Modern Trends in Theology

A thought paper

The goal of this thought paper is to put down, as honestly and quickly as possibly, what I already know about the topic “Modern trends in theology”. Partly this is motivated by the need to get clarity about this subject. Thus, I seek to draw out what I know and possibly expose the gaps of what I do not know. I also, more importantly, want to move out of the “knowing about” paradigm and see whether there is a “doing” that exists, something that suggests that I am relevant within the modern trends in theology, whether I am doing theology or still just talking about it. I’m hoping that as I do this I will make some progress.

To answer these questions and proceed accordingly, I guess the first thing I typically do is to define (or redefine) what I mean by theology. I remember answering what theology was by saying that it was an answer to a question that relates to God. I would add that it is an answer to a question/concern that arises from God, and yet arises out of seeing God in that context, and also in search of God in/through that issue, and answered with the help of God, informed by his witness in scriptures and the tradition that holds scriptures together. The reason I put so much God into the focus, is because I feel the true nature of theology will always be God. The moment God goes out of focus, theology becomes anthropology or something else. These somethings elses are not bad in themselves, but theology as a discipline must be concerned with its central concern, which is God.

In the past few years, I have gained a clearer understanding of the relevance of history and church to do theology, and thus I know that this “God-talk” is not an individual discussion, or an experiential expression, but is a dialogue with other voices. The use of other voices, traditions, is not simply one method of theology, it is the very nature of theology. Thus, the contextual motivations/concerns, the dialogical nature, are all parts of the very fabric of theology which is done for the purpose of “knowing God” and making Him known.

This last sentence, clearer shows a bias towards the evangelical tradition, particularly in the communication of God. The bias is still a “knowing” which I think is a big problem in evangelical thought. I think we mean it as something more, more than cognitive, I personally think of a relation “knowing” in the sense that God “knows” us, or even Adam “knew” Eve. Still, the word knowledge is so coloured with cognitive post-enlightenment thinking that it is too difficult to avoid.

And perhaps here I am ready to state what I think is a contemporary trend in theology. It is the moving away from the cognitive knowledge of God as paramount, to a more fuller relation with God through actions/life. This non-cognitive aspect of our relation with God is expressed through a rejection of purely propositional accounts of God and theology, towards narrative discourses or even relational methods that aims to better approach towards a truer/richer/fuller picture of who God is and who God is for creation.

Relatedly, there is a diversification of our approach to God, where especially seen through Trinitarian, Pneumatological, and other “models” our access to God is shown to be better/fuller by filling the missing gaps that previously limited (Christological, or ecclesiocentric) models failed to do.

The goal is to get a better, more complete picture of God and God’s relation with humanity and creation. And that certainly is a very popular trend in contemporary Christian scholarship.

The other trend is contextualisation of theology, by which I want to emphasise the subjective element of theology. There is a movement away from objective understandings of God, to the recognition that knowledge of God is shaped by our perceptions, by our cultures, by our environment etc. This recovery of subjectivity, is both a recovery of faith in theology (so Christians doing Christian theology), but also is the rise of confidence in narrower theological positions that distinguish and highlight key differences. So we have evangelical, orthodox, catholic theologies. We also have reformed, Pentecostal theologies. We have further the more obvious contextual theologies like liberation, feminist and dalit, as well as postmodern/postcolonial theologies. Each of these theologies aims to highlight both the significance of particularist understandings of the Christian gospel, but also points to the lack (intentionally or unintentionally) in others. At best, the goal is to work together to come up with a more wholistic understanding of the Christian gospel.

There is another way theology is moving, and that is to address contemporary issues. While the goal of theology is at best to be relevant to the context, nevertheless, this trend, to address the burning issues of society today is especially unique. Perhaps it is the proliferation of global awareness through mass media, however, more than ever, theology has been seeking to address issues of economics, politics, sexuality, ethics, social justice, environment and so forth. More specific issues are also addressed, like human rights and child theology.

There is a similar comfort with theology to be interdisciplinary. So there is a much more inter-mingling of disciplines, with anthropology, philosophy, natural science all mixing with the theological space.

The goal, through this above trend, is to broaden the scope of theology to address living issues, and also in ways that are living methods and disciplines today.

Methodologically, theology has moved towards theories of language, interest in hermeneutics, interest in cultures/contexts, user of inter-disciplinary tools. All, once again, showing that theology is not simply static and propositional or institutional, but is willing to try out new ideas, explore its own content from multiple perspectives.

So here we have it, a short thought paper on the modern trends in theology. How this all fits with “doing” I’m still not sure. And there is obviously more left to say, but at least I have gotten started by doing some theological reflection at least!

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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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