Liberal Theologians - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonHistorical Theology Articles
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Theologians have been influenced by society, churches, and academic institutions over the last 150 years towards a Modernistic approach to “doing theology.” The Renaissance, the colonization of America, the Enlightenment, the Romantic Period, the American and French Revolutions, the rise of nationalism, the Industrial Revolution and the development of natural sciences, technologies, medical science, and the human sciences have impacted theological outlooks profoundly. There seems to be an overarching trend among recent theologians to integrate theology with culture, and to emphasize some aspect of the eschatological pinpoint of how theology should work. Overall, these theologies display a tension between the identity of Christianity and its relevance to modernity. Kant and Hegel in particular have had a great impression on modern theologians. But in the end modern theology is trying to answer the question as to how theology impacts the academy, the churches, and society. There are as many answers to this question as there are modern theologians.
The First World War (1914-1918) brought about a major crisis in European society and culture and affected the theological train of thought of many of the theologians of the day. The World War was the context in which Karl Bart’s Neo-orthodoxy would emerge, and the rise of his dialectical theology. This was his attempt at rethinking the whole enterprise of modern theology and fitting it into the crisis of the age in which he lived. He took theology and moved it into the realm of the post-modern, becoming the father of neo-orthodoxy. He transformed the idea of human autonomy (which emerged during the Enlightenment to be a major theological factor against traditional orthodoxy) by identifying Jesus Christ as the one true human autonomy of which all men should follow and imitate. Though Barth attempts to create a God-centered account of reality, really he redefines theology (which is a trend among modern theologians) and places the life history of Jesus in the context often occupied by an abstract concept of God; and presses the reader to acknowledge the Trinity (his own formulations of it) and the self-revealed God to humanity as pivotal theological concepts. Barth seems to focus much on the Trinity, and on election, and uses them as focal points for his systematic Church Dogmatics. However, he redefines what these mean, and does not hold to the traditional and orthodox ideas surrounding either.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is close to Barth’s theological view, but is often critical of it. Bonhoeffer’s theology is rather tied up in the crisis of his own life as one who stood against the oppression of Hitler during World War II and was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. From that prison he wrote his Letters, which demonstrate a remarkable coherence of belief, action, and thought in association with his theological understanding of Jesus Christ and God, and ultimately led him to become a martyr. His posthumous influence was more impacting than his life in that his Letters, and the work The Cost of Discipleship, have become classics of liberal theology. He does, though, stress true grace over cheap grace. It is unfortunate that his theology was infected with modernity, rather than harnessing these concepts around traditional formulations of orthodox dogma.
Eberhard Jungel’s theology impacted the era just after the second World War. It was powerfully influenced by Barth, but also took on characteristics of Bultmann through his study and interaction with Bultmann’s theology. His theology was one of “theological realism” which focused primarily on the relation of the divine-to-human action in life. It is typical of crisis theology. He affected all areas of theology with his realism, though he never considered himself to be a “real theologian”. Instead, he spent his time working through interacting with the main theological and philosophical trends through his era, and ultimately was made famous for his theological concepts of God that was defined as “the mystery of God in the world.” This God who enters into the world renews and transforms it based on the need of the culture and the time.
In the rise of Existential theologians, came Rudolf Bultmann. He was a major New Testament scholar and critical thinker who introduced the demythologization of the Gospel. This idea taught that the Gospels were not really actual history but mythical history with kernels of truth embedded in them. The myth which surrounded what had happened must be dispelled by critical thinking and higher criticism, which then resulted in the true story. This though is an existential journey. His influence on modern theology as an existential theologian carried through traditional existential concepts brought together by Kierkegaard. Overall, he had a profound influence on the rise of existentialism, as well as atheistic philosophy (particularly around Jean-Paul Satre and Martin Heidegger).
Paul Tillich was an existentialist in the line of Bultmann and Kierkegaard, but his existentialism was not as predominant in his theology than his previous predecessors. Instead, Tillich wanted to combine Christianity and culture in a manner which utilized philosophy as the center link. This is the method of correlation. He has a systematic style which was not in tune with other existentialists since existentialism reigns in the subjective interpretation of revelation (if any revelation at all) and instead tried to formulate a strategy or overall plan for his theology to impact culture. However, though he attempted this rigid Systematic Theology, he also left the door wide open (naturally) for flexibility in concepts. His goal was to “mediate” between Christianity and culture to bring the two wed together in a liberal and neo-orthodox theological system.
In twentieth century modern theology one cannot but look to Vatican II (1962-1965) as the most important theological event which had implications not only for the Catholic Church, but also for the rest of the world. This influence stretched to French Theology and Yves Congar who may have had more influence on church history than any other theologian at the time. He was dedicated, as most modern theologians, to a fresh interpretation of the Bible, and its interaction in history. He was not a systematic theologian, but a church historian with historical sensitivity. His work on Vatican II was helpful in that he mediated, in a certain light, to making the outcome of Vatican II sensible in its documentation. Couple him with Henri de Lubac and the complex church and political events become clear in their interpretation of the events of Vatican II. Lebac reached into history and pulled up the Counter Reformation into the present, restored an understanding of the church through a theology that reinterprets the Eucharist, has an incredibly deep appreciation of pre-modern biblical interpretation, and expounds in his writings on the “deconstruction” of the dualism between grace and nature.
Karl Rahner then picked up the gauntlet to the debate around nature and grace, though it was done with a greater philosophical framework than Lubac. Rahner is called the “transcendental Thomist” officially founding his theology upon Thomas Aquinas as understood through scholastic theologians. He continued this scholastic endeavor to become known as a neoscholastic. However, he broke with the neoscholastics and tried to integrate Thomas Aquinas’ theology into the post-Enlightenment era (which was an impossible task since Aquinas held to a theology of revelation) and Rahner (as well as other modern theologians) to a Kantian transcendental philosophy. Rahner attempted to take this transcendental Kantian dialectic and demonstrate how God and revelation cohere with the basic domains of the human mind and will. Rahner’s theology is characteristic of modern theology in that it is non-systematic (unlike Aquinas’) and offers a modem of theology for the “continuing creative recovery” of the Christian tradition in culture.
Hans Urs von Balthasar was a church theologian who wrote with tendencies rooted in Christian mysticism. He wrote his works (which are massive and span volumes) based on concepts rooted in meditation and prayer, and he draws widely from European culture and literature, again trying to mesh Christianity and culture. He was deeply influenced by the mystic Adrienne von Speyr as a mystic himself, and was more committed to the laymen of the church than reforming the clergy of the church. Though he attempts to be expository in his works, he still follows the subjective nature of modern theology and the interaction he has with Barth, Bultmann and Rahner demonstrate he is not so theologically different.
Edward Schillebeeckx wrote extensively in the interrelationship between the church and the world, as a modern theologian. He developed his ideas surrounding the critical recovery (at least he thought) of historical sources (being a student of Congar) and used a theology of crisis to wed together Christianity and culture. He was profoundly influenced by existentialism, but demonstrated a tendency away from that in his later writings around social and political problems.
Hans Kung, a Roman Catholic Theologian, is the most widely read of twentieth century modern theologians. He is also the most controversial in his writings for and against the varying theological ideas in the Roman Catholic Church. His writings were primarily on the church, on the main articles of the Christian faith and method, inter-religious dialogue between various theologians, and the relation of religion in general to his current time (typically Christianity being meshed with culture). There was a resultant conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and Kung based on his writings and he was deposed as being one of their premier theologians. As a result of his continued persistence in his “mildly-reforming” views, the Catholic Church never reinstated him as a primary theologian on their behalf.
In the 1960s new ideas emerged from modern theologians on history and eschatology. Wolfhart Pannenberg challenged both Barth and Bultmann on the issue of faith and history. For him, Christian theology requires faith to be grounded in a knowledge that can be rationally acquired and established outside of faith. It also requires an understanding of the totality of reality that can match other worldviews, including atheism. He wrote a three volume Systematic Theology in 1993, and continues to respond to criticism and innovations in his modern theological outlook. He is known for integrating a theology of the Trinity with culture, in that God is love and He is infinite in that love toward culture. This love rises to climax in the eschatological dimension of his theology and what God will do in the future, and how faith relates to reason in this light. This is where Moltmann picks up these ideas, but moves beyond them.
Jurgen Moltmann set out to relate faith to the modern world. In a series of major works he entitled “the signs of the times.” There is the basic theme of the cross, the resurrection, and the Trinity that pervade his works, and the distinctive paradigm of praxis and theology and the ways it embodies a structural openness in dialogue with culture. His view is that hope is the ultimate of Christian resources, and all other themes running through is writings point not to what God is doing in the here and now, or in the past, but what He will do in the future. This theology (a theology of hope) redefines everything traditional Christianity stands for and really leaves the reader in a skepticism (and this skepticism was what Moltmann was trying to avoid).
British theology had its beginnings in modern thought with P.T. Forsyth, C.H. Dodd, and C.F.D. Moule. They stand for the essential contributions of historical findings to orthodox Christian faith. Dodd was preeminently leading in a theology of eschatological refinement. In the field of patristics, G.W.H. Lampe and Maurice Wiles are liberals who denigrated thoughts surrounding the Trinity and other Christian orthodox interpretations of doctrine, but had a continuing influence on modern theology. Norman Sykes recovered the value of the eighteenth century for modern theology by ecclesiastical practice using pre-enlightenment ideas. Herbert Butterfield discerned through more recent centuries the involvement of God and the relevance of the Christian faith.
British thought has used philosophy to a great extent in the attempt to create a rational theology. It tends to use the distinctive tradition of refining and rearticulating both Christian faith and its position in civilization through using philosophy as “method” and as the vehicle for interpretation. Philosophy, though, is shaped by prevailing norms at the time of culture, and thereby throws off the possibility of creating a sympathetic theological outlook on a given century. There is a tendency in British theology, though, to recover the integration of faith and theology in relationship to one another. Thomas F. Torrance establishes a convergence between scientific and theological thought. John Mac Quarrie uses continental existentialism to repress faith in connection with human life. Richard Swinburne seeks to extend current analytic philosophy to allow for a more meaningful Christian dialogue with theology. John Hick forms philosophy into religion and follows a pluralistic theology to dominate culture, and Don Cupitt uses post-modernism to transform Christianity into a cultural milieu. Donald MacKinnon takes a more open exploration between philosophical and theological expansion, in his case by exploring the interface between the two in the dilemmas of life itself. This was profoundly impacting on British theology and was continued in the work of Nicholas Lash.
British Theology has a strong tradition of debate, often closely tied with the practicality of how theology will affect real life. It also concentrates on the social aspects of modern Britain and its relationship to ethics of the day. Civil society, globalization and postmodernism, and communitarianism and post liberalism are all topics that are currently being discussed and reworked in light of a philosophical interrelationship to Christian theology.
As with Britain, so with America, there are a number of theological inroads and components to the modernization of theological thought. William Werpehowski describes a tradition of theological ethics that works within four parameters: 1) the reality of God in full and complex relationship with the world in which people live, 2) the narrative and historical particularity of Christian ethics, 3) a realism about social and political life that avoids both sentimental idealism and despairing skepticism and cynicism, and 4) and a refusal of cultural Christianity and utter isolationism. The beginnings of these ideas revolve around writers such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Richard Niebuhr, and its continuation with men such as Paul Ramsey, James Gustafson, Stanley Hauerwas and Beverly Wildung.
Process Theology is another modern trend led by Edward Farley, Gordon Kaufman, Schubert Ogden and David Tracy (though begun by Alfred North Whitehead). In this group there are two camps that debate with one another (though all are interacting with each other’s theological position – which makes this one of the most liveliest debates in modern theology): 1) the revisionists, those who see Barth making a permanent contribution to contemporary theology, and 2) liberals who see contribution in their field as transient.
Post liberal Theology first emerged in the 1980s, but it had deep roots at Yale University. Its roots extend back to Thomas Aquinas, then to Karl Barth, Richard Niebuhr, ecumenical theology (traditionally part of the Enlightenment) and certain areas of literary criticism, philosophy, sociology and anthropology. It is concerned, mainly, with the higher criticism, and the differences with religious texts, traditions, and communities. It is contently looking for philosophical forms to apologetics, and has a special concern with the Gospels. The two founding fathers of this modern movement are Hans Frei and George Lindbeck, together with ethicist Stanley Hauerwas and Ronald Thiemann. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend in modern thought and the movement is affecting many young liberal theologians.
Black Theology, Hispanic and Latino Theology and Native American Theologies have arisen in engagement with America under the guise of Liberation Theology. They desire to free Americans from their cultural genocide, historic enslavement, exploitation, and marginalization of social evils. Black theology tends to help the poor and oppressed Negro rise from the ashes of a historical enslavement to the white oppression. The formative power in this movement was the 1950 formative phase of Black liberation under Martin Luther King Jr. Hispanic and Latin liberation theology is rooted in a demand for civil rights under the oppression of the Roman Catholic Church. Gustavo Gutierrez is prominent in this aspect of liberation theology, and took this to South America among the larger Latino countries. Native American Theology (though such terms as “theology,” “religion” etc. are hard to pin down with their systems of thought) are more interested in engaging the problems of a traumatic history in America, problems they face in the natural world, and with the continuing problem of responding to the impact of the American economy. In all these theological systems it is not a Gospel that liberates from sin and depravity, but the social reversal of oppression.
Of all the theological movements in modern theology, one of the most prominent is Feminism. It has challenged the language and the doctrines of Christianity from its start, believing them to be patriarchic, instead of sexually equal. It has provoked and desired change at every level of theological integration – from church structures, participation in ministry, ethics, interpretation of history, spirituality, and social, economic and political involvement. It has shifted, to a huge extent, its agenda towards the family and to the structure of the family. Its epicenter is the United States, and not simply the Americas in general, or Europe. Key components for the feminization of theology in these circles are Rosemary Ruether, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and Delores Williams. They stand for a redefinition of biblical and traditional values, and opt for a continuing transformation of equality (a redefinition of equality) among theological ideologies.
African and Asian theologies have also made inroads in modern theological thought. African thought surrounds theology of liberation especially in relationship to South African ideas. It concerns itself with the African religious past as a Prime theological issue toward liberation, as it is stated in the Black theology of Desmond Tutu. Theology for Africans is one of the hermeneutic of identity. It is the rehabilitation of Africa’s cultural heritage and religious consciousness into the theology of Christianity. Such indigenizers, biblicists and translators of this movement are Bolaji Idowu, Gabriel Setiloane, Samuel Kibisho, John Mbiti, and Christian Gaba.
Asia has left a fertile ground for the entrance of Christianity. The Ecumenical Association of Third world Theologians has foisted much interaction between missionary endeavors to Asia and the Asian theology. Asian theology is better seen in clusters, rather than in specific countries. The most important of these theological clusters is India and Sri Lanka thanks to traditional English education. China, Taiwan, Japan, and Thailand are heavily influenced with Buddhist thought, though Christianity is making inroads. Indonesia is much more difficult to classify in its theology since it is overrun by Hinduism and Buddhism, and by Iberian and Dutch colonization. Feminist theology has been influenced by these regions through the writings of Marianne Katoppo. Theologians such as Raimundo Panikkar, M.M. Thomas, Swami Abhishiktanada, and S.J. Samartha have influenced India with a plethora of varying religious views (more as a mode of religious syncretism than anything else). Sri Lanka has been particularly influenced by the writings of Aloysius Pieris (a Jesuit). Mostly, though, whosoever one points in Asian modern theology, it takes on a pantheistic ideology which makes God part of the universe, and demonstrates a kind of cosmic compactness where God is present as a “sense” of supreme mystery.
Evangelical and Orthodox theologies are best understood in relation to their original church affiliations and traditions. No modern Christian has a unique claim to the term “Evangelical.” It is as wide and far used as any other modern religious term coming out of the Enlightenment and capturing postmodern thought. It does, however, have influences toward inclusivism, and ecumenicalism. And is often used among liberals. However, in the days of the Reformation, an Evangelical was one who held to Protestant orthodoxy over Roman Catholicism. Many groups today are emerging who desire to reclaim that definition. There are three diverse examples of Evangelical theology in the last century: 1) the theology surrounding G.C. Berkouwer (who tried to counter speculative theology) , 2) the theology surrounding Helmut Thielicke (who joins existentialism and traditional Christian Theology closely together) , and the theology surrounding Carl F. Henry (who was a key theologian in the advancement of fundamentalism, and the only one of the three mentioned here who held to the inerrant and infallible Bible). These three inroads deal with the core of evangelical concerns surrounding the Reformation and have responded to the liberalism and the changes that modernity desires to make on modern theology.
Orthodox Christianity has been in considerable turmoil since the post 1989 collapse of Communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Theological work in the post-communist community is still underway. Previous Russian theologians who had set down specific cultural theologies that sustained Russia up until this time were Kireevsky, Soloviev and Khomyakov. S.N. Bulgakov was also prominent as a Marxist philosopher turned theologian who unified theological metaphysics and a very detailed kenotic theology to God. V.N. Lossky was a more hermeneutical theologian who took a persuasive patristic approach to theology capturing the “negative theology” (a renunciation theology that remained Gnostic). G.V. Florovsky attempted to “re-hellenize” Christianity in reaction to modern thought by redirecting it away from mysticism, and towards philosophy. Otherwise, in the last couple of decades there have been no real changes or shifts in Russian Orthodox theology.
As a global faith, or transregional movement, Christianity has been an influential social sphere all over the world. The Bible is the world’s most published and disseminated book. It is the source by which Christians are in common union. Interpreting the Bible in its foundational truth is essential for Christian unity overall. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, however, individualism replaced traditional Reformational theology. Self-interpretation of the bible, or Solo Scriptura, was pressed, instead of the authoritative traditional approach given by the church for the last 1800 years. There have been inroads concerning today’s reformulating biblical theology, as in the works of Walter Eichrodt, von Rad, Bultmann, and Oscar Cullman. In hermeneutics, or the manner in which the bible is interpreted by standing principles, Gadamer and Ricoeur (who advanced the Hermeneutical Theory) have been influential towards a modernistic higher critical approach, as Kummel and Gottingen. Such an individualistic approach across the board has allowed for Higher Critical thinking on the Bible to become a detriment to orthodox and traditional Christianity. Methods are raised above the subject being considered. Transregional Christianity does not affect one aspect of the world, but has seeped into all countries and over every continent, and is reducing biblical claims to truth to the status of textural forces, or worse, to bids for power by sub-traditions within the movement.
The Ecumenical movement has been a huge inroad to modern theological confusion and compromise. Its origins were in Europe and America as younger churches were birthed, denominational lines were blurred and ecumenical inclusivism took hold. Michael Root defines ecumenical theology as a practical and ecclesial theology of Christian identity (though traditional orthodox theology would disagree). Ecumenical attempts to articulate common faith in a reconciling and mutually enriching manner, and it engages with every major theological topic to inspire theological creativity (which gives rise to subjectivism and terrible hermeneutics and exegesis on the Scripture). The church as a body, as a communion of saints, is stressed so that major denominational lines, no matter how liberal, can attempt to agree on the basics (whoever decides that) to come to terms with an attempt at mutual ministry in the world.
A theology of Missions is intrinsic to Christianity. It is one of the most striking ecumenical phenomena in recent years. Christianity has always been evangelistically minded, though through the years that missionary mindedness has changed as a result of the Gospel changing. Christianity, as a result of missionary activity over the centuries, has become a worldwide religion, however, a minority may be said to occupy the true communion of saints due to theological post modernistic theology and a change of the Gospel message. Viewed globally, missionary energies have not been greater than in the late 20th century. The World Missionary Conferences have affected an ecumenical spirit in an attempt to bring the basics of the Gospel to the ends of the earth; no matter how fabricated or transformed that Gospels has become under 20th century modern influences. Modern ideas from William Ernst Hocking, Hendrik Kraemer and Lesslie Newbigin seem to demonstrate more particularity around the Gospel as it moves into its various cultures, separating it from other world religions. Such an openness to the ecumenical spirit has freed Christianity (according to modern theologians) from its fettered theological path, to ensure the propagation of the Gospel into the 21st century and to evangelize the world.
Feminist theology moved into an international realm (as discussed by Ann Loades) who places on it a global perspective. Biblical scholarship, the use of historical scholarship, the ways in which feminist theology transforms many conventional boundaries in the field (“such as those between doctrine, liturgy, pastoral practice, ethics and spiritually”) as well as divisions between the laymen and the clergy and between women and men are of prime importance to feminist theology. Feminist theology desires to associate the feminine with the divine, and concentrates on expanding further the relationship with justice issues between men and women equality to embrace a comprehensive “oneness” in Christ for the church in the world.
Postmodernism, as defined by Graham Ward, is the subterranean complexity of the rhizome, which is neither one or many, has neither beginning or end, has neither one direction nor detectable regularity, constantly spills over into the milieu, and is an alternative to such modern dogmas as the circle, cube, spiral, double helix, or the arrow of progress. Pluralism is inherent in postmodernism, though postmodern theologians do not like the idea of being pluralistic. Liberal postmodernism includes theologians such as Mark Taylor, Thomas Altizer, Robert Scharlemann, Charles Winquist, David Ray Griffen and Don Cupitt. They are as diverse in their theological outlook as they are many. They are primarily concerned with the developments of liberal theology, and how theology affects and interpolates with culture. Conservative postmodernists (such as George Lindbeck, John Milbank, Rowan Williams, Edith Wyschogrod, and Ward himself), are seen as opening up religious questions through postmodern thought and rethinking Christianity (as if it needed to be rethought). (Ward specifically challenges the notions that postmodernism is anti-religious, which is not the same as saying it is orthodox.)
Christianity and Judaism have been complimentary towards one another theologically, as well as explicitly diverse. Christianity assumes and demonstrates fulfillment to the Old Testament Judaist theological truths concerning the Messiah. Judaism denies that the Messiah has come and instead has reformulated their theology to suit the non-appearance of such a figure in history. Peter Ochs (a Jewish scholar) sees the difference between the two religions as a dialectic which pivots around two poles: 1) a Barthian critique of liberal or Enlightenment-based theological projects united with a post critical return to the study of the Bible, community and tradition, and 2) an encounter with the shock of the Holocaust, resulting in a radical rethinking of Christianity. Judaism has been critiqued, by Barth, Ruether, Echardt, van Buren, and Pawlikowski, and Ochs interacts with their critiques, as well as the state of Israel as a land in current days, about Christology (which is seen as oppressive to Jews), and the historical-critical study of the Bible.
Christianity has encountered the post-modern theologians in the pluralism and typology of men like John Hick (a pluralistic theologian who believes all religions may be equally valid – God saves all people through many means), George Lindbeck (exclusivism – which states that salvation can only be found in Jesus Christ (but not a traditional view of salvation in Christ, rather a Roman Catholic one)) and Karl Rahner (inclusivism – where non Christian religions can have salvific structures so long as they are sincere).
Theology does not end with modern thought about theological contributions to Dogmatics, but also in the cultural centers of the natural and human sciences. Science and religion are currently related in eight ways (according to Ted Peters) scientism, scientific imperialism, ecclesiastical authoritarianism, scientific creationism, two-language theory, hypothetical consonance, ethical overlap, and New Age spirituality. All of these lead the modern thinker into a relationship with the universe, rather than with the God who created the universe. The overlap of these ideas tends to allow the subject to intermix and mingle them in order to gain the most of their subjective experience of the world and the divine in the world. Faith is the subjective influence of ideas maintained by the subject, and the object of that faith is the oneness experienced in the divinity seen throughout the universe. God may be part of this, affecting it in some way, or not there at all. Christian theologians see limits to natural revelation and nature in general (only demonstrating the orthodoxy of God’s transcendent power and divine majesty) but proponents of these modernized ideas take this to mean that natural theology and science are means to experience and know God as self revelatory.
Modern culture has become audio-visual in every area of life. Theology is not excluded from this. Since science and nature are intermingled for modern theologians, audio-visual aids in theology tend to give the subject a great ability to become one with the theological ideas around them. Media is now used to interpret the world and it is represented in any culture that has means to utilize this new mode of information. Icons used to be used (such as during the iconoclastic controversy of the middle ages). Art was then used to capture pictures of the divine (as if that could be done). Today, places like the Crystal Cathedral, or movies such as the Passion of Christ attempt to capture something of the divine in structure and film in order to present to the subject a great relatability to the work of God. Men like Barth, Tillich, Rahner, Wolterstorff and Urs von Balthasar have pressed for this interrelation of art and theology in their writings. Aesthetics play a huge role, or potentially could play an even greater role, in worship, liturgy and communication of the divine in modern theology.
What does it mean to theologize through music? Certainly, people have theologized about music, but how are modern trends theologizing through music? Time and improvisation are important factors in making music theological. Time is something God created, and music must arrest the time it is in to be used to communicate theological truth (according to modern theologians). It adds into theology an element of non-traditionalism where “flux” occurs and a “timelessness” about music which pervades our era, and may in fact impact other eras (and should). Improvisation is the sound performance of music in time. It can materialize an undistorted communication if “done” correctly.
Theology has also impacted the social sciences. The social sciences have had a profound effect on modern worldviews and self-understanding. Theology has made a response to this. Fundamentalist theology repels the social sciences, but often uses them instrumentally. Ernst Troeltsch reductively absorbs theology into the social sciences. Bonhoeffer embraces the services of social sciences in theology providing an enduring theological prototype of critical and responsible reflexivity in the face of modernity. Edward Farley mutually merges the social sciences with theology. John Milbank rejects sociology as promoting a secular metanarrative which sponsors an order of violence and tumult and purposes instead the Christian metanarrative of peace in relation to God (which may be deemed as postmodern quasi-fundamentalism). It is, again, the plight of the modern theologian to intermingle these into a cohesive structure that compliments culture.
At the turn of this new century, theology continues to diversify. For the modern theologian this may present challenges in debate. (For traditionalists it is a continued attempt to rescue sound theology from heresy). Modern theology will continue to concern itself with primary questions: how does one attest in truth to God and to all else in relation to God? How can theology distribute its efforts so as to be thoughtfully responsible in many spheres of influence? Will the academy be a place of genuine theology? Will churches be communities informed by modern theology? Who does theology? Modern theologians strive to be both guest and hosts to theology. Consideration of others opinion, and continued discourse will help modern theologians in the millennium at hand to diversify their theological ideas and understand one another in their own contexts. The problem ultimately lies in their rejection of orthodoxy and their continuation to make “theology” palatable to contemporary culture. With such men, and the trend they represent, Christians ought to beware.