According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Acids of Modernity and Christian Theology, Part 3



Modernity has been an age of revolutions—political, scientific, industrial and the philosophical. Consequently, it has also been an age of revolutions in theology, as Christians attempt to make sense of their faith in light of the cultural upheavals around them, what Walter Lippman once called the "acids of modernity." Modern theology is the result of this struggle to think responsibly about God within the modern cultural ethos.

In this major revision and expansion of the classic 20th Century Theology(1992), co-authored with Stanley J. Grenz, Roger Olson widens the scope of the story to include a fuller account of modernity, more material on the nineteenth century, and an engagement with postmodernity. More importantly, the entire narrative is now recast in terms of how theologians have accommodated or rejected the Enlightenment and scientific revolutions.

With that question in mind, Olson guides us on the epic journey of modern theology, from the liberal "reconstruction" of theology that originated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, to the post-liberal and postmodern "deconstruction" of modern theology that continues today. The Journey of Modern Theology is vintage Olson: eminently readable, panoramic in scope, at once original and balanced, and marked throughout by a passionate concern for the church's faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will no doubt become another standard text in historical theology.



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What is “Liberal” Theology?

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/12/what-is-liberal-theology/

by Scot McKnight

September 12, 2014
Comments

“The story of modern theology begins with the rise of liberal Protestant theology. And liberal Protestant theology … began with Friedrich Schleiermacher… There were liberalizing Christian thinkers before Schleiermacher, but they were not professional, church-related theologians. Schleiermacher was the first person in history to be both liberal and a professional theologian….


“What is liberal theology?… ‘maximal acknowledgement of the claims of modern thought’ within Christian theology.” So Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology, 125, 126.


Karl Barth was not a liberal theologian. John Stott was not a liberal theologian. Dallas Willard was not a liberal theologian. I have been posting about liberal theology this year (see here), and it is important to know how to use this wonderful word “liberal” well.


Among Roman Catholics the term “modernism” was the more common term but the two are mutually compatible descriptors: liberal theology is all about adjusting the Christian tradition to modernity.


I give an example:



  • It is liberal to believe the Bible is against same-sex relations and then to revise or correct what the Bible says about homosexuality on the basis of a more modern understanding of sexuality;
  • it is not liberal to think the Bible, as a result of acceptable exegesis and historical work, originally did not condemn homosexuality as we know it today. 


I hope that distinguishes what liberalism means. It is to revise in light of modernity and cultural progress.


In other words, liberal theology affirms the rightness of one’s own culture as a basis of critiquing the Bible.


Therefore, at the heart of liberalism is critique of the Christian tradition and Scripture [with a view towards "modernity." It is not that aspect of critiquing the Bible that is liberal but it is critiquing the Bible using one's own culture as the "more perfect template" upon which the Bible is overlaid, rather than the other way around - res2].


This, however, does not make the Reformation “liberal.” For it to be liberal, it has to be modern and post-Enlightenment and partaking in radical commitments to liberalism and individual freedom. Olson knows Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria adjusted Christian tradition to the philosophy of their day, but that doesn’t make it “liberal” since that term is connected to modernity.


Liberal theology accommodates to modernity; it does not necessarily capitulate nor does it necessarily accommodate in all ways and in all directions.


Question: Do you think “theistic evolution” as a construct is liberal and accommodating?


Who are the Great Liberals of the 20th Century?

Olson’s primary examples are F. Schleiermacher, A. Ritschl, A. Harnack [who was Bonhoeffer's neighbor and teacher], and W. Rauschenbusch. In other words, liberal theology’s heyday was the 19th Century and a spillover into the 20th Century. Real liberal theology then aims at reconstruction; it is optimistic and anthropocentric; it does theology from below, and it interprets the Bible critically.


Briefly now:


Schleiermacher: the most influential theologian in Germany in his day; he developed a method shaped by modernity’s romanticism and experiential religion; human experience gains the upper hand: (i) religion is feeling and, (ii) theology is reflection on this experience of religion. He both redefined and reconstructed doctrine after doctrine. God is all about learning what is involved in the God-consciousness of the Christian people. Prayer is about being changed. He rejected classic Christian orthodoxy on Christology. Jesus is the highest in God-consciousness. Schleiermacher was Barth’s main opponent!


Ritschl: profoundly influential from 1875 to 1925 (or so). Kant is his conversation partner; science and religion are two different types of knowledge; Christianity is “the community of people who collectively make the value judgment that humanity’s highest good is found in the kingdom of God revealed by Jesus Christ” (150). Theology investigates these value judgments. What is kingdom? “unity of humanity organized according to love” (151). Little interest in God, but instead in value judgments — ethics. The kingdom is a social order in this world. [Some today are using kingdom in the same way.] Sin then is systemic evil.


Harnack popularized Ritschl’s theology through his more exacting historical exegesis of both the Bible and church history.


Rauschenbusch socialized the Ritschlian and Harnackian approaches of liberal theology into the American context, creating the social gospel. Olson knows he does not fit neatly into the liberal category. The goal was to transform human society into the kingdom of God” (165). He sees Rauschenbusch here not so much because of denials of doctrines — and he remained mostly orthodox — but because he elevated experience as did the other liberal theologians in Schleiermacher’s parade.


Lessing created the ditch: nothing historical can be the basis for universal truths. Troeltsch accepted his challenge and probed Christianity in a historical-critical era. He relativized religion but not absolutely! Christianity belongs to a place and time in history. It is a purely historical phenomenon. There can be no absolute religion. They are human creations. Troeltsch accommodates Christianity to historical consciousness, but in the end he ironically embraced the truth of Christianity and Jesus by not recognizing his own situatedness.


Finally, Olson looks at the Catholic struggle with modernism (A. Loisy and G Tyrrell).




* * * * * * * * * * *


ADDENDUM
by R.E. Slater

It is noted that by small degrees God-filled church doctrine began to be moved towards a humanitarian discussion steeped in Modernism and Liberalism. This is what separated the Renaissance/Enlightenment movement from its Medieval precursors. For instance, Ritschl began to turn God's love towards the idea of a human ethic... which God's love must certainly involved, but not in-and-of-itself stripped of the divine component of grace. For the Christian, human ethics is always grounded in God's love and not derived apart from God's love. Good church doctrine begins with God and ends with God and is not separate and apart from God (so too good philosophy however critical it is of God-speak, and sometimes properly so!). As such, human ethics must begin with God and end with God and not be separate and apart from God. If it is, then the gospel becomes a humanizing ethic instead of a saving gospel founded upon Jesus' love for humanity. It was by these small degrees that the conversation was moved away from Christian orthodoxy towards a humanitarian discussion steeped in Modernism by Liberalism.


Curiously, what the church fights most today is its blatant acceptance of Modernism which is quite the reverse of what one would expect when thinking of the "Acids of Modernity." In response, Christian Post-Modernism arose to offset the steady inroads of Modernism and Modernistic Liberal Theology into the Church, beginning in the 1930s, and pronouncedly so in the 1990s, with the goal of returning to the Christian orthodoxy of yesteryear. However, the modernistic church has been very critical of postmodernism, confusing it with liberalism without seeing its own underpinnings in modernistic thought. This is the irony of the situation: "Though they see they do not hear. And hearing they do not understand."


Post-Modern Christianity's goal is to return to an earlier (mystical) Christian orthodoxy that is informed by Postmodern reflection upon the Modernistic (and Liberal) era of the Christian church. But is not regressive in its cultural apprehensions, preferring to move forwards with the sciences and academic discoveries of the 21st Century across all scholarly disciplines as aide to its own reflections upon the Christian faith. Hence, it is more "new timey" than "old timey" as it were. It seeks to use the best analysis to ascertain the many spectra's of the Christian faith which embrace God without refusing the newer ideas of expressing the mystical and the divine in 21st Century terms (which would include post-modernism).


(As an aside, some have labelled this Postmodern Christian movement as a "Radical Orthodoxy" but we have noted here that to do so is to move towards a neo-Calvinism basis of doctrine which is unhelpful. The better name for this movement is a Postmodern Christian Orthodoxy that is radical but is also based upon a relational theology that is Arminian (e.g., Wesleyan) which emphasizes "free will" over neo-Calvinism's stricter views of "divine determinism" (sometimes known as "meticulous sovereignty") as driven by Reformed-Calvinistic dogma. Hence, the biblical terms of predestination and election may fall to either side of the column between 
free will and strict determinism but the doctrine of God and all things Church is better informed by Arminianism's doctrines of a "free" creation in bondage to sin.)

In response to all of the above, Postmodern Christian Orthodoxy wishes to use the best of Evangelicalism while leaving behind its more modernistic dogmas. Those Christians who do so would be known as Progressive Evangelics, or Post-Evangelic. This struggle is most apparent between 21st Century-minded Postmodern Christians and 20th Century Evangelistic Christians and is regrettably one of the main dividers in the Church today. Both message and medium have each been criticised by the other but it is hoped each movement's more mature standard bearers will continue to seek grace and peace in their critiques of one another.


Moreover, a postmodern hermeneutic critiques the Scriptures both positively - with regard to its own pages - and negatively - in parsing the modernistic Church's anathemas upon anything different from itself (the age old division between youth with its new ideas, tradition vs. more timely expression). In essence, postmodern Christianity has arisen to move the 20th Century Church away from its secular modernisms towards a more non-secular apprisal of Christ and His mission to the world. As such, this method of hermeneutic will use postmodern science and philosophy to accomplish this task even as the Modern Church has striven against science, bending it towards its own arguments and purposes, set within its own modernisitc and enlightenment philosophies.


Lastly, a Christian Postmodern view of the world is one that sees the world as Post-Christian. Rather than describing everything in terms of a mythology or a god the world describes things according to its scientific knowledge. This is not necessarily bad because with this adjustment over the past 500 years has come as many good things as bad. As an urban naturalist I think of the great loss of cultures and ecosystems. But as a postmodernist I readily accept the opportunity for diverse work expenditure, easily obtained foods, medicines, and clean water. However, in a Post-Christian world the gospel message can no longer be assumed as common knowledge or primary leader in world discussions. We may also expect an equalization of the many world religions on a par with Christianity unlike how "Christianized" Europe and America had once earlier viewed themselves. Thus, there must accompany with the gospel of Jesus a greater tolerance and respect for religions different from the Christian religion. The world is in the throes of great torment (not unlike the whore of Babylon in Revelation) because its great religions cannot behave themselves towards one another without wishing to incite great crusades, wars, and acts of terror, upon each other against the pressures to become more civilized towards one another. A postmodern Christian living in a post-Christian world thinks there is another way. A way of love, peace, respect, and forgiveness, in place of might, power, jealous, and greed.

In summary, reflection is always 20/20, and those Christians of the 20th Century who fought against Liberalism fell into Liberalism's own trap of self-centered dogmatic "think" where the Church asserted itself as the final arbiter on Scripture and not Scripture itself (think Jesus vs. the Pharisees). How curious that a "Bible-based hermeneutic" could go "full circle" and become non-biblical when using the very Bible it strove to defend (sic, biblicism)? These are the curiosities that today's postmodern theologians look at with wonder and amazement when words become used for another purpose than what they were first intended. Statedly, when hearing the loudest cries by Modernistic Christians a good postmodernist will always step back and ask "Why?" It is not without sympathy that they are heard. But it is with dispatch that they must be discerned against time and culture, space and event. The final word can never be man's but ever and always God's.


- R.E. Slater




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