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  • Acting for Others: Trinitarian Communion and Christological Agency by Michaela Kusnierikova
  • Thomas K. Johnson
Acting for Others: Trinitarian Communion and Christological Agency. By Michaela Kusnierikova. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017. 209 pp.

The author seeks to explore the interrelation between the Christian church and the world in the post-Christendom West through the lens of the connection between the church's acting and its self-understanding. Essentially, how does the church define itself through its actions toward others? The tools selected for this task are the writings of three thinkers: political thinker Hannah Arendt, Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae. The hope is that by offering a dialogue among them, we better grasp what it means to be the church in light of its involvement and relationship to the world.

A primary consideration is whether the metaphor of the church as family is a viable symbol for full Christian engagement in the world today. I found it particularly interesting that Kusnierikova intentionally selected three subjects who experienced the reality of oppression and political opposition to genuine Christian practice and advocacy for the other. Most likely she knows firsthand this same challenge; she grew up in communist controlled Czechoslovakia. A key concern is how the church can move beyond the identity of a family looking inward to a political community of solidarity with all who suffer. [End Page 229]

The first four chapters present a brief overview of these three thinkers, focusing on Arendt for her analysis of political theory and critique of the church's role in society, Bonhoeffer for his ecclesiology and calling for the church to exist for others while resisting unethical political structures, and Staniloae for his vision of the communal interactivity of human relationships. The latter's Eastern Orthodox emphasis on how the identity of the Trinity is formed by relational characteristics influenced Kusnierikova to discuss the "Trinitarian participatory response" and how it affects our actions toward others.

Notably, the author provides an additional chapter on Bonhoeffer and is deeply attracted to his early doctoral theses Communion of Saints and Act and Being. She sees a connection between two Lutheran theological constructs—the priesthood of all believers and the idea that all are simultaneously saint and sinner—namely, in how we act toward others. At times the church community holds one another accountable with the responsibility of being and acting as the Body of Christ, while at other times we fail and need to confess our self-centered behavior and reliance on grace.

As I write, the subject matter is significantly relevant in light of the governmental policy of separating families at the border and the churches' varied responses. I wonder if Kusnierikova would see this as an example of her thesis, especially the movement that has emerged entitled "keep families together." Many of my religious colleagues were arrested recently in Los Angeles under this political banner. At the same time other Christian voices maintain that obedience to the law of the country is essential and biblical. In providing a synthesis of Bonhoeffer and Staniloae, the author argues that our Christian calling necessitates not only acting for others but also alongside others just as God acts as Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer. The author rightly asserts that the metaphor of family for the church is limited by inequalities and patriarchal assumptions. If we respond fully to God's initiative to act for and with others then the church will transform itself into a dynamic movement that mirrors the relational nature of the Trinity. Then the body of Christ can be fully engaged in the world for the sake of the world. [End Page 230]

Although I find this work timely, given our current political climate, it likely will appeal to a limited audience, namely, those willing to do the work of dissecting and juxtaposing three sophisticated thinkers in light of their experience of totalitarianism, all the while remaining open to the holistic portrait of communal human activity undergirded and yet set free by being in communion with the Trinity.

Thomas K. Johnson
Claremont School of Theology Claremont, California


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pp. 229-231
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