- Waiting at the Foot of the Cross: Toward a Theology of Hope for Today by Pamela R. McCarroll
Pamela McCarroll’s first monograph is a very fine foray into both critical and constructive contextual theology. Drawing on Luther’s juxtaposition of the theology of glory and the theology of the cross, McCarroll offers an illuminating and provocative analysis of the respective contributions of Canadian intellectual giants George Grant and Douglas John Hall to philosophy and Christian theology. This volume is carefully researched, ambitious, well-written, lucid, wise, and compelling. Among other things, it is an energetic and appreciative introduction to Grant and Hall for anyone unfamiliar with their work. McCarroll’s book is a testament to the faithful realism that is foundational to Christian hope.
The occasion for this book is the profound human need for hope in the contemporary North American context, where the complications and problematic dimensions of late modernity are bearing bitter fruit for both church and society. Among these fruit are the legacies of colonization, global injustice, weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, and human exploitation, all arising from modernity’s obsessions with mastery, control, reason, technology, conquest, progress, and scientism. Within this context, McCarroll begins an intellectual journey of exploring authentic grounds for hope. She finds a way forward, even though real hope is in short supply, while escapism, false optimism, and nihilism are everywhere. From Grant and Hall, who respectively draw on the traditions of Athens (philosophy) and Jerusalem (theology), McCarroll mines significant resources, cautions, critiques, and ultimately humble expressions of trusting faith in Jesus Christ.
Early on, McCarroll describes the “pervasive cynicism and despair over human purpose and meaning” (3) that frame much of contemporary living. The promises of the Enlightenment and the “inevitable progress” of the modern era have not been fulfilled. The theology of glory that characterizes much of modernity is “a fundamental lie about reality and the essence of relationships” (89). Accordingly, it must give way to the theology of the cross, which “enables a Christian critique of power … through an incisive undercutting of the image of the human as master” (7).
The theology of the cross or via negativa thus becomes McCarroll’s principal lens and way of proceeding. Through her, we see Grant’s and Hall’s particular and correlating contributions within their own fields, though they were not direct collaborators. Grant’s philosophical work “from Athens” engaged reason and yet presupposed the gospel; Hall’s theological work “from Jerusalem” engages revelation and is explicitly gospel-oriented. Both made the theology of the cross a central concern of their work in a variety of ways. With the cross of Jesus before us, we are forced to re-evaluate the nature of the human person, the dynamics of human and divine agency, and “our human limit and failure … [and] the darkness of our existential vulnerability” (70–71). When the ultimacy of love is revealed to us in a crucified criminal, we are pressed to reconsider what real power is. Only here can “the beauty of God’s grace … possibly come into view” (91). Before the cross, our approaches to other humans, God, and creation are [End Page 170] reordered. Chapter 7, profiling Hall’s thought, is perhaps the strongest section of the book, especially in its presentation of the emphases of Hall’s Christology.
In places, the book suffers from the overuse of dialectical structures (e.g. reason/revelation, Athens/Jerusalem, gospel/world, faith/unfaith). This is not a fatal flaw, but occasionally becomes distracting.
In the last section of the book, we hear McCarroll’s original contributions and voice emerging most clearly. Here she elaborates her own sense of the meanings of the book’s title. To adopt a posture of waiting is countercultural, and yet, McCarroll argues, it is the most faithful response to modernity’s obsessions with power and control. Waiting helps us to shed the false hopes generated by...