A Constructive Contemporary Theological Agenda


Sunday — May 6, 2018

As I stressed last week: TODAY, we need to find a way to articulate the human experience of the Divine that reduces it neither to the extreme secularity of the “post-theistic theologians” nor to the unthinking and closed-minded certitude of the static believers. We need to find a way to understand the positive, substantive and normative meaning of transcendence as it makes a claim on human beings within contemporary historical existence: within contemporary culture.

We need to find a new theological language. As Paul Ricoeur had prophetically noted already in his “The Symbolism of Evil” (Beacon, 1967, p.349), “It is not regret for the sunken Atlantis that animates us, but hope for a re-creation of language.”

Contemporary people want the security of answers – yet much official contemporary religion seems to give them answers from a place far away from their daily lives. Indeed religious fundamentalism and static belief theology seems motivated by this longing for the sunken Atlantis!

I suggest five principles for the contemporary theological agenda:

(1) The AIM of theology cannot be a kind of nostalgic retreat to recover a lost mode of being in the world. (I often think about this when I see some conservative cardinals prancing around in their colorful late medieval costumes. And their language fits their red dresses.)

(2) Theological thinking today needs to feel and experience the “call” of the Sacred (the Faith experience) by interpreting and thereby re-creating the meaning and power of religious language.

(3) We also look for the resonance and dialogue with tradition: with the theological expressions of earlier cultures. We resonate with them not just repeat them again and again….

(4) A truly authentic theology can never be simply the expression of individual, subjective experience. We belong to a community of believers…the Body of Christ.

(5) Theology therefore relies on culture but can never become locked within a particular culture. Nor can it venerate exclusively any particular culture….. One should not expect, for example, that African believers should use Western European language and rituals nor should their Christian cousins in China. And none of us should feel comfortable with the thought categories of a Neo-Platonic creed from the fourth century. We live, think, and speak today….

All cultures perceive reality through their own particular lenses; and these lenses are shaped and adjusted by shared human events and great movements in human history.

Every healthy theology (because its focus is what lies within and yet beyond culture in all of its historical manifestations) is continually engaged in a critical reflection and a critique of the contemporary and previous cultures.

When a theology becomes so locked within a particular culture that it is hardly distinguishable from it, we are on the road to idolatry: when the words, symbols and rituals of a particular culture no longer communicate and connect people to the depth of the human experience but become objects of worship in themselves.

The road around both regressive static belief and exaggerated humanization is an authentic Christian humanism. And that is my focus for next week!

Jack

jadleuven@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “A Constructive Contemporary Theological Agenda

  1. Thank you so much for this reflection. Placing our scriptures in context and then placing them in our context is the challenge to all good Preachers. As a third generation Irish/English American
    Woman married to a third generation Japanese American convert to Catholicism, I find the major resources to help me do this
    Coming from All the women and men of color. Their perspectives can change us and open our minds
    To truly see and witness to the Word of One God. If not that let us create situations to hear each other’s stories

  2. I hope and pray that, at your urging, a new theological movement will begin. While the sense of the ineffable doesn’t change, culture does. And we are in desperate need of a theology for today’s problems and yearnings in contemporary language.

    • Well it will take some time and I have a feeling that the reformers will come from outstanding de the institution……Nevertheless it has to happen!

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