The Word as True Myth: Interpreting Modern Theology
Morgan, Christopher W., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
The Word as True Myth: Interpreting Modern Theology. By Gary Dorrien. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997, 287 pp., $24.95 paper.
Gary Dorrien serves as Associate Professor of Religion, Dean of Stetson Chapel, and Chair of Humanities at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. His other notable books include Soul in Society: The Making and Renewal of Social Christianity (1995), The Remaking of Evangelical Theology (1998), and The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology: Theology without Weapons (1999).
In The Word as True Myth, Dorrien endeavors to interpret the history of modern theology by examining how major theological movements and particular thinkers understood "Christian myth." In doing so, he focuses on liberalism, crisis theology/ neo-orthodoxy, and liberationism/postmodernism.
Dorrien's account of liberalism surveys Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher, G. W. F. Hegel, David Friedrich Strauss, Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack, Shailer Mathews, D. C. Macintosh, Ernst Troeltsch, and Walter Rauschenbusch. He proposes that despite all their differences the leading liberal theologians assumed that the mythical aspects of Christianity were to be transcended or overcome. In essence, liberalism yearned to adapt Christianity to "an Enlightened myth-negating consciousness" (p. 2).
Whereas liberalism attempted to go beyond the mythical elements of Christianity, dialectical theologians brought the idea of myth to the forefront. From his examination of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, Friedrich Gogarten, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorrien concludes that neo-orthodox theologians produced a wide variety of viewpoints concerning the problem of Christian myth. In particular, Dorrien suggests that Bultmann aimed to reconstruct ("demythologize") the mythical aspects of Christianity into humanity's existential concerns, that Brunner denied the idea of Christian myth altogether, and that Tillich and Niebuhr embraced myth as the essential mode of encounter with a person's ultimate concern.
Endeavoring to demonstrate the transition from neo-orthodoxy to the diverse postmodernist theologies, Dorrien focuses his attention on the theological journey of Langdon Gilkey. He finds in Gilkey a strong attempt to reinterpret classical liberalism and neo-orthodoxy in the postmodern context. Gilkey's theology exemplifies a reworked liberalism that affirms Christian myth as its source.
Contemporary liberationism/postmodernism also struggles over the precise meaning and role of myth, Dorrien submits. Process theology is viewed as an attempt to translate faith into the language of a credible philosophy. Jungian theory, ecofeminism, and poststructural feminism are then perceived as appeals to "the mythic imagination as a distinctively generative and revelatory mode of understanding" (p. …