Alistair Kee starts from the outset of The Way of Transcendence: Christian Faith Without Belief in God with his twofold thesis that he wishes to defend throughout his text: (1) secular wo/man is incapable of belief in God; and (2) Christian faith is essentially characterized by a way of life that came to expression in Jesus Christ.
Kee claims that belief is distinct from faith. The latter is a move of the intellect and will. Belief, on the other hand, is non-volitional; it is inherited based on one’s cultural-historical-religious situation. As such, one is not able to come to belief in God through rational means, or even through experience. In fact, “religious” experience is merely the experience of the Real (I’m using that term not Kee) that is interpreted through one’s cultural hermeneutical grid. Thus, he claims, contemporary, secular culture is structured in such a way that belief in God is impossible.
The first obvious question arises: isn’t belief in God historically the presupposition of the Christian faith? Of course. But Kee claims that the great failure of the early church was in accepting the Incarnation within the framework of a pre-Christian understanding of God. Following Altizer (and others), Kee claims that the Incarnation doesn’t so much tell us about Jesus so much as about God. That is, the Incarnation is the absolute kenosis of deity, the absolute collapse of metaphysics. But Kee is not convinced that Altizer and other Death of God theologians have realized the implications of this radical kenosis. Particularly, he claims that Altizer’s commitment to eschatology prevents the latter from being more than a reformist. Because Altizer hopes that through the Death of God “A profane destiny may yet provide a way to return to the God who is all in all… by meeting an epiphany of the past in the present,” (Altizer and Hamilton, Radical Theology an the Death of God, 94), he is not really espousing a Christian faith without God; merely a Christian faith in anticipation of God. Ours is a poetically silent existence in which wo/man is alienated from God through the Incarnation; but one that anticipates the return of the very pre-Christian God that Alitizer claims is dead… This approach is insufficient for Kee for two reasons: (1) in reality, Altizer’s Death of God theology amounts to nothing different from a Theology of Hope and (2) Altizer is still trapped within the bars of Christian discourse, unable to speak to the world at large. The latter point is perhaps the driving impetus of Kee’s treatise. He is seeking a way to universalize Christianity.
Kee undertakes similar criticisms of process theology (Ogden), onto-theology (Macquarrie), and William Hamilton’s “Theology in Waiting,” all of which he claims have sought to re-think God (or overcome God) but who have fallen short of their goal by failing to truly universalize their theologies.
The paradigmatic thinker par excellence for the first prong of Kee’s task is Nietzsche. Only Nietzsche has really understood the full implications of the Death of God. And rather than waiting in silence for the return of the sacred á la Altizer, Nietzsche boasted in the horror and subsequent wonder of the openness that arises through the absolute death of God:
We… feel ourselves irradiated as by a new dawn by the report that the ‘old God is dead’; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment, and expectation. At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in face of every danger; every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an ‘open sea’ exist (quoting Nietzsche, 127).
Kee does however separate from Nietzsche when it comes to fulfilling the second task of the book. Nietzsche’s criticisms of Christianity, while astute in many ways, make Christian faith entirely undesirable; it is in total opposition to the will of power, it is the weakness of humankind that must be overcome by “the higher men.” Thus, what Nietzsche advocates is what Kee calls “the way of immanence.” This phrase is akin to living according to “the world” in the Bible. By contrast, Kee hopes to advocate a Christian faith that is defined by “the way of transcendence.” This way of life is one that comes to full expression in the person of Jesus Christ; and it is the very way of life against which Nietzsche railed.
However, is it still possible to talk about theo-logy in the absence of God, even if one is seeking to espouse “the way of transcendence” that accords with the life of Jesus Christ? This question governs the final chapters of the book. Quickly stated, Kee’s answers is, “Yes.” Following the “formal criteria of theology” set forth by Tillich, Kee adopts the idea that “that which concerns us ultimately” is the object of theology. This means that human existence is characterized by theology. The woman whose primary concern is her career would be deemed to have a “bad theology” by Kee. Likewise, the man whose life is primarily saturated by the attainment of physical fitness goals would also be characterized by a “bad theology.” A “good theology” by contrast would be one that resists the “trivialities” of life and that mimics “that which came to expression in Jesus Christ.” This, he claims, provides the path for a “secular faith in Jesus Christ” (195), one that is not barred by the great stumbling block of belief in God.
Although Kee notes that the majority of Christians today will be resistant to his thesis, his primary concern is to universalize Christianity and theology in a way that transcends any form of localization. And by discarding the idea that belief in God is a necessary prerequisite for Christian faith, Kee maintains that all one needs in order to be Christian, all one needs in order encounter the cross of Christ, is to follow “the way of transcendence.” Therefore, what Kee is seeking to do is outline an inclusive, secular transcendence that is attainable by all persons in all locales that eschews any traditional notions of God in order that secular wo/man might embrace a secular, yet still distinctively, Christian faith.