Ogden on Theology -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Ogden on Theology
Author: John M. Frame

Ogden on Theology*

John M. Frame

Schubert Ogden has been over the years a well-known advocate of Bultmann’s demythologizing,1 of process theology,2 and (despite some metatheological reservations) of liberation theology.3 In the present volume he presents his ideas on the nature of theology and some related topics by gathering together eight essays previously published between 1971 and 1982.4 It is perhaps best to approach Ogden’s concept of theology by first taking note of other concepts which, in his view, theology presupposes: existential faith, revelation, religion, religious studies, and philosophy.

Existential Faith

Living beings, he says, have a sort of instinctive confidence that their environment is favorable to their struggles to live and reproduce: what Santayana called “animal faith” (pp. 70, 106). On the human level, this animal faith becomes “more or less self-conscious.” “Thus it has been well said that a human being not only lives his or her life but also leads it” (p. 70). Human existence as such,

* Schubert M. Ogden: On Theology (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986. 160. $19.95).

therefore, is grounded in faith. Reason is “faith seeking understanding.” All human reflective thought is ultimately grounded in this existential faith, which itself “neither needs justification nor can ever be justified” (p. 72). To say this, however, is not to say that existential faith is necessarily authentic or true (pp. 72, 107f.). While we cannot question our basic confidence that life is worth living, the tragedies of life “drive us beyond any simple understanding” of that faith (p. 108).


Because On Theology consists of independent essays, it is not always clear how the concepts of one are related to those of another. There is an essay “On Revelation,” but it does not discuss the relation of revelation to existential faith, nor do the essays which deal with existential faith. However, I gather that Ogden sees existential faith as a response to a kind of divine revelation (“original” or “natural” revelation): “the original event that is constitutive not only of Christian existence but also of human existence in general or simply as such” (p. 25). God is omnipresent and therefore immanent in all the reality thus constituted. Knowledge of God is thus involved in knowledge of the world and in all self-understanding (pp. 22-28), and God is, evidently, the object of existential faith...

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