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The God Revealed In Christ

Who said anything about omni-potent?

One of the difficulties of being both a believer, and for me, a pastor is how much time and energy gets taken up by the god that you don’t believe in. I believe in god very deeply and have given much of my life to teaching and leading people into a fuller understanding of faith in and participation with the divine-eternal-transcendent.

I love and try to imitate Jesus. I guess that makes me a Christian. Which is fine because even if there was no such category as ‘christian’, I would still be fascinated with the phenomenon that gets labeled the spirit of Christ/the spirit of God/Holy Spirit. My attraction to the field of practical theology is to examine the ways that religious communities and people of faith live out their beliefs in embodied practices.

I am really committed to this thing that gets called belief-faith-religion. It plays an important role in my life, in my family, in my networks, in our society, and in our world. I feel the need to say this because I get frustrated at the increasing amount of time and energy that gets taken up explaining what I don’t believe.

God has really gotten out of control in our culture. You say that you believe in God or that you have had a religious experience and suddenly you find yourself defending lofty and foreign concepts like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability, and impassibility. You get overwhelmed by an avalanche of historical atrocities and are asked to defend classic conceptions of an all-mighty or sovereign god in the face of human evil and suffering. Now there are accusations of hypocrisy, genocide, crusades, sexual abuse, and every manner of discrimination and hate.

All I said is that I like Jesus and the one that he called Abba. What have I been pulled into and am I obligated to adopt/defend all of these other things? Is it possible that the concept of God has gotten out of hand and grown over the centuries into the bloated and oversized thing that is unsustainable and indefensible?

Are we allowed to downsize this whole thing to a more understated and humble version? Someone might ask “you want a more manageable god?”

It’s not that I want to manage god or be in control of god … I just want a conception of god that isn’t so amped up, highly-caffeinated, or on steroids. I was looking at a model in the range of ‘the god revealed in christ’. I find that a compelling vision of god – more servant than Caesar, more nurturing parent than distant monarch.

I feel at times like the person looking for a reliable car but getting stuck with a pushy salesman who is bent on getting me into something bigger, faster, more powerful, and fancier. I just want something that gets there, I’m not sure about all the bells and whistles – nor can I afford the payments on the luxury model.

I’m looking for a place to rest but all the mattresses are king-sized, pillow top, space-age foam, with dual temperature control and animated bi-level posture support. I was hoping to watch the evening news and maybe enjoy a game on the weekend but all the cable packages are premier bundles with 500 channels from 130 countries including an extreme sports package and a 100 gigabyte DVR included with your unlimited data upgrade.

A smaller and humbler vision of god seems like heresy to most folks for whom the whole point of there being a divine being is that it is the biggest and best of whatever it is that you would value. Anything less, it appears, is not even worthy of worship and so it becomes an all or nothing dichotomy where God had better be everything that has been promised or there is no point in believing in God at all.

Like so many other things in our culture right now, religion has been turned up to 11 and you had better like it OR YOU CAN GET THE HELL OUT!

Through the advent season and into the new year, my meditation has been on the incarnation and the amazing reality that the eternal word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us – emmanuel means that god is with us. For good or bad, god is now eternally bound up in the creatures’ fate. God has not only identified with humanity but has become entwined with humanity.

Incarnation is why our bodies matter to god and why our embodied practices mean as much or more than our ideas and concepts about god. I’m looking for the God Reveled In Christ.*

Tomorrow I want to ask if the classic notion of the big-god was destroyed when we entered the nuclear age. I’m not sure that conception of god survived the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like the star over Bethlehem, the mushroom clouds loom over us and divide history from its previous era.

_____________________

*I understand that G.R.I.C. may not be the biggest or best. I get that when we say ‘GOD’ we are saying more than ‘human’ loudly. I have no interest in projecting all of our hopes and dreams onto the screen of the heavens. I accept that those who hold to the inflated and super-sized Almighty King of the Universe are the gate-keepers and boundary guards of what they term orthodoxy. It has taken me 20 years to get comfortable letting go of their interpretation of the KINGdom but after surveying the theological landscape, I am sure that there is plenty of real estate that does not require certainty as an entrance fee.

Getting Ready For God Week

The semester is off to a good start and my 3 classes are coming together in exciting ways.

Side-note: my 3 classes this semester are ecclesiology, culture & systems change, and essentials of christian theology. 

In ‘essentials’ the topic for next week is God. A really interesting cross-reference comes from Changing Signs of Truth by Crystal Downing, which is being read by the culture & systems change class this week.

She has a really innovative take on (re)signing our inherited symbols in order to clarify what those sign/symbols point to or signify. There is a part of me that wishes we could have the two classes meet at the same time and talk about what it would mean to (re)sign the symbol of that little three letter signifier ‘g-o-d’.

For those of you who are planning to follow along and participate in the essentials conversation, I just wanted to let you know how excited I am about how this is all coming together. In the book that we will be using as our primary focus, the list of authors is impressive:
Stanley J. Grenz; John B. Cobb, Jr.; Sallie McFague; Serene Jones; Robert W. Jenson; Hughes Oliphant Old; Ellen T. Charry; Paul F. Knitter; Richard J. Mouw; Noel Leo Erskine; David S. Cunningham; Kathryn Tanner; Clark M. Williamson; Leanne Van Dyk; Letty M. Russell; Michael Battle; J. A. DiNoia, O.P.; and Ted Peters.

What is going to make this exploration even more interesting is that we are putting each section of the essentials book in conversation with an author/thinker from a different tradition/perspective. Those authors include:

  • Emily Townes
  • James Cone
  • Rita Nakashima-Brock
  • Catherine Keller

I am also adding:

  • Randy Woodley
  • Elaine Graham
  • Sheila Greeve Davaney

It is going to be an epic 4 month journey and I hope that you will join us for it.

Let me know if you have any questions or if I can be helpful in any way.

Yes Please

A couple of weeks ago I read a fantastic article that has stuck with me. The article was entitled “Feminist theology’s contribution to pastoral theology” [link] and it was 10 pages  packed with goodness.

One section that I have returned to several times said, “Margaret Farley[1] effectively encapsulates the program of feminist theology under three themes:

  1. relational patterns among human persons,
  2. human embodiment, and
  3. human assessment of the meaning and value of the world of ‘nature’.”

Those three themes resonate with me deeply.

Relational patterns among humans is the entire reason I got into the field of practical theology. I wanted out of theology as abstract ideas and speculation. The practices of faith and the lived reality of religious communities fascinates me. I want to know what people do with their faith, how it forms and informs their activity in the world. I am convinced that meaning is socially constructed and that belief must be relationally enacted.

Human embodiment is the logical outcome of this line of reasoning. Christianity is a religion centered on the event of the incarnation. Said another way, Christianity is an incarnational religion. Faith, to really be faith, must be embodied and enacted. Our bodies matter to God. This is why I love Elaine Graham’s use of ‘perfomativity’ in her book Transforming Practice. 

Value of the world of ‘nature’ is going to be increasingly crucial in our lifetime. The environmental/ecological issues are only going to become more intense and more consequential. The thing that many christians seem to confuse is that the ‘new heaven and new earth’ promise of scripture is not a clean break with this current one but a redemption/restoration of it at some level (or in some way). God loves the world (John 3:16) and what that means needs some new attention.

These three themes got me thinking: much of the time I wish that feminist theology was just theology. Part of how masculine theology gets to avoid using a modifier and hold onto the mantle of regular or plain ole’ theology is by employing the modifier feminist to qualify certain work.[2]

I’ll pause there for today. I just wanted to:

A) share this quote and these three themes with you

B) encourage to look for the work of Kathryn Tanner , Serene Jones, Emilie Townes, bell hooks, Elizabeth Johnson, Marjorie Suchocki, Monica Coleman, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and my PhD advisor Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook in our theology in the new year series.

I’ll pick up tomorrow with ‘Your Kin-dom Come!’ and the work of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz’s “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 21st Century” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. 

________________

[1] Farley, Margaret A. “Feminist theology and bioethics” in Feminist theology: a reader / edited by Ann Loades. 1990, pp.238-254, at p.240

[2] ie. Mary Daly, Sallie McFague, Rosemay Radford Ruether who are explicitly addressing issue related to gender and patriarchy

 

Theology in the New Year

Starting in January, I will be teaching an Essentials of Theology class.  I wanted to invite you to follow along and even participate here as the weekly class themes will provide direction for blog posts.

We will be using 2 books and each week we will put them in conversation. The first book is Essentials of Christian Theology (Kindle $17) and the second is Introduction to Christian Theology: Contemporary North American Perspectives. There are a couple of PDFs later in the reading that I will provide links to when it is time.

This is going to be a fun format. Each section in the Essentials book provides two authors’ perspective. We will then place that material in conversation with a third (and different) perspective to both challenge and round out the dialogue.

The content will be electric so I wanted to invite you join in and give your theological reflection some zip in the new year! Consider picking up the books and following along as we explore some of the big themes of the faith. You will also be able to listen to MP3s of the lecture portion of class each Tuesday.  

January 9 – January 15

What Are We Doing Here? The Task of Theology

Reading: Essentials – How Do We Know What to Believe? p. 1-50

Lecture: Informed and Formed by the Faith

Conversation:  Intro – Badham chpt. 1

 

January 16 – January 22


God

Reading: Essentials – What Do We Mean by “God” p. 51-92

Lecture: 5 Gods That People Worship

Conversation:  Intro – Williamson chpt. 3

 

January 23 – January 29


Human

Reading: Essentials – Is God in Charge? p. 93-132

Lecture: Located and Active Agents

Conversation:  Intro – Brock chpt. 13

 

January 30 – February 5


Jesus

Reading: Essentials – How Does Jesus Make a Difference? p. 183-220

Lecture: Jesus in not Superman

Conversation:  Intro – Cone chpt. 14

 

February 6 – February 12


Spirit

Reading: “Spirit” chpt. 6 in Constructive Theology pdf.

Lecture: The Power of Pentecost and Perichoresis

Conversation:  Intro – Keller chpt. 16

 

February 13 – February 19

The Evangelical Tradition

Reading: Intro – Pinnock chpt. 6

 

February 20 – February 26


Sin

Reading: Essentials – What’s Wrong With Us? p. 133-182

Lecture: Competing Desires

Conversation:  Intro – Townes chpt. 15

 

February 27 – March 5


Church

Reading: Essentials – Why Bother With Church? p. 221- 256

Lecture: Ecclesiology and Environment

Conversation:  Intro – Oden chpt. 5

 

March 6 – March 12


Christian Life

Reading: Essentials – How Should We Live? p. 257-296

Lecture: Character and Habitus for the 21st Century

Conversation:  Intro – Hauerwas chpt. 8

 

March 13 – March 19


Context: Colonialism and Consumerism

Reading: Woodley “Missiology” pdf.

Lecture: Conscripted Into A Better Story

Conversation: Intro – Isasi-Diaz chpt. 17

 

March 20 – March 26


Other Religions

Reading: Essentials – What About Them? p. 297-326

Lecture: Are All Religions Paths Up the Same Mountain?

Conversation:  Intro – Hick chpt. 2

 

March 27 – April 2


The Good News

Reading: Elaine Graham – “Between a Rock & a Hard Place” pdf.

Lecture: The Evangel – Good News for the Poor?

Conversation:  Intro – Jeanrond chpt. 10

 

April 3 – April 9


Eschatology

Reading: Essentials – Where Are We Going? p. 327-365

Lecture: The End of The End

Conversation:  Intro – Taylor chpt. 18

 

April 10 – April 16


Putting It All Together

Reading: Intro – Devaney pdf.

Lecture: The World Wide Web of Christian Practice

Conversation: Weaving a Web of Meaning

 

April 17 – April 23


Constructing A Christian

Reading:  Intro – Buckley chpt. 7

Lecture: Dancing Our Prayers

Conversation: The Body and Embodied Practice

 

April 24 – April 30


Parousia

 

Four Theological Finds

I am coming out of an intense season of study. In that time I have found four amazing authors that I wanted to tell you about since I plan on referencing thier work a lot in the coming year.

My five qualifying exams were in the following areas:

  • Practical Theology (major field)
  • Religious Education (minor field)
  • Global Methodism (theology)
  • Critical Race Theory: Whiteness (practicum)
  • Social Imaginaries (cognate field)

In all of that reading, there were four thinkers that deeply impacted the direction of my work: Elaine Graham, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Susan Hekman, and Sheila Greeve Davaney.

Sheila Greeve Davaney takes a critical and constructive approach to Christian theology that incorporates the most contemporary thought from philosophy, cultural analysis, and related fields to express an insightful address of the challenges that the church faces. In works like Theology At The End Of Modernity, Changing Conversations, and Converging On Culture she critiques historical approaches that have resulted in uneven, flawed, and unjust models of theology and church.

She is the writer whose work I highlight the most and I have even purchased a website in the hopes of doing a ‘summer school’ reading group of her work (more on that in coming weeks).

 Elaine Graham is the practical theologian whose work I want to emulate. She is in England and this gives her writing a unique tone from within a post-Christian context. Her books, like Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty and Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age are profound and challenging.

A unique aspect is the use of Judith Butler’s notion of ‘perfomativity’. Think of actions and the roles that we play in society like learning a language. The social structures and conventions that we participate in are both reproduced by us (as we utilize them) and they pattern us internally. We are formed by them as we conform to those expectations. She explains:

Practice is therefore structured behavior which follows certain rules or patterns. However, social actors are not unthinkingly rehearsing social conventions but purposefully reproducing them. Thus social structures are ‘reproduced social practices’ that endure to orient ‘the conduct of knowledgeable human agents’. (quoting Giddens)[1]

Graham is very clear that there are powers at work and structures that are reinforced as practices are adopted and transmitted through social relations and activities. Religion, like literature, medicine, and other structured activities, is both embodied and transmitted as we are simultaneously agents and actors within these given forms. “Practice is constitutive of a way of life, both individual and collective, personal and structural.” [2] In this way we both conceive of ourselves as free acting agents and are perpetually aware of the limited options on our menu and sense the perimeters (boundaries) that are heavily policed. “Practice both reflects and reinforces social relations and ideologies.” [3] Ideas come from somewhere, beliefs are grounded in some inherited framework, and practices (even religious ones) have effects both within us as participants and simultaneously reinforce the given structure.

Bonnie Miller-McLemore has written the three things that I quote more than anything else in my discipline of Practical Theology. Her four-fold definition of PT gives shape to the new (and massive) Companion to Practical Theology. She also wrote an article addressing the 5 Misunderstandings about PT that drew responses from far and wide and took up almost an entire issue of the International Journal. Lastly, she is a vocal spokesperson for the move from studying ‘the living human document’ to a more holistic and flexible understanding of ‘the living human web’. I will blog on all three of these next week.

Let me just say that this conception of theological refection was a significant move forward in recognizing the invaluable contribution that examining real lived experience could contribute to theological understanding. Human life is an interlaced, multifaceted, and complex set of connections and influences that are systematically layered with meaning and purpose that formulate a tapestry of significance and experiential material. The web is also living and dynamic – ever evolving and increasingly interconnected. You can see why I am attracted to this idea!

Susan Hekman is not a theologian but she has made a bigger impact on my theology than anyone else in the past three years. For those of you who don’t know, there is a significant fascination in much of theology with reclaiming Aristotelian notions of character formation and civil virtue. This desire makes me supremely nervous and theologically uncomfortable. Folks in this camp look to Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and its Christian descendants like Stanley Hauerwas. I have never liked it but had difficulty putting my finger on the exact reason why, and until I found Hekman and Graham I thought that I may just have to concede this battle for lack of clarity about the nature of my discomfort. Then I found Hekman’s feminist critique of the reclamation project and I was able to see the depth of the danger that this desire to go back represents for the church. I have only made a tiny bit of my writing about this public so far – but this will be a major theme for me going forward.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out this past year with affirmation and encouragement. I just wanted to whet your appetite a little bit and give you a heads up about what was coming in the next month.

[1] Graham, Transforming Practice, 98.

[2] Ibid., 110.

[3] Ibid., 103.

10 Minutes on Jesus

Jesus was unique in human history. Here are 4 splits that help us frame that conversation:Jesus icon

  • Christ/Jesus
  • Divine/Human
  • Eternal/Time
  • Type/Degree

The video below is my 10 minute take on Christology.

I am in the final week of my study break – so let me know your thoughts, concerns or questions and we can tackle them next week!

10 Min on Jesus from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

Jesus was unique in human history. Here are 4 splits that help frame our understanding: Christ/ Jesus, Divine/ Human, Eternal/ Time, Type/ Degree

Headed To Seminary This Fall?

I’ve been having some good Twitter exchanges with people in transitions. One of them is with a person headed to seminary this Fall. Here is a quick list of resources I would suggest as you get ready:

1a) The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Tiny little book. Do 1 letter per day. 26 days you are set!

1b) The Global Dictionary of Theology. Massive work (996 pages) Read it and you will be unstoppable.

2) Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley. American contextual theology connecting Jewish Biblical notions.

3) She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson. The nature and importance of religious language and God-talk.

4) To Each Its Own Meaning: Biblical Criticisms and Their Application by McKenzie and Hays. Genre is everything.

5) Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation by R. S. Sugirtharajah. You will never see the Bible the same. Available on audible as well.

6) Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism by Nancy Murphy. The #1 book I wish I had read before seminary.

7) Post-Christendom by Stuart Murray. Gotta know your context. Mind-blowing analysis.

8) Modern Christian Thought: Twentieth Century edited by Livingston and Fiorenza. Epic tome (554 pages) covers everything you will need to get started. SO good!

9) Theology at the End of Modernity edited by Sheila Greeve Davaney. 15 authors who light up the subject! Powerful.

That is my Top 10 list. I love this stuff so much and am grateful to have been asked this question.

I would love to hear your thoughts or additions!

The Danger of ‘Re-‘ Words

We have some work to do and I am not sure ‘Re-‘ words are sufficient to get us there.R-Revelation

Now reconciliation and restoration are two good (and biblical) words that start with ‘Re-’. Two more powerful words that would complete that constellation would be :

  • Repentance
  • Reparations

In fact, I would suggest that these last two words need to come before the previous two:

  • Reconciliation
  • Restoration

Unfortunately, these four ‘Re-’ words are not the ones that I see/hear the most in many Christian circles. ‘Revelation’ and ‘Religion’ may be the big ones but they are not the only ones. Many seem to be fond of words like:

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Renovate
  • Re-imagine
  • Revive
  • Retreat

I am not sure the above group of ‘Re-’ words is sufficient for the challenge that we are up against. As I argued last week in The Problem With The Future Is Its Past and Christianity Isn’t Conservative, the nature of Christianity is incarnational – so the past is not the determining factor for our present or future expression.

The problem with the past is that it is too easy to romanticize some notion or concept in isolation without addressing the larger structures of injustice and exclusion that it was embedded in.

That is why we can’t just reach back and reclaim-recycle-repurpose old words and concepts.

Here is an example: there is a popular desire in certain circles – from Radical Orthodoxy to my field of Practical Theology – to reclaim some Aristotelian notions like polis, habitus and phronesis (enacted wisdom).

This desire comes from a good place! There is a recognition (admittedly an ‘Re’ word) that the modernity project has dried out and withered the Christian soul and left it without vibrant connection-in-community and stripped of nearly all its practices/praxis.

I agree with that diagnosis.

The solution, however, is not simply to reclaim/recycle/repurpose ancient, antiquated or Aristotelian concepts from the pre-modern world. I have written about this a while ago in After MacIntyre and have since found the work of Susan Hekman very illuminating.

 MacIntyre’s approach exemplifies a disturbing characteristic of much of the communitarian literature: the romanticization of premodern societies that ignores the oppression and hierarchy that was endemic to those societies. Even Sandel (1984, 17), despite his modernist leanings, sometimes falls prey to the tendency to glorify traditional communities. The narrative selfhood that MacIntyre lauds can only be obtained at a high price: the ascription of traditional roles. 

She explains: 

When it comes to the highly charged issue of the sexism and racism of the traditions he praises so highly, MacIntyre seems to abandon his interrelationship thesis. With regard to the Aristotelian tradition, he tries to deny the claim that sexism and racism are an integral part of this system of virtues.

… throughout his writings MacIntyre unambiguously asserts it is this traditional community we must foster if we are to return to any semblance of a moral life:

“What matters at this stage are the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us (1984,263).”

 

This is a significant difference! To those like MacIntyre and Hauerwas, we are descending further into an age of darkness. Their answer is to reclaim-return to some former understanding or manifestation.

Hekman is right though – we cannot even attempt to do so without acknowledging and addressing the inherent racism, sexism, and disparity built into every level of the structures from which those romantic notions come.

This concern in the root of my unease with the popularity of ‘Re-’ words among groups including evangelicals, missio-alliance, radical orthodox, and post-liberals.

3 things in closing:

1) This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Tomorrow I will address the fiction of the End of History. Part 1 and part 2 can be found here.

2) Please sign up for Living Options in Christian Theology if you are interested in ideas like this. It is a High Gravity study group this June and July. Here is an introduction.

3) The words that we use indicate what impulse is behind them. This is why the critics can’t just say ‘semantics’ and dismiss the charge. I would love to hear the words that you would put forward to further this conversation.

My tri-part configurations of suggestions would be:

  •  Examine – Imagine – Adapt
  •  Explore – Address – Evolve
  •  Investigate – Interrogate – Innovate

I would love to hear your suggestions! 

The Problem With The Future Is Its Past: Theology

Part 1 of a 3 part series I’m doing this week on Homebrewed

The Future Of Christian Theology was purchased with great anticipation. I had read David Ford before and appreciated his innovative and insightful perspective.

Gordon Kaufman’s Theology For A Nuclear Age has probably been the most influential book I have read outside my reading for school. Most of my reading for school is in Practical Theology, Post-Colonial Studies and Critical Race Theory. I am a big fan of going forward so The Future of Christian Theology was an exciting proposition.

Ford does an amazing job. In raising up the 20th century as the most prolific and creative era of Christian Theology he is masterful at articulating the diversity and accounting for the plurality in communities represented. I love his emphasis on Pentecostal, Liberation, Feminist, and Post-Modern approaches. He does a wonderful job addressing global-regional diversity as well as the full denominational spectrum.

Yet when it comes time to highlight the legends of the 20th century, in order to avoid perpetually reinventing the wheel, he picks the following six legendary theologians to lift up:

  • Karl Barth
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Paul Tillich
  • Karl Rahner
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Henri de Lubac

Lists can be fun – they can also be telling.

Around here we might want to supplement the list with John Cobb, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann or the Niebuhr brothers. Students at my former seminary might want to add Stanley Grenz. All of these have written prolifically and systematically.

Those who wanted to branch out from Systematic Theology might add voices like James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez. Somewhere else you might get Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Even in my master thesis on ‘contextual theology’ I utilized Robert Schreiter and Stephen Bevans.[1]

The trend is clear and problematic. That men do theology is not the problem – if only men are seen as doing theology, it is a problem. This stems from the habit of calling some theologies ‘particular’ or classifying them as “theology +” (race, gender, sexuality, etc.). We have inherited a long history that loves to compartmentalize, categorize and then control who is qualified (and who is not). MP9004065481-196x300

This situation results in classifying Feminist theologians in exactly that way: with a modifier. The result is that you have plain theology and particular theology, generic theology and specific theology, regular theology and something-other-than- regular theology.

The works of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Bonnie Miller-McLemore get qualified within a sub-discipline.

The future of theology has got to be better than its past in this way.

I have 3 suggestions for moving past theology’s past.

 1 – Get rid of the category – and very notion of – ‘particular theology’. It is all particular theology. There is no universal or timeless theology. All theology is contextual theology. It all comes from a time and place and utilizes the constructs of its era. The fact that we have not recognized this truth in the past is part of the problem.

2 – Or add modifiers to every theology. Pannenberg wasn’t just doing theology – he was doing German, 20th century, white male theology. You can see, however, that this might become a cumbersome and laborious way to proceed … which brings me to my third point.

3- Christian theology is not Identity Politics – it comes from and represents a community. Every time we adopt and adapt another way of doing things we compromise the central Christian reality that there is no ‘us/them’ – there is no ‘they’, it is all ‘we’. Christian theology is born out of and can only be done in community. Inherited notions of the ‘individual’ or the ‘autonomous self’ are both false and hurtful and need to be left behind as we move forward.

Yes, every author and thinker must be socially located, but while any specific author can be classified by their race/gender/class or geography … the future of theology is not about the social location of any particular voice but the community that formed them and in-forms their contribution to the greater whole.

When listening to podcast with Grace Ji-Sun Kim (coming out Thursday), it is not enough to say that she is doing Korean-American, Feminist, Liberationist Theology … she is doing Theology. She is a part of the Christian community and her work is the future of theology – as is mine – because she and I are part of the same global Christian community. Her work and my work are related in Christ.

I might employ methods from my field of Practical Theology but that doesn’t mean that Grace’s work is not practical.

This is how language both helps and hinders us. Her work and mine might come from different perspectives and be in-formed by different experiences – and it is all theology.

The future of theology is not to be found in individual voices but in collaborations and connections that form community.

The way that we have talked about theology and particular theologies in the past is going to be a problem in the future.

If Randy Woodley wants to locate himself and his work as Native American Contextual Theology because it brings some corrective to the past oversight and omission – that is wonderful. It becomes an important and illuminating distinction. It is not, however, merely a particular theology : it is theology.

Bring out the modifiers! Biblical, Historic, Systematic, Philosophical, and Practical are the Big 5 historically. Fine! Just as long as we are clear that no one is doing ‘plain old regular theology’.

In fact, Randy’s work is the future of theology. We are all socially located and contextually particular, which is why there is no ‘plain’ theology and ‘particular’ theology.

It is all particular theology in the same way that it is all theology.

The mistake of the past was thinking that there was ‘regular’ and ‘specific’. In reality, it is all specific. Which means that we are all ‘us’ and we are all contributing to the future of theology – together.

The trick is not to say ‘we have one of these theologies and one of these types of theologians represented’ – the change is to say that ‘in all of these we have theology’. Without ‘these’ we have something less than theology.

_______________

[1] One sees the problem even in the critics of theology when theologian Paul Ricouer talks about the ‘masters of suspicion’ in Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – a list that I would expand to include Feuerbach, Wittgenstein and Foucault.

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