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
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The State of Contemporary Theology

by James K.A. Smith
posted July 14, 2011

A friend who is a grad student in theology recently expressed some frustration with the proliferation of narrow "camps" in contemporary theology--and hence the lack of space for emerging theologians to engage in conversations which aren't just predetermined at the outset. What s/he has found is that most theological claims/discussions are judged beforehand by a kind of guilt-by-association: "Oh, you're working out of Camp X and are sympathetic to Theologian Y. I've already got a line/take/pigeonhole for that 'school,' and so I already know what you're going to say. Ergo, there's really no need for the conversation."

Not exactly productive conditions for common pursuit of truth.

So, my friend asked, is there some place where young theologians can engage in honest, forthright dialogue without all the posturing? Here's what I suggested, off-the-cuff (and slightly redacted):


It's a good question, but I'm afraid I don't have a very good answer. I must confess I despair about the state of "professional" theology today. It just seems to me that we have increasing "balkanization," with everyone carving themselves up into smaller and smaller tribish enclaves, and then proceeding to both rail against straw men and preach to their own little choirs. In some ways, I think this is an effect of the loss of confessional and denominational identity. Instead of training to be Reformed theologians or Roman Catholic theologians or Lutheran theologians we have a generation who are training to become "ecclesiocentric" theologians or "apocalyptic" theologians or "radically orthodox" theologians, etc. Everybody's gotta have an "angle," a project, an agenda, a manifesto, a list of "Theses" that discloses the hitherto hidden truth of the world on the basis of their own ingenuity. Hence the most important words in our theological lexicons become "alone" and "only," as in: "Only [insert theological ideology here] can properly account for [insert favorite political and social issue here]."

All of this does weird things to theological identity and community, which then breeds a narcissism of minor differences. In some ways, this is a strange by-product of "ecumenical" theological education. (I think the blogosphere exacerbates this in important ways, but I would need more data to substantiate such a claim.)

I also think this state of the field is a by-product of the fact that many up-and-coming theologians right now are not what we used to call "churchmen" in any strong sense ("churchwomen" included): they are not tied to denominational identities, they are not participants in the specifics of ecclesiastical governance/teaching, they are not subject to ecclesial magisteria of any sort, they are not aspiring to chairs in their denominational seminaries, etc. From where I sit, freelancing does not seem very conducive to healthy theologizing.

In a lot of ways, this is why I have planted myself in a very particular, "thick" confessional location--not because it is the one, true perspective; or the temple that holds all the secrets; but because it is a good location (and a "good enough" location) which is both catholic and particular, and one to which I feel--if this doesn't sound too quaint--called. So I'm a Reformed thinker, and even more specifically, a Christian Reformed thinker. Far from being a recipe for sectarianism, I think that centering frees me up to engage selectively, critically, and generously (I hope). In a sense, thick confessional/denominational identity eliminates a certain insecurity that I think explains alot of the current fragmentation. So my theological and professional identity is not bound up with any 'school of thought' or sensibility. (Based on my books, people seem to think that I have some investment in being "postmodern" or "RO" or "Hauerwasian" or whathaveyou: but I don't own stock in any of these little cottage industries, though I have interest in all of them. My central investment is in this obscure little denomination where I'm planted.)

So in some sense, I just don't know if the sort of space you're looking for exists, sadly. Then again, maybe it's always been this way!



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