Grant and Douglas John Hall emerge from within the Canadian context speaks much about the richness and depth of the Canadian philosophical and theological tradition, a prophetic and countercultural tradition in many ways.

The “Foreword” by Douglas John Hall is worth many an ample reread. Hall makes clear that, in many ways, Grant was his teacher and guide, and the coup de foudre theology of Hall is a mature unpacking of the philosophical coup de grace of Grant’s undressing of liberalism in all its various forms and guises, chameleon like changes of colour to suit situation and context.

Waiting at the Foot of the Cross is an imperative read and should be on the bookshelves of all those interested and committed to the best of theology in its most mature form. Pam McCarroll should be lauded for her committed sleuth work to unearthing the mother lode of thought of Grant and Hall, enucleating their affinities and articulating their relevance for us in these early decades of the 21st century—do read and inwardly digest this clear diamond of a book—the faith journey cannot but be enriched and deepened by the path provided. 

Ron Dart