So I've been reading and thinking about some theological issues lately. And I have been really lax on the blog as of late, which is a bummer. So I've decided that all this reading and thinking should be shared with the masses. Today's post is on the idea of a bounded set of theology, and what I hope will follow will continue more theological dialogue [I hope to have some comments, and further ideas to advance what I've written].
This is by no means meant to be final, but rather a starting thought. I hope that some will find it interesting. I'll try and keep these as short as possible, once I start, I tend to go on and on... and that's enough of an introduction.
So here is Part I of my thoughts on theology and the theological method:
In the world of postmodernity where change is the new norm advances in every field of art and science are overtaking our world. In the world of theology revision has become a hot topic issue. How much of our theology is either in need of revision, or open to revision.
I am currently working my way through John Franke’s “The Character of Theology’. In his book he outlines two distinct stances on revision: traditionalists and revisionists. Traditionalists are inherently skeptical of any revisions, or the ongoing process of theological reflection. The creedal formulations of the 16th and 17th centuries remain the bedrock of theological reflection. Theological discourse found its foundation there, and is in no need of revision from contemporary theologians.
This view leads to a bounded set theology. The premise of theological systems is to divide between those who are in and those who are out. Our bounded set of theology sets up a firm and stable fence. This fence serves the dual purpose of keeping those who align with our beliefs in, while keeping those revisionists and “heretics” out. Our theological formulations are the stronghold that we must hold on to in order to save ourselves from being washed away into the evil world of relativism and pluralism.
In the traditionalists view proper elucidation of theology involves the recapitulation of historic dogmatism. Both revision and cultural engagement are red headed stepchildren in this family. What was decided on several hundred years ago remains the foundational premise behind all theology.
The revisionists on the other hand actively engage with culture seeking new ways of appropriating Scripture to everyday lives. Instead of a bounded set, there remains a centered set of primary beliefs around which theology revolves. The coherence of theology is provided through this centered set of beliefs.
The essence of our Christian faith is not to be found in the doctrinal statements of years gone by, but rather in the working of God in individual believers lives. Because we face new contemporary problems, new answers and solutions are needed. Theology is an ever expanding, ever evolving art form. It is not bound by our theological assumptions founded in ancient formulations of belief that were relevant for that time, but are no longer the context and situation in which we find the working of God.
The suggestions laid before us of course beg the criticism of the foundationalists that this sort of theological stance necessitates the questioning of all theological formulations. A revisionist view does not entail the rejection of all propositional statements about God, but rather it recognizes the limitation of those formulations.
We understand that we as humans are neither divine nor perfect. Any idea that we have of God is inherently flawed, as fallen human beings we understand the difference between God and us. Our views and formulations describing the divine inherently fall short. As such they must be under constant reflection and criticism. I would also add that this criticism as such comes under the rule of faith. We are not criticizing, or revising for the sake of revision, rather we are constantly seeking to understand the contextual, and social influences that our theologies are formulated in. There is no promised land of pure objectivity, or a place where we can evaluate our assumptions without outside influence.
At the same time, this view does not preclude our ability to make propositional truth statements. What it does preclude is our making these statements from a position of absolute authority. As humans we understand that the only pure truth is the truth of God Himself. We can point towards that truth, and come into relationship with that truth, but that does not mean that we are the truth, or that we have apprehended.
This sort of thinking stimulates theological exploration into new worlds. There is no end point of theology, no land of arrival where further consideration and study is no longer necessary. Rather we are constantly learning, constantly growing, and constantly learning more about a God who makes Himself known to us.