Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

What's Needed in Theology? World-View Construction, Retrieval, or ...?

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

What's Needed in Theology? World-View Construction, Retrieval, or ...?

Article excerpt

Introduction

When describing the current context in which theology is done, the term "postmodern" or a variant thereof is usually employed. Such a term, moreover, has enjoyed nearly canonical status for almost two-and-a-half decades. Seminarians invoke it with all the solemnity of liturgical prayer (if they actually believe such a thing exists anymore). Colleagues employ the term to show other colleagues that they are hip to what is going on in academic circles and to show our friends across the street (as we often say in Berkeley to refer to the godless world of the university) that we can play wissenschafiliche hardball with the best of them.

Given this current scene, what is a Christian theologian to do? My colleague and friend Ted Peters--to whom this essay is dedicated--has responded to this question by articulating a systematic theology rooted in the traditional biblical symbols and yet in conversation with this postmodern time. Reviewers have hailed his God--the World's Future as an exemplary model of theological construction and depth that critically engages our current context because it shows how Christian faith is relevant and can contribute to humanity's, if not the entire universe's future. This illustrates very well what one commentator on the newer projects in systematic theology calls the complementarity or "partnership of retrieval and recontextualization." (1)

More recently, Peters has engaged what can only be called a belligerent atheism that angrily denies the existence of God in whom we place our faith. In a brief essay written for his Danish colleague Peter Widmann's Festschrift titled, "The Systematic Theologian at Work in an Atheistic Context," he employs the major insights and contents of God--the World's Future to provide what I would call a "Cliff's note" version of this larger work to address this atheistic challenge with its "trash talk" of theology as "a nonsubject ... vacuous ... devoid ofcoherence and content." (2) Such a challenge confronts us with the question once again of the nature of the theological task. Peters' answer:

  today's theologian is an intellectual carpenter whose business is
  worldview construction--that is, the theologian constructs a
  speculative picture of the whole of reality, within which
  everything is oriented toward the God of grace. Our day-to-day
  experience along with our secular knowledge of the magnificent world
  in which we live can be properly understood only in relationship to
  the God who created and redeems all things. And, furthermore, we
  Christians understand this God to be gracious (55).

In what follows, I want to use Peters' essay to illustrate an understanding of a particular theological method--a correlational one (though he doesn't quite call it that, preferring instead the term hermeneutical, but the point or the dynamic is the same). It is to connect or correlate something in the past, whether message, faith, kerygma, the inherited tradition that confessed the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christi (3), to its current setting by constructing a view of the world that is an understandable and believable portrayal of reality--of the world that is loved by a gracious God. Hence, my task in Part I, is to summarize this essay so that in Part II I can contrast to and a supplement to this approach to theology as worldview construction with one that is known as a "theology ofbretrieval" or a "theology of particularity." (4) Such theologies

  seek to give close attention to significant theologians of the
  past--particularly before modernity--in order to call into question
  and reframe the contemporary theological discussion. The point is not
  to repristinate these past theologies, but to read past theologians in
  a way which allows for them to call us into question. (5)

Moreover, these theologies give more singular attention to what the Germans call the inhaltliche Bestimmtheit (6)-"a precise and definite content" of this grace. …

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