Logic of belief and the content of God: Hans Frei’s theological grammar
Henderson, Frances Munro
This thesis offers a systematic engagement with the theological hermeneutics of Hans Frei. The two key conceptual categories are “the logic of belief” and “the content of God”. The former refers to the grammatical ordering of theological statements: Frei is concerned to distinguish grammatical logic from ontology, and to establish the actual starting point for any given theological enterprise. Frei’s own preference for a “linear” and “cumulative” method built upon the starting point of a realistic narrative reading of the gospels is unpacked and explored. The second category, “the content of God”, refers to Frei’s search for an account in which God has actual reality, as opposed to a mere metaphysical abstraction. Indeed, for Frei, the arrival – or failure to arrive – at a ‘concrete’ account of God is the test of any theological starting point, as evidenced in the ability or otherwise to do exegetical justice to the narrative shape of the crucifixion-resurrection sequence. The thesis demonstrates that for Frei, the starting point in the logic of belief must be the identity of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture, and only on that basis can a concrete content of God be posited. In so doing, the intention is to set Frei very firmly within his mid-twentieth century context, in particular his engagement with and ultimate rejection of existentialist and Neo-orthodox theology. Accordingly, the thesis traces the development in Frei’s thinking of these two conceptual categories, from his doctoral thesis on Barth’s early theology up to and including his twin publications, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (1974) and The Identity of Jesus Christ (1975). Later works by Frei are also considered in relation to these. The thesis does not stop at the mid-twentieth century, but illustrates the continued relevance of Frei’s hermeneutical theology into this century, putting him in conversation with a number of systematic and biblical theologians. Suggestions are made as to his applicability to modern theological concerns, including the debate surrounding the being and action of God: a field where he has yet to be deployed successfully.