An audience with Dr James Alison

Last week, the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy were delighted to host a public lecture on the Brisbane Campus by leading Catholic theologian and author, Dr James Alison, who spoke on the topic Sideways God: Beyond violence to life in the Spirit.

Acting Executive Dean Theology and Philosophy, Associate Professor Richard Colledge, welcomed the audience of more than 70 people which comprised of ACU students and staff, priests, parishioners, and people from various Catholic agencies and churches.

Xavier Chair for Theological Formation, Associate Professor Maeve Heaney VDMF, provided an Acknowledgement of Country and a beautifully sung prayer based on her version of St John Henry Newman's hymn “Lead Kindly Light”.

Dr Alison’s lecture picked up on some key themes from his important 2004 public lecture concerning the atonement that was also delivered on the ACU Brisbane Campus. On that occasion, Dr Alison argued against accounts of Jesus's death and resurrection as a violent sacrifice to appease the Father's anger.

Continuing in this vein in his 2023 address, Dr Alison shifted the focus to the work of the Holy Spirit in human history. Dr Alison argued that a violent account of atonement is theologically and anthropologically highly problematic, leaving little space for the action of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Dr Alison proposed a non-violent account of the atonement in which God in Jesus offers himself to break people free from evil, sin and scapegoating and, in their place, give God’s own life of love to them through the Holy Spirit.

Much of Dr Alison’s address focused on scriptural texts concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit through Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel, thus enabling humanity to enter into God's own life.

Acting Head of School (Theology) Dr Joel Hodge, provided a response that focused on Dr Alison’s point about how the current Synod convened by Pope Francis in Rome, seeks to enable the church to receive the Holy Spirit more deeply to bring about a church that does not engage in rivalry, scapegoating and ideological factionalism. Dr Hodge proposed that the Synod is seeking a church that is guided by Jesus – revealed through the Spirit – so we can enter into the love-life of God.

The formal proceedings closed with several questions that emerged from the highly engaged audience.

James Alison is a leading Catholic theologian and author of ground-breaking works such as The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes, Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination and Jesus the Forgiving Victim. He earned his doctorate in theology from the Jesuit Faculty in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1994 and is a systematic theologian by training. He is widely known for being at the forefront of bringing the anthropological insights of René Girard to a wider public, particularly in Catholic theology.

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