Nik Ansell
Associate Professor of Theology
"In the ultimate depths of one's being, one knows nothing more surely than that one's knowledge, that is, what is called knowledge in everyday parlance, is only a small island in a vast sea that has not been traveled. It is a floating island and it might be more familiar to us than the sea, but ultimately it is borne by the sea and only because it is can we be borne by it. Hence the existentiell question for the knower is this: which does one love more? The small island of one's so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery? . . . Only when one turns one's attention to the scope of knowledge and not only to the objects of knowledge, to transcendence and not only to what is understood categorically in space and time within this transcendence, only then is one just on the threshold of becoming a religious person."
— Karl Rahner, Foundations Of Christian Faith (New York: Crossroad: 1982), 22–23

Poster produced by Abingdon Press, Nashville TN.
On display in the Caven library Knox College, Toronto.

Theology is notoriously hard to define because differing views of the sacred or the divine, and of how this is related to life as a whole—as a higher or future world, as the depth or ultimate horizon of present existence, as an avoidance or displacement of our true humanity, as the hope or heartbeat of the universe, as the revelation of God, self, world, and other—lead to differing views of what constitutes theological discourse at its most authentic and meaningful. But the interplay between the descriptive and prescriptive in theology has been part of its conversation for more than 2500 years.

I believe that theology as an academic enterprise includes reflection on a number of key meta-theological issues that frame the discipline. Some may call this kind of reflection foundational theology, philosophical theology or phenomenology of religion. Such issues  include: (a) the nature of faith and hope and the correlation between faith/hope and the phenomenon of revelation—in which what is (rightly or wrongly) held to be sacred gives direction to the one who exercises religious trust and (b) the relationship between faith/hope and belief(s). Theology proper (so to speak) explores our web of beliefs as we think through different aspects of the God/world/self/other relationship. But ongoing attention (both tacit and explicit) to the phenomenology of revelation and to the distinction and relationship between faith and belief prevents theological discourse from becoming denatured and losing its connection to lived experience. So too does consideration of the third fundamental issue: (c) the relationship between faith/hope and love—or desire—which constitutes Life in its deepest, most expansive, and most biblical sense.

My own way of attending to our web of beliefs as we negotiate the interplay between our ultimate convinctions, the contours of our world, and the changing needs of our time, may be best conveyed in the course descriptions below. I would situate such work of exploration and re-conception 'between' the two quotations above. Talk of "infinite mystery" is meaningful, I believe, if we are talking about the mystery of our existence, our world, our experience of God; in brief, the mystery we know, though it (thankfully) exceeds our grasp and keeps our understanding in motion. Mystery is not mystification. Transcendence and immanence both need to be redefined and rediscovered. Because, in God's grace, we do not need to travel beyond "heavy metal, morality and beauty" to find the spirituality of existence.

My Research Foci
  • Biblical theology—including canonical intertextuality, Jesus' approach to Scripture, wisdom, apocalyptic, the Synoptic problem, feminist hermeneutics
  • The nature-grace, heaven-earth, relationship
  • Covenantal participation and the (re-)imaging of the divine
  • Eschatologically open models of creation
  • Christology and anthropology—in correlation
  • Phenomenology of revelation and language for God

My Bio

Nicholas Ansell, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology
BA(Hons) (University of Bristol), MPhil (Institute for Christian Studies), PhD (VU University, Amsterdam).

Nicholas Ansell’s teaching and research focus on several areas of systematic and biblical theology, notably Christology, eschatology, Old Testament wisdom thinking, and the theology of gender. He has an ongoing interest in the phenomenology of revelation and the spirituality of existence. He is presently completing a monograph for Paternoster Press entitled, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann.