According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Theology & Church After Google 1/6

by Tripp Fuller
Apr 19th, 2011

Philip Clayton and I put on the ‘Theology After Google’ conference and taught a class so-named too. Here is an article from the Princeton Theological Review that explores the theme. The issue itself is outstanding, exploring the Church in our technological age, and guess what… is FREE TO DOWNLOAD HERE!!!

Now here’s Philip……….

It is difficult to describe how much the audience for systematic theology has changed over the last few decades1. In these few pages I’ll be arguing that theology needs to change just as radically if it’s going to communicate effectively with Gen-Xers, Millennials, and the increasingly large group of non-religious Americans (“non’s”2) over the coming 10-20 years.

The changes are like the shifting of tectonic plates, which means earthquakes and tsunamis. When I arrived in Munich to study under Wolfhart Pannenberg in the fall of 1981, German theologians still set the tact for Christian theology worldwide. American doctoral programs in theology accepted large numbers of entering students, and most of those students could count on tenure-track jobs when they graduated. Theology journals thrived, and traveling theologians drew large crowds at universities and seminaries. When I asked Pannenberg and other established theologians what was the reason to do abstract academic theology, they invariably appealed to the trickle-down effect: “Our publications influence doctoral students and other academic theologians; their teaching molds the next generation of pastors; and pastors’ sermons and ministries guide the thinking and practice of the vast numbers of people who flock to the churches.” Or something like that.

You don’t have to be a specialist to know that things have changed. A major national survey recently published in USA Today shows that 72% of “Millennials”—Americans between the ages of 18 and 29—now consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”3 Even among those who self-identify as practicing Christians, all of the traditional forms of Christian practice have sharply declined from previous years: church attendance, Bible study, and prayer. Doubts are higher, and affiliation with any institutional church is sharply lower. All of us who are still connected with local congregations already know this pattern, up close and personal. Still, it’s sobering to see the trends writ large; after all, we are talking about almost three-quarters of younger Americans!

If the decline of traditional churches and denominations continues, by 2025 the effects will have transformed the American religious landscape—even if not as radically as in Europe. (For example, on a typical Sunday, some 0.5% of Germans attend church.) Some estimate that up to two-thirds of mainline churches may have closed their doors by that time; others will struggle on without a full-time pastor. Denominations will merge in order to be able to maintain even minimal national staffs and programs. A larger and larger proportion of those who still go to church will visit large “mega” churches, those with 2,000 or more attenders on an average Sunday.

I doubt the American interest in spiritual matters will die; people will continue to report that spirituality is extremely important to them. Nor will they pursue these practices in isolation. New forms of association and shared practice will arise; new religious movements will attract participants; alliances across religious traditions will grow in strength and number. Christians who resist these trends will become increasingly strident and increasingly hostile toward the modern world, even as their numbers decrease. And, of course, discussion of religious themes—and what it means to be a Christian in today’s world—will grow in intensity and urgency.4

What of theology?

And what of theology? In this context, one can no longer view academic theology as a product with an obvious and assured market. Within many churches, the interest in theology appears to be declining; the market base is no longer there. Those who still attend mainline churches are often deeply suspicious of doctrinal theology and more focused on ethical, political, and other practical concerns. By and large, people seem to be more interested in learning about the beliefs of other religious traditions, in debating ethical issues in our culture today, or in pursuing spiritual formation and practices.

You can bemoan the current state of affairs. You can argue that people still need the kind of reflection that theologians offer (a proposition I agree with!), and you can brainstorm ways to get folks to “consume” the theological products that we “produce.” To those who think the problem is just better marketing, I say: I wish you well. If you can rekindle interest in the kind of theology that authors were producing 30 years ago (and that some continue to write), great. The remainder of this piece is dedicated, however, to those who agree with me that such an approach is not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, way to proceed today.

One brief caveat: To pursue “theology after Google” does not mean to gleefully destroy all traditional Christian beliefs, to abandon the church, or to advocate a post-Christian worldview. On the contrary, it does, however, mean entering in good conscience into a new kind of open and exploratory discourse—a discourse in which one’s conversation partners are not committed in advance to landing where past theologians have landed. Many of them do end up with a vibrant Christian identity, but that’s no longer a pre-condition for theological dialogue. Theology after Google means navigating the treacherous waters of contemporary culture, religion, science, and philosophy—without knowing in advance that the harbor in which one finally drops anchor will be the same theological port from which the ships of old set sail. For those of us who live, work, and think in a Google-shaped world, such certainties about the outcome of the adventure are just not to be had in advance.



1 Many of these ideas stemmed from the national conference on “Theology After Google” at Claremont School of Theology in March, 2010. The audience and the presenters deserve credit for anything of value that follows. What you can find are videos of the talks, live interviews, and PowerPoint presentations at

2 Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

3 Associated Press, “Survey: 72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than reli­gious’,” USA Today, October 14, 2010

4 Peter Berger predicted this trend in his prophetic A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (New York: Free Press, 1992). For an example, see Religion Dispatches.

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