Where have all the theologians gone?
Graduate schools are filled with them, but they are not quoted
from the pulpit much. People don't stand in line to hear them as
they did in the 1950s.
They've been replaced, in popularity at least, by storytellers,
said America's best-known theologian, Martin E. Marty.
The laity prefer stories to theory, he said.
They seek wisdom in fiction by religious writers like C.S.
Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, John Updike or Sue Miller.
They read Flannery O'Connor, though she is a pre-Vatican II
Catholic, for her "parables of grace."
That is not enough for Marty, a Lutheran minister.
"Reading stories about grandmother and how she made it through
life won't do it," said Marty. "You have to read something
Marty, 67, is professor of theology at the University of
Chicago Divinity School. He was in St. Louis recently to deliver
the 14th annual Thomas Aquinas Lecture sponsored by The Aquinas
Institute of Theology.
Marty has written 40 books. He is senior editor of the
Protestant weekly "The Christian Century" and editor of two
Marty has a neatly trimmed fringe of white hair. He was nattily
dressed in a Harris tweed vest, a black suit and red bow tie. He
keeps his 5-foot-8 frame lean by hiking.
Marty is not one to advocate dry theology or rigid dogmatism.
Churches need to coexist with secular forces to thrive in our
pluralistic society, he said.
Theology can be "enterprising and related to modern life,"
Marty says. He recommends essayist Gary Wills, Harvard child
psychologist Robert Coles and Holocaust expert Eli Wiesel. "That's
where the energies of theology are going," he said.
Today, intellectuals - clergy and lay persons - overlook
theology to read Bible studies like those by the Rev. Dr. Walter
Brueggemann, formerly of Eden Seminary, Marty said.
Along with the new interest in storytelling, a pendulum is
swinging away from the top authorities of organized denominations,
he says. When church congregations want to start a new project for
the homeless or the elderly or victims of HIV, they don't wait
until orders come from the bishop or other regional leadership.
They just do it.
A part of this pendulum swing is intensely personal and
essentially diffused spirituality, he said. This trend has been
building since about 1969 when the media started reporting tales of
near-death experiences. It gained followers with New Age
spiritualism, guides to holistic living and what Marty considers
more serious research into Buddhism and medieval mysticism, he
said. The popularity of guardian angels is the trendiest
realization of the movement, Marty said. …