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Daniel J. Treier

Let the Dead Heal Us

Recovering the pastoral motivation of classical Christian theology.

By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine
by Ellen T. Charry
Oxford Univ. Press, 1997
280 pp.; $17.95

By the time "Donald" was 16 years old, he had ten years of Christian influence through his foster parents. Yet, although he was thoroughly conversant with Scripture, his adolescence was dominated by drugs. He broke into his foster parents' house in search of some money he had hidden, got into a fight with his foster mother, and bludgeoned and suffocated her to death. Now serving a life sentence for second-degree murder, he makes weekly calls—"trying to figure out what happened and who he is"—to Ellen Charry, a longtime friend who was also a friend of his foster mother.

In her professional life Charry teaches systematic and historical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and is coeditor of of the journal Theology Today. Her book By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine is dedicated to Donald.

Although Charry's book was published fairly recently, it has already assumed the status of a contemporary classic, one of those books that influence a generation of students. The suggestion of the subtitle—that Christian doctrine ought to shape one's living—may seem unremarkable, even banal. But at a time when the gap between theology and the life of the church is wider than ever before, Charry offers a powerful corrective. Academically rigorous and informed by a deep knowledge of Christian tradition, her book never forgets about Donald.

The Pastoral Motivations of Classical Christian Theology

Charry was reading Aquinas when she noticed statements with a pastoral intent in the midst of his theological formulations. As she worked backward through various theologians, she realized that this pattern was no happenstance; classical theologians actually believed that God forms us to be excellent persons by our knowing him. Moreover, classical theologians believed that happiness is tied to virtuous ...

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