Christian theology has an opportunity moving into the future. In part 1 I outlined modern Christianity’s problem. I could say more about Christendom, Colonialism and Consumerism (the 3 C’s of modern Christianity) and will later this week.

In part 2 I looked at modern Christianity’s temptation to concede, attack or retreat: concede to the private/personal realm, attack in the public realm or retreat into silos of privileged speech in the religious realm.

In order to understand how deep the problem really is, it might seem helpful to use modern Christianity’s binary way of thinking (as I alluded to in the title of this post). The either/or, mutually exclusive way of conceptualizing and framing issues is to tempting: conservative/liberal, literal/figurative, Catholic/Protestant, white/ethnic, male/female, gay/straight, etc.church-300x199

This is not our way forward.

When thinking about just Protestants in N. America you have to account for everyone from fundamentalist to charismatics, evangelicals to liberal mainliners, Pentecostals, Quakers and emergent types.

Ours is an age of diversity, multiplicity and plurality. Our theological approach needs to reflect that.

We are cresting into some form of late, high, hyper or post Modernity. This is evidenced in the fractured cultural arena and an unprecedented awareness of pluralism.

 

There will never be one great theologian again. The days of the great single voice are over. When Moltmann and Cobb pass, we will see the end of an era.

Now we refer to Feminist theologians, Liberationists, Process thinkers, the Yale School and Emergent voices. The closest we might get is referencing someone as Barthian or a Hauwerwasian.

This move toward the collective is significant. It pales, however, in comparison to the real shift.

 

The more significant shift is away from abstract, speculative and universalizing brands of thinking.
The future is found in:

  • concrete
  • interdisciplinary
  • qualitative analysis (observation)

These are but three of the reason that I love my discipline of Practical Theology. It is concerned not only with the ideas but with the practice of faith. It is inter-disciplinary because no one field is adequate to fully investigate or represent what is going on in an area of concern. It utilizes qualitative methods (interview, ethnography and case study) to flesh out the phenomenon under review and to represent the real and lived experience of those living faith out on the ground.

 

The models used in the past are inadequate then, they are harmful. Linell E. Cady’s chapter in Theology at the End of Modernity holds a powerful explanation of the problem and opportunity. [1]

The problem with a liberal approach’s emphasis on experience is obvious. The past century has exposed the fatal flaw of this opportunistic brand of Christianity. The ‘Christian Century’ ended somewhere between Hiroshima and 9/11. We can talk a more about this at a later time.

The answer, however, is not retreat into fideistic models that protect religious or god-talk from outside review by setting up religious speech as a privileged and incommensurable realm. I have been critical of both post-Liberal and Radical Orthodox approaches for this very reason. Neither the authoritarian modes of , say, Reformed thought nor confessional schools like these are sustainable in the 21st century.

“Moving toward this vision of theology means abandoning the systematic, ahistorical, textually driven mode of theology for one that is far more contextual in its attention to embodied religion.” [2]

Cady goes on:

“All too often theologians have pursued an ahistorical engagement with the great theologians of the past, regarding their positions as perennial Christian options rather than as strategies peculiar to a specific place and time.” [3]

 

In closing I want to make a subtle distinction. There is a deep resonance with the concerns about non-contextual, speculative, universalizing and systematizing approaches to theology. It just so happens that Practical Theology provides a different approach. Cady explains:

“(This) model of theology suggests the need for more careful attention to the historical and cultural context within which theological reflection is located. Moving in this direction would align theology closely with the history of religions … (becoming) more attentive to the analysis and evaluation of embodied religion.

The skills of the sociologist and ethnographer would begin to shape theological expertise, providing important supplements to the prevailing exegetical and philosophical orientations.” [4]

 

Our age asks us to move from abstraction, speculation and systematics to a collective and inter-disciplinary approach to lived religion. [5]

 

________________________

 

[1] It is not that I am fascinated with Gordon Kaufman – but with those who are attempting to answer the questions that he raised. I hope to address them from within a Practical Theology approach.

[2] p. 93

[3] p. 97

[4] p. 82

[5] Please read my previous post on The Body and Embodied Religion

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