Yale Consultation

Joy, Innocence and Guilt

Because of our partnership and friendship with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture (YCFC), the YCFC organized one of its theological consultations at the University of Fribourg in October 2017, with the title: Joy, Innocence and Guilt. The YCFC is led by Professor Miroslav Volf, whom we have known since his involvement as our keynote speaker during our 2015 conference. As part of its project entitled :Theology of Joy and the Good Life, the YCFC researches the theologically under-researched concept of joy in the context of various virtues, actions and emotions. One of the approaches of this consultation was the contrast between innocence and guilt.

Each candidate prepared a 20-page paper prior to the consultation. One of the other discussion members responded to the paper, and all of the papers were discussed by the group. Professor Guido Vergauwen O.P (former Chancellor of the University of Fribourg) and Dr. Walter Dürr were also participants in these discussions. The consultation was overseen by two research associates of the YCFC, Dr. Ryan McAnnally-Linz and Dr. Matt Croasmun. The conversations lasted for a totoal of twelve hours and numerous aspects of joy, guilt and innocence were discussed.

The following researchers were part of the discussion:

  • Professor Michael Welker (Heidelberg)
  • Dr. Rebecca Giselbrecht (Zurich)
  • Professor Alan Norrie (Warwick)
  • Professor Ralph Kunz (Zurich)
  • Professor Barbara Hallensleben (Fribourg)
Participants of the consultation: (from left to right): Prof. Barbara Hallensleben, Prof. Alan Norrie, Dr. Walter Dürr, Dr. Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Dr. Rebecca Giselbrecht, Dr. Matthew Croasmun, Prof. Michael Welker, Prof. Ralph Kunz und Prof. em. Guido Vergauwen

In his presentation, Michael Welker stressed how refreshing and enriching it was to focus on the issue of ‘joy’. He emphasized the many theological dimensions of joy in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and argued that it is high time for us to rediscover this Pauline joy in our vulnerable and self-endangering world. The destructive forces of (human) nature can only be overcome by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which graces human life with justice, love and joy.

Next, Rebecca Giselbrecht detected a split between Protestant reformers' legalistic understanding of innocence and guilt, and the affective understanding of these terms in postmodernity. For the reformers, 'the good life' and joy meant the freedom of the faithful acquired through the gracious forgiveness of sin and the innocence in Christ which is won thereby. Both of these enable the restoration of the relationship between the faithful and God, and his or her neighbours. 

Alan Norrie, Professor of Law in Warwick, postulated five forms of love, based on experiences of forgiveness in the his empirical ‘Forgiveness Project’: love of oneself, love of the other, the love in the relationship between the self and the other, the love in the relationship  between self, the other and the community, and the love in the ‘specific universality’ of all parties concerned. Forgiveness opens up new possibilities for community, and deals with varying affective, legal and socio-political aspects.

Ralph Kunz elaborated on the spiritual aspects of old age (‘gerotranscendence’). He argued that approaches to the challenges of old age which focused exclusively on the resources of the individual and on his or her inherent resilience often failed to be effective. Rather, the crucial insight that  true spiritual resources come from without.These resources make it possible for the elderly to become confident despite their lack of self-sufficiency and to find joy through the hope that life and goodness are stronger than death and evil.

Barbara Hallensleben concisely summarized the consultation and contextualized the discussion within the larger project  Theology of Joy and the Good Life.  She explored the contents of the subject in detail and its implications for a theology which takes the various facets of our joy in Christ into account.

To the YCFC Website

All participants found the consultation deeply enriching. The atmosphere was  informal and open. The format showcased by this consultation may become a signpost to future conferences of the Study Center. The growing friendship between the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the Study Centre for Faith and Society may also lead to further shared consultations or conferences.

Interview with Prof. Michael Welker

How did you first get in touch with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture?

Michael Welker: I have known Miroslav Volf since we were PhD students in Tübigen, and we have repeatedly worked together ever since. We share the vision of doing theology as part of a global, interdisciplinary community of scholars. Yale has long been one of our partners, and this is how the consultation came about.

During the consultation you repeatedly mentioned that the issues of ‘flourishing life’ and ‘joy’ could open up new avenues for theological inquiry.

Indeed. I have worked a lot on theological terms and concepts, but not until now had I considered the concept of joy. I am glad I was ‘forced’ to do this now, as I found it very instructive. Paul’s understanding of joy in the famous pericope in his letter to the Philippians is deep and multi-layered, and I found the experience of expounding it spiritually enriching.

The topic of our 2017 conference was ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, and one of our speakers was Amos Yong, a Pentecostal Theologian from Fuller Theological Seminary. You have often collaborated with Pentecostal theologians, and have written a book on the Holy Spirit. Many churches suffer from a certain ‘poverty’ of the Spirit. Where do you see areas where mainstream churches can learn from Pentecostals and the charismatic movement?

There is plenty to learn from Pentecostal and charismatic Churches, especially regarding the more emotional aspects of faith – after all, it is the Spirit who gives joy! Moreover, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit urges us to consider our bi-polar thought structures critically. We have fruitfully collaborated with Pentecostal theologians for a long time, for example by jointly organising conferences which have been mutually enriching. There is a new generation of Pentecostal theologians, which is more interested in academic theology and theological reflection. This is to be  strongly welcomed. We should not be closed-minded towards Pentecostal churches, even if their style is not to our taste.

You have repeatedly argued that the Church is in a process of secularizing itself, to her own detriment. What can theology do to counter this?

We need a new enthusiasm for a substantial theology! We need to reinforce the old partnership between theology and philosophy, but also to forge new partnerships, for instance with jurists, scientists, economists etc. Our  dialogue with them should be one in which we contribute substantially as theologians, bringing in our knowledge acquired through faith. Theological education has neglected this greatly. We no longer trust our beliefs.

I recently gave a lecture at a memorial for John Paul II in Warsaw. I planned to critique what I thought was an individualist and modernist understanding of the Spirit in his Encyclical Dominus et vivificantem. The day before the lecture, however, I was told that John Paul II proclaimed the following blessing in Warsaw after he was elected Pope in 1979: ‘Send out your Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!’ It was then that I realized that this corresponded precisely with my understanding of pneumatology. I was thrilled and immediately re-wrote my critical lecture. This was an exhilarating ecumenical experience! Much later, I discovered that this kind of theology of the Spirit was not wished-for by the Polish government at the time of John Paul II. It was deemed  too liberal and subversive. Sincere theology can quickly run into opposition. But this is exactly what we need in theology today!

Prof. Welker is Senior Professor at the University of Heidelberg and Honorary Professor at the Seoul Theological University and Managing Director of FIIT (International  Research Center and Interdisciplinary Theology).