Magazine article Cross Currents

Christian Theology and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Magazine article Cross Currents

Christian Theology and the Re-Enchantment of the World

Article excerpt

Christian theology faces many new opportunities and challenges in the postmodern and post-Christian cultures of the contemporary world, especially in the West. Pluralism, relativism, the social nature of knowledge, virtual reality, globalization, multiculturalism and the triumph of the "spiritual" over the religious are just some of the pressing issues. For theology to be relevant it must engage these concepts in dialogue, sometimes affirmatively and sometimes critically, but engage them it must. Unfortunately, many current theological methods either ignore some of these phenomena or else they do not take them seriously. However, the Zeitgeist cannot be given short shrift if theology is to be responsive to contemporary questions and concerns.

This essay is an attempt to see what theological thought might look like when it consults some of the key ideas and driving concerns of contemporary philosophy, social science and, especially, "popular culture." The working presupposition is that Christianity has not lost its ability to offer a revelatory, salvific and meaningful message to the world, but only an effective application strategy for the postmodern/post-Christian milieu. In other words, this study will be a reading of the "signs of the time" for evidence of the movement of the Spirit and the Word of the Triune God in contemporary American life in general and religious expression in particular. The demise of rationalism and empiricism in determining "reality" and the return of mystery and spirituality in the re-enchantment of the world has created a wonderful new opportunity for theology. In essence, it is a chance for theo-logic to contribute once again its unique voice to public discourse after so many years of relegation to the private/personal realm of human experience. Additionally, there is the potential for theology to be re-invigorated and inspired by what is happening in popular culture.

The paper has four parts. First, the dynamic relationship between theology and culture will be surveyed. Second, the demise of secularism and the arrival of the re-enchantment of the world will be studied. Third, a reading of this re-enchantment from the perspective of Christian theology will be ventured. Fourth, the essay will be briefly summarized and concluding reflections and analyses will be offered.

Religion and Culture

The relationship between religion and culture has always been complicated through the history of Christian theology. From Jesus' counter-cultural judgment about life in the Roman Empire, to the Church Fathers' use of philosophical sources (but the ignoring of popular religion), to the relegation of religion to only the private sphere during the modern period, the relationship has been marked by divisions. These perceived separations are grounded in the belief that the world is corrupt and humanity fallen while revelation is the unerring Word of God. Consequently, there has been no shortage of Christian thinkers who wanted to accentuate a perceived gap between the secular and the sacred, with culture and religion being presented as monolithic entities that exist independently: faith verses reason, nature versus grace, and church versus state.

Much of contemporary postmodern theology attempts to think about this relationship in less adversarial and simplistic terms. The starting point is the recognition that religion is always culturally situated and conditioned. Believers are members of culture and society, and they bring these influences into their practice of religion. Even theologians use vocabularies, terms, theories and methods from culture and other disciplines. There never has been a "pure Christianity" or pure theological reasoning that remains unaffected by its surroundings. Actually, theological discourse is a kind of "parasitic cultural production" that depends on the wider culture for the material with which it works. (2) There really is no way to guard the boundary of any discourse from other discourses. …

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