Christian theology is an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in critical and constructive reflection on the faith, life, and practices of the Christian community. Its task is the articulation of models of Christian belief that witness to the norm of the bible, demonstrate being historically informed, and that are culturally relevant. They have the purpose of assisting the community the followers of Christ in their vocation to live as the people of God in a particular social and historical context in which they live.
Properly understand, the focal themes of Christian theology are Trinity, community, and its orientation to the future. Focal motive of theology. 1) Trinity. Note Richard St. Victor, De Trinitate, 1100's. 2) Community. Note the discussion of the communal nature of the self. No disjunction between Hegel and Mill, for liberal individualism and communal sources of self as in Mead, suggest two sides of the same coin. Community cannot absorb individual. The church is not the foundation for theology, as suggested by Hauerwas, because of its provisional nature. 3) Future orientation. Note Fukyama thesis. The problem is that Christiantiy helped give shape to the modern social world as a metanarrative. The social world has the character of objectivity for us, even though human beings created it. A future oriented realism recognizes that a real social world and a real physical world, even if the fullness of their reality lay before or ahead of us.
Christian theology proceeds from the premise that one cannot experience God directly. Yet, people experience God indirectly through their total experience of finite reality. Finite reality is in the throes of a historical process, and as such is incomplete and open to the future. For this reason, humans can experience the fullness of meaning in anticipatory snatches each time they experience meaning in its universality. One can experience the reality of God in such subjective anticipation of total reality. Talk about God is problematic and presented as an hypothesis. Justification of the hypothesis is by implications for our concept of the world. This verification is based on something analogous to the ontological proof of the existence of God. However, given the historical and partial nature of human knowledge, the concept of God is always hypothetical. The frustrating aspect of theological discourse is that it is hypotheses, based upon other hypotheses, and so on.
We will need to consider seriously that the modern secular experience will not track with the Christian worldview of the providence of God guiding humanity and the universe toward a holistic end. The experience of so much tragedy in the world makes us consider this possibility. A worldview is working when it performs the indispensable task of providing communities and individuals with order and orientation in life and when this orientation provides sufficient meaningfulness and motivating power to enable them to continue to struggle against serious adversities, troubles, and catastrophes. Theology will need to present a coherent view of the world that presents this type of worldview for the modern person. The appeal to authority is a sign that the worldview is not working, thereby creating an insulating bubble that protects the Christian community from genuine engagement with modernity. If we take the risk of engaging the modernity, we may well find renewal of the Christian frame of reference in a way that affirms the Christian message and moves into new territory. A purely defensive response to modernity does not recognize the seriousness of the present age and its challenge to the way human beings live and perceive themselves and their world.
One way to consider this approach to theology is to consider the role of apologetics. It makes a statement about the view the group has of outsiders. It presumes a world of good will and openness to rational argument. The writing of apologetic may have been the greatest compliment paid by the religious community to the secular world in which religious communities find themselves. It also says something about insiders. They are people open to the wider world, eager to bridge the misunderstandings separating them from others and confident that their shared culture will enable such bridge building. One addresses apologetic to outsiders for the purpose of persuasion. It also aims at insiders, persuading insiders to make themselves intelligible to others and thereby make insiders increasingly intelligible to themselves. Apologetic strengthens community identity even as it seeks to communicate it. Yet, apologetic transforms the symbols of the community. To make one’s position clear to outsiders, one must use language and symbols familiar to them. The aim is greater understanding and tolerance.
In a first step, every interpreter enters the task of interpretation with some pre-understanding of the subject matter of the text. Yet the fact that we say that the interpreter “enters” the process of interpretation also allows us to recognize that a second step in that process occurs. The clearest way to see this second step is to consider our actual experience of any classic text, image, symbol, event, ritual, or person. When interpreting any classic text in the Western traditions, for example, we may note that these texts bear a certain permanence and excess of meaning that resists a definitive interpretation. Our actual experience of the classic texts vexes, provokes, and elicits a claim to serious attention. This claim to attention from the classic text provokes our own pre-understanding into a dual recognition: recognition at once of how formed our pre-understanding is and, at the same time, recognition of the vexing, or provocation, elicited by the claim to attention of this text. In sum, the interpreter must now interpret in order to understand. The actual experience of that claim to attention may range from a tentative sense of resonance with the question posed by the text through senses of import or even shock of recognition or repugnance elicited by the classic text.
This search for a model for the de facto process of interpretation provides the third step of interpretation. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s now famous and controversial suggestion of the model of the “game of conversation” for this process of interpretation seems appropriate here. For the model of conversation is not imposed upon our actual experience of interpretation as some new de jure method, norm, or rule. Rather the phenomenon of conversation aptly describes anyone’s de facto experience of interpreting any classic text.
To understand how this is the case, we need to consider the “game” itself. The key to any game is not the self-consciousness of the players in the game but rather the release of self-consciousness into a consciousness of the phenomenon of the to-and-fro, the back-and-forth movement that constitutes the game. The attitude of the players is a phenomenon dependent above all upon this natural back-and-forth movement of the game. When we play any game, it is not so much we who are playing, as the game that plays us. If we cannot release ourselves to the back-and-forth movement of the game, then we cannot play. However, if we can play, then we experience ourselves as caught up in the movement of the game. We realize that our usual self-consciousness cannot be the key to playing. Rather we may even find a new sense of the self given in, by, and through our actual playing, our release to the to-and-fro movements of the game.
This common human experience of playing a game can become the key to the basic model of conversation for the “game” of interpretation. For what is authentic conversation other than the ability to become caught up in the to-and-fro movement of the logic of question and response? Just as the subjects in any game release themselves from self-consciousness in order to play, so too in every authentic conversation the subject is released by the to-and-fro movement of the question and response of the subject matter under discussion. It is true, of course, that conversation is ordinarily a phenomenon between two living subjects or even one subject reflecting on a question. Yet the model of conversation is also applicable to our experience of the interpretation of texts. If we allow the claim to serious attention of the text to provoke our questioning, then we enter into the logic of question and response of the subject matter expressed in the text. A more general model of an interaction between our pre-understanding and the claim to attention of the text becomes a peculiar kind of interaction by means of this model of the conversation. If we cannot converse, if we cannot allow for the demands of any subject matter in any classic, or for any process of questioning provoked by the claim to attention of the text to take over—then we cannot interpret. However, if we have even once entered into any genuine conversation, then we are well prepared to recognize how fruitful that model is for the process of interpretation itself.
A fuller model of conversation suggests that the entire process of interpretation encompasses the initial understanding yielding to an explanation of how the sense and referent (the world of meaning in front of the text) are produced through the meanings-in-form-and-structure in the text. After those explanatory moments, the reader has a better understanding of the subject matter (as an in-formed subject matter) than any interpreter does without them. Indeed without the use of explanatory methods like the methods of literary criticism, or semiotic and structuralist methods, it is difficult to see how the interpreter is not in danger of simply extracting “messages” from the complex, structured, formed subject matter which is the text. Every text is a structured whole. Every subject matter comes to us with its claim to serious attention in and through its form and structure. To resist explanatory methods that can show how such expression occurs from the semiotic level of the word, through the semantics of the sentence, through the structured whole of the work as an ordered whole in the text (achieved principally through composition and genre), to the individuating power of style, is ultimately to resist both understanding and creativity (Ricoeur). Any interpreter committed to the process of interpretation can use all explanatory methods. In fact, explanatory methods develop or challenge, even confront one’s initial understanding of how the subject matter comes to be expressed in and through its structure and form. In Ricoeur’s formulation, this means the ability of these explanatory methods to show how the structured meanings and sense produce the referent of the work. Understanding and explanation (like truth and method) need not be implacable enemies. For any interpreter, they can become allies—albeit wary and uneasy allies. The wider conversation of the contemporary conflict on interpretation theory need not yield to the spectacle of armed camps shooting over the walls of the encampment. Rather, creative possibilities exist for the entire community of interpreters in any discipline to engage in conversation on the relative adequacy of any interpretation.
The first choice any interpreter of religion, including the theologian, must make is the choice of which phenomenon to interpret. The prospective interpreter may believe either that religion is one of the great creative forces of the human spirit or a deadly confusion. Whatever one’s predilections on religion, interpreters must be sure that the phenomenon to be interpreted is a genuinely religious one. One way to ensure that the phenomenon will be religious is to choose one of the religious classics of a particular religion for one’s interpretation. By choosing a recognized religious classic, the interpreter will make two gains. First, the phenomenon will be religious. Second, the phenomenon as a classic religious expression will lend itself to an interpretation theory that is designed to deal with expressions of experience and not directly with claims to purely unexpressed experiences. With the choice of a single religious classic from among the pluralistic ways of being religious and the plurality of religious classics expressive to those many ways, the interpretation will begin. Then the steps constitutive of the process of interpretation can be used to interpret this classic expression as a religious classic.
The interpreter is likely to note that the religious classic will provoke, vex, and elicit a claim to serious attention. By that provocation, two steps will occur. First, if the phenomenon is religious it will ordinarily provoke some fundamental existential question for the human spirit (for example, the question of finitude or fault, the question of fundamental trust or meaning) as well as some initial comprehension of a particular response to that question articulated in this particular religious text. As soon as the interpreter recognizes any provocation, then the second step of the interpretation process occurs. Not only are we provoked by the classic as by an other (even, sometimes, an alien other); we are also alerted by that otherness to a recognition of our own pre-understanding. The otherness of the religious classic heightens consciousness of one’s pre-understanding of religion. The history of the effects of our cultural traditions on religion—along with the history of the effects of our own participation or nonparticipation in a particular religious community or particular cultural traditions which have been influenced, for good and ill, by particular religious traditions—now becomes clearer to us. The history of the effects does not become fully conscious but does become more conscious than the partly unconscious and partly conscious history of effects that were prior to the provocation by the religious classic itself.
This initial form of interaction of the claim to attention provoked by the religious text and the pre-understanding (including the prejudgments) of the interpreter becomes a genuine interpretation when the initial interaction takes the more specific form of a conversation. In that interaction game, the interpreter is willing to enter into the to-and-fro movement of the questions and responses of this classic text. When those questions become the interpreter’s own questions, then we as interpreters find ourselves in a conversation with the now common subject matter of both text and interpreter. As in the interpretation of any other classic, this does not mean that interpreters must give up their own powers of critical reflection on these now common questions. It does mean, however, that if they are to interpret the religions phenomenon as a religious phenomenon they cannot simply impose their prior value judgments upon the phenomenon through such strategies as the claim that these kinds of questions are unintelligible and therefore not open to interpretation. These de jure moves crash against the matter of fact that, once the provocation of the text has elicited the interpreter to ask its kind of question and to consider its kind of response to that question, the process of interpretation-as-conversation has already begun.
spectrum of responses of the interpreter throughout the entire process of interpretation
may range from some interest or resonance through a sense that, in Dorothy van
Since we are interpreting expressions (especially, but not exclusively, written texts) when interpreting the religious classics, we are interpreting a structured whole that expresses its claim to our attention through such productive strategies as composition, genre, and style. As a work, the text produces its world of meaning in front of the text as a possible way-of-being-in-the-world. The text thus produces a genuine possibility for our imagination. That possibility first comes to us simply as a claim to attention. As that claim provokes our attention and pre-understanding to the point where a conversation on a now-common subject matter occurs, the interpreter will also recognize that the subject matter is always already a formed subject matter. The subject matter comes as an expression (whether in written texts, actions, styles of life, images, or symbols). The interpreter finds the need to employ explanatory methods to develop an initial understanding of that expression (in the general sense of a “structured whole” as “text”) and to check, correct, or even confront that initial understanding by the use of explanatory methods. All such methods—whether historical-critical, semiotic, structuralist, or literary-critical—may serve as developments, checks, correctives, and challenges to the initial understanding. On this hermeneutic model, these methods serve these functions best by showing how the claim to attention provoked by the text is in fact produced as a world of meaning (a referent) in front of the text through the text itself.
The realities of tradition and situation include hermeneutical elements. Theology is a deliberately interpretive enterprise from beginning to end. For each of the two constants are not available immediately but are understood only by being interpreted. Moreover, in interpreting either of these constants, the other constant is always already present: theologians, as theological interpreters of both contemporary experience and the Christian tradition, inevitably interpret to greater and lesser degrees each reality in the light of the other. To speak of theology as the development of mutually critical correlations of contemporary experience and the Christian tradition, therefore, is simply to render explicit and deliberate the intrinsically hermeneutical character of theology itself.
In order to understand and experience our present situation we must interpret it. Interpretation is not something we add on to experience and understanding, but is already present as intrinsic to understanding itself. This is especially the case for any theological interpretation of our contemporary experience. Theology attempts to discern and interpret those fundamental questions (finitude, estrangement, alienation, oppression, fundamental trust or mistrust, loyalty, anxiety, mortality, and so forth) that disclose a genuinely religious dimension in our contemporary experience and language.
With Paul Tillich, we speak of this hermeneutical task of theology as an analysis of the “situation,” that is, those creative interpretations of our experience that disclose a religious dimension. It is possible to distinguish the theologian’s analysis of the situation from her or his analysis of the Christian tradition itself. We cannot simply separate these analyses, for like any other interpreter of our contemporary experience and like any other interpreter of the religious dimensions of that experience, the theologian too is influenced by the history of that tradition, namely, the Christian tradition. The recent retrievals of the eschatological symbols by the liberation and political theologians, for example, are not occasioned merely by the fundamental questions of a sense of alienation and/or oppression. They are also caused by the history of the effects of the Jewish and Christian eschatological symbols upon the Christian sensibilities of the theologian as interpreter of these contemporary experiences of alienation and oppression. In that sense, every theological act of interpretation of the situation is always already a hermeneutical act attempting to establish mutually critical correlations between contemporary experience and the Christian tradition.
Moreover, as the fuller spectrum of the fundamental questions chosen for a theological analysis of that experience in the different theologies of our period testify, there are and will continue to be real differences occasioned by those different interpretations. Consider, for example, the different kinds of theology that emerge when a profound sense of oppression and/or alienation as distinct from a profound sense of fundamental trust is explicated as the hermeneutical key to contemporary experience. Alternatively, note how, in the modern period of theology, the crisis of cognitive claims occasioned by the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, and the emergence of historical consciousness led to several reformulations of the doctrine of revelation. Contrast these efforts to reformulate the doctrine of revelation with the more recent efforts to retrieve not revelation but eschatology in the liberation and political theologies. The latter theologies ordinarily interpret our contemporary experience not in the light of the crisis of cognitive claims (as do most earlier theologies of revelation) but rather in the light of the crisis of the “counter-experience” of massive global suffering.
The differences (even the conflicts) in these interpretations remain real differences of interpretation on contemporary experience. The kinds of real differences operative in hermeneutical theory itself are inevitably present in theology as well. The interpretations of the situation, therefore, will yield a conflict of interpretations of the religious dimension (and hence the fundamental questions) of “our present world of experience in all its ambivalence, contingency and change” (Hans Kung). The unity of theology will not be the unity of a particular interpretation but will be the unity of a common, deliberate, and explicit need to interpret this first constant and to defend any interpretation vis-à-vis alternative interpretations within the entire community of theological inquiry.
To recognize this inevitably hermeneutical character of all theology is not to impose some single model of theology. It is to recognize the common need of how all theology involves the interpretation of this first constant. The modern paradigm of theology renders explicit what is implicit in all traditional theology as well. For one of the most basic continuities operative throughout theological paradigm-shifts is the reality of an interpretation of both tradition and situation.
This same need for explicitly hermeneutical reflection emerges when we turn to an analysis of the Christian tradition in our situation. In the light of our outline of the hermeneutical process, and in the context of recalling how any religion is inevitably pluralistic and ambiguous, it becomes imperative for theologians to render explicit their understanding of the ultimate norm of the Christian tradition. The hermeneutical enterprise thus discloses the common unity of the theological task as an agreed-upon need for each theologian to interpret both situation and tradition.
Since the emergence of historical consciousness and the recognition of the priority of praxis, there have been various candidates for interpreting the Christian message as norm. I might note as examples, “the historical Jesus,” “the original apostolic kerygma,” “the Christ-kerygma of Paul and John,” the entire tradition, the praxis of imitatio Christi, “canons within the canon,” the whole history of effects as tradition, and so forth. As in the case of the interpretation of contemporary experience, it is unlikely that there will be a unity based on any particular interpretation of the Christian message. Yet there remains a communal recognition of the need to interpret this second constant and render one’s interpretation available to the entire community of theological inquiry for assessment. The emphasis on this common hermeneutical enterprise can provide some clarification of the real differences and similarities among modern theologies.
An explicit hermeneutical concern oriented to this second constant not merely allows for but demands that the entire theological community of inquiry discuss its different interpretations within a shared hermeneutical commitment. Then community-wide arguments for the relative adequacy of any particular interpretation would be both encouraged and warranted. Conflict among various proposals may be our actuality, yet conversation is our hope. Hermeneutics, as itself grounded in conversation and thereby in a genuine community of inquiry, aids the possible consensus and the adjudication of the real differences among particular theologies within the shared new paradigm.
As interpretation, the articulation of this second crucial constant is also an implicit use of a method of developing mutually critical correlations between both constants. Insofar as we interpret contemporary experience theologically, we are also interpreting the history of effects of the Christian message theologically, and we are applying it to contemporary experience. Insofar as we perform both of these interpretations deliberately, we are correlating these two distinct but not separate interpretations. We perform the theological task of an interpretation of Christian religion, developing mutually critical correlations between an interpretation of the contemporary situation and an interpretation of the Christian tradition. This formulation provides one relatively adequate way to describe the general hermeneutical task of all theologies in the new paradigm.
The choice of the phrase “mutually critical correlations,” therefore, is a useful one for the new paradigm. Every theological act of interpretation already involves some correlation of the two constants. It remains methodologically helpful to distinguish these two distinct acts of interpretation as distinct. At the same time, the interpreter cannot existentially separate the two acts. Whenever we interpret contemporary experience theologically, the history of effects of the Christian tradition is also present in the interpretation itself. Whenever we interpret the Christian message theologically, we inevitably also apply it to our contemporary experience in order to understand it at all.
To call theology a hermeneutical enterprise recognizes that such correlations of these two acts of interpretation are always occurring in order to produce the single act of a given theological interpretation. To add the qualifying phrase “mutually critical” to the word “correlation” highlights the hermeneutical reality that in every interpretation the subject matter itself and not any methodology must ultimately reign. In any specific case of interpretation of any particular subject matter (like Christology), the ultimate decision for the kind of correlation between the two constants must be determined by the subject matter itself. The five steps of the hermeneutical process illuminate the possibilities available —retrieval, critique, suspicion, explanation, understanding—but the concrete subject matter should decide the actual kind of correlation needed in any particular case. The word “correlation,” therefore, is intended to indicate the full spectrum of logical possibilities available, namely, that the actual interpretation of the particular subject matter may prove a confrontation between the two constants (from either side), or a claim to identity between them in this particular instance, or a claim to similarities, or to those similarities-in-difference named analogies.
Theological interpretation as developing mutually critical correlations between the two constants remains a deliberately hermeneutical interpretation of that puzzling and ambiguous phenomenon, religion. The theologian cannot avoid the claims to meaning and truth operative in the attempt to establish the proper correlation for the specific subject matter being interpreted. Sometimes the analysis of contemporary experience will confront earlier theological interpretations of the meaning and truth of the Christian message. Examples would be the confrontation of literalist and fundamentalist readings of Genesis by the development of evolutionary theory, or the confrontation of traditional theological formulations of Christology by a use of the correctives provided by modern historical-critical or social-scientific methods. At other times, the analysis of the Christian message will confront reigning understandings of contemporary experience. Examples include the confrontation of secularism by theologies of secularity or the confrontation of developmental theories by the retrieval of apocalyptic in liberation and political theologians, or the confrontation of the sexism and anti-Semitism operative in the tradition by the appropriation of modern movements of liberating praxis and modern critical theories of ideology-critique.
In every case of genuinely theological interpretation, therefore, the questions of both meaning and truth must be faced squarely as the theologian attempts to establish the particular form of correlation appropriate to the relationship between the two constants on any particular subject matter. Hermeneutical method informs the process, yet the concrete subject matter rules the interpretation. This hermeneutical understanding of the task of theology in the new paradigm, moreover, should increase the understanding of theology as a community of inquiry grounded in a community of commitment. In any authentic community of inquiry, pluralism is encouraged. However, if that pluralism is not to decay into the mindless geniality, then a conversing, responsible theological community of inquiry where all are expected to provide plausible theological warrants for their proposals becomes urgent.
The explicitly hermeneutical moment in modern theology is one way to assure the existence of a responsible pluralism in the entire theological community of inquiry. The understanding of theology as the development of mutually critical correlations between the two constants, therefore, is one way to render explicit the genuine consensus that in fact exists despite the many differences in contemporary theology. A retreat from interpretation is ultimately a retreat into a fundamentalism grounded in serious misinterpretations of both constants. The move into hermeneutical reflection in theology as in the other modern disciplines is not another imperialist declaration of a de jure methodology leveling the pluralism of contemporary theology. On the contrary, hermeneutical reflection in theology as in the other modern disciplines renders explicit the dc facto basic consensus that already exists despite the real differences among modern theologies.
But if theology is to remain, in its new circumstances, a genuine community of inquiry and not a mere chaos of fads, fashions, and cleverness, then the need to reflect upon the de facto hermeneutical character operative throughout this pluralistic community of inquiry becomes imperative for us all. For the fact is that in both practice and theory, theology in the new paradigm has become a genuine conversation among the different particular proposals for establishing mutually critical correlations between the Christian message and contemporary experience.
The modern paradigm shift is both new and momentous. However, this modern shift is not radically discontinuous with the great and implicitly hermeneutical tradition of Christian theology. Indeed, without a common commitment to the new general paradigm in spite of our other real differences, we may well find ourselves divorced from both that tradition and from each other. Our options, fortunately, are not exhausted by the unwelcome alternatives of chaos or fundamentalism. Rather we find ourselves in a theological community of inquiry and commitment. In that community, we attempt, individually and communally, to work out the most relatively adequate mutually critical correlations between the Christian message and contemporary experience on the pressing theological questions of our day. In every such attempt, explicit reflection on method cannot but aid the enterprise.
Modern theology may be described in general terms as the attempt to develop mutually critical correlations between the contemporary situation and the Christian tradition.
Theologians have developed several general ways of dealing with this modern theological situation.
Propositionalism is the cognitive approach to theological theories stresses the ways in which church doctrines function as informative propositions or truth claims about objective realities. It treats doctrine in the way of philosophy of science. Traditional orthodoxy and analytic philosophy take this approach. This approach assumes that doctrinal reconciliation is impossible without capitulation, as in the teaching about the Eucharist. Representatives include G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Barth. This view makes it difficult to understand how new doctrines can develop in the course of time, and how communities can forget or make peripheral old ones. How such persons reinterpret old doctrines to fit new circumstances does not convince. They have difficulty distinguishing between what changes and what remains the same. From an ecumenical perspective, they have difficulty explaining how it is possible for doctrines that once contradicted each other become reconciled and yet retain their identity. How can a religion claim to preserve the faith when it takes so many forms in successive historical periods? The Protestant side has responded with Biblicist approaches. The Roman Catholic side has responded with traditionalism. The attempt in both cases is to preserve identity by reproducing as literally as possible the words and actions of the past. The defect is that it confuses the letter and the spirit.
Symbolism is the experiential-expressive approach interprets doctrines as symbols of inner feelings, attitudes, or existential orientations. It treats doctrine as aesthetic experience. Liberal theology in the tradition of Schleiermacher adopts this approach. Reconciliation is again impossible because different doctrines will evoke similar feeling, different feeling, or no feeling. They either gain or lose meaningfulness. This approach often makes legitimate religious privatism and subjectivism fostered by the social pressures of the day. It often accommodates culture. The structure of modernity encourages individuals to meet God first in the depths of their souls and then, if they find something personally congenial, to become part of a tradition or church. Religions have become foreign texts easier to translate into currently popular categories than to read in terms of their intrinsic sense. The present cultural situation favors this approach in that it is more congenial to rationalization, pluralism, and mobility dissolves the bonds of tradition and community. This modern reality encourages most modern persons to embark on their individual quests for symbols of transcendence. The church becomes purveyors of this commodity. The strength of this approach lies in its commitment to making religion experientially intelligible to the cultured and the uncultured among both its despisers and its appreciators. The value of this approach is that it recognizes that theology that no longer relates to the experience of people will justly die. Theology must help shape and interpret human experience in a relevant way. The ability of theology to relate to experience is the ultimate test of its viability and significance. The weakness is its failure to grasp the corporate nature of all individual experience. The primary question for this approach is how to preach the gospel in a culture no longer Christian. Such persons become liberal foundationalists in that identify the modern questions that they must address, and translate the gospel answers into currently understandable conceptions. Religious experience is always a construction, heavily dependent for its form and qualities on the learned terms and concepts that give it particular flavor and shape. The language in which we think, the traditions we have inherited, articulate certain connections between concepts and certain relations between words and ideas. We focus our attention in experience, divide it up the way we do, and see in it what we can, through these connections, valuations, and interpretations. Our language provides a principal foundation for our religious experience. Religious experience cannot provide the principal basis for our entry into theological work.
The combination of these two approaches is a favorite of Rahner and Lonergan. Their explanations as to how reconciliation is possible are too complex or awkward to be intelligible or convincing. All three approaches tend toward a theological ghetto.
Gordon Kaufmann is among those who recognize that human beings face the challenge of constructing a life-orienting worldview for themselves. He tries to correlate the Christian message with the human situation in order to show the meaningfulness and plausibility of Christianity in general cultural terms. He tries to identify human universals in which the he fit the practice of theology.
The cultural-linguistic approach suggests that religion resembles language together with forms of life. The function of church doctrines is that of their use as communally authoritative rules of discourse, attitude, and action. Doctrine becomes regulative and rule oriented. This approach relies on Wittgenstein, Peter Winch, Clifford Geertz, Peter Berger, Ninian Smart, William Christian, and Kant. This approach recognizes the regulative function of theological discourse, as over against the descriptive function of objects in the world characteristic of statements in science. This approach recognizes the significance of imagination in constructing ways of relating to our experience of the world.
Theological positions become compelling by judgments of an aesthetic sort, the story of which is yet unfinished. Judgments between competing visions of how to put it all together are subtle and complex, as in trying to write a good poem or novel, or paint a good picture. We increase that subtlety and complexity through our willingness to live within the theological vision we state.
As with any area of human knowledge, we have the ability to test its veracity.
We begin with the data of theological discourse in its classic texts, in its heritage, in the present institutional life of the church, in the Christian experience of believers as individuals and as communities, in sacramental acts, in acts of caring for each other, and in acts of service in the world. Theology shares in this corporate life of a fragmented modern church. Theology becomes reflective and attentive to such data of the life of the church and the lives of individual Christians.
The next step is to organize the data in a thematic ways that has coherence with what we know of the Christian faith as well as having an internal coherence as a theology. Such an organization usually begins with some analogies, models, and imagination that the theologian puts into conceptual and theoretical language. The development of concepts in turn affects how the theologian pays attention to the data of theological discourse. The theologian sees, reflects, and experiences the data in a different way than before.
The next step is to consider the scope of the theological work. Does it have applicability outside of the scholarly realm within which theologians do their work? Theology needs to have applicability to the present and future mission of the church. Theology needs to contribute to the continuing dialogue between church and culture.
The next step is to consider the fertility of the theological work. Theology needs to contribute to how Christians consider their Christian discipleship, how pastors consider preaching, and how the church carries out its mission in the world.
For theology, the test of the work of any theologian has two dimensions. The first relates to the present. Theology needs to have the power to persuade and to strengthen the practice of the Christian faith. Religions deal with forms of human life, the ordering and shaping of individuals and communities. The question in any theological work is whether it has the power to do that today in sufficient numbers beyond the theologian who writes. My assumption is that the theologian lives with the theology he or she writes and that it has power for that person. The question is whether it becomes persuasive to others and has power for them. The second relates to the future. Every religion meets its test in the power it influences in the lives of individuals. Human history records many religions. Most of them died. The same is true of Christianity in general. We have no way of knowing today the truth of Christianity. Every Christian theology has an open quality to it in that only the future will determine its power and influence.
Theology is the attempt to establish mutually critical correlations between an interpretation of the Christian tradition and an interpretation of the contemporary situation. This modern perspective on theology invites us to consider several patters for theology. First, whatever else is true about Christian theology, it is clearly an interpretation of the central symbols of the Christian tradition for some construal of our present situation. Second, theologians do not ground their interpretations in the older classicist base but risk new interpretations of both past tradition and present situation. Third, theologians need interpretations that risk envisioning a Christian future. Fourth, contemporary theologians must engage in the kinds of interpretations now known as both “hermeneutics of retrieval” and “hermeneutics of critique and suspicion.” There is no innocent interpretation, no unambiguous tradition, no history-less, subject-less interpreter, no abstract, general situation, no method to guarantee certainty. There is only the risk of theological interpretation itself: the risk of interpreting the great symbols now and sharing that interpretation with the wider theological community for their criticism and their appropriation.
One way to think about theological method is in terms of a division of functional specialties. Such a division curbs one-sided, totalitarian ambitions. Each has its proper excellence. None can stand without the other. The division resists excessive demands. A serious contribution to one of the eight is as much as one can expect from any single work. The person beginning in theology does not have to choose where to begin theological reflection: he or she starts wherever he or she stands.
Christian theology needs to give some objectivity to conversion to Christian living and discovering the horizon within which we can apprehend the meaning of Christian teaching. Conversion occurs at the level of responsible decision-making concerning one’s life. Such conversion may be authentic or inauthentic. Conversion moves from unauthentic existence to authentic existence, surrender to the demands of the human movement toward worth and dignity in being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, and in love. It is not arbitrary. It is not an act of will. Such a deliberate decision about one’s horizon is a high achievement. For the most part, people merely drift into some contemporary horizon. Such conversion, while it is a personal decision, occurs within a communal context.
Schubert Ogden has given an important understanding of the theological task.
First, theology, in the sense explicitly conveyed by the words “Christian theology,” is the fully reflective understanding of the Christian witness of faith as decisive for human existence.
One of the defining characteristics of theology, which it shares with philosophy in contrast to the special sciences, is that it necessarily includes reflection on its own conditions of possibility as a form of understanding. Thus, the question of what theology is itself a theological question, whose answer is subject to the same criteria of adequacy as any other theological statement.
It may also mean an integral part of philosophy’s central task as philosophical or natural theology expresses its meaning. This secondary sense is important because Christian theology implies philosophical theology.
“Fully reflective understanding,” describes formally the mode or level of understanding that is properly theological. Reflection is present to the highest degree in theological understanding. Theology ought to exhibit at least some of the formal marks of any “science,” including the methodical pursuit of its questions and the formulation of its answers in a precise conceptuality.
In the sciences of humanity, to which theology clearly is most closely related, the relation of the inquirer to the object of inquiry cannot be merely that of subject to object. Because the object of any such science is itself a meaningful human activity, and thus is or involves some mode of understanding, the only criteria of identity finally appropriate for specifying its regularities are those that it itself provides. Consequently, there can be no adequate understanding of such an activity as an object that is not also indirectly its fuller understanding of itself as a subject. The Christian witness of faith can become the object of theological understanding only insofar as it indirectly becomes the subject of such understanding as well. To this extent, there is a sound basis for the traditional formula in which theology is succinctly defined as fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding.
Since “the Christian witness of faith” can mean nothing other than the believing re-presentation of the witness of faith of Jesus of Nazareth, theology is the fully reflective understanding of Jesus as the Christ. The task of theology is not simply to make this affirmation but also to understand it; and this consideration is important for a properly theological definition of theology itself.
Second, theology presupposes as a condition of its possibility the correlation of the Christian witness of faith and human existence, both poles of which alike have a variable as well as a constant aspect.
Like all reflective understanding, theology necessarily presupposes its own object, which in its case is the specifically Christian witness of faith. However, as has been indicated, this witness exists only in correlation with human existence, for which it claims to be decisive. Every religion makes this claim. Although religion derives its ideas primarily from particular experiences, they yet claim universal validity and order human life into a meaningful whole. Christian theology is one expression of existence among others, which nevertheless claims to be decisive for the whole of such existence.
Third, theological understanding is subject to assessment by dual criteria of adequacy. A theological statement must meet the two criteria of appropriateness and understandability as these may require in the given situation.
If Christian witness is to reflect the correlation involved in its claim to be decisive for human existence, theology must so interpret its material as to vindicate this essential claim. This implies that the criteria of theological understanding are necessarily double.
One such criterion requires that no theological statement is adequate unless it represents the same understanding of faith as is expressed in the “datum discourse” of the Christian witness. This implies that the development of its conceptuality should never lose touch with the symbolism it is supposed to interpret. For this reason, a theological statement is appropriate only insofar as the understanding expressed by its concepts is that also expressed by the primary symbols of the witness of faith.
No theological statement is adequate that is not also understandable, in that it meets the relevant conditions of meaning and truth universally established with human existence.
The heart of the difficulty is that even the criteria are open to variation in their specific requirements. Prior to the development of modern historical consciousness, agreement with the received understanding of an allegedly infallible Scripture or dogma was a sufficient test of the appropriateness of a theological statement. However, we now realize that Scripture and dogma themselves are so thoroughly historical as to render any such test insufficient. What one epoch or culture accepts as criteria of meaning and truth another culture by no means needs to accept. Even the most fundamental conditions of understandability may be subject to change.
The two criteria of theological adequacy are situation-dependent as well as situation-invariant in what they require. Although in one aspect, their requirements are always the same, in another they are constantly different, contingent on the possibilities and limitations of different historical situations. In general, their requirements in a situation are most likely to be discerned through intensive discussion with its best secular knowledge—in the case of appropriateness, the knowledge of history; in the case of understandability, that of philosophy and the special sciences.
Fourth, insofar as a theological statement is adequate, and thus both appropriate and understandable, it is at once dogmatic and apologetic, as well as critical and constructive. Today, we cannot compartmentalize theological conversation in the way previous generations have done.
Fifth, although theology is a single movement of reflection, it has three distinct moments, which allow for its differentiation into the interrelated disciplines of historical, systematic, and practical theology.
The unity of such understanding is itself complex, so that the self-differentiation of theology is to a considerable extent natural and of good effect. With all its limitations, the advantages of a division of labor are clear. For all their differences, the three disciplines are interrelated in that their respective questions and answers all fall within the horizon of a single inquiry. Each discipline is in its own way correlative in structure and its statements are subject to assessment by generally the same two criteria of adequacy.
Sixth, historical theology, which includes exegetical theology as a special case, answers the general question, “What has the Christian witness of faith already been as decisive for human existence?” It is similar to all other historical inquiries and subject to common criteria of understandability.
The Christian religion is continuous with the history of religion generally, which is, in turn, of a piece with all the rest of the human story. Consequently, to understand Christian history, as historical theology does, is to engage in discussion at every point with the general secular study of man’s religious and cultural past.
The inquiry of historical theology takes place within a larger horizon. Just as study of the past in general is ultimately for the sake of authentic existence in the present and the future, so study of the past as specifically Christian serves the same ulterior end. Historical theology is but part of a whole, which should to some extent determine its character. Not only should it always be sensitive in its choice of topics for research to the needs of the entire field, but also it should never be content with merely exhibiting the past for its own sake. Its most essential task is the provision of accurate and readable translations of significant texts, together with critical interpretations that risk expressing the meaning of such texts in contemporary terms.
In the special case of exegetical theology, even the study of Holy Scripture is nothing other than historical study, continuous at every point from data to methods both with the study of Christianity and thence with the comprehensive understanding of the entire human past. The texts of the Old and the New Testaments have a peculiar place in theological reflection. Like other historical traditions, the Christian tradition is heterogeneous in composition to the extent that, through special acts of self-definition, certain of its elements have acquired a normative significance in relation to some or all of the rest. Unique among such elements is the canon of Scripture, which from an early time has in one way or another exercised the authority within the tradition of a universal norm. Consequently, we may plausibly regard the largest part of the Christian past as the history of scriptural interpretation as theoria and praxis. Furthermore, the critical interpretation of Scripture, toward which the whole of historical theology converges, is just the point of first importance for the other theological disciplines; for, with all the difficulties of applying it, agreement with the witness of Scripture is still the primary test of the appropriateness of theological statements, practical as well as systematic.
Seventh, systematic theology, including what is sometimes distinguished as moral theology, answers all questions of the type, “What is the Christian witness of faith as decisive for human existence?” It is closely related to all the other systematic inquiries of philosophy and the special sciences and is understandable by the same criteria.
The real difference between historical and systematic disciplines is logical: the difference between expressing what has already been said or meant by others and expressing what is properly said or meant by all, whether or not anyone up to now has ever actually said it. The distinctive task of systematic theology is to express at the level of full reflectiveness the understanding of faith, and hence the understanding of reality itself, decisively attested by the Christian witness.
Theology considers the basic narrative or story of the Christian witness. The symbolic universe of Christianity is, in one sense, a pre-reflective form of knowledge, while theology becomes a reflective and therefore secondary form of knowledge that depends upon the symbols. Theology has to take account of symbols because symbols tell a truer story about the actual worldview than official stories or authorized answers to questions. If symbol and story do not fit, theology needs to consider the reason for the gap. Theology accounts for Christian praxis: prayer, sacraments, liturgy, giving, acts of justice and making peace. All these integrate with story, questions, and symbol, to produce a complete whole.
That the understanding of faith is also and as such an understanding of reality hardly requires explanation. “To have faith” is, at the least, “to believe,” and thus to be committed to some understanding of the way things really are. Moreover, because the Christian witness of faith claims to be decisive for human existence, it also claims, in effect, to represent the understanding of reality that is true; that means, as we have seen, the same understanding universally given with existence as such, and thus properly expressed by the systematic forms of reflection generally. If the claim of the Christian witness is warranted, its systematic interpretation, insofar as it is appropriate to its scriptural norm, should also be understandable—in that it both confirms and is confirmed by the cognate understanding of reality represented by philosophy and the special sciences. In this sense, the achievement of a systematic theology that is understandable as well as appropriate is a vindication of the claim of the Christian witness to represent the truth of human existence.
The possibility of such an achievement is in the nature of the case situation-dependent, in that it is always a matter of the opportunities and limitations of a particular historical context. There are also definite limits imposed by the essential meaning of the Christian witness itself. Just where these limits lie is difficult to determine. All sorts of beliefs once held to be essential to the Christian witness have since proved inessential. Still, the Christian witness historically has represented a definite understanding of the nature of reality—of God, the world and humanity—with which certain other understandings are quite evidently incompatible. This is particularly obvious to us today, when the conflict of Christian beliefs with the secular claims made by many in our secular culture is undeniable. The task of systematic theology remains in principle the same. Systematic theology must achieve an understanding of the Christian witness that appropriately grasps their essential meaning of previous witnesses; and that is understandable by the same criteria of meaning and truth to which philosophic and scientific opinions are subject.
To understand the character of our present situation, however, is to recognize the centrality of systematic theology among the three disciplines. Modern secularism has now made the possibility of theological reflection problematic. It is not surprising that theologians have recently had to give considerable attention to the various aspects of this basic problem. Systematic theology accepts this as the chief responsibility of its discipline.
Eighth, practical theology answers the general question, “What should the Christian witness of faith now become as decisive for human existence?” It is continuous with all other inquiries of the same logical type, especially the sciences of humanity and the various arts, sharing identical criteria of meaning and truth.
Ordinarily, the only task assigned to it is to reflect on the shape to be given to the explicit witness of faith through the forms of religion, and that solely in relation to the official functions of the ordained ministry. Thus, people generally think of it to be of value principally to clergy. Practical theology needs conceptual reformulation by thinking of it inclusively as reflective understanding of the responsibilities of Christian witness in the present situation. Such a conception allows practical theology to have the task ordinarily assigned to it. Practical theology has every right to concern itself with the present possibilities of expressing Christian witness. Nor is there any reason why it should not give special attention to the functions of the ministerial office, so long as that office remains central to the explicit witness of the Christian community. Nevertheless, its far larger task is also to reflect on the present possibilities of the implicit witness of faith in all its different modes. Among the most important issues that practical theology today considers are those raised by the role of the community of witness in a period of rapid social change and rising expectations among “the wretched of the earth.” How ought Christians today, as individuals and through institutions, to think, speak, and act so as to respect the limitations of their situation, while yet fully exploiting its unique possibilities of human authenticity? Something like this must be the paradigmatic question of practical theology in our time, else its concern with the specifically religious and clerical be a mere abstraction torn from its total context.
In short, the scope of theology’s practical discipline is as broad as the whole of human cultural self-expression, and it properly considers every form of human activity as potentially bearing the contemporary witness of faith. This is the reason its natural conversation partners are all the sciences of humanity and the various arts (including law, medicine, business, government, education, etc.) that in any way have to do with the realization of human good.
There is one point toward which all its tasks converge. Theology is correlative in structure because it is reflective understanding of the given correlation of witness and existence. Systematic theology is distinctive in that it reflects neither pole in itself but precisely their correlation, whereas historical theology peculiarly reflects the pole of witness, practical theology, that of existence. Just as historical theology converges on critical interpretation of the normative witness of Scripture, so practical theology is one in the way each of its different tasks is related to the other pole of existence. It contributes to one comprehensive understanding of the present human situation in its limitations and possibilities.
Ninth, given the differentiation of theology into its three disciplines and their still further specialization into an indefinite number of special inquiries, there arises the urgent task of recovering the essential unity of theological reflection.
The growth of specialization has tended toward a situation where individual inquirers know more and more about less and less, with a resulting fragmentation of the field and the breakdown of communication within it. Yet, theology still is a single field constituted by an integral movement of reflective understanding. Consequently, given this situation, it becomes a pressing responsibility of everyone working within the field to assist in recovering its essential unity. Theology needs reflection within each of the specialties and disciplines directed toward formulating respective first principles and reestablishing communication them.
Tenth, theological understanding is in a broad sense “practical,” in that, in understanding the witness of faith as decisive for human existence, it, too, is ordered quite directly to the realization of authenticity in human life.
Although all forms of reflective understanding, even the most “theoretical,” are in the broadest sense “practical,” in that they are ultimately for the sake of authentic existence, they obviously differ insofar as they serve this ulterior end more or less directly. Thus, as compared with the special sciences—including the sciences of humanity—such arts as law, medicine, business, or education have to do rather more directly with the realization of human good. In somewhat the same way, theology, too, is as a whole “practical”; for, it is ordered to the comprehensive end of authenticity itself, it nevertheless serves that end quite directly. The reason for this, of course, is the eminently practical character of the witness of faith. Because this witness advances the claim to be decisive for human existence, theology can adequately reflect it only by sharing the same existential finality.
God is the one who makes possible knowledge of God, and therefore revelation has been an important part of theology. If God did not speak or communicate to humanity, human beings would in fact have a jealous and self-concerned God. A person knows another as that person decides to reveal his or her inner feelings, spirit, will, or intention to another. We cannot know the thought of another except as that person chooses to reveal him or herself. Paul gives a hint of this reflection in I Corinthians 2:10-13:
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Such communication from God to humanity is one of the basic conditions for the existence of theology. Without revelation, the possibility of the knowledge of God would contradict the idea of God. Nor can one imagine knowledge of God and theology apart from the working of the Spirit of God. Theology needs to revolve around God and the knowledge of God. Theology has the practical character of serving to express the unity of the knowledge of God and the love of God as the basis of the orientation of all knowledge and faith to love in human conduct as well. The idea that divine knowledge is practical and oriented to love could also shed light on the relation of God and the saving acts of God in history. However, the sharp distinction Aristotle makes between theoretical and practical knowledge has questionable application here. God is the single, all-embracing object of theology. Theology cannot truly exist unless the divine gives itself in such a way that human beings can know God.
At the same time, Christian doctrine also includes statements about humanity and the created world, about Jesus, the church, and the sacraments. The bible relates such themes to divinely directed salvation history. The themes relate to God and the working of God in the world, even though they differ from statements about God. God is the unifying ground in which all the other themes and objects of theology cohere. Conviction of the divine truth of the Christian religion establishes and justifies the continued existence of Christian churches and training their leaders. Christian theology is not simply a cultural discipline. Theology serves the church. Theology needs to give a coherent presentation of the Christian message and interpret this claim to truth for every new generation. Unfortunately, some works of theology identify truth with some previous theological work, traditional concepts and solutions, and then try to impose upon new situations. Orthodoxy and fundamentalism often fall into this error. It creates a bubble of the past, creating the illusion of protection from the present. It makes infinite a finite presentation of the past. The fact that such theological perspectives gain adherents in the modern period is not a criterion of their truth. Rather, I would suggest that the theological task remains one of addressing the cultural shifts of the present with the Christian message. Theology cannot ignore the present situation from theological work. Theology neglects the present situation with dangerous consequences. Such an approach asks questions those outside the church might ask. It assumes some common ground between the questions of those outside the church and those inside the church. The danger of this approach is that it could lose itself in the perspective of those outside the church. This approach assumes that the theologian can make the Christian message relevant to the modern, secular situation, without surrendering that message.
The question arises whether theology is right in what it says about God, and by what right it says it right. The truth of theological discourse as discourse about God that God has authorized is the presupposition. Talk about God grounded in humanity, in human needs and interests, or as an expression of human ideas about divine reality, would not be theology. The ambiguity of theological discourse arises from the possibility is that it could all quite easily be no more than human talk.
Theology needs to come to terms with what the modern era means for its task. It does this to be true to its own task and serve theology as a whole. In the modern era, advocating the truth of Christian discourse about God is problematic. One might even wonder if it is possible. This also raises the question of how theology can establish it, and with what right it establishes that truth. This suggests something more than the private views of the writer. Rather, we need to direct attention to the encounter of the church with the Christian message.
One criterion of truth of dogma is that of consensus. This suggests genuine pluralism and a positive role for tradition. I want to consider the positive role of tradition as a way of bringing to the table the biblical witness, the witness of the ecumenical councils, and the witness of classical theology. Here is the problem with doctrine. To disagree with Methodist, Quaker, or Roman Catholic doctrine indicates that one is not a good member of those communities and their form of life. Operative doctrines are necessary to communal identity. Those Christian groups who officially reject doctrine or creed formally disagree with the official status of post-biblical creeds. Further, a community can have official creeds or articles of religion that no longer function operationally. Still further, controversy is the normal means by which implicit doctrines become explicit and operational ones official. Luther said:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady on all battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
We can have great variety in the theological explanation, communication, and defense of the faith within a framework of communal doctrinal agreement.
Christian debate arises out of a desire to see itself increasingly clearly. We can avoid disagreement by setting up a hierarchy of interpretive experts and consolidating their power to transmit a preferred theology. A more fruitful way of avoiding divisiveness is to encourage genuine community of argument as a way of life within the Christian community. Investigation into shared concerns provides the basis for Christian identity, such as the bible, the creeds, the liturgy, sacramental life, ethical life. The expectation is that a purer witness and discipleship will come of such efforts to work through disagreements. However, participants must show willingness to listen to others and to have others correct them if necessary in order to make advances in our grasp of Christian discipleship. Christians share common concerns, even if they do not share common opinions, beliefs, and values about them. One’s own view is inadequate, so it makes sense to keep in touch with those who have formed other conclusions. One might conceivably have one’s own inadequacy corrected by the interaction. Such debate could take place within the context of a common witness to God and to Christian discipleship, a unity that remains a possibility rather than actuality. Christians will never have agreement on such matters, but Christians can unite in a shared sense of the importance of figuring out such matters.
One way for
Christians to consider the matter of truth is from the perspective of the
outsider. No hierarchy of philosopher-Kings, Popes, and priests, and rigid
stratification of society guide people to an understanding of the best human
life. The philosophical schools of Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, and Epicureans had
inter-school debates, while maintaining a lively debate internal to the schools
as well. Medieval
The theologian willingly places his or her beliefs into dialogue with the tradition of the church. This view assumes a proper place for pluralism. Most modern persons accept pluralism in matters of personal taste, in matters of public policy where reasonable people can differ through appeal to majority vote, and with regard to myths, fictional stories, and religions that remain in the mythical realm. Modern persons also recognize the value in pluralism where logical or factual truth is in dispute, for in this way we can eventually achieve some agreement or consensus. The truth contained in poetry, fiction, or myth does contradict each other, but such contradiction is tolerable. However, contradiction in fact or logic means the exclusion of one or the other. In matters related to religion, reasoning cannot establish the truth of any religion, for every religion involves poetic or narrative truths. However, established in truths in philosophy, science, or history can discredit or disprove particular religious beliefs. To continue believing such religious teaching brings one in the realm of superstition rather than genuine religious belief.
Political questions easily dominate such discussions: how will the church organize Christian life. Who will decide? The problem is that Christianity does not appear to have a form of life like that. The temptation is to break the bonds of Christian fellowship with people the segment that favors a more flexible practice or that hold tightened account of Christian social practice. Diversity is a positive good. Human judgment is fallible, and the chance for correction by others is valuable. True discipleship is more likely to come out of a wrangling with others than out of one’s own mind and heart. Diversity is a happy reminder that Christians cannot control the movements of the God they serve and worship.
Doctrinal reconciliation without capitulation becomes a coherent notion. In tradition, it is similar to regulae fidei (rule or maxim of faith). The fact that this approach has gained adherents in other disciplines aids theology toward discourse in the contemporary world. However, modernity moves against this view of religion in that it attempts to socialize members into coherent and comprehensive religious outlooks and forms of life. On the other hand, if the bible has shaped the imagination of the West as much as people like Northrop Frye have suggested, the continuing imaginative vitality and creativity may well depend on the existence of groups for whom the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are their primary canonical literature, and who are in close contact with the wider culture.
A second criterion of the truth of dogma is that of the subject matter of the text. I do not suggest that theology can presuppose a view of the inspiration and authority of the bible. I do suggest that Christian theology needs to take the witness of the bible seriously. It needs to include the bible at the table for theological discourse to have validity. The assumption is that the text has a subject matter that interpreters can recognize and relate their worldview. We measure all interpretation against the truth of the subject matter, which is not decided by any one expositor, but in the process of expository debate. The subject matter of the New Testament bears witness in their different ways to the act of God in Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament writings bear witness to this act as the object of the faith of the church and of all individual Christians. As a result, Christian faith from the very first has confessed Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him. This is the essence of the confessions and dogmas of Christianity. To this extent, confessions and dogmas are summaries of the central theme of scripture. Yet, any summary is a provisional characterization of the subject matter of scripture as the object of faith. All any human being has is a human perspective, significantly conditioned by personal, cultural, and historical contingency. Theology is a human work. We must acknowledge that our theology does not have the character of speaking or acting from the perspective of God. Theology is always incarnational in that respect. Theologians speak from somewhere. Theology is a part of culture, and is a form of cultural activity. Theology is something that human beings produce; history and culture condition its form. The rest of human social and cultural practices help us to understand theology. Every human being has a place to stand and a horizon of meaning that, once acknowledged, makes every human statement provisional, pointing to the final revelation at the end of history by God will bring with it final knowledge of the content and truth of the act of God in Jesus of Nazareth. God alone has the competence to speak the final word about the work of God in history. Although we can have present knowledge of the content, since God has made it possible for us to know God through history, all such knowledge will always be preliminary as long as time and history endure. The content and truth of dogma rest on both consensus of the church and the knowledge of the subject matter of scripture. Consensus stands in need of renewal because exposition of scripture continues with reference to its content and truth. The provisional description of its content in the dogmatic formulas of the church and the formulations of theology need continually tests. This testing encompasses both the nature and the truth of the subject matter to which confessions and dogmas refer.
A third criterion of the truth of dogma is its systematic presentation. Talk of a system has its problems. Some object that it must be a deductive system. It appears to close the door to further research. A system appears to exclude the emotional or creative spirit. I hope to show that none of these objections is valid. This suggests that theology needs to strive toward intelligibility and coherence. Dogmatic reflection needs to attend to the question of the truth of dogma. Theology clarifies the content of the teaching of the church that has to do with God. Systematic theology is the task of offering a comprehensive and coherent presentation of Christian teaching. This view recognizes that the biblical witness itself is neither systematic nor coherent in itself.
The systematic presentation of the Christian teaching tests the truth of what it presents. Systematic theology renders service to the proclamation of the Christian message. The simplest reception of the Christian message by the person in the pew makes legitimate assumptions about that proclamation. Instruction contained in catechism and confirmation and other membership classes assumes the truth and coherence of the message. The person called to action on behalf of the Christian message makes assumptions about that message. Proclamation assumes the coherence of that message and its coherence with all that is true. Systematic theology makes this coherence the objection of investigation.
The unity of Christian teaching and its agreement with the principles of reason remains a valid concern. The diverse parts of the truth are compatible with each other, regardless of the diverse ways in which one attains or receives such truth. We need to assume the unity of truth. I do not think we can place truths in logically tight compartments, separate from each other. Rather, the truths human beings gain interact with each other in diverse ways, while also in ways that remain coherent with each other.
This also means that such truths transcend culture. This may suggest that the future of humanity will consist of some form of cultural unity, the shape of which today we can have only faint outlines: science, math, technology, democracy, free enterprise, society caring for poor and disadvantage in some way, personal responsibility, and some general philosophical and religious principles. The principles of mathematics, science, and technology apply in every culture. Religious beliefs or hypotheses would also need to attain trans-cultural status and be compatible with scientific truths. For example, very little reasoning could take place without the principles of identity and contradiction. It suggests the modern conception of scientific argumentation as exposition of the explanatory power of hypotheses and theoretical models in describing given phenomena. Another example is that systematic investigation and presentation suggests truth as coherence of all that is true. This suggests that the truths of math and science are not the whole truth, but rather cohere with truth in psychology, sociology, religion, and philosophy. This suggests a third example of the use of reason as correspondence to its object. The criteria of truth at this point involve both consensus in the formation of judgment and coherence in interpretation.
I do not assume the truth of Christian teaching either by divine revelation or by the teaching office of the church prior to any systematic presentation. Such an approach to authority cuts off conversation with modernity, and what I want to do is open up the dialogue. Any Christian or any of the churches within Christianity that presuppose the truth of Christian teaching has created an anti-modern bubble within modern culture. Yet, systematic reconstruction of Christian teaching cannot decide the question of its truth. In fact, the process of theological reflection and reconstruction places the truth of Christian teaching at risk. Theological reflection always disturbs the content of Christian tradition, even if done in a positive way. The reflection itself contains a critical element.
One false criterion for the truth of dogma is through experience. In order for a religion to be living and active, it needs to become an affair of the heart and passion of its adherents. Yet, it is a completely different matter as to whether the content of one’s faith arises out of that feeling. Experience and emotion are not legitimate sources for theology, for they must always submit to other criteria. Feeling is far too subjective, capricious, and contingent to form the basis for opinion. An act of faith, conversion, or the witness of the Spirit cannot make a prior claim to the truth of Christian teaching. The element of truth here is that we can validate and appropriate as true only that which our experience confirms, although by experience we mean something larger than conversion. Experience can be the medium through which we receive a source of theology, but it cannot itself be the source of theological reflection. Experience cannot guarantee the truth of Christian doctrine prior to all discussion of the individual themes of Christian teaching. The criterion of experience itself is not compatible with this line of argument. Individual experience can never mediate absolute, unconditional certainty. It can offer no more than a certainty that needs clarification and confirmation in an ongoing process of experience. The conditionality of all subjective certainty is part of the finitude of human experience. To claim unconditional, independent certainty is forcibly to make oneself, the believing I, the locus of absolute truth. Any occurrence of this phenomenon, among Christians or others, one can justifiably regard as irrational fanaticism, religious subjectivism, and a retreat to commitment. A symptom of the weakness of religion is when it locates religious truth in the realm of feeling. The banishment of religion to a non-rational corner of subjective emotion in order to leave modernity free in its rational explorations is one way of escaping the tension between religion and modernity. It also means the death of religion. Religion justly rejects this option. Such an approach allows only of psychological exploration.
Is there any truth that one can believe at all? If so, does Christian teaching, as such, claim to be truth of that kind? If Christian faith consciousness and dogmatics renounces prior guarantee of its truth, it means that its claim to truth becomes a theme of systematic theology. The unfolding of the content of Christian teaching involves the question of its truth and true significance. The details in dogmatics relate also to the world as a whole. This universality has its ground in the concept of God and expresses itself in the comprehensive conceptual systematics of dogmatic presentation. This universality has something to do with the truth claim of Christian teaching and its defense in dogmatics. Related to this is the inclusion of non-theological knowledge of humanity, the world, and history, and especially of what the statements of philosophy about reality have to say about these themes, that suggest potential universal coherence and truth of Christian doctrine. Systematic theology simply accepts the truth claim of Christian teaching as one of its questions. The questions the world has for the reality of God are questions which theology puts to its own Christian truth consciousness, or else it will not make contact with reality. Theology must face the contesting of the reality and revelation of God in the world. Theology has to present, test, and confirm (if possible) the claim to truth. It must treat it as an open question and not decide it in advance. The rightness of the claim of Christianity is at issue. As a rule, faith precedes theological reflection. Personal assurance of faith always needs confirmation by experience and reflection. By nature, it is thus open to confirmation in the sphere of argument relating to the universal validity of the truth that is believed.
My truth cannot be mine alone. If I cannot in principle declare it to be truth for all, then it pitilessly ceases to be truth for me also. Even when theology has acted as though it decided the question of truth in advance, the universality of the truth of Christian revelation about God is the subject matter of theology. However, theology has damaged Christian truth consciousness when it traveled this path. Advocacy for which the result is a foregone conclusion, independent of the cogency of the arguments, which have merely the appearance of rationality, serves to discredit theology in the public mind. Faith can achieve rational ascertainment of the universal truth of its content if it engages in completely open discussion without introducing the assurances of private commitment to steer the arguments in a given direction.
Rational argumentation apparently becomes a court that decides for or against the truth of faith. This truth apparently depends on the criteria of rational evaluation and therefore finally on human beings themselves as the subjects of their thinking. All judgments are subjectively conditioned. However, our judgments do not control truth. Rather, we presuppose truth and seek to correspond to it. The truth in its universality precedes our subjective judgments. In the same way, if we link truth to the concept of God, we understand that we do not control God and therefore we do not control dogma. If the coherence of all that is true is part of the concept of truth, we justly wonder how the correspondence of judgment and fact relates to this. This correspondence may be a special form of coherence, just as in the consensus of those who are competent to judge. Coherence is then the basic thing in the concept of truth. Coherence is an imperfect and incomplete repetition. Human concern for coherence can only project it when God gives this unity the form of history, so that it comes to fulfillment in the process of time. Dogmatics cannot give specific reality to the truth of God. It cannot present it in packaged formulas. The possible correspondence to the truth of God is linked to awareness that theology is a matter of human knowledge. Theology is part of the conditions and limits of a human world. The finitude of theological knowledge is grounded in the limitation of information about an object that the whole tradition knows to be infinite. Finitude is further grounded in the time-bound nature of human knowledge. The end of all time and history will definitively show the deity of God.
A fourth criterion of the truth of dogma is what is lasting and reliable. The future makes known the true. Both the Greeks and the Bible equate the true with the lasting and reliable. This understanding seeks to grasp the true as that which shows and confirms itself to be lasting as time progresses. Time connects with the awareness of the historically connected relativity of all experience to the historical place at which we acquire it. For the human world, the absoluteness of truth is accessible only in the relativity of our experience and reflection. As regards the historicity of experience, this means that we cannot definitively determine the true meaning of things and events in our world so long as the course of history continues. Yet, we do determine the meaning of things and events when we make statements about them. These indications of meaning and these statements rest on anticipation. The meaning we ascribe to the data of individual history and to the events of social history depend on anticipation of the totality that is developing in history. These anticipations constantly change with further experience because as we move ahead the horizon of experience broadens. This does not rule out the possibility of provisional experiences of the reality of God and of the faithfulness of God in the course of history. However, all the statements that we make in the specific mode of human talk about God, rest, rest on anticipations of the totality of the world and therefore on the yet non-existent future of its uncompleted history. This applies also to knowledge of God based on the historical revelation of God. The knowledge of Christian theology is always partial in comparison to the definitive revelation of God in the future. Recognizing the finitude and inappropriateness of all human talk about God is an essential part of theological sobriety.
Attempts to find in the coherence of Christian doctrine and the unity of the world an expression of the unity of God simply repeat and anticipate the coherence of divine truth itself. They rest on anticipations that repeat the prolepsis of the eschaton in the history of Jesus Christ. Decision regarding their truth rests with God. In a provisional way, their truth rests in human hearts by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The propositions of dogmatics and doctrine have the status of hypotheses. These propositions are not self-evident and do not follow with logical necessity from self-evident and which do not follow with logical necessity from self-evident propositions. They are assertions that formally might be either true or false, so that we can meaningfully ask whether they are right and true. Their truth depends on conditions that are not posited along with them. So long as there are doubts about this, their truth is hypothetical in the broader sense.
It is part of the logical structure of propositions that those who hear or read them can ask whether they are accurate and therefore whether their truth claim is right. Readers and hearers may treat it as a hypothesis that one must still test. Only hearers and readers distinguish between the assertion and the question whether it is true. For them, it is a mere assertion that they must still test if its truth is not simply ignored. However, this is not to deny the assertion. It is to take its truth claim seriously. Mindless acceptance does not honor them as propositions. When we consider their truth claim as worth testing is when we honor the assertion. Theological reflection consists of discussion of the debatability of the statements of faith, of theological theses, and of the reality of God. We have a presentation of the deity of God as the world and history glorify God. This means that the debatability of the existence and essence of God in this world is grounded in God. If not, we would have an argument for the powerlessness of God and an argument against the existence of God. Human history and world history communicate their opposition to God and their transformation into testimony to the deity of God. This is the significance of history as salvation history in Christian teaching.
In the sequence of creation, sin, reconciliation, and consummation, we view and structure Christian teaching in terms of a history that aims at the salvation of humanity and the renewal of creation. Even in discussing the world, humanity, and history, dogmatics has to do with the reality of God. To speak of God, we must speak also of the world and humanity, of human reconciliation and redemption. To make God the one theme of theology is not to deny to humanity and the world their right to exist alongside God. It grants them the right that God guarantees. The deity of God shows itself in the existence and consummation of the world and humanity. Conversely, humanity and the world can have their true existence and find their consummation only as they glorify their creator. Dogmatics has to be systematic theology of God and nothing else. For all the statements of Christian doctrine have their truth in God. They stand or fall with the reality of God. In such a presentation, the existence of God is at stake and with it the truth of Christian teaching. These questions are all a matter for critical discussion. A consolation for theologians is that not only their own perception is limited, but also that of their critics. A dogmatic presentation of Christian doctrine is always also criticism of earlier presentations that in one way or another do not measure up to their intention to express the truth. It implies criticism of simplest form of receiving the Christian faith as not sufficient, even though many persons in the pew wonder why one would need such a large apparatus and subtle distinctions. For such persons, theology seems a perversion of the gospel. It is a criticism of those who think of the gospel as action on behalf of suffering humanity. Dogmatics cannot begin directly with the reality of God. The reality of God is initially present only as a human notion, word, or concept. The question how we come to count on God as a reality needs careful clarification.
I want to arrive at an approach to theology that recognizes it as a culturally significant enterprise. Theology is a significant partner in the human enterprise of discovering the best human life we can lead as individuals and as communities. While faith expresses devotion, while confessional statements put into rational statements personal faith, theology seeks a better understanding of that to which the community devotes itself. It will criticize and interpret the source texts, whether from the bible, tradition, liturgy, or creeds, in an attempt to arrive at a place where we enrich present human experience. Theology needs to help the worshipping community become aware of the difficulties in forming one’s belief in the context of the modern social world. Devotion does not easily make the transition to theology, while at the same time I hope that we can take the risk. Even though theology focuses our attention upon God, we must take responsibility in interpreting and criticizing our heritage for our time and place. Theology involves critical examination of the sources for devotion and confession to discern whether it is worth having according to defensible standards of rationality. Such an approach to theology requires attention to the cultural context and conversation. It becomes a public theology as over against a church or ecclesial theology. Christians believe their message is for the world, and therefore connects with universal human need. The message is rational and accessible to those outside the church. The message is comprehensible and indispensable for all. Further, such theology influences what we do in public life. It becomes ethical in nature in giving us guidance in our life together.
Any political or economic system that does not support the possibilities of pluralistic democratic governance under laws that protect basic humanistic democratic governance under laws that protect basic human rights, minorities, and dissent is not theologically or ethically defensible. Social democratization implies that the institutions shaping the common life ought to be structured for equitable opportunity, pluralistically ordered, and accountable for the effects they have on people and on the future of humanity.
relationship between theology and culture becomes important here. I do not mean
“culture” as in a cultured or civilized person. I do not mean “high” culture,
as over against lower, less educated or sophisticated culture. Rather,
participants in a culture do so in a piecemeal way, even though the culture
itself does have some ambiguous way of holding together. The problem with
anyone attempting to identify the forms of coherence or consistency in what
holds culture together is that the lens of the one perceiving the unity
inevitably distorts that identification. It would be difficult to identify ways
in which members of any culture believe or feel the same things, even in such
it mean to be a social world? Such a question invites us to reflect upon the
ways in which a culture shapes the way we think and behave. Since we recognize
the existence of different social worlds, we also recognize the common human
hopes that shape them. As much as the social world shapes individuals, it does
not create a new or different humanity. Modern human life distinguishes itself
from primitive culture, tribal society, feudal culture, Communist systems,
military dictatorships, and any religious culture: Roman Catholic, Muslim,
Buddhist, or Hindu. The Roman Catholic social world out of which most Latin
American is an interesting case of the church consistently aligning itself with
social forces that denied the worth and dignity of individuals through keeping
the masses of people at subsistence levels. The social world consists of
objective alienation of the masses of people, in the social institutions,
including the church, participate in a social situation that oppressed the
masses. Such poverty means death for the masses, in that it includes lack of
food, clothing, shelter, and limits to the expression of freedom and one’s
worth and dignity as the people might embody them in intellectual pursuits,
political ideas, and religion. Latin American countries need secular leaders
who have a vision for a free society that respect individuals, which would
necessitate a reduction of the wealth and power of the Roman Catholic Church.
Roman Catholic leadership, one might hope, would willingly assist in the
disintegration of such political and economic arrangements that continued to
deny the dignity of the people they served. Such institutionalized violence is
not a situation that caring and compassionate people need to tolerate. When the
church resorts to a form of dualistic spirituality that focuses on personal
devotion and heaven apart from responsibility to the suffering of the neighbor,
the church becomes a partner to an oppressive situation. One could imagine such
visionary Christian leaders lovingly calling for repentance from Christian
secular leaders with the hope of new secular leadership emerging that would
have a significant role for the rights and dignity of the people. One could
also envision a church in such a setting that adopts simple style of life in
solidarity with poor masses, adopting a spirit of service, and disengaging from
ties to other social institutions that oppress the poor. Such an approach
would, through passive resistance, help bring the collapse of an oppressive
system. Of course, as a human institution, the Roman Catholic Church would not
easily surrender its power and wealth, but one could always hope. Unfortunately,
Liberation Theology took as its paradigm for social change the revolutions in
Medieval theology had a view of the cosmos as a fixed order, teleological, substantive, hierarchical and anthropocentric, dualistic in terms of spirit and matter, and monarchical.
In the 20th century, a different view of the cosmos emerges. The cosmos develops in an evolutionary, historical, and emergent fashion way, with law and chance, structure and indeterminacy. It has relational, ecological, and interdependent view of the cosmos. It thinks in terms of systems and wholes and as an organism. It thinks multi-level rather than dualism. The cosmos becomes a community of atoms and cells organized in increasingly complex ways.
We do not experience culture in a monolithic way. Any individual experiences the culture in fragments. That individual experiences a portion of the oppression, as well as experience alternative forms of life. Therefore, even if dominant themes of culture are oppressive in terms of economic class, race, or gender, people do not experience the full weight of it. Alternative forms of life also become available for others.
I suggest a humanist approach to Christian theology, a version of Christian humanism, in which we take both words seriously. Irenaeus offered the metaphor that the glory of God is every individual person fully alive. The honor of God is at stake in human happiness. Anything that violates, diminishes, or drains human life also diminishes, dishonors, and drains away the glory of God. Religions die when they lose their power to interpret convincingly the full range of present experience in the light of their idea of God. The truth of any religion finds its test in its ability to take account of accessible reality and integrates the complexity of present experience into itself. If the idea of God does not keep pace with developing reality, the power of experience pulls people on the idol the people worshipped dies. The criterion I use in discerning usable portions of the classic texts within Christianity is that which frees human beings toward the best human life. Such a process requires an honest examination of the tradition and its failing, a willingness to listen to alternative voices within the tradition, and willingness to reconstruct Christian teaching in the light of such reflections. The goal of such theological effort is the formation of Christian communities that increasingly reflects that which honors God by fully alive humanity.
Christianity does not present an alternative social world apart from the social world in which Christians find themselves. Christianity does not have a self-contained and self-originating social world from which we can identify clear boundaries from the rest of culture. People living within a culture carry a great deal of what they learned there into the Christian community. In fact, Christian social practice always incorporates material from other ways of life if Christians are to constitute a whole way of life for themselves. Christian social practice does not constitute a full complement of cultural claims, such as economic, political, or metaphysical matters. A Christian way of life establishes relations with other ways of life. It must take from other ways of life in order to be a way of life itself. It is not totalistic. Such dependence is not just on the surface; it goes to the depths of Christian social practice. Christian identity is relational at the deepest levels, and thus attempts to separate it from those relationships arrive too late. Christians have already crossed the boundary of social worlds to the extent that Christians believe anything at all. The church is never against culture, for culture, or transforming culture, but a mixture of Christian social practice and culture.
Theological reflection is like building a house in that the fundamental design is not in the materials used, such as the bible, tradition, liturgy, creeds, and the communal experience of the Christian community. Rather, we must take responsibility for the home we construct and in which we attempt to live.
We might also use the analogy of a map. The map is not mere fabrication in the mind, for the map must select and display elements of experience to enable the user of the map to make progress toward the goal. Theology must construct a map, focusing upon God in a way that theology becomes a partner in building the best human life possible.
I want to suggest that thinking about theology as a part of culture means thinking about theology as a part of some specific, communally shaped way of life. Theology arises out of an attempt to understand, clarify, and criticize Christian social practice in this generation. At the same time, such practices address human experience, and thus can have profound implications for general human experience as well. Theology becomes part of the everyday life of the believer and contributes to our understanding of the general human condition. Christian social practices do not require sameness of belief in order to practice them. Christians articulate different beliefs about baptism and Eucharist while at the same time celebrating them as worshipping communities. Theology deals with the propriety of new proposals for Christian belief and action, with conflicting strands of Christian social practice, and with what to do when new situations challenge previously established Christian practices. It asks critical and evaluative questions of Christian social practice. The everyday Christian life provides the theme of Christian theology. Theologians must sense the tensions in the past and present theological productions. Theologians must sense vulnerability they hope to patch or to capitalize upon. Theologians have a responsibility to sense the new challenges in historical or social development that become challenges to Christian social practice. Theologians must sense how the terrain has changed and how possibilities for theological movement arise. Theologians must sense what next step is plausible or novel.
Religious communities are likely to be relevant to the degree that they concentrate on their own intra-textual outlooks and forms of life, as over against seeking relevance intentionally. Theological reflection has its entry point with the categories, concepts, and images provided by heritage. Theology becomes a disciplined effort to see what we are trying to do and say with these complexes of meaning. We want to say them better. We want to do them better.
We can view religion as a kind of cultural and linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought. It is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments. Like a culture or language, a communal phenomenon shapes the subjectivities of individuals rather than being primarily a manifestation of those subjectivities. It comprises a vocabulary of discursive and non-discursive symbols together with a distinctive logic or grammar in terms of which this vocabulary can be meaningfully deployed. A language-game embeds a form of life. Culture has both cognitive and behavioral dimensions. Religion accomplishes through its doctrines, cosmic stories, and ethical directives related to its rituals and the sentiments it evokes, that actions it recommends, and the institutional forms it develops. To become religious is to make interior a set of skills by practice and training. One learns how to feel, act, and think in conformity with a religious tradition that is far richer and subtler than one can articulate. The primary knowledge is not about the religion, nor does the religion teach certain things, but rather how to be religious in certain ways. We need to have the means for expressing an experience in order to have it. The richer our expressive or linguistic system, the subtler, varied, and differentiated our experience can be.
This view is a contrast to Eliade, Tillich, and Otto in that we need a lens through we can view experience. For this reason, this approach is not impressed with attempts to show that all religions are similar. However, as human beings we can still communicate those differences with each other, respecting some unity in human experience while respecting the diversity. We can communicate across such cultural differences because language is like a territory with insecure boundaries. The communication of the gospel is the offer and the act of sharing one’s own beloved language concerning Jesus with all those interested, in the full awareness that not everyone will be part of the witnessing people. Doctrine is not ontological, but intra-systematic. This approach focuses upon Christian story shaped by the framework supplied by biblical narrative with Christ at the center. Changes in inner experience and affirmations become marks of vitality.
The question is whether this approach is relativistic and fideistic. I would suggest, however, that reasonableness is too rich and subtle for us to form a general theory of reason or knowledge in that intelligibility comes from skill, not a theory about it. Credibility comes from good performance, not adherence to independently formulated criteria. The reasonableness of a religion is largely a function of its assimilative powers, of its ability to provide an intelligible interpretation in its own terms of the varied situations and realities adherents encounter. This is why anomalies and failing categories among adherents are so important for theological reflection. This approach seeks to teach the language and practices of the religion to potential adherents. This has been the primary way of transmitting the faith and winning converts for most religions through the centuries.
Theology offers a picture of reality that focuses upon God, suggesting that matter is not a sufficient point of reference for grasping understanding reality. I would seek to present a theology of the Judeo-Christian view of God, recognizing that many cultures have lived and thrived without that concept. No view of God is necessary to human life or to the world as it is. My view, however, is that the Judeo and Christian view of God is the best way for us to understand how God and theology can become a partner in building the best human life. Theology becomes a practical discipline in helping people to live and act in the world, rather than a discipline that seeks to describe the world as it is. Theology needs to orient adequately human life in the world. We need to assess any theology in light of the kinds of activity and forms of experience they make possible. The picture theology presents must unify and order the tradition and contemporary experience in a way that makes sense of the world and the humane move toward the best human life. Although I like the image of theology as a work of art, the difference is that the theologian declares a willingness to live within the meaning and form of life stated in theology. The theologian must also willingly submit these reflections to the Christian community as a possible way of relating to the world and to the tradition.
The history of the relationship between a secular culture and a religious sub-culture is one of antagonism. The leaders of the Enlightenment denounced traditional Christianity in a shrill way, and many of their intellectual descendents have continued to do so. Leaders of the church became arrogant in their refusal to deal with the new questions posed by science, political and economic freedom, intellectual pluralism, and so on.
What does it mean to be Christian? History shows us that the church embodies itself in specific institutional forms and unites itself to various philosophical expressions. When culture changes institutional forms or philosophical expressions, the church and its people undergo a time of conflict and transition. The church as an institution finds ways of relating to the cultural changes. Discerning what it means to be Christian is difficult in such times of transition. Bishops and other leaders within the churches need to lead the way into anxious and uncomfortable territory where meaningful theological discourse can occur. Church leaders need to provide settings where they can provide meaningful theological guidance to the churches. While some traditions are comfortable with this role for its church leadership, the independence of many churches and pastors trends toward ignoring the possibility of communal theological discourse.
One change that secular culture introduces is that it places the existence of God into question. Previous cultures used the word God or gods to refer to the foundations of social and cosmic order. With the rise of modernity and secular culture, God has lost this function in the public mind. Public consciousness has liberated itself from religion. Therefore, what we mean when we refer to God is uncertain. Statements that presuppose the reality of God no longer count as factual statements. For a secular public culture, the statements are assertions whose truth no on has yet shown. The public mind in a secular culture will accede to the truth of such assertions only when they are secular in content and can appeal to academic authority of sociologists or psychologists. Such statements refer to the subjective mind of the speaker and the truth claim of which for the most part set aside in advance, the belief being that the testing will lead nowhere and that the truth claims of statements about God are not even worth discussing publicly.
A second change introduced by modernity is that the content of the concept of God has become unclear. This word has become as enigmatic for us today as a blank face. It has the appearance of magic or myth and has no place in our sober modern world. Some theologians have embarrassment over the word God as it prevents secular people from understanding the proclamation. Of course, the appeal for faith in Jesus of Nazareth loses its foundation without God. If Jesus is just one man among others, and merely a man for all the uniqueness of his life and teaching, then we cannot believe in him in the sense of early Christian preaching.
The question of God lies within the horizon of humanity. The external things in our world press their images upon us and call for a name. “God,” “gods,” “divinity,” and other such terms arise out of the human experience of experiencing oneself, thereby acknowledging that we cannot reduce human beings to a single region or particular study. Humanity diminishes itself to the extent that it does not stretch forward toward the intelligible, the unconditioned, and the valuable. Within our horizon of experience is a region for the divine we cannot ignore. An atheist may pronounce it empty. The agnostic may urge inconclusiveness. The humanist may refuse to allow the question to arise. Yet, such negations presuppose the human orientation toward the divine.
The difficulty is that if God appeared within our world, God would cease to be God. We know the infinite horizon of human experience exists, and we pause in silence as we contemplate it, while at the same time struggle to articulate that experience.
Some wonder if religion is nothing more than a sense of devotion to the world. We do not find God in the chain of causality within the world as a source of intervention. Human beings are not immediately related to God as if immediately related to any other object in the world. Rather, human beings experience God as the ground and as the horizon of their experience, a ground and horizon it can never fully explore. The activity of God in the world is through historical realities. God appears to act in the world in modest ways of inspiration rather than mighty deeds.
The way in which religious communities shape language about God implicitly represents what it takes to be the highest good, the most profound truth, the most appealing beauty. Such speaking also molds communal identity and directs its praxis. To speak about a god as warlike, an arbitrary tyrant, or beneficent, loving, and forgiving of offences is to have a community shaped by those values. Such speech about God also guides the action of individual members. God is that on which we trust. What is the right way to speak about God in light of cherished values of worth and dignity of humanity? What is at stake is the truth about God, inseparable from the situation of human beings, and the identity and mission of the Christian community.
How can modern and secular people gain new access to what the blank face of God covers and conceals?
One might reply to this question with the demand that religious experience deliver more than it can. The importance of religious experience lies in the question of the reality that corresponds to the concept of God. However, religious experience cannot carry the weight of becoming the source of a new definition of what we mean by the word God. Religious experience itself is an interpretation that uses the concept of God. Religious experience is bound up with an interpretation that first perceives and understands what is perceived as something. Thus, the term God has a function in the nexus of religious experience, but we do not derive from perception in disclosure situations what God means to us. Rather, using the word God already interprets what we encounter in the experience. The use of the word God denotes encounter with Another in the disclosure. The question is in what sense this is so.
One way to gain clarity on what the word God might mean in a secular culture is to consider whether the word functions as a proper name or as a designation. An example from the bible might help. Yahweh is the proper name, while Elohim (divinity) is the category or designation. Monotheism is intelligible as a restriction of the category of deity to one alone. The designation of Yahweh as God and the attribution of deity to Jesus make sense on the condition of an established pre-Christian and extra-Christian use of the word God. The content of the thesis of the sole deity of Yahweh, of the Father of Jesus, and of the Trinity, restrict a general category to a single instance. The metaphysical concept of God that already embraces the unity of the divine as the one origin of the cosmos has its source in the concept of the general category of the divine. Further, the message of Christian mission in its proclamation of the revelation of the one God in Jesus Christ is still speaking of the same thing that people have known as God. Therefore, talk of “the Christian God” involuntarily regresses to a situation of a plurality of gods in which Christian talk about God has reference to the specific biblical God as one God among others.
Another way to gain clarity about what God means in the context of a secular culture is to consider the input of philosophical theology, which views the one God as the origin of the unity of the cosmos. Philosophical theology is critical of the religions to the degree that the unity of the cosmos finally demands the unity of its divine origin. God in the singular is a key word in a religiously grounded view of the world. It makes possible an ultimate explanation of the being of the world as a whole by creation. If the word God is like a blank face to us, it reminds us by its strangeness of the lack of meaning in modern life. The theme of the unity of life and the totality of life is missing from modern life. In modernity, the wholeness of human existence becomes an unanswered question.
secular culture, we can genuinely ponder what would happen if the word God
vanished. One result would be that the question of the totality of world would
not arise, for all we would have is gods. In this way,
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse …
Creation shows to us the eternal power and deity of God. This natural knowledge of God is true of all people. The revelation of God in Christ presupposes the world and humanity belong to and know the God proclaimed by the gospel, even though the revelation in Christ sheds a wholly new light. John suggests this understanding. The ones who did not receive him were not strangers but from the very first, they were his own people. If this is so, then it cannot have been completely alien to their being or their knowledge, for the being of sinful creatures is constituted by the creative presence of God among them in Logos and Spirit.
We can understand the appropriation of the results of the natural theology of the Greek philosophers by early Christian theology. However, we do not evaluate this properly if we see in it only an adjustment to the intellectual climate of the cultural world in which they had to proclaim the Christian gospel. At stake was the truth of the Christian God as not just the national God of the Jews, but the God of all people. The natural theology of the philosophers had formulated a criterion for judging whether educated people of their culture could seriously consider any God as the author of the cosmos, and Christian theology had to meet this criterion if its claim that the God who redeems in Jesus Christ is also the creator could ring true in that culture. Paul implicitly gave Christian theology this task when he said of the gods that the Galatians had worshipped prior to their conversion that in contrast to the God of the Christian message they are by nature no gods in Galatians 4:8. This statement implies that the God of the Bible is the only true God. Christian thinking could not evade discussion of the philosophical criterion of the genuinely divine that we must regard as the origin of the world. It had either to show that the God of Christian proclamation meets the criterion or that that the criterion is not properly formulated, being inadequate to describe the function of authorship that is indispensable to God.
The Enlightenment was certain that what corresponds to human nature corresponds to God, God being creator of humanity and human reason. I will grant that the Enlightenment view of humanity had a minor place for the brokenness of human reality. It did not allow human brokenness affects its trust in reason. However, one should not push the Christian view of the perversion of sin so far theologically that we no longer understand humanity as claimed by God. Therefore, we need to acknowledge some correspondence between human nature and the one who created and continues sustain human life.
Genuinely modern theology that takes modernity seriously cannot rely upon the classical proofs for the existence of God in order to help secular culture gain clarity about what the word God means. The results of the history of the proofs for the existence of God and discussions of their force show that they cannot decisively change the situation regarding the debatability of the existence of God.
Yet, theology in dialogue with modern culture will still need descriptions of the human condition and of the world that make talk of God intelligible and can thus establish criteria for it. For example, Hegel showed that the elevation above the finite that takes place in the proofs of God implies that the finite ultimately does not have independent being. The proofs of God, expressing the elevation of the human spirit above the finite to the thought of the infinite, correspond to the life of religion. He saw the dependence of philosophical theology on this or that concrete historical form of religion. He also anticipated connecting each form with the understanding of God in a religious tradition and sees far-reaching changes with the transition to the nexus of tradition in other religious cultures. Another example is that some dimension of the cosmological argument remains important. We can speak meaningfully of God only if we think of God as the origin of the world and understand the reality of the world as referring to a basis of its being that is not within itself, the conditions of which are formulated in the cosmological arguments. The cosmological argument says something first about the demand of reason for meaning face to face with the contingency of the world. It at least makes the talk about God intelligible.
My interest here is to consider further ways in which secular culture can gain some clarity about what the word God means and can consider the word an intelligible concept.
Given the interest of modernity in humanity and individuality, I want to spend some time considering the role of an anthropological argument for the existence of God. I grant that an anthropological argument for atheism is possible, based on the idea that subjective needs projected into the thought of the infinite is the source of the thought of God, making the thought of God an illusion humanity will one day overcome. I also grant that an anthropological argument cannot prove the existence of God. All that one maintains is that humanity finds itself embraced by an unfathomable reality that transcends humanity and the world, so that the God of religious tradition is given a secure place in the reality of human self-experience. The function of anthropological proofs is to show that the concept of God is an essential part of a proper human self-understanding, whether in relation to human reason or to other basic fulfillments of human existence. Augustine’s proof referred to the cognitive sense to the light of truth that does not stem from it. So does the proof from the idea of God that is native to us in the knowledge of the infinite that precedes and underlies all notions of finite things in the Third Meditation of Descartes. So does the moral proof in Kant. So does the awareness of being grounded in the absolute as the freedom that exists through absolute being. So does Schleiermacher’s proof from the feeling of absolute dependence. So does Kierkegaard’s idea of a constitutive relation of the self-consciousness to the infinite and the eternal. We could add Karl Rahner’s thesis that in our self-transcendence, our grasping at being, we already affirm the existence of God. Hans Kung provided a theological construction of basic trust that Erik H. Erikson noted in the development of individuals.
The intent of natural theology in the Baroque period and in the Enlightenment sought to show that the existence of humanity and its world would not be possible without the existence of God. In its day, natural theology did at least support the claim of Christian talk about to universality. At the close of the 1700’s, the proofs of God could witness only to the perpetual need of humanity and human reason to rise above the finitude of human existence to the thought of the infinite and the absolute. The possibility of providing an anthropological need for rising above the finitude to the thought of the infinite and absolute still has significance for the truth claim of all religious talk about God, even for Christian proclamation of the divine act of revelation in Jesus Christ. All talk about God must validate itself by being able to make the world of experience a proof of its power, showing what it is in everyday experience. Every religious message must demonstrate its truth claims by philosophical reflection on the relation of humanity and religion. Philosophical reflection on the anthropological necessity of elevation to the thought of the infinite and absolute can no longer offer a theoretical proof of the existence of God. Thus, modern theology cannot expect philosophical theology to provide an independent knowledge of the existence and nature of God. However, it retains the critical function of the natural theology of antiquity relative to every form of religious tradition. It considers the minimal conditions for talk about God that one wants to taken seriously. In this sense, it is possible to base a philosophical concept that acts as framework for what one justly calls God. At issue is the classical distinction between innate natural knowledge of God and acquired knowledge of God.
I want to look at the combination of Romans 1:19-20 and Roman .
Romans 1:19-20 (NRSV)
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;
15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them
By nature (creation), all people know the true God, according to Romans 1:19-20. Yet, this view comes in light of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We do not find it immediately confirmed in ourselves or our experience of the world. This statement claims validity even where people do not want to know anything at all about God. The Christian message appeals to those who have turned away from the true God. It may appeal to them as witnesses against themselves. Romans connects conscience to the divine law, which many consider as the Ten Commandments.
The combination of these texts makes one wonder whether the modern knowledge of the phenomenon of conscience permits us to formulate afresh the relation between conscience and the knowledge of God. The history of the term conscience shows that at first it was a conceptualizing of the self-awareness, which one could initially grasp only in the experience of having co-knowledge of one’s deeds. The issue in conscience is the identity of the I, but in the broader context of the social world and reality. The self-relation of conscience is close to the group of self-feelings, but within this group, it holds a special place. In it, the totality of life is generally present in either a positive or a repressed form, and the I is at the same time the subject even if mainly in the mode of disapproval, which also implies a relation to its possible positive identity. With its negative content the conscience then forms the transition from self-feeling to self-awareness in the narrower sense of explicit self-experience and self-knowledge. From the life of feeling in which it is rooted, there develops in the conscience a non-thematic relation to the totality of life in which subject and object are yet undifferentiated. This type of feeling and feelings corresponds to the ecstatic rootage of the early individual development of a child in a symbiotic sphere that in the first weeks of life binds the child to its mother and by implication to the world without any conscious distinction from the mother. Differentiation of the first undistinguished dimensions of God, world, and self is a product of the cognitive development of the child of experience of the world and reflection on it, though a non-thematic self-relation is present already in the quality of feelings as desire or non-desire. The experience of conscience is the form in which this self-relation is originally thematized. It is to themes of this kind that many of the statements in the theological and philosophical tradition regarding an innate natural knowledge of God are related.
Luther presupposes that we have to trust in something, that our heart must hang and rely on it. Here is what we might now call the ec-centric form of human life. We have to rest on something outside ourselves. We have no choice. We can choose only on what to rest. We find that the misuse consists of putting our trust in false gods and that the inalienable knowledge of God is not the same as true faith, but consists simply of our being referred to some reliable basis of life in which we can put our trust. In this sense, we know what it means to have a god. Trust of this kind presupposes at least a rudimentary sense of the difference between self and the world. To the degree to which the individual achieves self-awareness, at first in experiences of desire and its opposite, this relation is also present in the consciousness as something that in a general way transcends existence. The process of cognitive development and differentiation distinguish possible objects of trust, and choice becomes possible. To the indefinite nature of the symbiotic relation to life, there corresponds here the idea of the infinite that according to Descartes is the condition of the apprehension of all finite objects, including the self, since we can think of finite things as the infinite delimits them. Over against the open horizon of the infinite our own existence, all reality, and the divine basis of everything finite are present to us, but not yet thematically. Intuition of the infinite is not as such an awareness of God. We know restriction only by reflection on our perception of the finite. An awareness of the infinite as such is possible for us when we first know finite things and reflect on their finitude. We attain a sense of the infinite by negation of the limit of the finite. It does not precede perception of the finite. In his Third Mediation, Descartes ascribed priority to the idea of the infinite over apprehension of the finite. However, this is possible in the form of a non-thematic awareness in which one has not yet differentiated God, world, and self. This does not involve an explicit concept of the infinite as distinct from the finite. Only in the process of experience do we attain to an express awareness of the gods and God. We develop this awareness in the course of life, in the process of experience in the broad sense as experience of the word, of the forces that are at work in it and that transcend worldly things, and of the history of religion. We may right say that from the very first, we are set before a transcendental mystery in the sense that the silent infinity of reality that is beyond our control constantly presents itself to us as a mystery. In the early stages of human life, this mystery takes concrete form in a first human relationship, normally to the mother, who makes possible for the child a confident reliance on the world, on life, and on the God who creates and sustains it. Only later can we say that what we have here is a non-thematic knowledge of God. Therefore, it is inappropriate to call the primordial awareness of a religious a priori the sense of an explicit awareness of God preceding all experience. Non-thematic knowledge of God, which is part of our original situation but which is not as such knowledge of God, is all the same a real thing. In reality, we always live with provisional answers to the question of existence, answers that endure so long as they can serve as a reliable basis for confidence. The non-thematic knowledge of God has the form of dissatisfaction with the finite things of worldly experience. This questioning arises once we clearly differentiate the contents of experience from each other and the self. It arises even when there is no corresponding formation and orientation of the religious consciousness. However, dissatisfaction with the finite can take the form of the question of God only on the condition of knowledge of God that one gains elsewhere.
How can we call that primordial awareness a non-thematic knowledge of God? How can Paul say that all of us know God? This becomes understandable when we consider that it is part of life to give new meaning to what we have experienced in the light of later experiences. God is present to all of us from the very first and we know this God, although not as God. What Paul calls the knowledge of God from creation through the works of God may be only a vague sense of infinitude. Intuition of an indefinite infinite, of a mystery of being that transcends and upholds human life, and gives us the courage to trust it, achieves a differentiation from finite things only in the course of experience. However, we do not have the classical natural theology of the philosophers in this process. What we have is the religious experience of God by means of a sense of the working and being of God in creation. There has not been a philosophical natural theology from the beginning of creation. However, in the history of humanity there has always been in some form an explicit awareness of God that one links to experience of the works of creation. When we refer Paul’s statement about the knowledge of God from the works of creation to the religions, we cannot conclude that they are all from the root up no more than idolatry. In them, there is knowledge of the true God from creation. There is also the exchanging of the incorruptible God for finite things. The one-sided exposition of Romans 1:19-20 solely in terms of the natural theology of the philosophers has contributed to a one-sidedly negative assessment of non-Christian religions in the history of Christian theology. Today, we have to correct this false development and arrive at a more nuanced judgment on the world of the religions.
The doctrine of verbal inspiration of the bible made a qualitative distinction between the knowledge of God contained in the bible and knowledge of God elsewhere. The decay of this doctrine led to reflection upon the essence of religion, and therefore conformity to that essence. However, what is the essential content of religion? Does the norm lie in religion itself, or is it distinct from religion? Does it lie in anthropology inasmuch as religion is an essential expression of humanity? In the circumstances of the modern age, the knowledge of God has become a function of religion.
First, we need to recognize that in modernity, the theologian can speak of the primacy of God in religious experience only in an indirect way, through the mediation of reasoning. Barth is right that the deity of God stands or falls with the primacy of the reality of God and the revelation of God over religion. Yet, in the modern situation, we cannot advance this primacy directly. If we try to do so, our attempt has come from the outset the character of a mere assertion. The absoluteness of the assertion is hard to distinguish from a materially different fanaticism. To present the primacy of the deity of God in the form of a cogent argument, direct assertion is not enough. If we take up religion into revelation, we cannot do this in the form of mere assertion and sharp opposition. There has to be discussion of the problem that from the time of the Enlightenment has led to the domination of the concept of religion as a foundation for dogmatics.
I now need to assess the elements of truth in the modern dominance of the concept of religion. From the beginning of the 1800’s, anthropology became the basis of preliminary decision, regarding either the universal validity or the pure subjectivity of all talk about God. In reality, theologians like Buddeus and Dorner, and even Schleiermacher, sought with the power of their thinking to validate what the confessions said in the conditions of their own times. Their proposals may be open to criticism. However, this criticism can be convincing only if it sets itself the same task as they attempted to perform. The task is this: How can theology make the primacy of God and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ intelligible, and validate its truth claim, in an age that reduces all talk about God to subjectivity.
Second, Christian theologians need to take the plurality of religions seriously into the self-understanding of Christianity. The atheism of the early Fichte helped shatter the attempt to provide objectivity to religion through a religion of reason in the early modern period. The plurality of religions became relevant for the self-understanding of Christianity. Schleiermacher responded by placing religion independent of morality and metaphysics. Hegel began with the concept of religion that he had to demonstrate was appropriate to the reality religion grasps. He surveyed the whole field of religion. The definition of Christianity is as the perfect realization of the general concept of religion. He presents all the religions as realizations of specific features or elements of the concept of religion. Protestant theology ignored comparative religion because it directed its energy toward restoring the authority of scripture that historical criticism challenged through the subjective experience of faith. The problem with this approach was that one could not present and justify the contents of traditional Christian teaching based on present conversion. The difficulty lay in depicting the piety of the Awakening and its variants as a specific work of the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Those who wanted to build connection as to the truth of Christian faith not solely on the experience of conversion needed also at least to reflect on the historical figure of Jesus and his message, and then on the position of the Christian message among the other religions of humanity. Theologians of the speculative and the resultant Liberal trend tried repeatedly to show the perfection or absoluteness of Christianity as a religion in the circle of other religions. In 1902, Troeltsch subjected to definitive criticism the idea of Hegel and those who followed him that the march of religious history and the truth of Christianity are the realization of a general concept of religion. His main point was that we could not deduce the historically unique and individual from general concept. The new thing in Troeltsch’s view of the history of religion was the dominant significance that he assigned to the conflict between historical norms and values in the struggle for universal validity. This naturally gave rise to the idea of an open process.
Third, F. Wagner has rightly stressed the importance of a common concept of religion for the claim of a religion that its truth has universal validity. Since Schleiermacher, scholars attempt anthropological definitions of religion as descriptions of human positions and experiences that have religious content, such as the ultimate dimension, an expression of total commitment, or of comprehensive and most intensive evaluation. Functional definitions of religion look at the function of religion in uniting society or culture and view it as a mastering of contingency or simply as a source of self-awareness or of an awareness of meaning that embraces the world and society. Religion does have these functions. The establishment of an individual and social sense of meaning and of the closely related unity of the social world is largely a typical work of religion. Yet, we still need a material or substantial definition of the nature of religion, as well as functional description. Already in 1917, Rudolf Otto brought against Schleiermacher’s definition of piety as a feeling of absolute dependence the objection that this is a mere self-feeling that he connected with the concept of God only indirectly by means of conclusion from a cause. In fact, religious awareness is oriented primarily and directly to an object outside me. The definition of the concept of religion as self-feeling is opposed to the actual spiritual state. However, the view of Schleiermacher did not denote another world as opposed to everyday experience of this world, as did Otto and his view of the holy. The greatness of Schleiermacher’s view of religion is that religion and its content were not additional to the ordinary reality human beings experience in the world. He offered a deeper and more conscious understanding of the one reality of life. His view does not presuppose the dualism of secular and sacred spheres that eventually depends upon the prior awareness of secularity and later moving toward the holy. In contrast, Schleiermacher proposes the constitutive condition of the awareness of finite objects and therefore of awareness of the secular of the world. Religious awareness stands in opposition to secular awareness only because the latter is not aware of the fact that finite objects are conditioned by their being carved out of the infinite and defined by it. Here, the antithesis of the sacred and the profane finds a place in Schleiermache’s concept, but it is a derived and subordinate element. His theory can explain why one can view the holy in religious awareness as constitutive for our secular reality. It brings to light the truth of the finite itself that the superficial orientation of a secular awareness conceals by treating finite things merely as objects to control and use. The truth is that the finite is not self-grounded, but is carved out of the infinite and the totality. Our inexpressible awareness of the infinite as the condition of all understanding of the finite was the decisive argument in the third meditation of Descartes as he sought to prove that we have an innate knowledge of God. One can claim the intuition of the infinite that precedes all the other contents of the consciousness as knowledge of God only secondarily based on an express awareness of God in monotheistic religion. However, inasmuch as this is not an express theme, we do not yet have in it an awareness of God or an explicitly religious awareness. Only the form that is distinct from the finite medium but encountered in it is the concrete religious subject that modern studies have described very generally as power.
Fourth, the psychological, sociological, and philosophical approaches to religion need to take seriously that religious experience directs attention away from the human experience and toward a divine world that initiated it. Today, scholars see the power that fills specific finite objects and people as a partial aspect of the actual experience of God, the elements of which van der Leeuw summed up as power and will in the form of a name. We experience the unknown power as will as we feel ourselves in some way affected by it. Hence, experiences of power and will are connected in origin. Modern religious studies rightly describe religion as a two-sided entity. It embraces deity and humanity, but in such a way that in the relation deity emerges as preeminent, is inspiring, valid, and inviolable. Van der Leeuw has irrefutably argued that the focus upon the nature of the human experience brings the study of religion into opposition to the intentions of religion itself. In religion, God is the agent in the relation to humanity, but the whole of religion looks only at humanity’s relation to God, and tells us nothing about God’s action. This leads us to suspect that due to its methodology the study of religion misses its true object that is marked by the priority of deity. He underestimated the historical distinctiveness of individual religious experiences among other more institutional aspects in the life of religions. We do not escape the problems by avoiding the concept of religion altogether and speaking instead of faith and its modes. The participant is concerned with God; the observer has been concerned with religion. Faith can also appear to be something that is part of normal experience in our world, and one can view it as more or less marginal, as a purely subjective commitment. Another argument in favor of religion is that more plainly than faith, it expresses the communal aspect of religion as something more than just an individual and personal relationship with God. Religion is also a universal factor that embraces as a whole. Related to this is the tendency to restrict the academic inquiry to the human aspect of the phenomena insofar as this tendency does not have its origin in the prejudices of modern secularist culture and its view of science. How can it take into account of the primary of divine reality in religious experience?
unity of religious phenomena on the human side needs to correspond to the
phenomena of divine reality. However, one cannot introduce the unity of divine
reality directly in the sense of monotheistic views of God if the validity of
statements made in the academic study of religion is not to be restricted from
the very first to monotheistic religions. Dupre developed
the interesting thesis that mythic cultures link the view of gods in such
cultures to the unity of the mythical consciousness. Therefore, no sharp
differentiation between individual gods exists. They are all concretions of a
force field of transcendence. Divine figures have a place in the mythically
shaped view of the unity of the world culture, the natural and social order,
which the operation of the gods set up. Ian Waardenburg
has right rightly stressed that the reality of religion is the final basis of
human explanations, orientation, and orders. For the religious consciousness,
the explanation is not human. The one meaning of the world has a divine basis.
The reduction of the plurality of gods to the unity of the world of cultures
makes relative the distinction between unity and multiplicity in the view of
deity. However, this does not resolve the antithesis. The relating of the
multiplicity of divine figures to the unity of cultural sense may soften the
antithesis between the unity and the plurality of deity, but it cannot resolve
it. Nevertheless, the ambivalence of the unity and plurality of deity offers a
starting point for the possibility of a development of divine figures and
especially for the tendency to associate additional spheres of operation with
them. Seldom or never was a deity restricted to a single function, although
polytheistic systems could develop a tendency to equate individual deities with
certain specialized functions. To a historically developed deity worshippers
usually assigned a whole complex of more or less sharply emphasized functions,
many of which might impinge upon those of others or overlap them. Thus, the
Hebrews expanded the God of Israel to be also the author of the fertility of
the land. They also saw Yahweh to be the God of creation even if the people did
not realize this at first. Extensions of the zone of influence of a specific
deity are hardly peculiar to the religious history of
Sixth, modernity leads us toward some criteria for testing the truth claims of the divine reality behind religious experience. The history of one deity was always that of conflict with competing deities and truth claims. This was especially true of the God of Israel in view of Yahweh’s exclusive claim to worship. Is the unity of the divine reality the true object of the struggle of religious history? If so, the undefined unity of deity in tension with the plurality of the gods in primitive cultures stands in contrast to the definite and explicit unity of God in monotheistic religions that have integrated the concrete forms of its manifestation into the figure f the one God. Therefore, the unity of the religious object must have its basis and origin in the unity of deity. According to the modern view, early in the cultural history of the race the sense of a unity of deity dominating the plurality of manifestations is implied, if not definitely present, in the tension between the one and the many. If this is so, it is natural enough to regard the history of religion as a history of the manifestation of the unity of deity that God himself controls on the path of self-revelation. It takes note of all the religions but relates them to the general understanding. In particular, the methodological discussion does not presuppose the truth of a monotheistic or any other belief in god. It simply formulates a criterion whereby to test truth claims. One can hardly urge affinity to a monotheistic standpoint as an objection against this approach. For in view of the continuing plurality and competition of the gods and beliefs, it is an illusion to think we can formulate a concept of religion that a specific standpoint in the history of religion does not characterize. In formulating the concept, we cannot ignore the plurality and antagonism of deities and views of deity. We need to recognize this single concept of religion has its own place in the history of religion and in fact arose only on the soil of monotheistic religion. The inclusion of the knowledge of God in the concept of religion as we find it in Augustine made possible the modern concept of religion that embraces ideas of deity.
need to consider the possibility that the unity of humanity and human cultures
have their foundation in monotheism as a premise. Modernity has introduced the
idea of the unity of religion based on the unity of humanity, regardless of the
views of God. However, modernity still related the notion of the unity of
humanity to the unity of God even when this unity emerges in the development of
the religions. In fact, the idea of a unity of humanity transcending specific
cultures is by no means self-evident. The unity of humanity in the sense of a
basic principle of the equality of all members of the race as such, no mater to
what culture, people, or specific race they might belong, is an idea that
itself has presuppositions in the history of religion. The emergence of
monotheistic views closely relates to the emergence of a sense of the unity of
humanity. In the case of
Defining the nature of religion does not answer the question of its truth. Yet, we need confessors of a religion before we can make inquiry into the functions of such confessing, and the related religious practice, for the life of individuals and society. Once the theory of religion finds an adequate basis for its investigations in the fact there are confessing and practicing individuals, then it can raise the question of the contents and functions of this confession and practice.
Modernity has relegated religion to subjectivity. Antagonistic reconstruction of the religious sense is difficult to reconcile with the reference to the belief in the unity of God and the unity of the cosmos or the unity of the related social order. Defenders of religion in philosophy and theology meet antagonistic critiques of religious talk about God by appealing to religious experience and faith. We can see that even where the demand that people take seriously religious truth claims presuppose the subjectivity of religious truth. Taking them seriously in this sense obviously means not testing the claims that they make, but understanding them and letting them stand. The basic difficulty that religions claim that the deity is the author of religious experience hamper appeals of this kind inevitably seems to be a positing of this religious sense. Modernity has introduced the interpretation of religion as a subjective matter and made its specific content dependent upon the subject. Religious theories that adopt this view have the advantage of being in tune with the secular sense of truth that is a feature of public culture. They seldom hesitate to ascribe constitutive significance to religion as such for the humanity of the race. The classic representative of this view is Schleiermacher, where religion is no more than truth in the sense that religion is a constitutive feature of our human reality. By demanding for religion a province of its own in the mind, he raised the claim that religion belongs to our human nature, that religion is not a secondary and derived phenomenon that is superfluous.
Modernity also offers a radical critique of religion that suggests religion is a useless appendage to individual and social dimensions of human life. Radical criticism of religion stands or falls with the claim that religion is not a constitutive part of human nature. In spite of the persistent influence of religion on humanity and its history, antagonistic critique of religion views it as an aberration or an immature form of the human understanding of reality that secular culture and modernity has in principle overcome. One might also consider the possibility that a new society is still in the process of creation in which religion will whither away.
In answer, the Christian theologian needs to consider the possibility that if religion is constitutive for humanity, then one can have no fully rounded and complete human life without it. In that sense, recognition of the constitutive character of religion for humanity becomes a threat to secular culture. An indication of the fact that religion is a constitutive part of human nature is its universal occurrence from the beginnings of humanity. In particular, religion has helped from all cultures and probably accounts for the origin of speech. (See Anthropology, 473ff, 478ff, 358ff) The fact that modern secular culture simply represses its dependence on religion, but has not over come it, we may see especially in the way its public institutions have lost legitimacy. (See Anthropology, p. 474-75)
One way to consider religion as constitutive for humanity is to gain clarity about the basic religious disposition of all human beings. The universal presence of religious themes corresponds to the feature of human behavior that consists in human openness to the world, ec-centricity, or self-transcendence. Individual life gives evidence of this openness in primal trust to the process of building personality and to the constitution of identity. In this sense, a religious disposition is inseparable from humanity. However, from the religious disposition the truth of religious statements about reality of God does not follow. Even when a reference to divine reality is constitutive for religion, we cannot infer the existence of God from our human religious disposition. We cannot rule out the possibility that the disposition is actually entangling us in a natural illusion. In the case of a religious disposition by nature, we are incurably religious, even though the objects or the religious consciousness might be illusory. The possibility that in the religious awareness of divine reality we might have an illusion that is part of our nature is enough to prevent us from claiming the reality of God solely based on our religious disposition. For this reason, we cannot adduce religious experiences in combination with a religious disposition as proof of the truth of religious assertions of divine reality and operation. The finding that religion is a constitutive feature of humanity forms an indispensable condition for the truth of religious statements about divine reality, and especially for the truth of monotheistic belief in one God. Our human existence necessarily bears the mark of finitude, and we cannot hide this from our awareness of ourselves. If religion is not a constitutive human theme, then human integrity suffers no loss if it is missing. That would be a serious objection to the truth of belief in the reality of God. For this reason, Christian theology has to be interested in the question whether we have by nature a religious disposition. This is particularly true in the context of modern culture, which on the one side explains religion politically and socially as a matter of subjectivity, while on the other side anthropology has become the basis of certainty about the reality of God.
Another way religion is constitutive for humanity is to move beyond anthropocentric reasoning and toward the world and universe. Belief in one God implies that we must think of God as the origin and creator of the world. We break through the barrier of religious anthropocentricity with this observation. It suggests no possibility of explaining that religious ideas are no more than the product of narcissistic dreaming. Insofar as the God of religion is viewed as the power that defines and rules the world, the suspicion that the concept of God might be an illusion that is associated with our human nature even if not posited by us. Only as the God of our thinking and belief proves control of the world can the religious awareness of God be sure of its truth.
Considered from the perspective of anthropology and cosmology, God or the gods will need to prove in reality that their believers claim God to be. The question as to the truth of religious statements about God finds an answer in the sphere of experience of the world shows itself determined by God. Religious belief in God is the starting point for the appeal to experience of the world. This experience has the function of either confirming or not confirming the truth that the religious concept of God as the one who determines reality already claims. As we note confirmation, we have a self-demonstration of the God of faith through the medium of experience of the world. As we note non-confirmation, the God of faith is no more than a human concept. The testing of the truth claims that religions make with their statements about the existence and work of the gods or God does not take place primarily in the form of academic investigation and evaluation, but in the process of religious life itself. One can measure God by the standard that God sets up. This takes place when statements about divine reality or action are tested by their implications for the understanding of finite reality. Does God prove in actual experience to be the power that believers claim God to be?
examples might help. For the God of Israel, the exodus and deliverance through
If decision regarding the truth of a religion depends at root on the truth of its statements about the deity, and if one makes decision about these in the context of the worldly experience of believers, then we first require a clarification of the general conditions of these processes. Religious statements relate to the contents of experience not purely subjective because there are implications of meaning in the actual contents of experience that become thematically explicit on the plane of religious statements, but which one might miss by such statements. The idea that religious statements thematize the implications of meaning in secular experience we already find in Schleiermacher’s Speeches. Hegel criticized Schleiermacher at the point of the subjectivity of his concept of perception. He failed to confirm its expression and to understand it as the integration of a nexus of reflection. For Hegel, the synthesis of the nexus of reflection that is to be achieved in perception is postulated by reflection and must even be deduced from it. This first takes place one-sidedly and offers occasion for further reflection. Hegel showed that the concept is the synthesis of the nexus of reflection that links the finite and the infinite is openly criticized by reflection in its existing form as a one-sided and inadequate synthesis. Yet, it does not follow that a series of syntheses may offer itself of which each will be of higher rank than its predecessors, nor that one may postulate the ending of the series with a perception that overcomes the one-sidedness of its predecessors and which is the concept of the thing. After all, such a sequence does not do justice to the true story because in the historical process different cultures and religions do not follow each other. For long stretches of time they exist along side each other, either unrelated or sharing many links. We cannot produce a unified history in terms of a series of types but only in terms of increasing cultural contacts and interactions. This suggests that the debatability of religious perceptions in the process of the religious life and its history remains open to analysis that is more exact. If religious perceptions thematize the implicit relation of the contents of experience to the infinite, the question arises whether they do justice to the full complexity of the relation. This is at any rate a meaningful question if the function of religious perceptions to give to the whole complex of the relations of meaning an expression that one might call symbolic insofar as it expresses one aspect of the totality of the universal, so that we may see the infinite in the finite. The religious perception has to be representative of the totality from which the finite is taken. This is more clearly grasped in the view Hegel has of perception as a synthesis, but it is tacitly presupposed in Schleiermacher’s discussion in the fifth speech of the central or basic perception of a religion to which all the contents of the experience of is adherents may be referred. Religious perceptions are exposed to the question whether they properly fulfill their function of bringing to light the infinite in the finite. The gods of the religions must show in our experience of the world that they are the powers that they claim to be. They must confirm themselves by the implications of meaning in this experience so that its content can be understood as an expression of the power of God, and not the weakness of God. These interpretations cannot be arbitrary. They are connected on the one hand with the potential for interpretation in the character of the deity. Further, interpretations of experience of the world must be in keeping with its implicit content of meaning.
What I have
suggested is a simple criterion for testing religious truth: decision as to the
truth of a religion or as to whether the gods in whom its adherents believe
prove to be gods, is first taken up in the process of experience of the world
and the struggle to interpret it. The adherents of a religious fellowship and
worshippers of deity bring the confirmation or non-confirmation of religious
assertions through their experience. If the expected confirmation does not
eventuate, people will not immediately forsake deity. They will first
experience and suffer this contesting of belief. However, the truth of the diet
for believers will be at issue in the tension between faith and experience.
This tension comes into the process of religious tradition when it is a matter
of making the deity of the God whom the older generation knows and reveres
evident to the younger generation. Second, the question of confirmation or
non-confirmation of belief in a deity often stands under the competitive
pressure of the truth claims of other deities that claim the same sphere of
experience of the world as proof. The challenging of the competence of a deity
by another deity and its alternative interpretive potential is not everywhere,
perhaps, an everyday problem of religious life and religious tradition. It
occurs especially where different cultures meet, mingle, or clash, but also as
an expression of friction within the same culture. Third, the demand of faith
that a deity should prove its power in relation to changed experience of the
world leads in the positive instances of confirmation to a change in the
understanding of the nature and working of the deity. Where historical changes
in ideas of God become thematic as such, the mythical orientation to life is
shattered. This happened in
further suggest that the second criterion for testing religious truth is
nothing less than the open-ended process of human history. For
What I want to do now is distinguish the relationship that religion has with God from the relationship of other forms of human thought and behavior with God.
Religion is one way that people relate to the divine. Christian theology has the responsibility to make plain the nature of that relationship in the Christian community. If we relate the knowledge of God to the concept of religion, the primary issue regarding the truth of religion is the truth of its statements about deity. The reality of God precedes all human worship and precisely for this reason lays claim to it. Our awareness of God is already a form of worshiping God. In fact, all worship of God begins with thinking about God and awareness of God. For the truth of religion as worship of God rests on its correspondence to the true God and the revelation of God. The truth of religion presupposes the truth of God. It relates to the fact that in our actions, in the forms of our worship of God, we correspond to God and do not evade God or try to exploit God for our own purposes.
We find the best description of this truth in the lectures on the concept of religion by Hegel. Hand in hand with awareness of the divine reality goes awareness of our finitude in our distinctness from God, in our isolation and nothingness. This form of the awareness of our subjectivity is part of religious awareness itself. Hegel postulated here the sense of finitude that accompanies experience of the numinous. Knowledge of our distance from God is the starting point for an understanding of what for Hegel constitutes the central theme of the religious life, namely, the worshipping community, which overcomes our separation from the deity. This made it possible for Hegel to grasp the concept of the worshipping community so broadly that it includes all forms of bridging the gulf between God and us, achieving participation in the deity: from the outward acts of public worship with offerings and rituals to the most inward forms of devotion and faith. In the process, he did not view the ritual merely as a human action. Reconciliation of the separated must come from God. For Hegel, the worshipping community overcomes the distance from God in which we find ourselves. Awareness of this distance is the reason for the fact that divine reality does not thematize itself in our attempts to relate to it in the ritual of the worshipping community. This failure is unavoidable when our elevation to the deity does not correspond to the truth of God, when it is not sustained by the condescension of this reality in reconciliation of the finite world. The relation of the ritual of the worshipping community to divine truth has to be a broken one at all the earlier stages.
Here, I want to consider the philosophical relationship to God and the contribution it can make to understanding the religious relation to God. The presentation of Hegel within the philosophy of religion is superior to the phenomenology of religion at this point. The assumption of a divine reality distinct from human ideas cannot rely dogmatically on specific religious ideas of God. I grant that the metaphysical idea of the Absolute, of the Infinite, is certainly deficient as compared with the God of religion. However, we may regard the Absolute of metaphysics as only an approximation to the reality that religious ideas of God intend. Metaphysics can make no final judgment about the existence of God. It must finally leave this judgment to the conflict of religions regarding the truth of their understanding of God, although it can have a regulative function in this conflict. The nature of deity as well as its existence is at issue in the controversies among religions. In a provisional way, the philosophical concept of the Absolute can critically differentiate religious ideas of the reality that is in view. The philosophy of religion can perceive the ambivalence of our relation to deity. On the one side, in connection with experience of the world, we are expressly aware that we are referred back to the divine mystery that already underlies all manifestations of life, experiencing this mystery as the power that encounters and claims us in our experience of the world. On the other side the infinity of the divine reality rests on limited forms of its specific manifestation. We may see and assess this ambivalence differently. Religious concepts make finite the infinite reality of the Absolute. The link between ideas of God and the finite contents of worldly experience may also be the starting point of the criticism of religion that in view of anthropomorphisms takes note of the inappropriateness of all finite notions to the reality of the Absolute. As we try to master the conditions of life in our dealings with the world, we do so also in our dealings with the power that meets us specifically in worldly forces. This takes place by means of the finitude of the phenomenal that are part of worldly reality. Religion is characterized by the fact that in it we are arbitrary and willful relative to the divine mystery. If there is more to it than that, it is everywhere because of the basic fact that God has made known eternal power and deity in the works of creation. Our corruption cannot annual this.
I now want to consider the religious relationship with God in its broad context, and the relationship of Christianity within the world of religions.
One obstacle for Christianity to give a positive evaluation of religion is in Romans 1:20ff, where Paul adopts the polemic of Judaism against pagan religions with a view to turning the judgment upon the Jews. Paul does not have, as an independent goal of his argument the condemnation of pagan religions. This does not alter the fact that he does adopt here the verdict of Jewish polemic. Yet, it is doubtful whether we should read the statements as an exhaustive evaluation of the phenomenon of non-biblical religions. The total biblical material on this subject is much more complex. We find milder sayings in Acts:
Acts 14:16-17 (NRSV)
16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.”
Acts 17:22-31 (NRSV)
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
We also find that Jewish belief did not involve a total rejection of all other gods, for Yahweh takes over the characteristics of El, the Persian God of heaven, and the function of Baal for the fruitfulness of the land. In Romans, Paul in a one-sided way stresses the perverting of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible things. It is a true aspect of religion that Barth emphasizes. However, this aspect alone does not adequately describe the phenomenon of religion. It simply throws a sharp light on its ambivalence. This ambivalence, in the terms of the philosophy of religion, goes back to the fact that in our religious dealings with the Absolute, the true Infinite, the Infinite always meets us in the medium of worldly experience and its finite contents. It is important that Christian theology should describe and discuss this fact.
The criticism by Paul is that we depict the power of God according to the image of corruptible things and thus confuse God with finite things:
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
In general, religions have distinguished quite well between the deity and the worldly reality in which its power manifests itself. The sacred stone and tree, or fire and water, are the bearers of sacred power and the means of its manifestation, but they are not identical with it. Identification of the divine power with one sphere of its manifestation always means restriction to one aspect of worldly experience. Because of the restriction to a particular sphere of manifestation, the one infinite power divides itself into many powers for those who try to learn its nature through its manifestations. However, these many powers are simply particular aspects of the Infinite. We are still aware of the unity of the divine in this polytheistic process. Undoubtedly, the charge that paganism reduces to finitude the incorruptible power and deity of the one God was at the heart of the Jewish polemic against paganism. However, are the cultic images of the religions really copies of finite entities that are confused with the invisible God? There are important reasons for doubting this. The worshiping community intends through its image of God to give visibility to the specific form of deity that the usual forms in which divine power manifests itself conceals. The anthropomorphic features primarily express the difference between the proper form of deity and the sphere of its operation, which is often visible only in attributes that adorn the image. This is not how pagans understand themselves. The worshiping community believes deity to be present in the image, but is not simply identical with it. The tendency of archaic representations to combine these with forms or likenesses of deity and other forms of stylization that make the human figure monstrously nonhuman expresses a sense of the transcendence of the deity relative to humanity. Where the deity is purely human in form, the point is to make the supra-human the measure of the human.
This leads me to consider the possibility that behind the Jewish and Pauline polemic against paganism is a confusion of religion, magic, and myth. The biblical prohibition of images, like prohibitions of misuse of the divine name, probably aims at attempts to control God by means of the image. By means of the image, one may focus the relation to the deity on a certain place of its presence and win its favor by ritual. This must not take place in the form of magical control for profane purposes. The religious criticism of Judaism does not direct itself against the religious perception of divine power in the works of creation, or against the aesthetics of depicting deity in and of itself, but against the perversion of the religious relation in magical control over the deity. This kind of attempt at control is not just a marginal phenomenon in religious life, but so permeates religious practice in all its forms that polemically corruption of the relationship with God seems to characterize actual religious practice as a whole. In the prophetic tradition, the criticism turned inward against the religious practice of the Jewish people and the related sense of security. Misusing the relation to God to gain control over God with a view to self-security is always a perversion of faith. How closely this criticism applies to the structure of the religious relation and its basic ambivalence needs depiction that is more precise. The true point of worshipping community is the worship of the deity and the renunciation of human particularity face to face with its all-embracing claim.
The danger of relating to God through magic is present in all religious practices. The worshipping community achieves its essence when worshipers look away from themselves and to the deity. This dedication to deity finds expression in sacrifice or in simple service that it offers to the deity. Dedication is also the point of religious ecstasy in the ritual dance, in meditation, or in devotion. Each can be made into a means of gaining control over divine power, into a technique whereby to secure the self against the divine claim or to gain security for personal existence. The reality of the deity that is above the specific means of is manifestation may lose its transcendence in favor of fixation on the particular form. When this happens, perversion takes place. It localizes the deity by tying it to the presence of deity in ritual. Death is the penalty for violation of the holy. When one marks off a sacred area from the secular world, it means that outside that area people may go about their own affairs comparatively unconcerned. The same applies to the appointment of sacred times at which to reverence the deity, and think about it. Sacred times and places restrict the deity and service of the deity to the spheres of life that are thus appointed. Marking off sacred areas makes the rest of the world and everyday conduct profane. Sacred times and places in religious festivals give meaning to the whole life of religious people. They can also make it possible to worship the gods, not for their own sake, but because they guarantee the preservation of the state and the well-being of individuals. Religious people want to live out their secular lives as well in terms of the divine truth that they enact and celebrate in the worshipping community. Magic first deliberately uses the sacred for profane ends and subordinates it to these ends. Worshipping community often inextricably intertwine the ecstasy of worship and its corruption into a magical rite. This applies to the religious practice of Christians as well. Perverting worship into an act that they must perform, and in this way transform it into a magical act, is favored by the making of secular life into an autonomous sphere, at least in the early sages of this development. The radical secularization of the world into a world without God can also be the starting point of a reaction of turning to God. The religious relation always stands under the threat of the ambiguity that the self might be the main concern in the relation to deity. The starting point for this is the finitude of the sphere or form in which the deity manifests itself and which the worshipping community can bring into our comprehensive associations and localized there. In the process, what is missing is actually the infinity or absoluteness of the deity.
We can further distinguish between the religious relationship to God and the mythical relationship to God. Myth recounts the acts of the gods and the ritual enacts what myth recounts. Myth places these acts in the inconceivable time when the orders of nature and humanity were established. This is the reason why mythical awareness has so narrow a view and why the attestation of the gods and their action by ritual practices focuses on what happened in primal time. This is also why mythical thinking and the related ritual practice involve control over the working of divine power. Eliade has shown that by clinging to primal mythical depictions of all that has happened people can gain security against the uncertainty of the future. The contingently new thing that the future brings myth either suppresses as an anomaly or occasions a revision of the picture of the primal mythical time.
the basic form of mythical awareness, the biblical tradition of faith involves
a profound change, a change that one might link to the nomadic roots of the God
of Israel in the God of guidance, but which affected the whole understanding of
the world when combined with belief in creation.
Finally, Christianity claims that the eschatological fulfillment has come with Jesus of Nazareth. It has come in the form of a historical event that at once became the past for the community. For the Christian church and its members, this time is also the anticipation of the still awaited eschatological future and consummation of history. They derive their significance from a frame of reference in salvation history. It is important to note, however, that Christianity does not eliminate myth, but integrates and transcends it. God as Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer of the world embraces all the dimensions of the reality of life and abolishes the distinction of sacred and profane in terms of the eschatological consummation. What is normative for the Christian understanding of God is the self-demonstration of the deity of God in the process of salvation history. Christian theology will have to show that the making finite of the infinite that characterizes the religious relation of humanity to God, while the worshiping community of Christians does not overcome it, transcends it in the event of the revelation of God. The religious relation to God works itself out through the consciousness of faith, in the life of Christians and the church, the human relation to God is set right by faith.
Christian theology tells a story about a creator, creation, and human beings
made in the image of the creator. It tells the story of rebellion and dissonance
of creation. It tells of the act of God through
Second, the story suggests answers to basic questions humanity faces. 1) Who are we? We are human beings made in the image of God. We have responsibilities that come with status. No one can legitimately reduce us to our race, gender, social class, or geographical location. 2) Where are we? We are in a good and beautiful, though finite, world. We are not alien to this world, but belong in it. 3) What is wrong? Humanity has rebelled against God. This rebellion reflects dislocation between God and creation in such a way that all creation is out of tune with what God intends. Separation from the will and purpose of God brings separation from the source of life. 4) What is the solution? God has acted to deal with human rebellion in Jesus and in the Spirit to bring humanity to the wholeness God intended from the beginning.
Third, this worldview embodies itself in certain symbols. Architecture, cross, liturgy, icons, street evangelism, study of the bible, using the church for compassionate ministries, all becomes part of the symbolic universe of Christianity.
Fourth, Christianity gives rise to a particular type of praxis, a mode of being in (for?) the world. As with any worldview, adherents fall short. However, it also supplies adherents with a sense of direction that brings glory to God and brings healing and wholeness to the world.
Christianity gives rise to certain beliefs, under general topics of God as Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Spirit, revelation, the church, discipleship, and eschatology.
Christian worldview, consistent with all worldviews, is a public statement.
Worldviews tell stories that attempt to challenge and subvert other worldviews.
All of them provide a set of answers to the basic questions, which one call up
as required and discuss. All commit their adherents to a way of being in the
world. Since Christianity dares to speak about the creator of the world, it has
a mission to share the story with others. Christianity cannot escape historical
questions, and therefore needs to speak true words about the historical acts of
The account that Christianity presents to the world is always open to verification or falsification.
of authority concerning early Christianity is that of unfinished play. Part of
the initial task of the actors chosen to improvise the new final act will be to
immerse themselves with full sympathy in the first four acts, but not so as
merely to parrot what has already been said. They cannot go and look up the
right answers. Nor can they simply imitate the kinds of things that their
particular character did in the early acts. Good successive acts will show a
proper final development, not merely a repetition, of what went before.
Nevertheless, there will be a rightness, a fittingness, about certain actions
and speeches, about certain final moves in the drama, which will in one sense
be self-authenticating, and in another gain authentication from their coherence
with authoritative previous text. This suggests a concept of authority more
like a work of art in need of completion. We might consider the biblical story
as involving successive acts: creation and fall, patriarchs, Mosaic liberation
and law, tribal federation,
Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 1830, “Introduction.”
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Metaphysics and the Idea of God, 1988; Systematic Theology, vol. I, “Chapter 1: The Truth of Christian Doctrine as the Theme of Systematic Theology,” “Chapter 2: The Concept of God and the question of its Truth,” “Chapter 3: The Reality of God and the Gods in the Experience of the Religions,” 1988.
Mortimer J. Adler, Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth: An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion, 1990.
Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials
of Evangelical Theology: Volume One: “
Thomas C. Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology: Volume One: “Introduction” and “Credo,” 1987.
John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, “Chapter I, Introduction,” 1966.
Emil Brunner, Dogmatics: Vol. I: The Christian Doctrine of God, “Prolegomena,” 1940.
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, “Introduction,” 1951.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, q. 29 a. 3.
Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 1971.
Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, 1992.
Gordon Kaufman, An Essay on Theological Method, 1975, 1995. In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology, “Introduction: Theology as Construction,” 1993.
George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and theology in a Post-liberal Age, 1984.
Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology, 1997.
Peter C. Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit: A Constructive Christian Theology, “Part I: Interpreting,” “Part II: Contextualizing,” 1994.
Robert H. King, Christian Theology: An Introduction to its Traditions and Tasks, “Introduction: The Task of Theology,” 1994.
David Tracy, Christian Theology: An Introduction to its Traditions and Tasks, “Theological Method,” 1994.
Edward Farley, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education, 1983.
Schubert M. Ogden, “What is Theology?” The Journal of Religion 52 (January 1972), 22-36.
Christian theology has had a philosophical orientation since Clement of Alexandria used in the second century AD. Theology studies the bible and the history of the community’s reflection upon the bible. It provides a systematic ordering of the subject matter of the bible. It provides resources for apologetics, Christian ethics, pastoral theology, and comparative religion, but is not reducible to any of them. Dogmatics comes after the church historically. It assumes the church and Christian Faith. It is part of the teaching function of the church.
Classical Christian theology in the sense of theism came under sustained attack since the 1500’s through Protestant reflections, the splintering of hierarchy, the coming of science, historical studies, abandonment of metaphysics.
Aquinas accepted his Aristotelian heritage in the place of women:
Only as regards nature in the individual is the female something defective and misbegotten. For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power, of some unsuitability of the material, or of some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.
From the standpoint of recent theology, we can see how classical theology tended to propose a male savior sent by a male God.
The literature that pursues, interprets, and is entitled “theology” seems endless. Such a massive and complex articulation clearly indicates that the term theology is fundamentally ambiguous. This ambiguity does not simply mean that systematic theologians dispute the nature and method of theology, but rather that the term refers to things of entirely different genres. There are two fundamentally different pre-modern senses of the term. We must first review these senses and monitor the career of each sense before we are ready to consider the peculiarly modern usages. The two senses are these. First, theology is a term for an actual, individual cognition of God and things related to God, a cognition which in most treatments attends faith and has eternal happiness as its final goal. Second, theology is a term for a discipline, a self-conscious scholarly enterprise of understanding. In the former sense theology is a habit (habitus)of the human soul. In the latter it is a discipline, usually occurring in some sort of pedagogical setting. The ambiguity, the double reference and genre of the term theology does not originate with theology itself, the church and its teachers. It is the outcome of a similar ambiguity and double reference occurring in the language of human “science” in premodern Western philosophy.
In the West the vision of human being as a cognitive animal, the vision of the possibility of science distinguished from opinion and rhetorical manipulation, is primarily the work of Plato and Aristotle. In Aristotle the term for knowledge, episteme, obtains the double meaning of true knowledge (contrasted with doxa, opinion) and an organized body of knowledge or deliberate inquiry producing such. Episteme can be quite properly translated both as knowledge and as science or discipline. The two senses were of course related. Episteme as knowledge meant a grasp of something’s causes, hence the possibility of an inquiry (discipline) into causes. This same double meaning persisted in the Latin term which translated episteme, namely, scientia. Scientia thus means knowledge, a habit of the soul, by which the true is distinguished from the false. Citing pseudo-Grosseteste, Richard McKeon says that “knowledge (scientia) is a passion or a perfection resulting from the union of something intelligible and an intellectual power.” But scientia can refer to the enterprise of investigation or reflection which produces the knowledge. And as these enterprises can be directed to different sorts of things, types of sciences arise.
It was this tradition and this language which was applied to the term theologia in medieval Christianity, and with the application came the double reference. Without clarifying the double usage, the question of whether or not theology is a science is not at all a clear question. And because of the double meaning, the ambiguity, there can be no straightforward history of “theology.” Rather, there can be, on the one hand, a history of the church’s claim that faith facilitates an individual cognitive act and, on the other, a history of interpretation (inquiry, argument, scholarship) in the church. And though related the two histories are not identical.
In the following brief
exposition the two premodern senses of theology will
be distinguished and the career of each one will be traced in three major
periods—periods in which very different treatments of the particular sense in
question emerge and with them new meanings. The one sense will here be called
“theology/knowledge” and the other sense “theology/discipline.” Furthermore, it
will be argued that the three periods are marked by changes in the
institutional setting of theology (e.g., the rise of universities), and that
there are correlations between the two senses in each period. The three periods
do not coincide exactly with the conventional epochs of church history, but are
distinguished by the prevailing institutional environments of theology. The
first period covers early patristic and early medieval Christendom prior to the
rise of the medieval universities. The second period ranges from the origin of
the universities in the twelfth century (
The Early Christian Centuries
It may seem misleading to speak of theology in the period of the first eleven centuries of Christianity. The term itself rarely occurs, and when it does it refers to pagan authors, like Orpheus, who dealt with religion. The exceptions to this are occasional Greek fathers (Eusebius, pseudo-Dionysius) who mean by it the true, mystical knowledge of the one God. But however rare the term, the phenomenon itself, the knowledge of God, was very much a part of the Christian movement and Christian (patristic) literature. In other words a salvifically oriented knowledge of divine being was part of the Christian community and tradition long before it was named theology.
The second sense of the term theology picks up that meaning of episteme and scientia which refers to a cognitive enterprise using appropriate methods and issuing in a body of teachings. Although this sort of thing had some existence in the church prior to the Middle Ages, it did not go by the name “theology.” Some appropriation of classical learning had occurred in the church since the second century. And learning of a sort was promulgated in the monasteries. The door through which classical learning and classical literature entered monastic education was reading, memorizing, expounding, and meditating on scripture. Furthermore, the great teachers of the church from patristic times on had engaged in what now could be called inquiry, a discipline of thought and interpretation occurring in their commentaries on scripture and in their polemical and pedagogical writings. In Boethius’s time this was more apt to be thought of as (Christian) philosophy. Whatever the term, there was in this early period, in addition to knowledge of God (the cognitive act, the illumined mind), the effort of discerning and setting forth the truth given to the world by God through Jesus. This effort had primarily the character of exposition, the interpretation of the received text from scripture or council. The truth of the revealed texts could be assumed, hence the task was to discern and properly formulate its meaning.
From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
From one point of view the
period from the twelfth century to the Enlightenment and the modern university
is an identifiable epoch in the history of Christianity. Even though another
branch of Christianity, Protestantism, arose in that period, it still falls
very much in this epoch and shares its characteristics. What gives the period
its unity is the coming together of the classical patristic doctrinal scheme
and the school. The result is the appropriation of learning, especially from
philosophy, into a framework to explore and express the classical scheme. The
result, in other words, is theologia as scientia. in the distinctive scholastic sense
of a method of demonstrating conclusions. The distinction between theology as
knowledge and theology as discipline becomes sharpened. And as theology as
discipline grows in the school, it is also opposed by those who see theology as
a salvific knowledge. Prior to the universities were
schools of another kind: palace schools, cathedral schools, monastic schools,
traditional centers of learning, like
From its beginnings, the Christian community has laid claim to a knowledge of God, to a divine illumination of the human intellect operative in the salvation of the human being. Pseudo-Dionysius called this knowledge the “mystical theology.” But in the second period, and with the coming of the universities and the renaissance of Aristotle, an appropriated philosophical scheme establishes the precedent of calling this knowledge of God theologia. The philosophical apparatus includes not only the concept of episteme but the Aristotelian anthropology of three powers of the soul. In that anthropology episteme, knowledge, is a hexis, one of the three states or enduring characteristics of the soul. Thus, for example, virtue in contrast to a particular act of virtue is an enduring, defining, structural feature of the human soul. The school theologians appropriated this anthropology, and translated hexis by the Latin term, habitus. Hence, they portrayed knowledge (scientia) as a habit, an enduring orientation and dexterity of the soul. It was natural then to see theology as a habitus, a cognitive disposition and orientation of the soul, a knowledge of God and what God reveals.
This meaning of theologia was not just a reflection of differences between one strand of medieval thinkers and another. Those like Thomas who thought of theologia as a discipline, a theoretical science, did not abandon the notion that it was also a cognitive state. The following definition attempts to capture the standard meaning of theology throughout this second period, from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries: theologia is a state and disposition of the soul which has the character of knowledge. There were, of course, many debates about this throughout the period: between Thomists and Augustinians, Thomists and nominalists, Catholics and Protestants, Lutherans and Reformed, but the issue turned on what kind of knowledge (habit) theology was. And if there is a dominant position, it is that theology is a practical, not theoretical, habit having the primary character of wisdom. It is not our task here to sort out these controversies. The most important point is that in the second period theology characteristically refers to a practical, salvation-oriented (existential-personal) knowledge of God. It is not an easy point to grasp, since this usage of the term has been long absent from the Christian community, its churches and schools.…
Regardless of how “theology” was conceived and carried out, there were in the church prior to the twelfth century enterprises of learning and teaching. There were “theologians” who engaged in controversy (Gottshalk, Erigena), refuted heresy, and even offered more or less systematic expositions of Christian doctrine (Origen). But prior to the twelfth century these enterprises were not thought of as a part of a “science” in the Aristotelian sense of a demonstrative undertaking. With the second period and the coming of the universities, this earlier learning, teaching, and exposition continued, but a great change took place in how they were conceived. Along with law, medicine, arts (including philosophy), “theology” names a faculty in a university and some ordered procedures which yield knowledge. It was not simply the direct cognitive vision of something given to it, a cognitive habitus of the soul, but a deliberate and methodical undertaking whose end was knowledge. Promoted especially by Thomas Aquinas and the schoolmen, theology in this sense became a discipline.
The transition of Christian learning and teaching based on scripture (sacra pagina) into an Aristotelian science (sacra doctrina), while primarily the work of Thomas and the thirteenth-century schoolmen, was made possible by a number of preceding historical accomplishments. The rise of centers of learning after the reform of Alcuin in connection with both cathedrals and monasteries was an important anticipation of the universities, most of which originate in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries all over Europe. These abbey and cathedral schools were not only the settings for Peter Lombard, Abelard, Hugh of St. Victor, and Gilbert of la Porree, whose work laid the foundations for theology as a discipline, but they were the recipients of the renaissance of Aristotle. The coming of Aristotle to Christian learning may have been the decisive catalyst for the precipitation of the new theological science, but it was not the only stimulus. The use of classical learning had long been accepted, even in the monastic schools. Such learning may have entered the schools as a servant, but it held the seeds of the independence later asserted in the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
One part of this classical learning was dialectic, serving initially as an instrument of exposition but then thematized by Abelard as an independent method. And with this comes the epoch-making distinction between commentary-exposition (lectio) and rational inquiry which uncovered what had been previously hidden (quaestio), between expounding the text and displaying the intelligibility of the content. In the beginning the questions had only an arbitrary order, but soon works appeared providing some rational sequence to the questions, a sequence which displayed the very structure of the articles of faith in relation to each other.…
From the Enlightenment to the Present
The third period covers roughly the seventeenth century to the present. In this period the two genres of theology continue but undergo such radical transformation that the original sense of theology as knowledge (wisdom) and as discipline virtually disappear from theological schools. Theology as a personal quality continues (though not usually under the term theology), not as a salvation-disposed wisdom, but as the practical know-how necessary to ministerial work. Theology as discipline continues, not as the unitary enterprise of theological study, but as one technical and specialized scholarly undertaking among others; in other words, as systematic theology. These developments are the outcome of theology’s long career. They are peculiarly modern and, to some degree, even distinctively North American. But they are the result of events and movements occurring throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and are not unrelated to the theology-as-Aristotelian-science development of the second period.…
to Aggregate of Specialties
In the narrower and more precise sense of the word, “Enlightenment” names a widespread eighteenth-century cultural movement in Western society which challenged traditional authority-oriented modes of thought and in their stead proffered critical, rational, and historical ways of understanding. In this narrow sense, there were Enlightenment theologians and philosophers who occupied a specific period of time and were the object of criticism by later thinkers. But in a broader sense Enlightenment is not simply a discrete period but a continuing part of modernity. Enlightenment introduced modes of thought into culture, education, and religion which are still very much with us in the form of ideals of scholarship, evidence, and criticism. With these ideals came the idea of the university in the modern sense, a community of free scholarship based on universal canons of evidence and inquiry.
It had been customary since the founding of the universities in the Middle Ages to differentiate the faculties: canon law, medicine, theology. Furthermore, within theology itself, the seventeenth century, drawing in part on the Middle Ages, applied all sorts of qualifying adjectives to the term theology. However it sounds, this nomenclature does not partition theology into scholarly disciplines or sciences in the modern sense. It rather designates different ways in which the cognitive habitus of the knowledge of divine things can be oriented to its object or on different aspects of that object which can be the subject of knowledge. In other words, theology itself was not divided into disciplines. In the eighteenth century two things occur which result in a totally new conception of theology/discipline. It is somewhat ironical that continental pietism played its own role in the rise of theology in the modern sense of specialized disciplines. Pietism attempted to correct a scholastic-scientific approach to the study of theology in which rational demonstrations were more central than faith and personal formation. Central to pietism was the individual’s progress in spiritual matters, hence the emphasis on prayer and discipline as the setting of theological study. However, the pietists also wanted to correct any notion of the minister as primarily a knower, a resident scholastic theologian, hence they very much stressed preparation and training for specific tasks of ministry. This introduces, in addition to personal formation, a second telos of the study of theology: training for ministerial activities. This in turn sets the stage for conceiving the study of theology as a plurality of studies preparatory for such activities. It is not surprising, therefore, that theologians in the first half of the eighteenth century influenced by Spener and Francke are the very first to speak of theological sciences.
The primary movement, however, which effected the pluralization and specialization of theology was the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was in part a revolt, an emancipation of thought and inquiry from institutional and even cognitive authorities. In pre-Enlightenment theologies, the norms for theology/discipline were the articuli fidei themselves. These doctrines of church tradition were not products, accomplishments of theology, but the principia, the givens. They were, accordingly, the norms for interpreting scripture and determining Christian responsibility and Christian truth. With the Enlightenment and the modern university came the ideal of autonomous science, of scholarship, proceeding under no other canons than proper evidence. With this came historical sense and historical-critical methods of interpretation. And these things in turn revolutionized the human and historical sciences into disciplines (sciences) in a new sense. A science was a cognitive enterprise working on some discrete region of objects under universal and critical principles. One result of this revolution was that new sciences, new bodies of data, and new methods were available to theology: philology, history, hermeneutics. In the mid-eighteenth century, Ernesti and Semler appropriated these for biblical interpretation. And once this happened it became apparent that the Bible itself could be the object of a “science,” a collection to which critical, autonomous methods of interpretation could be applied. It was only a short step to realize the same thing was true about church history, about preaching, about dogmatic theology.…
Theology/Knowledge: From Sapiential Habitus
to Practical Know-how
In the second period and especially in the Augustinian and monastic view, the end of the study of theology is salvific union with God. The rise of theology as an Aristotelian science in the medieval universities is a step toward the third period’s pluralization of theology. What happens to theology as knowledge during the Enlightenment and after when theology names an aggregate of more or less independent sciences? The specialization of theology in the continental university creates a problem similar to high scholasticism. Monastics and pietists, Catholic and Protestant, suspect scholasticism of losing religion itself in a labyrinth of dialectic and ratiocination. Likewise, the university is suspected of training scholars at the expense of faith and the ministry. The pluralization and specialization of theology comes to resemble a new scholasticism. And it was a scholasticism with a much more severe problem than those inherent in medieval and seventeenth-century scholasticisms. In those times there was at least one unitary science to pursue, and it was correlative with an individual habitus, wisdom. But with its pluralization into sciences, theology as a disposition of the soul toward God simply drops out of “the study of theology.” Furthermore, there is no unitary science but an aggregate of disciplines whose unity is their pertinence to the tasks of ministry. But concern for the individual’s experience and faith and discontent with a merely academic approach to the study of theology has been present in schools of theology throughout the third period.
This concern has found three major expressions. The first is the attempt to make each of the theological sciences in some way personally relevant, pertaining to the faith, development, and life situations of the individual. A second is the attempt to create a special part of the educational experience called formation, a theme long present in Roman Catholic schools and recently flirted with in Protestant schools. The third and most pervasive expression is present in the unifying model of most theological schools where the tasks of the ministry are the ratio studiorum, the rationale for the disciplines. In that model there is a place for theology as a personal, cognitive disposition, the theology/ knowledge genre. According to that model, it is necessary for the minister or prospective minister to know certain things. This knowledge is simply knowledge ordered toward and required by the tasks of ministry.…
Terminologically, the Enlightenment’s pluralization of theological study is determinative, so that theology has come to mean “systematic theology.” Its older usage as a disposition of the soul toward God has been transformed, without retaining the word, into the know-hows required for tasks of ministry. If the transformation of theology as a discipline into a plurality of disciplines was primarily the work of the post-Enlightenment, continental university, the transformation of theology/knowledge into strategic know-how is primarily the work of the twentieth-century seminary. Each of these transformations, however, pervades the programs of study of both seminaries and universities.…
The Recovery of Theologia
Theological understanding is not a theory or invention, something wafted into existence by the theologian’s magic wand. It names a dimension of the life of faith itself, the understanding required of faith as it exists in various life contexts.…
We begin with what might turn out to be an axiom: the axiom of the primacy of the situation in which theological understanding occurs. Whatever is to be said about the independence and primacy of revelation in the order of knowledge and salvation, theological understanding is inevitably the understanding of an individual existing in an already disposed biographical, social, and historical situation. One aspect of that situation may be the enduring structures of nature, the fundamental ontology and existentiality of human being (Tillich), but these do not exhaust the situation. The situation is always also a concrete situation and moment in the individual’s biographical life set in a social space and historical time. There is no other matrix of theological understanding than this concrete situation. All theological work, be it classically conciliar or parochial and individual, occurs from and in the concrete situation.
It is the situation in which occur events and states of affairs which constitute the individual’s life and which evoke responses and interpretations. There is simply no way of conducting theology above the grid of life itself. The dialectic of theological understanding is set in motion here, by the matters which evoke response and interpretation. To speak of the primacy of the situation in this sense is to say nothing of its status in theological understanding, whether or not its primacy qualifies it as a criterion, whether its primacy is a prison which faith cannot transcend. Nor does this describe a merely “secular” moment at the beginning which is empty of reference to revelation and redemption. The reason is that the understanding in question is preceded by and grounded in faith and its predispositions.
The references and imagery of faith are present prereflectively in the initial move of theological understanding, but not as explicit, self-conscious themes. But as we struggle to interpret and assess the situation, these prereflective references demand a hearing. Generally speaking, this is because the human being is in the world in the posture and reality of faith; its reading of the situation prompts it to self-consciously draw on the references of faith as guides to the interpretation and assessment of the situation. “References of faith” means simply the realities of faith carried in the imagery and even doctrinalizations of the ecclesial community. The matrix and unity of these realities is ecclesiality itself, a universalized form of a redemptive community. The first movement, then, of the dialectic of theological understanding is a thematization of the faith-world, of ecclesiality, of faith’s language, references, realities. This movement attends to the total mythos of Christian faith, i.e., the essence of Christianity, the primary symbols, the themes of proclamation, the dogmas of tradition. Most traditional forms of education in the church have in fact focused on this moment, for instance, the Sunday school and a medieval cathedral school. This is the moment which draws on, and takes into account, the historical and distinctive content of tradition.
It was said earlier that the primacy of the situation was the primacy of a matrix, a context, not the primacy of a norm, a criterion, an ideal. But it is just this normativeness which unfaith would grant to the situation—the absolute status of what must be appeased, adapted to, satisfied. The self-oriented agendas, the principle of satisfaction, prompt the human being to grant not merely ontological but criteriological primacy to the situation. And at this point, in a second moment of the dialectic, faith intervenes, in what recently has been called a hermeneutics of suspicion. It repudiates the situation’s claim to absoluteness (or the claims of elements in the situation) as it discerns its corruption and its relativity. In this second moment of theological understanding, the situation is refused normativeness and becomes a candidate for theological criticism. This is to say, it is viewed in relation to the transcendent, and therefore in both its creaturely and corrupted status. This moment of critique is exercised in a multiplicity of ways: as personal and autobiographical criticism, as ideological critique and the uncovering of injustice in the fabric of society. To use recent jargon, this second moment “raises the consciousness” to self-conscious awareness of the relativity and corruption of the situation.
If this dialectic stopped here, theological understanding would be simply the repudiation of one absolute criterion (the situation or its contents) on behalf of another, the historical tradition which disposes faith. The relative and corrupt cultural situation is contrasted to the absoluteness of tradition (Christianity, scripture, dogma, primary symbols, etc.). The peril of simply adapting to a particular situation, thus granting it autonomy, is replaced by the peril of adapting a situation to a heteronomous authority. But the dispositions of faith itself resist such an exchange. These dispositions are formed by a redemption which occurs in reference to the transcendent, the eternal, and they carry with them what Tillich calls the “Protestant principle” and what H. Richard Niebuhr calls radical monotheism.
Faith, accordingly, is prompted to refuse all absolutizations, all claims that human, historical, interpretive matters elude relativity and corruption. Hence, theological understanding would be incomplete, even self-destructive, if it failed to apply a hermeneutics of suspicion to its own tradition. For what in fact is that tradition? Even if it is granted the status of revelation, divine disclosure, it is something which occurred in the historical past. In other words, the tradition and its imagery, primary symbols, and dogmas originated in former concrete situations. In whatever sense it is divine work, it is clearly also a human work. To grant it the status of the eternal itself is simply one more idolatry. The third move, then, of theological dialectic is distancing and criticism in relation to tradition itself—the attempt to overcome the propensity to worship the norms. Again, to use modern jargon, one moment of the dialectic is a raising of the consciousness toward tradition itself. Only then are the elements in the tradition which serve oppression, ideology and the legitimization of privilege unmasked. Hence, the distancing we are talking about is informed not only by the critical temper of the Enlightenment but by the social criticism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
According to this account of the dialectical spiral of the theological understanding, one set of moments elevates the content of the normative mythos (tradition) at work in faith itself. However, all that has been said so far is that theological understanding embraces both a self-conscious knowledge of that mythos and a self-conscious refusal to regard it as absolute. At this point theological understanding is in the ambivalent position of interpreting the mythos from two apparently competing perspectives, the one insisting on the normativeness, the other on its relativity of tradition. In this position the believer is not ready simply to return to the situation through the mythos. Hence, a fourth moment in the dialectic is called for which surmounts this impasse and grasps the mythos in its enduring reality and its power.
Any of these moments covers a vast terrain of possible tasks, issues, undertakings, and even sciences. This fourth moment, the determination of the normativeness of tradition, is no exception. What is discerned here is that about the persisting imagery, symbols, and doctrines of that mythos which expresses enduring truth. This truth pertains to more than simply the objective facticities of history or nature. As finally a truth about God and the presence of God, it has to do with what the world is and what human being is. Hence, one of the many specific tasks which would serve this moment in the dialectic is fundamental theology. This is not necessarily to claim that each moment in theological understanding is itself a discipline, a massive body of facts, data, and evidences. The point, rather, is that the dialectical reflection in which faith rises into understanding involves some grasp of the way in which the Christian mythos is a mirror of truth and reality. This truth and reality are inevitably present as the believer exists in the world in a self-conscious process of appraisal.
does not end with simply a relativizing critique of
tradition. At that point nothing has yet happened to bring the assessed tradition
into connection with the situation. Such an expression may be unfortunate. It
sounds like a return to a theological pragmatism where the end of theological
understanding is determined by a tradition whose autonomy was not really
challenged in the third dialectical move. Medieval (neoplatonic
and mystical) accounts of the believer’s itinerarium
decisively affirm the end and goal of that journey to be God and the vision of
God. And yet few of them would formulate the matter in such as way as to
obliterate creation. If the end is God, it is also God gracefully present among
creatures working to fulfill ends which are theirs. Accordingly, what
theological understanding discerns is “the
This final move of theological dialectic attempts to discern beyond the possibilities of corruption the place, legitimacy, beauty, redemptive possibilities, in short the theonomy, of the situation. And this is the case whether that situation be the individual’s own concrete biographical life or a political situation of an oppressed people. Guiding this discernment is an assessed, de-absolutized tradition which has a disclosive character.
Donald Bloesch provides his evangelical theological pedigree: Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Kierkegaard, Forsyth, and Karl Barth primarily. Lesser lights for him are Pascal, Philip Spener, Richard Sibbes, Johathan Edwards, Zinzendorf, and Abraham Kuyper. He excludes rationalists: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Abelard, Socinus, Erasmus, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, John Locke, and Christian Wolff. He excludes mystics like Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite, Evagrius, John Scotus, Erigena, Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, Schleiermacher, Alan Watts, Herald Heard. The mystics he accepts are Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Pascal, and Gerhard Tersteegen. He accepts some influenced by existentialism: Kierkegaard, Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr. He also accepts John Wesley. He understands evangelical theology within the reformed tradition, evangelical awakenings, and neo-orthodoxy. Although evangelical thought disagrees with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, evangelical theology wages a battle with liberal theology. Liberal theology in his view emphasizes individual autonomy. He also criticizes evangelical theology for its pietistic emphasis, a focus on getting conversion or experience right, and thus not engaging the intellectual battle with modernity. Liberal theology concerns itself with correlation to modernity, whereas evangelical theology correlates to the bible. Evangelical theology needs to expose the lack of faithfulness within the Christian community to the bible. It will also expose the universalism and Unitarianism tendencies of the Christian community. He is also concerned that evangelical theology not focus on non-essentials, for that is how it lacks credibility to the world and to other Christians. An example is the focus upon the end times and upon matters like inerrancy, double predestination, second blessing holiness, and the millennial reign of Christ.
In the matter of interpretation of religion, there is no reason to hold that a hermeneutics of religion should disallow such semiotic explanations as Louis Marin’s analysis of the parables of the New Testament or such structuralist analyses as Claude Levi-Strauss’s analysis of mythic structures. It is true that a hermeneutics of religion of the kind described above will not agree that these interpretations are fully adequate. Yet it will not only agree but insist that such interpretations are legitimate moments of explanation in the process of interpretation. Any explanatory method that helps to show how the text produces its sense and referent is entirely appropriate to a hermeneutics of religion. As Schleiermacher’s insistence on grammatical methods shows, as Gadamer’s own recognition of the roles of structure and form demonstrates, as Joachim Wach’s attention to classic religious expressions indicates, there is no reason in principle for the hermeneutical tradition to disallow the use of explanatory methods to develop, check, correct, and challenge one’s initial interpretation. Creativity in interpretation is not opposed to explanation and method. The very pluralism intrinsic to the religious phenomenon itself, moreover, should encourage the use of the plurality of explanatory methods within the fuller process of interpretation. These methods may also serve to show how the religious use of any form—any genre or style—is a limit-use that produces the referent of the religious classic as a limit-mode-of-being-in-the-world.
All of the great hermeneutics of suspicion (those of Marx, Freud, Nietzsche) remain relevant methods of interpretation. Each develops a critical theory (psychoanalytic theory, ideology-critique, genealogical method) to inform its hermeneutics of suspicion. The critical theories are employed to spot and emancipate the repressed, unconscious distortions that are also operative in the classic religious texts and in their history of effects through the classic religious traditions. Not only is this need for a hermeneutics of suspicion along with a hermeneutics of retrieval allowed by this general interpretation theory; it is also allowed—indeed demanded—by the nature of the religious phenomenon itself.
It is not the case, of course, that theology only becomes hermeneutical in the modern period (see Henri de Lubac and Gerhard Ebeling). It is the case, however, that the explicit concern with hermeneutics since Schleiermacher is occasioned by the crisis of the sense of cultural distance from the religious tradition caused by the seventeenth-century scientific revolution and the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. This sense was intensified by the nineteenth-century emergence of historical consciousness (see Ernst Troeltsch and Bernard Lonergan). This same sense has been further intensified in the twentieth century by the emergence of the great liberation movements and their attendant hermeneutics of suspicion (with respect to sexism, racism, classism, and so forth). This sense has been still further intensified by the Western sense of cultural parochialism occasioned by the emerging global culture (and thereby the reality of the other world religions), as well as the tensions, conflicts, and possibilities present in the North-South and East-West relationships. All these epoch-making events have caused the need for explicit reflection on the hermeneutical character in all the disciplines (even philosophy of science).
Johann Gerhard, among the older Protestant dogmatic theology of the 1500’s, suggested that the proper theme of theology is the humanity that is to be led to eternal salvation. A justifiable awareness that it would correspond in this way to the divine revelation of salvation and therefore to the saving will of God. It suggested themes of divine source, the actual goal, and the means leading to it. It then arranged the themes of Christian doctrine accordingly. Here the human praxis that is oriented to salvation replaces the concept or revelation of God as that which gives theology its unity. God was no longer the formal object of theology, as in Duns Scotus. Focusing on soteriology left theology orbiting around humanity and human salvation instead of around God and the knowledge of God. It also allowed theology to fall into dependence upon another form of the knowledge of God that derives from another source. Theology no longer dealt with speculative doctrines of God and cosmology at the cost of dependence upon other sources of knowledge.
Thomas taught that God made the essence of God known through historical revelation. For Duns Scotus, recourse to the incarnation is indispensable. Only from the standpoint of the saving action of God that seeks to bring created beings into fellowship with God can we maintain their participation in the deity of God and therefore in theology as the science of God. Schleiermacher found the unity of theology in the task of training church leaders, even though we find that he could not keep to this task.
Other branches of Christian theology do not have as their theme the truth of Christian discourse about God. For example, historical disciplines do not have this as an explicit theme. Theology up to the modern era, including Reformation theology, reasonably concluded that its main task was to summarize and present the doctrinal content of scripture. In the modern era, the biblical text is simply a document from the past, so one can no longer determine the present relevance of historical exposition.
The word “dogma” can refer to judgment, but later it came to mean opinion. The church and empire united to make dogma legally binding, thereby seeking to establish its truth. In 545, Justinian declared that the dogmata of the first four councils carried the authority equal to that of the bible. The problem is that one cannot establish truth by legal codification. The basis of this judgment is that one can put the future truth of the revelation of God in Christ into an equally final and definitive formula. The Roman Catholic Church has supplemented the consensus criterion by the ecclesiastical teaching authority of the bishops and the pope. An actual church consensus cannot serve as an adequate criterion of the truth of a doctrine. Consensus can express mere conventionality among the members of a group, society, or culture. Thus, the earth’s position at the center of the universe was consensus opinion. Consensus considered it necessary for a nation to have unity to have unity of religion as well. Consensus reflect nothing more than the human desire for comfort and the lack of challenges to basic convictions. The limited community of Christians, then, cannot serve as adequate criterion of truth no matter how important and worthwhile ecumenical consensus might be in other respects. The confession of the church is an expression of the doctrinal consensus that is the basis of church fellowship. The Lutheran confessions aim at a total church consensus regarding evangelical doctrine and the administration of the sacraments. It supplemented consensus with evangelical teaching as contained in the normative function of the Word of God in the gospel. It assumed an antithesis between scripture and church. This presupposes that the gospel is a given for the witness of the primitive church, from which it may be distinguished, and that the gospel as a unified entity stands over against the various theological perspectives of the New Testaments authors and may be recognized as such from their writings. The Roman Catholic Church argues that the theological unity of scripture does not arise simply out of the biblical writings, but from the understanding and spirit of the interpreter. Once granting this point, the individual theologian cannot be the standard, so the teaching office of the church becomes significant. One cannot separate the narrow sense of working out the intention of the author in exegesis from the understanding of the expositor.
We need to consider carefully the varied ways in which we use reason. If deduction from universal principles is the only valid reasoning, then Christian teaching cannot be deduced in this way, for it has contingent historical origins. Reason is not simply explaining and presenting presupposed truth. Older Protestant theology traced their theological teaching to the authoritative court of scripture, while Roman Catholics traced their theological teaching to the authoritative court of the scripture as interpreted by the church. Enlightenment criticism of both scripture and church doctrine has made it impossible freely to use them as authorities for divine revelation as medieval theology and the older Protestant theology did, and in their historical situation could rightly do. Both groups went through an anti-modernism period and continued to cling to these earlier determinations regarding truth.
What is the basic confession conflict in the matter of scriptural interpretation? According to Reformation teaching, the essential content of scripture is clearly recognizable in and of itself. Hence, scripture is its own norm of interpretation. In contrast, Roman Catholics hold that the manifold and obscure nature of scriptural statements demands an authoritative principle of interpretation in order to bring forth from the many voices of scripture the binding truth of revelation. The clarity of scripture that this doctrine claims relates only to its essential content such as the Trinity, Incarnation, and the saving work of Christ. For Reformation theology, the authority of Holy Scripture is based on it being the word of God rather than a human word. Many Lutheran theologians went the direction of verbal inspiration out of fear of losing the scripture principle as if scripture stood outside human judgment. This trend toward objectivity in verbal inspiration corresponded to the subjective certainty regarding authority of scripture by means of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. This view suggests that the content of scripture as inspired by the Spirit bears witness to itself. The issue was the power of scripture in the human heart. However, with the weakening of the doctrine of the divine authority of scripture as something that precedes all human judgment, the doctrine of the internal testimony of the Spirit took on the sense of an additional principle of subjective experience and certainty that supplements the external Word and evaluates the truth claim and truth content of scripture. The doctrine of the Spirit’s inner witness became the turning pint in a major shift away from the Reformation thesis of the precedence of God’s truth over human judgment to the modern Neo-Protestant conviction that subjective experience is the basis of faith and Christian doctrine. The idea of accommodation could also be used and understood in a much broader sense as adaptation to the historically relative forms of presentation of the authors of scripture. There was not halting the victorious march of the accommodation theory. It uncovered the weakness of the orthodox position, which handled the divine truth of scripture as the presupposition rather than the goal of theology. The theory of accommodation did not directly contradict the doctrine of inspiration, but eroded it and in this way made room for insight into the historical conditioning and relativity of the views of the biblical authors, and eventually for recognition of conflicts and contradictions in their statements. The truth question was now part of the task of hermeneutics. Subjective experience became the independent basis of the Christian certainty of truth. The divine authority of scripture came to involve the Christian’s personal experience of belief in the Bible.
Two significant changes occurred in 1675-1700. The
first change involved the introduction of the theologian as a theological theme
into the concept of theology. If we understand theology in terms of its object,
then anyone could teach it. However, Pietists said
that a theologian’s faith is necessary to theological knowledge and doctrine.
The second change was that the concept of religion took on basic significance
for the understanding of theology, the more so as the older equation of
scripture with the Word of God dissolved. These changes set the stage for Semler’s thinking about religion and theology. Although
theology has to present the doctrinal formulations of a particular church, in
so doing it must also claim to present the content of the Christian faith as
such. Bretschneider argues that dogmatics must
examine thoroughly whether the dogmatic system of the church is well-grounded
and true. Schleiermacher entered the discussion in ground-breaking fashion by
linking the orientation to religion with the criterion of subjective
experience. His Christian Faith laid
the methodological foundation of dogmatics in the concept of piety (religion).
He presented Christianity as a special manifestation of religion in general. He
accepted the viewpoint that the object of dogmatics is the doctrine that is
valid in a church community at a given time. He viewed the Christian articles
of faith themselves as the expression of pious Christian states in verbal form.
He could also view dogmatics as an expression of the religious subjectivity of
the theologian, for precisely as such it corresponds to the source of Christian
beliefs. Although Schleiermacher was actually proposing a drastic revision in
church doctrine, he sought the methodological basis for this not in the process
of testing its truth claims but solely in the alleged right to differing
individualized formulations of the content of faith. For Schleiermacher, the
sole criterion of dogmatic presentation was the faith consciousness, and he
understood church doctrine as its expression. This presupposition means that
the truth question is always decided already in advance through the subjective
faith consciousness, which as such is bound to a community of faith whose
individual articulation it presents. Schleiermacher combined the religious
subjectivism of Pietism, the reference to the church community and its
doctrinal tradition, and the standpoint of individuality as the principle of
critical appropriation of tradition. The theology of awakening in Julius Muller and the biblical theology of
Martin Kahler both tried to draw the faith principle
and scriptural authority closer together again. Yet, the subjective experience
of faith remained the more basic. The
The thought of Augustine that God is truth rests on perception of the coherence and unity of all that is true. God is the locus of this unity. All human concern for coherence can be only an imperfect and incomplete repetition.
Hywel D. Lewis referred in 1950 to wonder as the starting point of a religious sense. This description is close to the expositions of William James and Rudolf Otto. Ian T. Ramsey uses the linguistic challenge to theology by relating religious experience to situations of sudden disclosure. Such approaches remind us of the relation between perception and feeling in Schleiermacher’s theory of religion in his speeches to cultured despisers of religion.
The older Protestant dogmatics differentiated natural and revealed theology within the concept of theology. Christian theology has either stressed a general knowledge of God or at least treated it as self-evident. Into the beginning of the 20th century, no one ever disputed either the fact that we have here a different form of knowledge of God from that of the historical revelation in Christ, or the referring of the Christian message to this knowledge by claiming it as a provisional knowledge of the one God whom the Christian message proclaims. Aquinas called it natural knowledge as distinct from supernatural knowledge mediated by historical revelation. The reflections of Karl Barth suggest a defect in his Christology. This knowledge is a divinely based fact that we cannot escape and that proves our guilt when we turn idolatry. We need to separate natural theology from natural human knowledge of God. The philosophical knowledge of God is natural because it corresponds to the nature of the divine or the truth of God. The question of the true form of the origin of the world was the motive force behind the development of pre-Socratic philosophy. The conceptual presuppositions of this inquiry are in the following three points. First, the Greek view of God made it possible for the Greeks to equate alien gods that had similar functions with their own gods and to give them the same names. Second, a view of God that focused on the function of authoring immanent processes was clearly bound up with ancient Near Eastern cosmogonic and theogonic ideas regarding the origin of the cosmos as a whole. Third, that which is the origin of all things has to be without beginning or end, immortal, and all-embracing, possessing divine attributes an even higher degree, and thus surpassing in deity the gods of the native mythical tradition. Early natural theology took a divine origin of things for granted. Its theme was the question of its specific nature. To distinguish itself from the mythical tradition, a high degree of agreement quickly developed regarding the unity, spirituality, immortality, and eternity of the divine origin. From its function as the main basis of all change, it was soon seen to be itself immutable. The question of the nature of the divine origin merged into an argument for its existence. Only from this standpoint can we understand their critical attitude to the mythical tradition. For Augustine, the Christian doctrine of God did not differ in principle from the natural theology of the philosophers in its Platonic form. The Christian doctrine of God was identical with a purified form of true natural theology. Christian theology is commensurate with the nature of God. He believed that natural theology found its clearest expression in the biblical testimony. The view that we find in Augustine concerning the relation between the biblical revelation of God and the concept of natural theology changed in the Middle Ages. Gilbert of Poitiers suggested that only the unity of God is accessible to rational knowledge. Aquinas differentiated what is accessible to rational knowledge very clearly from the articles of faith and put it in preambles to his treatment of the articles.
Paul Tillich said that theology deals with what concerns us ultimately, the whole of reality, and therefore with being. It cannot be one being among others. It must be the ground of our being, that which determines our being or not-being. It must be the ultimate and unconditional power of being. Since it expresses itself through the structure of being, we can encounter it, be grasped by it, know it, and act toward it.
Aquinas suggested we attain to knowledge and recognition of God, to an idea of God, only by experience of the world, at least in this present life. In this life, we attain to it only by way of knowledge of the material world, by experience of things that we know through the senses. This view was the result of Aristotelian empiricism. At the heart of the discussion for the last two centuries has been the ontological proof that relates the existence of God to the concept of the nature or essence of God. Descartes put the ontological proof that Anselm had formulated and Aquinas had rejected on a new foundation. The cosmological argument from the contingency of worldly things to a cause of their existence that needs no other was important in discussion of the ontological proof of Descartes because it led to the idea of a necessary being that was the key to the proof in a tenable form. This worked until Kant showed that one could not extend causality beyond the boundaries of the sensory world. Leibniz thought that both the cosmological and ontological argument led by different paths to the concept of a necessary being. The thought of a perfect being, than which no greater can be thought, was the starting point of the ontological proof form Anselm. Descartes realized that decisive importance attaches to the concept of necessary existence as an element in absolute perfection if the proof is to be conclusive. Christian Wolff made the cosmological argument the basis of his natural theology. Alexander Baumgarten took the same course. Thus, the concept of necessary existence needed more precise definition in terms of the thought of perfection in order to be the kind of necessity with which the being that enjoys all perfection exists. Hegel argued that one could allow that God alone is the necessary being, though this does not exhaust the Christian view. He rejected the thesis of Kant that the cosmological proof rests on the ontological because in this line of argument the thought of necessary existence already existence. Therefore, one has no need to move on the idea of perfection in order to deduce the existence of the necessary being. In the cosmological proof, this being is already present. The cosmological argument was not the only one that moved from the world to God as its origin. The Physico-theological argument infers from the order of nature an intelligent author of the order. The fourth argument argues from the different grades of perfection in this that there must be something that is the most perfect and which can function as a standard by which to judge the perfection of other things. This led to the concept of the perfect being that played so big a role in the history of the ontological argument, but which Thomas based on experience of the world. This argument goes back to Greek philosophy. The same is true of the first of the five ways, the argument from motion, which goes back to Aristotle and Plato. The proof from a first cause in a chain causes assumes that there can be no infinite regress of causes. This seems clear enough if the first cause does not have merely the function of a beginning, but has a necessary ongoing function to ensure the motion and causality of the other links in the chain. William of Occam noted already that the first cause is not needed to produce further effects. If existence is to continue, there must be a first sustaining principle, for on its activity depends the continuance of causality and of all intermediate causes. However, this assumption of the existence of God as the principle of the ongoing existence of finite things became superfluous when with the introduction of the principle of inertia by Descartes and its refinement by Isaac Newton all things have a tendency to remain as they are, whether rest or movement. In a mechanistic worldview, the concept of God was no longer needed to explain natural events. Within this context, attention shifted to purpose in nature or on the contingency of all finite existence. The first way was taken by the physico-theology that flourished n the age of the Enlightenment. Those who stressed contingency as a cosmological proof for God took the second way. Descartes inferred the thought of God as bound up with the idea of the infinite that is implanted in us. He viewed as uncertain any reflections on the impossibility of infinite regress in the causal chain. We may not be able to conceive of an infinite sequence of causes of which none is the first, but his does not permit us to conclude that one of them has to be the first. In this observation, we may see the switch that was taking place from a cosmological basis of proofs of God to an anthropological basis. Descartes did not see that this switch threatened the objectivity of the concept of God. For this reason, Leibniz went back to the cosmological arguments so that he could safeguard the objectivity of God. However, the principle of sufficient reason from which Leibniz started did not derive from experience of the world. Rather, the contingency proof of Leibniz becomes the expression of a need of human reason in relation to the experience of the world. Leibniz involuntarily contributed decisively to an anthropological interpretation of the cosmological argument. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant destroyed the arguments of speculative reason for the existence of a supreme being. However, he also maintained the necessity of the rational ideal of such a being on which all empirical reality bases its supreme and necessary unity and which we can think of only after the analogy of a real substance that by the laws of reason is the cause of all things. Along the same lines of anthropological argumentation is Kant’s proof that the moral laws rightly postulate the existence of a supreme being in view of their necessity. In it he completed the turn that Descartes had initiated form a cosmological to an anthropological basis for the thought of God. Hegel, no longer viewed the proofs as isolated theoretical constructs that prove the existence of God. He saw in them the expression of the elevation of the human spirit above sensory data, and above the finite in general, to the thought of the infinite and the universality of the concept. Hegel regarded the thought of God as a necessary thought of reason. However, he viewed the separation of subject and being as a subjective thought-form of the understanding that is overcome by the knowledge of reason. Yet Hegel, too, criticized the form of proofs of God insofar as they treat finite things as a solid starting point and the existence of God as a dependent inference from this. The elevation above the finite that takes place in the proofs of God implies that the finite ultimately has no independent being. According to Hegel, the proofs of God, expressing the elevation of the human spirit above the finite to the thought of the infinite, correspond to the life of religion. He saw the dependence of philosophical theology on this or that concrete historical form of religion. He also anticipated connecting each form with the understanding of God in a religious tradition and sees far-reaching changes with the transition to the nexus of tradition in other religious cultures.
Early Christian theology recognized the critical function of natural theology, but not its claim to be able to establish knowledge of God solely because of philosophical reflection. One can know God only through God. Therefore, knowledge of God is possible only by revelation of the divine realty.
The anthropological interpretation of the proofs of God, or of the concept of God in general, might also become the basis of an atheistic argument that presents the thought of God as the expression of purely subjective needs or as the product of the projection of earthly human ideas into thought of the infinite. Fichte and Feuerbach traveled down this path. We can see the consequences of surrender of the demand that classical metaphysics had always made for inner freedom from contradiction in the concept of God. Essential elements came under the suspicion of having been combined for reasons that could not be explained except psychologically, Feuerbach’s psychological theory of religion took this path, and his modern followers have done the same. Once the concept of God was no longer a rational ideal that is free form error, as it still was in Kant, it could no longer be regarded as the product of a defective application of its rules and therefore as an illusion that we may at root overcome.
The only question was whether the worship corresponding to the natural knowledge of God is sufficient for salvation, as Herbert of Cherbury argued. Lutheran orthodoxy denied this, for natural knowledge of God includes the command to worship God, but not give the right form. David Hume argued that what stood at the beginning of the history of human religion was not the monotheism of natural religion, but a polytheistic worship of natural forces born of uncertainty, fear, and hope. The dominant view of the reality of religion and its history was radically change by Hume. It was turned upside down. Human passions generated religion. Without the complete reorientation by Hume of the sense of the historical reality of religion we can hardly understand Schleiermacher’s evaluation of natural religion in relation to positive religions. Schleiermacher took up the matter of natural religion and stated that in comparison with positive religions it is only an indefinite, needy, and feeble idea that can never exist on its own. Natural religion can never be the basis of a religious fellowship, but contains only that which can be abstracted from the teachings of all pious fellowships of the first rank as that which is present in all of them but defined differently in each. It allowed him to take a positive view of the plurality of positive religions. Schliermacher rehabilitated the concept of positive religion through his religious theory. Here was a historical relativizing of philosophical theology. This implied again the historicity of reason itself. Albrecht Ritschl’s rejection of the metaphysical and philosophical turn in patristic literature failed to recognized the most important historical presupposition for non-Jews to receive the God of Israel as the one God of all people. Adolf von Harnack failed to appreciate the importance of this question in his depiction of the theological and dogmatic history of the early church as a history of hellenization or of the Hellenistic alienation of the gospel. Harnack’s presentation reflected the ongoing influence of Ritschl’s criticism of the patristic reception of pagan philosophical theology. Behind Ritschl’s criticism lay a practical interest. His apologetic concern was to free theology from a metaphysics that seems to be obsolete to the scientific positivism of his age. If we can respect this concern as a justifiable desire to present the Christian faith in a way relevant to the times, precisely for this reason we must deplore its embodiment in an attack on the metaphysics of antiquity, for Platonic metaphysics had itself had as its content the superiority of spirit to the sensory world. Ritschl made an accommodation to the spirit of the age even as he claimed to be taking issue with it. In so doing, he undermined the historical foundation of the development and continued existence of the Gentile Christian church. He rejection of the relating of what is specific to Christianity to other factors and to general concepts that are indifferent to the distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian. What theology can avoid describing what is specifically Christian in general concepts? Therefore, while one might regard one’s own theology as strictly a theology of revelation, one can easily detect traces of natural theology in that of all others. Unhappily, this lime of argument has made a grater impact on the history of theology than Ritschl’s attack on the influence of metaphysics on the Christian doctrine of God. A theology that was so closely bound up as Ritschl’s was with general discussion of the relation between morality and religion would itself fall inevitably under the judgment of being natural theology. For Barth, religion becomes a human possibility in opposition to God. Natural theology expresses our self preservation and self affirmation against affirming God, preferring self justification and self interpretation to the grace of God. It attempts to erase the distinction between the Word of God and anthropology. This description of natural theology bears no relationship to classical natural theology, as already discussed. Second, Barth accepted Feuerbach’s view of religion as nothing more than a human projection of human wants and needs universalized in god. Marx viewed humanity by the social alienation supposedly reflected in religious alienation. Nietzsche and Freud viewed humanity as a neurotic self, out of which the idea of God arose in a sense of guilt. Modern persons cannot avoid the question of whether the thought of God is not the product of human self misunderstanding. The application by Barth of such views of religion, and then exempting Christianity from the critique, is superficial. Further, his reduction of the modern trend to focus on humanity and its awareness of God to working out the dissolving religious ideas in their anthropological basis is not tenable. Schleiermacher differs significantly from Feuerbach in that he thinks we are religious by nature and therefore dependent upon another, rather than viewing religious consciousness of God as self-misunderstanding. The question here is the truth about humanity. Barth has little to offer in this regard but rhetoric.
Pannenberg provides one way of connecting philosophy with God, while also not asking philosophy to pre-determine the nature of God.
Metaphysics in the modern era arose in persons like Nicolai Hartman, Wolfgang Cramer, and process philosophers like Samuel Alexander, Alfred North Whitehead, and Charles Hartshorne. In Roman Catholic thought, transcendental Thomism modernized metaphysics in the writings of Marechal, Rahner, Lotz, and Coreth. Theological discourse requires a relationship to metaphysical reflection if its claim to truth is to be valid. Talk of God depends on a concept of the world. Positivism attempted to rule out such discussion through its principle of empirical verification as a criterion for meaningfulness. The recognition that the principle itself did not arise from empirical observation, combined with the recognition that many scientific statements would also become meaningless, led to attempts to reform this attack on metaphysics. Even the attempt to move language back to everyday context did not lead to the dissolution of metaphysics. Gilbert Ryle and Ernst Tugenhat have attempted to move in this direction. Dilthey predicted in 1883 the end of metaphysics because metaphysics failed to recognize the relativity of the forms taken by the institutional, cultural, and philosophical forms the expression of human worth and dignity could take. Nietzsche understood the end of metaphysics to mean the end of the Platonic teaching that there is a hidden world behind the world of experience. Heidegger and Dilthey link together in their view of relationship between metaphysics and logic. Heidegger maintains that metaphysics has logic as its principal and pervasive trait. Heidegger attributed this domination within metaphysics to the understanding of Being as Ground. The logical character of metaphysical thought also provides the explanation of how God comes into philosophy, namely, as the ground of Being. Philosophy should cease talking about God because it assumes the difference between Ground what is grounded. Yet, Heidegger believes that silence about God in the realm of thought corresponds to the Christian faith. With faced with the God of metaphysics, humans can neither pray nor can they make offering to him. They can neither fall on their knees in awe, nor can they make music and dance before this God. Heidegger stressed that theology is not a speculative knowledge of God, but rather a science of faith in the sense of a mode of existence of an individual human being. Faith is a mode of existing that stands over against philosophy’s form of existence as its mortal enemy, because faith transcends and eliminates pre-faith existence as such. Heidegger does not view theology as the science of God, but rather as reflection on faith. Theology should avoid the application of any sort of philosophical system. It cannot talk of an object of faith that might precede the act of faith. Revelation is not the transmission of items of knowledge. He stood in sharp opposition to theological tradition, and to Karl Barth. The Christian proclamation of the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth meant to convey the knowledge of a particular occurrence. Christian faith knows itself grounded upon this, its object. The object of Christian faith precedes personal faith historically. To proclaim this one God, Christianity appealed almost immediately to Stoic and Platonic forms of thought, and so philosophy belongs to the foundation. Christian theology is essentially an inquiry into God and the revelation of God. Christian theology would lose its claim to truth if it were to follow the advice of Heidegger to stop speaking of God in the realm of thought. Further, the question of how God comes into philosophy assumes that God does not already belong to the origins of philosophy. Although God is historically at the origin of philosophy, he reasoned that God can come into philosophy only as philosophy rquires and determines that and how God should enter it. Such a claim contradicts the idea of God in that it must be unacceptable to the divine of God that some other court of appeal should determine the manner in which God enters into human reflection. Further, philosophy is not independent of its determining and historical conditions. Hegel had a better grasp of the relationship in that philosophy brings to conceptual expression the truth that had already appeared in religion. Philosophy and religion alike direct the attention of people away from the awareness of finite things and to their broader horizon.
The possibility of attaining knowledge through reason presupposes correspondence between reason and the reality toward that it is directed. This totality is given as a thought and not as knowledge, since it depends on the individual objects of possible experience that are bound together in it. No experience has in fact grasped and comprehended the totality of possible objects of experience. Nevertheless, the idea of the totality of all reality is more than an arbitrary and subjective thought. This idea is the condition for grasping and determining all the individual objects of experience. The objects of possible experience are what exists finitely. These objects are components of the totality of objects. The demarcation of one thing from an other is what constitutes its concept. In fact, the Greek word for border, horos, is at the same time the word for concept. Yet, whenever we think of a border, we have always thought at the same time of something that lies beyond that border. We cannot think the notion of the finite without already thinking, at least by connotation, the Infinite at the same time. As Schleiermacher noted, “All that is finite exists only through the determination of its limits, which must, as it were, be cult out from the Infinite.” Everyday awareness does not perceive this. Higher stages of awareness perceive the dependence that lies in the notion of the finite, the dependence of every finite object with regard to the determination of its boundaries. The third meditation of Descartes expresses the idea that comprehending anything finite depends upon the intuition of the Infinite. Even the certainty of the cogito does have its ground in itself, for the conception of the individual ego already presupposes that of the Infinite. However, Descartes did not realize that the notion of the infinite is a general, confused, and pre-thematic idea cannot connote identity with God. One arrives at a notion of God from religion. The logical analysis of the Infinite by Hegel suggests that opposing finite and Infinite introduces a limit to the Infinite. The Infinite must not only be set in opposition to the finite, but must also overcome the opposition. It must be conceived both as transcendent in relation to the finite and as immanent to it. From then on, the only understanding of God that one can call monotheistic will be that which is able to conceive the one God not merely as transcending the world. At the same time, this God beyond is also immanent in the world. However, these reflections do not bridge the gulf between philosophy and the God of power and will in religion.
The emergence of “I” is out of a field of perception or a world of experience. We are conscious of objects of experience before we have a sense of ego or self. Self-consciousness has the task of integrating, in each moment of its experience, all the elements that are a part of its self with the past integrations of the ego that are present through its memory. However, this integration is not an action. It is accomplished more in the feeling of being everything that we were and will be in the future in each moment of our self-consciousness. The fact that in self-consciousness the whole of our being is present at every moment may perhaps be appropriately described only as participation in eternity.
Further, Dilthey began moving toward the concept of a psychological interpretation of historical events. He transformed the concept into a description of the process of the experience of the individual that he already understood as constituted by historicity. The totality of life, which is never completed within the history of a life, serves as the basis for the meaning of all individual experiences, and this meaning changes over the course of a life history. Heidegger used this insight as the basis for his new construal of the meaning of Being in general. Plotinus separates time and motion. The eternal is the whole of life. The soul participates in the eternal through Mind, the soul living in expectation of its wholeness and the wholeness of all that is. As a consequence of the decay into parts of the unity of life, the whole becomes only the future goal of all striving within the realm of the finite. The path to this goal is time. In short, when the theory of time is oriented toward the eternal totality, the consequence is a primacy of the future for the understanding of time. Plotinus, not Heidegger, first maintained the primacy of the future in the understanding of time. Plotinus grounded the primacy of the future in the fact that the totality of existence is possible only from the standpoint of its future. Eternity is the form of being of the divine. Similarly, the soul is first the world soul. By contrast, Heidegger is concerned with the possibility of attaining wholeness for a finite, individual existence. Augustine limited his reflection concerning the relationship of time and soul to the individual human soul. The formation of finite things and of individual souls was the product of the divine act of creation. When he linked time to the soul, he was trying to establish the participation of the soul in eternity. Augustine focused attention on the notion of a time-bridging present within the life of the soul. He advanced an analysis of the experience of time that remained definitive for all later treatments of the human consciousness of time. The act of experiencing the present is one in which we hold ourselves in the present through the memory of the past and the expectation of the future. The central examples of this sort of time-bridging present are to be found in the understanding of spoken discourse and in listening to music. Spoken discourse is articulated within the flow of time. Yet, we grasp it as a whole when we comprehend the unity of a sentence. One can hear and sing a song insofar as the whole of the song is already present to me before it begins, and insofar as what has already sounded remains in my memory. The basis of the act of experiencing a time-bridging present lies in an extension of the soul beyond the momentary now. The unity of the time-bridging present is effected by means of attention, which is directed toward what has been and what will be. To the extent that attention can pull together that which is separated within time, and which advances moment by moment, into the unity of one particular present, we experience duration. Duration is a picture of eternity, a sense of and participation in eternity. The music of the spheres consists in the series of temporal events that is ordered in accord with the relations between numbers. Time as duration is therefore to be found only within the human soul but in every ordered series. However, time is experienced only within the soul. The extension of the soul works precisely to synthesize what has been separated in the series of temporal moments. With this move, Augustine establishes the idea of time as duration. Further, the being of all finite things is closely tied to their duration. All finite being is grounded in its limited participation in the divine eternity, an eternity that was understood as identical with the being and life of God. Given the way memory and expectation stand next to each other, Augustine ought to have affirmed the primacy of the future, given his concern with establishing the totality of the being that makes its appearance within temporal duration. Heidegger again advanced the primacy of the future for the understanding of time, albeit in a reduced form compared to Plotinus and Augustine as he lost the connection between time and eternity. We already note this reduction in Kant, who viewed the unity of time by the unity of the ego. Time is the form of the intuition of ourselves and of our inner state having to do with the relation of representations in our inner state. However, we cannot base the awareness of time upon the self-intuition of the ego. Instead, the concept of the ego is possible only as a limitation of the Infinite. The idea of the ego presupposes an intuition of the Infinite that lies at the basis of the forms of intuition. Space and time must then already by viewed as specific forms of this intuition of the Infinite. In Heidegger replaces eternity with individual existence, the primacy of the future resting upon the anticipation of the ultimate possibility of one’s own death. The identity of the ego is constituted by the future of its own death, is disclosed as a whole in its finitude. Still, the totality of individual existence is located in the finitude of that existence. Any analysis of Heidegger must begin with his view that the authentic future out of which individual existence makes itself temporal is experienced through the anticipation of one’s own death. Yet, does knowledge of our death really provide the basic context for comprehending our experience of te future and hence our consciousness of time as a whole? How plausible is it that the knowledge of one’s own death discloses the whole of individual existence as a finite being. Is not an existence much more broken up and fragmented b death? Does not the possible totality of an existence extend beyond whatever death makes of it? If death is not able to make an individual human existence into a totality, we must also reject the thesis that death has a constitutive significance for the experience of time. Analysis of time needs a connection with eternity. The possible wholeness of human existence can then be construed as participation in eternity. It must be understood as the wholeness of a finite being. The finitude of human existence entails the distinction of future from present and past, because duration as the time-bridging present is never able to grasp and maintain in itself the whole of human existence. Peculiar to the future is the ambivalence of possible completion on the one side and of possible failure and destruction on the other. The leading role in our consciousness of time belongs to the future understood as the source of possible completion. The present and the past can then be interpreted as participating in the future totality, or as falling short of it. As long as the future is the source of the possible wholeness of an individual human existence, then we must say that its essence is determined by its future. Dilthey makes the significance of life as a whole dependent upon its temporal end. We might also wonder whether beings are to be conceived as the anticipation of their essences. This would mean that everything that exists is what it is only as the anticipation of its future, in which the wholeness of each being might be established. In the course of time, its end remains before it. Still, it is what it is always in anticipation of its end and from its end. The primacy of the future for individual existence can only be conceived through its participation in eternity. This means that the presence of being as duration appears as a limited participation in eternity. As the future of finite beings, eternity represents the possibility that they will be completed and that they will end. The passage of time appears as a series of temporally moments each of which is participation in eternity and all of which are timed together again by memory and expectation into a unity. Samuel Alexander interpreted the space-time connection as involving the claim that time owes its very continuity to is connection withi space. Without space, time would be only a series of discontinuous moments. This series attains continuity through the fact that the temporal moments that follow one upon another take place a the same location. However, we cannot conceive the flow of temporal moments at all without presupposing the eternal simultaneity of all that is separated within time. Even within the finite experience of time, the necessity of presupposing a future completion is evidence that there is an anticipation of completion whenever what is not simultaneous is made simultaneous, as occurs in the phenomenon of duration. On this view, we do not require space for an understanding of the continuity of time.
Modern philosophy advocates rational universality,
narrowing the responsibilities of religion and theology to the leftover needs
of subjectivity. Theology has resorted increasingly to distance, working to
isolate its own themes from philosophy. Philosophy disregards the finitude of
philosophical thought and neglects the significance of this fact for the form
taken by philosophical reflection. Any renewal of metaphysics that wishes to
rise above such objections must give adequate place to human finitude, the
finitude that results from the historicity of every starting point for
metaphysical reflection. The implication is clear. Any metaphysics, if it is to
be taken seriously, can no longer claim the character of a definitive
foundation, constructed of concepts, for being and knowledge. Metaphysical
reflection must instead take on the form of a conjectural reconstruction in
relation to its object, one that distinguishes itself rom
its intended truth while at the same time construing itself as a preliminary
form of this truth. Its characteristic reflective form will have to be more
that of anticipation than that of concept in the sense of classical metaphysics.
The philosophical concept will reveal itself to have the structure of
anticipation. When scientists occupy themselves with the formation of
hypotheses and with testing them, they proceed by means of anticipation.
Hypothetical thought is more accurately anticipatory in the sense that it
reaches out toward or anticipates empirical constellations by means of
assertions, which then require confirmation or refutation through experience.
Every assertion has an anticipatory structure since its claim one call into
doubt and discuss it. This implies that whatever truth it claims is not yet
definitive or settled. Even metaphysical assertions are hypothetical and
anticipatory in that they are directed toward reality as a whole. However,
metaphysical reflection directs itself toward the structure of anticipations
and toward their understanding of truth. Anticipations look forward to the
occurrence of future experience and to the content of such experience. One
wonders whether the anticipation remains external to the content toward which
it is directed, simply because of the temporal difference between the
anticipation and the anticipated experience. An example from theology might
help. The fact that the resurrection of Jesus is an anticipation of the general
resurrection of the dead anticipated in apocalyptic literature gives us a clue
as to the relationship between the anticipation and the fulfillment of the
anticipation. The final reality is present. Yet, the future that will reveal
the truth about the present remains open and ahead of us. The truth proclaimed
by Jesus hinges on a still absent future. Only if the future actually arrives
was it in fact already present in the life of Jesus. Anticipation is a real
instance of something’s occurring in advance. The anticipated future is already
present in anticipation. If the future does not occur, its anticipation will
only be prophetic enthusiasm. Anticipation is always ambiguous. The true
significance of any anticipation depends upon the future course of experience.
Anticipation cannot guarantee the truth of its content. All created life is a
form of participation in the divine eternity. The length of time granted to
each creature one can interpret as an anticipation of the completion expected
from the future of the rule of God. We might note the limitation of Augustine’s
Platonic and Christian synthesis at this point. Although he conceived of God as
the highest human Good, he did not thematize the
reference to the future that this move implies nor link it to biblical eschatology.
Augustine failed to make use of a potentially fruitful aspect of Platonic
thought for Christian theology. How well he might have been able to tie
together the theology of history and the doctrine of God, from the viewpoint of
the futurity of the Good! However, he did not do it. His doctrine that God is
the highest Good retained a hint of the rejection of the world typical of the
late ancient period, and the participation in eternity remained bound up with
the motif of timelessness. Clement of
The problem with the atomism of Whitehead is that an encompassing unity must be presupposed if atoms are to be conceivable as unities at all. He does modify his atomism by attacking forms of atomism that suggest only an external relation between atoms. Each event has a subjectivity that integrates the various relations constituting the event, called prehension. Each individual event prehends all the other events of the world that it knows. The thesis that the totality of all other events conditions every individual event does do apparent justice to the constitutive meaning of the whole for the individual. Still, Whitehead does not speak directly of the universe having a meaning for the individual. For him, the individual event itself integrates into a whole the manifold relationships into which it enters. Whitehead wants to understand the laws of nature as emerging out of the reciprocal relationships of the things themselves. Individual events appear not only as reflections of the universe but also as the subjects of the creative integration of the manifold relations that constitute them. The problem is that the idea of self-constituting subjectivity of actual occasions leads to new difficulties. The universe has no integrity of its own. His view of the principle of subjective integration, based on the psychology of William James, that emerges moment by moment may overestimate the measure of uniformity encountered in the real world. We cannot reduce the unity of the field to the elementary pointlike events that appear in it. The atomistic interpretation of reality cannot treat wholeness and individual discreteness as metaphysical principles of equal importance. One can build upon his notion that the phases of formation are not to be thought of as temporally successive. Therefore, representing the occasion as a process of formation appears paradoxical to us. However, Whitehead’s analyses do illuminate our understanding of processes whose phases certainly must be thought of as temporarily successive, yet in which the goal of becoming for the form has always been present. The plant or animal is always this plant or this animal, although its specific nature comes fully to light only in the result of its formation. By way of anticipation, it is always that which it will become only in the process of its formation. By anticipating its essential form in the process of its own formation, a being’s substantial identity is linked together with the notion of process. For Whitehead, anticipation means that the subject, constituting itself in the present, includes also its future relevance for others in the act of its self-constitution. Aristotle interpreted the anticipation of the final state within the moved object itself as entelechy. By doing so, he reinterpreted the effect of the future goal upon the present becoming along the lines of the influence that a living organism’s seed has on its future goal. Aristotle nevertheless spoke of an effect on the end upon the process of becoming. Whitehead never speaks in this way because he sees becoming in each of its stages as self-constitutive. The element of anticipation cannot really become constitutive in his interpretation of subjectivity. His idea of radical self-creation of each actual occasion is why one cannot reconcile his metaphysics with creation or God in the bible. We need to limit Whitehead’s analysis to processes that take place in time. Then the subjective aim of the process would have to do with the actual, still-to-come future of each one’s own essential completion. The anticipation of one’s own essential completion in the future would gain greater significance for the constitution of subjectivity. The latter would be dependent on the whole of one’s own essential completion being manifested in each present. This is no longer atomistic metaphysic or the randomness of actual occasions. We can now construct an argument for the claim that the independence of finite being and subjectivity can increase along with the complexity of forms. The unity of the field from which actual occasions proceed together with the unity of the forms that appear in increasing differentiation on higher levels of natural process. Such a view of matter does not limit reality to undivided actual occasions. It holds to the idea of an essential identity of that which continues to become throughout the process of its formation. The unity encompasses the whole process and so links the fundamental intention of the concept of substance with the process perspective. We need to liberate Whitehead’s conceptions from its atomism. In rethinking the matter in this way, we also free process thought from the aporias that have arisen within a theoretical context burdened by these assumptions.
Categories are forms of stating or asserting, having to do with semantics rather than syntax. Categories are elements of meaning alongside others within the semantic structure of the act of asserting. Aristotle developed his view of categories partly as the meaning structure of language and partly as the meaning structure of asserting, but even more as a view of the most general forms of what is. The elements of meaning found in language are structural forms of that which exists. Categories are general elements of meaning attributed to true assertions and to states of affairs that they grasp. Categories are general structural elements of knowledge, partly for the general form of knowledge, as would be the case with Kant’s doctrine of categories, but even more are categories are the general structural elements of knowledge as the totality of knowledge of facts. Yet, our consciousness can only anticipate the totality of knowledge and of what is, insofar as we employ categories with unreflective or reflective awareness. Categories in this philosophical sense become accessible to analysis through reflection on their connections with all other assertions and asserted states of affairs. We cannot avoid reflecting on the totality that underlies the formation of categorical notions. We cannot limit our examination to an examination of the linguistic form of such discourse, for the linguistic form itself intends a state of affairs and claims correspondence with the state of affairs (truth). Individual words refer to an object, and the sentence as judgment or assertion has an objective reference. We determine the objective reference of individual words through the reciprocal explication of subject and predicate. The realm of meaning relevant to assertions includes the implications of the words within the context of discourse and to other states of affairs that the discourse asserts. One always says more than one wants to say. Such a claim to truth means we cannot avoid reflecting on the totality of all true assertions and on the totality of what is. The coherence theory of truth and the legitimation of all systematic thought rest here. However, the truth condition becomes a theme of reflection for an anticipating consciousness, in the form of a plurality of aspects of states of affairs. As part of our finitude, certain categories play a prominent role in our experience; different categories may occupy the foreground as organizing principles of their respective sub-realms. When we identify such categories, they allow us to relate individual states of affairs found in various areas of experience to the totality of reality, while preserving the way we view this totality within the guiding perspectives of the individual disciplines. For example, science has the categories of space and time to form the basis of its field objects. They are universal concepts, and not just intuitions. They have a categorical or unconditional character. The transformational equations for space and time in physics guarantee their homogeneity, which is the condition for all measurement. Modern physics would add mass and force, as well as law. The category of law is foundational for the theoretical context of modern natural science. The category of whole is foundational for the theoretical context of modern human sciences. Although the category of whole applies to natural science as well, it does not occupy the natural sciences except in an undifferentiated way. Natural science brings homogeneity of space and time through law, thereby neglecting the individual occurrence. In the human sciences, by contrast, individual appearances are the primary interest. They concentrate on specific texts, historical occurrences, and forms. Gestalt or form is midway between the category of law in the natural sciences and the interest in individual life-forms discernible in history and philology. It can characterize what is peculiar to the individual as well as what is typical, and is therefore especially important for biology. The natural sciences presuppose the equal validity and indifference of all individual appearances. By contrast, the category of the whole, with its interest in the individual, is the leading category in the human sciences. After all, every individual is a whole. Every individual appearance occurs within a context that is unique, and which forms a whole in which the individual appearances have a place. Each appearance is part of such a whole. A paradigm for this truth is that words occur in a sentence, and a sentence within a discourse, and the context of the situation in which one originally formulated it. We could progress along both of these lines from smaller to larger totalities. We could progress from individual segments of discourse to the whole of the discourse or the work in question, and on to its place within the works of the author. We can progress from the situation of the individual sentence and the individual discourse to the whole of the social world and to the cultural epoch in which they are located. The whole in its significance for the human sciences is essentially a semantic whole, within which levels of meaning totalities one can differentiate, levels that one can relate to each other as parts and wholes. The category of whole is significant for theology as a modification of the category of the whole in the human sciences. Theology continues the concern for the individual. The incarnation in Christian theology places the connection between theology and the human sciences. Although Christian theology will focus upon Jesus of Nazareth as a particular individual and historical context, it will also concern itself with the present relevance and truth of the history and person of Jesus. They are problems of the same kind as occur in the human sciences. The category of the particular and the whole in textual interpretation as it does for the other literary and historical disciplines. Interpretation in the context of literature involves inquiry into the significance of the words within the context of the sentence and discourse. In history, we are concerned with processes in which the significance of individual appearances changes with time. The whole in historical examination has the character of a process. Some ancient texts one can study with little attention to contemporary relevance. The expositor of the bible cannot afford this separation and do justice to the text. The same point applies to any religious text that applies to humanity. The idea of God conditions the category of the whole for theology. Using the word “God” makes a claim about the totality of what exists finitely. The sending of Jesus by God has the intent of reconciling and redeeming the world. The eschatology of the New Testament makes this universal dimension of Christianity clear. Reference to God with without reference to the totality makes talk of God empty, thoughtless, unnecessary and bothersome, from which humanity needs to free itself. The category of the whole, existing in the background of the human sciences, becomes an explicit theme in theology. Since the whole depends on the particular or part, the whole is not identical with God. The whole is not self-constitutive. The whole is a unified unity that presupposes some ground of itself as unifying unity. God is distinct from the totality of the finite, though not fully distinct. If God were merely distinct from the whole, God would be finite. God is the continuing condition of the unity of the whole and thus immanent in the world. We have two options. God could be the condition of this unity as the ground of this unity, which then independently continues to exist. God could also be the force that continuously brings about the unity of the parts and thus remains immanent to the world of the finite and present to its parts. If God is the unifying force that joins pre-existing elements into parts of a whole, God would be finite and conditioned by another. We can maintain the infinite of the unifying unity if it is both the source of the unity and the source of the parts themselves. We then conceive of God as the creative source of the world. This argument is not a proof for the existence of God. The argument presupposes that the whole of the finite world is conditioned by the parts. This presupposition attributes to the parts independence over against the whole. Further the category of unity, or One in Aristotle, is so general that it is empty and cannot be what religion means by God. The value of this argument is that it provides a preliminary way of relating the word God to the concept of world, whole, and the whole of finite reality. The category of unity and whole outlines the dimension in which the question of God becomes discussable. The notion expresses this relationship in a way that does not pre-determine the meaning of the word God. We need to continue this reflection through the contrast of God and world as unifying and unified unity. We need to develop an idea of God that we can conceive coherently without losing the distinction of God from the world in the process. The notions of activity, ground, and force are only partially irrelevant. We cannot expect any final answer to the question of the reality of God. We destroy the idea of God when we conceive God as an application of the highest instance of some general structure. The category of the whole suggests God mediates individual definiteness. Religion becomes a vivid and deeper apprehension of reality in becoming conscious of the infinite and whole in the individual and finite. Each individual thing is carved by means of its definition and its determination. Theology makes reflection on the totality of finite reality as the horizon of meaning of all individual existence, to show its relatedness to the realty of God. In Christology, Jesus, in bringing close to individuals the meaning tied up with their wholeness, discloses to them their salvation within a history that is not yet complete. The category of the whole has its specific significance for theology in that it makes possible the conceptual mediation between the finite and the absolute reality of God. The category of the whole relates to the process of mediating what is finite with itself through the process of history. However, this is so abstract that it cannot answer the question of the true form of the divine reality in this process. It also yields a general description of a field of possible experiences and inquiries without predetermining their specific solutions.
The modern world does not take a meaningful life for granted. Our time has a dominant concern with emptiness and loss. While antiquity had concerns for how temporary life is, and medieval people had concerns for forgiveness, modern people have concerns for meaning. Tillich suggested individual meaning depends on an unconditioned ground of meaning. Viktor Frankl suggests in The Will to Meaning that unconditional meaning grounds the meaning of existence makes it possible for people to exist. He suggests that forgetfulness of God in secular society explains neurotic illness and suicides. Such enquiries concern themselves with the possibility of meaningful life in the midst of suffering. The experience of emptiness suggests that we cannot presuppose meaningfulness to human life. Husserl, Alfred Schutz, and Theodor Lessing in the sociology of knowledge suggest that we must create our own meaning and impart meaning to a reality that appears meaningless. For Peter Berger, the human formation of culture creates meaning for its participants. Niklas Luhmann views overcoming contingency as the primary accomplishment of a social system. If that is true of social systems, it is a short step for the individual to receive the task of the creation of meaning. Solving the problem depends on finding the power to give meaning to one’s own life. I want to consider whether human beings discover meaning already present in reality. Interestingly, we can express semantically the absence of meaning in a way that has meaning. The semantic or meaning-related structure of language allows us to articulate the conviction of the meaninglessness of life. This distinguishing between a formal notion of what it is to be meaningful from actual meaning-filled content. We can also suggest this distinction in what is cotained in the sentences of a discourse or text. Individual words have their meaning as designations for objects and states of affairs and through their positions in the sentence. I do not find it helpful to make a neat distinction between bedeutung (meaning) and sinn (sense). Frege distinguished between the meaning of words as names for objects and opposed this to the sense of the sentence as a whole. His view suggests the whole within which the words are arranged as components of the sentence. I grant that sense may belong primarily to sentences and meaning to words. However, the words have their meanings initially within sentences, and we cannot separate completely this meaning from the context of an individual sentence. I suggest that a sentence is not simply a mechanical construction of words with already set meanings. Rather, the individual word always bears a certain degree of indeterminacy. Dictionaries offer various nuances of meaning for each word abstracted from actual use in sentences. The individual word receives a higher degree of semantic determinacy in a sentence, for now the word bears meaning as a constituent of the sentence. The words articulate the sense of the sentence, and thus the words have sense as well as meaning. Sense and meaning belong together. Further, we need to differentiate the notion of meaning into the reference to an object and the position of the individual word in the sentence. Meaning has to do with the position of particulars within the context of the whole. Therefore, we can speak of the meaning of the particular sentence within the broader context of a discourse or text. Linguistic meaning has to do with the relationships between parts and whole within the context of a discourse. We also concern ourselves with the subject represented in that about which one speaks. This representational function plays a part and may move to the fore, especially in the case of assertions. Assertions claim to be true in the sense that the meaning of such sentences attempts to represent an objectively existing meaning, a state of affairs. This truth claim constitutes the sense or import of sentences as assertions. Of course, language expresses and communicates as well as represents. The question for us is whether the sense that linguistic utterances have owe their existence to a human bestowal of meaning. I grant that we speak sentences, leading us to think that their meaning is the result of our efforts. We also think of language as the product of human activity, and therefore that meaning is the product of the human bestowal of meaning. Yet, two other crucial factors in the semantic structure of linguistic structure are important to consider at this point. First, the nature of language itself is to represent a reality already given, as we see in the nature of making assertions. True assertions are true in that their content corresponds to the state of affairs one asserts. True assertions relate to the reality of the asserted states of affairs in the sense of a discovery of meaning (not bestowal of meaning). Second, linguistic utterances have many layers of meaning. For example, we say in reality something different from what we wanted to say. What makes this possible is that the meaning of a sentence proceeds from the combination of the words, independently of the intentions that the speaker had in speaking it. A sentence can say more than the speaker actually wanted to say. At sentence can fall short of the thought one wanted to express and which one can independently infer from the context of one’s speech. A sentence can convey something different from what one intended. Every linguistic expression needs interpretation by listener or reader. The fact that one makes errors in interpretation suggests against pure bestowal of meaning. If the interpretation can miss the meaning of its object, then the meaning of a sentence, a discourse, or a text is not merely dependent on the interpreter. Yet, meaning does not depend only on the speaker or author of the text. This suggests that the semantic structure of the text has an independent reality, and on must judge interpretation in relation to that text. Assertions presuppose the meaning of the corresponding state of affairs. Assertions depend upon the states of affairs existing prior to the assertion. What we have learned is that we approach meaning through language, but meaning is not the product of language. If our use of assertions expresses the particular nature of human experience and experienced reality, then reality is meaningfully structured prior to human attempts to grasp that meaning in language. Language can either grasp or miss the semantic structure of reality. Without this truth, all assertions would be misguided. When thinkers attempt to reduce meaning to language, they take the first step along a path that culminates in the creation of meaning through human action. Rather, human action depends on perceptions of meaning. After all, goal setting requires the choice of the means relevant to a given goal. This process presupposes orientation to the world and the grasp of semantic content. We form verbal utterances secondarily, as means for the attainment of selected goals or as ends in themselves. Thus, action is not the fundamental character of spoken language, even though language utterances are human activity. To make my point clear: we cannot reduce linguistically grasped meaning to acts of the bestowal of human meaning. Experienced meaning precedes human comprehension of meaning, providing the connection between religion and the experience of meaning. If we have nothing but the human bestowal of meaning, religion would be nothing more than a human projection from human consciousness. Such a view denies the truth of any assertion, not just religious statements. The semantic structure of reality precedes its linguistic representation. Experiencing has to do with the social context within which human beings develop language. Experiencing has to do with the ontological structure of those capable of language. Human experience is a special case of the semantic structure of reality. This pre-linguistic meaning structure is the foundation of linguistically articulated meaning. Wilhelm Dilthey presupposed that the meaning structures found in language themselves were only the expression of the meaning relatedness of the psychic life. One speaks about meaning and meaning relationships in the realm of the psyche. I have appealed to the representational function of language, and particularly to the structure of assertions, to justify the supposition of structures of meaning that extend beyond the realm of linguistic meaning and into the realm of the meaning of reality. In all realms of reality, we can understand particular appearances as parts of more complete forms of meaning or contexts of meaning. However, Dilthey’s special case of the human life-context carries significance for the perception of meaning, for the whole of human life is present at every moment along with the particulars of their own experiencing. An individual event becomes an experience to the extent that it is grasped as one specific articulation of a whole life. Heidegger also construes the notion of experience too narrowly by relating it only the whole of the individual life. What both philosophers missed is the insight of Descartes. We have a vague awareness of an undetermined infinite that precedes all comprehension of anything finite or determined. One can comprehend the finite only as a limitation of this infinite. This does not mean we have a specific consciousness of the whole of our own life in experiencing. Experiencing involves the whole of reality. The whole of reality appears in the individual occasion of experiencing. One parallel to this is the fact that the meaning context of a discourse appears in the individuals words and sentences. Of course, the whole of reality is not fully contained in the individual experience. Yet, a vague element of above and beyond remains that forms the framework in which the individual experience can first become what it is. The mistake of Dilthey was to narrow the horizon of the undetermined infinite and whole, present to the totality of the individual life. He gained the basis for centering his philosophy on the concept of life and his description of the ontological structure of experiencing. The meaning structures of earlier experiences shift, for the whole of life appears repeatedly under new perspectives. What one earlier experienced as important becomes unimportant, and what appeared as scarcely noticed moments of earlier experiencing can increase in significance. For Dilthey, the last moment of a life reveals the final estimate of its meaning. Until then, the meaning of particular moments of experiencing shifts, reflecting the finitude of our knowledge about the whole of life. Although we have a relationship to the whole of our lives, we have the limited viewpoint of a specific experience, from which we remember earlier experiences and await future ones. His exposition is similar to the second of the Speeches of Schleiermacher. Religious experience is an intuition of the infinite and whole in one individual content. Such a view of the universe recognizes that what is individual and finite does not exist for itself, but rather is cut out, together with its boundaries that constitute its particularity, of the infinite and the whole. We normally interact with finite objects and states of affairs as if they had their existence in themselves. The higher awareness of religious experiences and the deeper reality of things recognizes that finite things are constituted in the infinite and the whole. This higher perceptual awareness constitutes the unique essence of religious experience. Where Schleiermacher and Dilthey connect is that we have the whole of life in the individual and specific, in which the whole manifests itself. Dilthey did emphasize the historicity of this process more than Schleiermacher did. Final knowledge of the meaning of life is inaccessible, for the meaning of our existence reveals itself at the end of our lives. The problem with this position is that the meaning of life and of its individual moments must actually lie at some point beyond life. Dilthey and Schleiermacher oppose Hegel, who thought that the infinite whole one could comprehend with the form of idea. What connects Dilthey and Schleiermacher is that we have the whole in and through fragments. The difference is that Dilthey views the whole as the history of an individual life while Schleiermacher views the whole as the universe. Dilthey is significant because of his analysis of the semantic structure of human experiencing. He also had significant insights into the significance of individual moments in the context of the whole, a whole that remains incomplete as long as individual history continues. Anyone who emphasizes individual meaning deriving from an all-encompassing context of meaning owes a debt to the argument of Dilthey. Victor Frankl takes this position and extends the view of experiencing parts of life in the context of the whole of life and with the presence of this whole in the individual experience; he encourages trust in the meaningfulness of life through a total meaning that encompasses life as a whole. However, such a total meaning one can grasp indirectly through the mediation of particular life situations. He links the semantic structure of experiencing with a religious theme. Dilthey made important gains for us in his analysis of meaning and significance in the context of experiencing. They do not arise from the bestowal of meaning by the human subject. Rather, they proceed from the relationships of life itself. They proceed from the relationships of its submoments to the whole of the life-context. Events already have meaning and significance. Events of history have the same analysis. Historical events have meaning and significance according to their contribution to the whole of the life context in which they belong. Through reflection on the historicity of the historical consciousness, Dilthey did justice to the multiplicity of interpretations of historical occurrences, as well as to the significance that accrues to each but which one cannot fully determine until the end of history. Every moment has meaning in itself, but we can grasp its meaning through the medium of an interpretation that conditioned by the perspective of a particular historical standpoint. This insight applies to individual history as well as world history. The end of history provides the context within which one could comprehend the significance of the events and forms of history. The end of history provides the context for determining the truth or falsity of our convictions of meaning. Present meaning has the form of faith and is an anticipatory representation of a meaning that has yet to appear. Now we need to pursue the question of the particularity of the religious awareness of meaning in its relationship to the semantic structuredness of human experiencing generally. Schleiermacher has elucidated it in principle. The everyday consciousness orients itself toward finite objects and relationships. The religious consciousness comprehends finite realities as grounded in the infinite and whole, thereby sensing the infinite in the finite things. Cultural consciousness focuses on individual meaning. The unconditioned ground of meaning becomes explicit topic for the religious consciousness. The religious consciousness has as its explicit theme that totality of meaning that is implicitly presupposed in all everyday experiences of meaning, oriented as they are around individual experiences of significance. Religion deals with the divine reality that grounds and completes the meaning totality of the natural and social world. It indirectly deals with the meaning of the world itself. Yet, the truth claim made by the religious consciousness must authenticate itself by showing that one can understand the God alleged by it as the creator and perfecter of the world as in fact experienced. Religious assertions must be able to integrate the relations implicit in everyday experiences of meaning within an encompassing context of meaning that grounds all individual meaning. The experience of meaninglessness, suffering and evil are among life experiences religion needs to integrate. Failure to integrate such human experiences will lead to a crisis of belief that the religious tradition proclaims the true God. Christian faith claims about God must also face confirmation or denial through the human experience of meaning and its relation to the whole of reality. The emptiness experienced by many in western civilization suggests that the traditional answers of Christianity are no longer adequate as a comprehensive interpretation of the experience of the reality of the world and the life situations contemporary people face. Contemporary questions about meaning are not idolatrous. Meaning is not simply the bestowal of meaning. Meaning and truth are not the same. We cannot deal with meaninglessness by simply giving modern people a sense of the meaningfulness of life, as if the question of truth or falsity was disruptive. Nor can theology approach the questioning of meaning as a desire to anesthetize nihilistic experience. The earnest inquiry into meaning desires an adequate answer to the problems that have led to the forfeiture of the consciousness of meaning. I would suggest that we cannot separate the question of meaning and truth. We long for an all-encompassing meaning. The coherence theory of truth suggests that individual truth will cohere with all other truths. The question of the meaning-context of reality as a whole is theologically legitimate. The inquiry into the totality of meaning is not human presumption. The whole conditions every individual. The consciousness of the state of affairs belongs to what it means to be human. The fact that we cannot gain a definitive overview of the whole of reality is also part of our humanity. When we forget this limit, we can speak of presumption. The sort of knowledge of the whole of reality that remains conscious of its own finiteness reaches consummation in a knowledge of God as distinct from human subjectivity. The idea of God attempts to answer the question of the meaning of reality as a whole. To exclude the question is to forbid that religious consciousness through we honor God. The mention of the inscrutable nature of God brings us to the superiority of God-based meaning of the life-world over the limitations of human understanding. The divine logos (word or meaning) has become human in Jesus of Nazareth. To connect the logos with the Old Testament concept of the divine word suggests that the context of meaning that encompasses the entire creation and its history up through the future completion has been shown in Jesus Christ.
The idea of an inborn knowledge of God in the soul has been common to the theology of the Christian West from the time of Tertullian. Even Thomas admitted that a certain form of knowledge of God, although confused, is implanted in us by nature. Others equated it with natural law and the foundations of religion and knowledge of God. This equation appeared obvious from Roman , and from the time of Abelard assigned to conscience. This inborn knowledge of divine law embraced the Ten Commandments. Luther and Melanchthon accepted this position. They came to this view because of their distrust of reason. Even though the text does not permit opposition to the knowledge acquired by rational reflection, one can understand the appeal of providing a link between the Romans 1:19-20 and and that it is real knowledge. Older Protestant dogmatics tried to hold fast to this combination of the two aspects. Troeltsch, Otto, and Nygren called the primordial awareness of a religious a priori the sense of an explicit awareness of God preceding all experience. Otto rightly speaks of a feeling for the infinite. Both the Holy and the Eternal are concepts that presuppose everyday experiences of the finite and temporal with which they clash.
In antiquity, religion meant the public worship of
In the early modern period, the theory of a natural religion developed, suggesting that the plurality of national religions is a perversion of the one origin of religion. This idea fell apart when the conviction arose that we are to seek the original and concrete reality of religion in the positive historical religions of the peoples. The only common link amid the plurality was the general concept of religion, the concept of its common nature. However, this common factor no longer preceded the historical plurality as it had once done in the form of natural religion. One is to find it in the concrete multiplicity itself. Some have proposed that family likeness is a term for the religious. Similarly, and appeal to situations of religious experience cannot replace a uniform concept of religion.
Schleiermacher offered a definition of the nature of religion that detached it from the concept of God. Here, God was simply one religious view among other. Detachment from the concept of God has been the final reason why there have been so incalculably many attempts at definition, and it is also the reason why they have always inevitably seemed to the unsatisfactory. The result has commonly been a purely anthropological definition of religion as a dimension of human life, perhaps its ultimate dimension, as an expression of total commitment, or of comprehensive and most intensive evaluation. These anthropological definitions describe human positions and experiences that have religious content.
Materially, the discussion shows that the relation is viewed from the human side. This is true of William James. With our feelings, actions and experiences are the basis of religious research.
A feeling of dependence or finiteness relates to the experience of the numinous only as a subsequent effect. However, the concept of the holy shares with that of the universum the defect that it names not the concrete object of religious experience, but also the general sphere to which this is subordinated in reflection. In contrast, Schleiermacher’s universum did not denote another world as opposed to everyday experience of this world. It opened up a deeper understanding of finite reality itself, the finite carved out of the infinite and hence always related to it, Speeches). Not least of all, the greatness of Schleiermacher’s view of religion is that for him religion and its content were not additional to the ordinary reality of ourselves and our world. What he offered was a deeper and more conscious understanding of the one reality of life. In contrast, the orientation of the concept of religion to the holy as distinct from the profane implies a dualistic understanding that divides the religious from the non-religious. The general sphere of religious objectivity may be aptly described as the religious dimension of our subjectivity and of the world horizon that corresponds to it. It is no part of concrete religious experience as encounter with deity. Otto’s concept presupposes an awareness of the world of secularity that moves away from it and opposes to it the holy. If we regard the holy as the fundamental and comprehensive theme of religion, religious awareness can easily seem to be secondary to secular awareness of the world. In contrast, Schleiermacher’s view of the universum contains the constitutive condition of the awareness of finite objects and therefore of awareness of the secular world.
To mention psychological or sociological conditions is not to come to grips with the theme of religious confession and conduct. It is to see religion in reduced form as an expression of the subjectivity of individual or group ideas and practices. The truth claims bound up with the theological nature of religion one treats as secondary, in contradiction of the self-understanding of the religions themselves. To that extent, such descriptions fail from the outset to bring to light the distinctive nature of religion.
The descriptions offered in criticism of religion are different. These take religious truth claims seriously, but expressly deny their validity. Feuerbach refers to the vanity and self-seeking of individuals who ascribe their own finitude to the human species and regard the infinity of the species as an alien entity. Marx viewed religion as the expression of compensation for the real misery of social alienation. It can also serve as a protest against the misery. Nietzsche said that the idea of God has the function of a norm located in the conscience, and the resultant sense of guilt. Freud derived the link between the sense of guilt and the idea of God from the hypothetical murder of a primal father; in individuals, the Oedipus complex corresponds to it. In this way, Freud made room for forms of the religious consciousness that serve, not a fixation on guilt, but its outworking, as in the resolving of the Oedipus complex by identification with patriarchal authority. The psychological criticism of religion can treat the myth of the religious sense of unity of God and world as secondary. It can also treat it as the expression of a quasi-scientific but methodologically inadequate concern for the knowledge of the world. It can further treat it as the expression of an illusory fulfillment of the narcissistic desire for concealment in the context of a totality that is ruled by what is for the most part patriarchal authority and care.
The starting point for an inquiry of the type by Hegel was no longer present in later religious studies. In van der Leeuw, the object of religion is seen only from the standpoint of human ideas of sacred power. The religious person is the basis of the presentation. Related is the fact that the finite subject of religion is only from that of participation in the religious sphere. No place remains for the tension in the religious relationship that Hegel worked out and Otto still perceived. Religious phenomenology wants to make a contribution to the anthropology of religious behavior, but this kind of anthropology cannot be based on empirical findings alone. Specification in religious phenomenology is mainly from the standpoint of the various finite media in which the divine power manifests itself to us. It may be asked what really happens when these powers become objects of worship along with the gods of genesis or high gods. In addition, this question has its place when the object of this behavior is not thematized from the outset from the standpoint of human ideas of deity. The question of the general conditions of such tensions between the idea of God and divine reality involves a presupposing of divine reality in a different form from what we find in religious phenomenology. In this regard, the description of the religious relation that is given by the philosophy of religion, as in Hegel, is superior to a phenomenology that can find in the religious phenomenon only expressions of human behavior. The assumption of a divine reality that is distinct from human ideas cannot rely dogmatically on a specific religious idea of God. Van der Leeuw fails to see the opposition to divine reality into which the latter drive brings religious people. Barth described religion as human arrogance in opposition to the revelation of God. He could describe it as an expression of the anxiety of those who are without the gospel. Divine revelation may take priority over those who receive it, but it is manifest only where they do receive it. The untenability of differentiating Christianity from other religions by appealing to divine revelation should not prevent us from adopting the element of truth in Barth’s theological criticism of religion.
Sources for Theological Conversation
Develop this section further.
The first source is the bible. Although I appreciate this book, I will confess that if I have an option between Schliermacher and Ritschl on the one hand and Warfield and Hodge on the other, I will take the former as the line of tradition within which I will world. They try to connect the bible and its authority to speech act theory, something I need to investigate. A major role of literature in general is to enable readers to create a world or worlds for themselves, cognitively, affectively, behaviorally - in all the ways that individuals and groups are related to their world. At implicit and explicit levels, readers create their own worlds in the process of reading. World and self do not exist in isolation, however, and the reader is transformed in the process. Biblical texts share in this role in a particular way, they provide resources for the creation of a comprehensive universe, which has space for the human and for the divine and which sees the human in the light of the divine and the divine in the light of the human. A paradigmatic event is a historical occurrence that captures the imagination of a community in such a manner as to shape or form the community’s way of conceiving the totality of reality and its understanding of its ongoing experience of reality. Because of the event's wide-ranging influence, the community preserves its memory, while both reinterpreting the event in the light of the subsequent situations in which the community finds itself and discovering in it the source of a renewed hope for the future. Hence, paradigmatic events connect the community and its participants with the past and the future. Through their appropriation of these events, succeeding generations understand themselves in relationship to the experiences of the past and in anticipation of a future that will bring about the actualization of the ideals of the community. They have the power to create a meaningful present. The text is genuinely other.
The second source is
Tradition. In the Medieval period, canon lawyers liked the two
source theory, while theologians liked the bible as the primary source,
even if tradition unfolded scripture to some degree. People like Hodgson and
Farley and the hermeneutics of suspicion suggest that the biblical text and
tradition tell us more about who wielded power than it does about truth.
According to Dulles, apart from the Christian community, a canon would not
exist. The work of the Spirit unites text and tradition, a proposition that
appears to need personal faith. The Christian tradition is comprised of the
historical attempts by the Christian community to explicate and translate
faithfully the first-order language, symbols, and practices of the Christian
faith, arising from the interaction among community, text, and culture, into
the various social and cultural contexts in which that community has been situated. Christian community entered into debate
and developed orthodoxy out of that debate. We need an open confessional
tradition, for it would be strange indeed to affirm the contingency and future
orientation of truth and maintain a closed confession. Note the Book of
The third source is Culture. Note Berger, Geertz, Strauss and Quinn in Cognitive Theory, and . Symbols, Language, Things, images, and ritual. Religion may legitimate culture. It seems like it will also defend the individual against culture, refusing to allow culture swallow the individual, and becomes a hint of eternity. A theology free of culture does not exist. Tillich and his method of correlation has an implicit foundationalism, discovering some structure of human existence on which one can built the theological edifice. We need to hear, scrutinize, and respond to culture. The cultural context can lead us to reconsider our understanding of the Christian faith. Christian community becomes a unit of culture. A groups orients itself toward one another, who share unit awareness, and between whom interaction or communication in the form of observable behavior. It seeks to perpetuate itself institutionally as well as propagate a particular vision of meaning making and world construction. They share a set of values, beliefs, and loyalties that arise out of a fundamental commitment to the God revealed in Christ. Christians are co-participants with people around them in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human.
The sources for theological conversation begin with the biblical text. This suggests exegesis of biblical texts and biblical theology are sources for systematic theology.
Since the church existed before the canonical text, the church itself, in its life, proclamation, teaching, and mission, is a source for theological reflection. The history of the church and the history of doctrine also remain sources. The decisions of ecumenical councils have a special place as a theological source. Denominational tradition, with an eye toward their ecumenical value, is another source. The history of religion and culture also becomes a source.
Classical Christian theology continues to be a powerful means of shaping Christian teaching. We might think of it as theology shaped most closely by Augustine and Aquinas, which Greek philosophy shaped. Such theology was a partner in the oppression of women, the subjection of races, the use of war and crusades to oppose those who disagreed with their vision of God, subjected the masses to a rigid hierarchical structure, became a partner with kings in the subjection of the masses, and inhibited the growth of science and technology. Yet, it has also sustained the lives of women, serfs, slaves, and improved the lives of millions through its worship and communal life. We need to discern whatever is true and holy in classical theology, so that Christian community today may reflect the divine light that they share. The classical themes suggesting that no symbols, metaphors, or words we use can contain what we mean by God, the analogical nature of all talk about God, and the necessity of many names and metaphors for God are parts of the heritage quite relevant to us today.
The sources for Christian thought are classic texts on the one hand and human individual and corporate life on the other hand. A large element of the theological task is to correlate classic texts with individual and corporate life. We investigate common human experience and language as we explore the limits of science, technology, and moral life. We find openings in human life toward God as we experience the boundary situations of life that are beyond the methods of science and math. We explore Christian tradition primarily by exploring classic Christian texts, becoming an historical and hermeneutical investigation. What we seek in theological reflection in this way are the ways God is present.
I want to distance myself from the approach of deconstruction of classic texts. This approach uncovers what it perceives as the hidden oppression contained in the texts. Classic Christian texts become tools and expressions of male or racial dominance. Such Christians are in search of classic Christian texts, in that their primary sources are Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. Such an approach is a convenient way to eliminate thousands of years of human thought. Instead, I approach classic texts as reflections on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and therefore the excellent in human life, as Paul encouraged in Philippians 4:8. Such classic texts are open to whether future readers will enter into dialogue with it and find themselves disrupted by the dialogue.