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when I was poached by wiley-blackwell to write the future of Christian theology book which was part of their manifesto series I thought it would be easy I mean they approached me because I had put 12 theses on the future of Christian theology in my epilogue to the third edition of the modern theologians book and so they said we'll look why not write up those twelve ECEs into a manifesto for the future of Christian theology and as I say I thought it would be very easy but in fact of course I started out trying to put those into a book and I started to rethink and think further and open up all sorts of new issues so it actually took me a year of a sabbatical in order to write it but and but it was a really fascinating exercise in trying to write that book and because it was a matter of trying to bring together all the different strands of theology that I've been involved with over the years and also that educational exercise for me of editing three editions of the modern theologians which meant that one had to try to keep up to date year after year about what was going on in the major schools of theology what was happening in South Asian theology and African theology in Latin American theology theology and science theology and film theology in the arts you know just name it and also you know theology and gender and and so on and so trying to say what theology it might be about in the future was quite a challenge but I also discovered that I hadn't actually asked myself the question of what are my basic criteria for the elements in a good Christian theology you know when I'm selecting things for the modern theologians for example what are the key elements in theology that one should look for and I came up with four elements the first was wise and creative retrieval of the past I mean above all obviously the Bible but also history traditions liturgies you know the whole and all the theologies of the past and that is absolutely vital clearly and of course different theologians do it differently they often focus know the areas of the past they focus on maybe more the Reformation than the Middle Ages or more modernity and the patristic period but all of them have to do the Bible and it so that was the first key element the retrieval of the past the second was simultaneous engagement with God church and world and the great theologians do that they are of course involved with God and but also with the church and also with the the world both the world of the past and the world of the present and getting those together is a huge challenge for anybody in their ordinary Christian life quite apart from being a theologian the third key element is that of wise and creative thinking that the theologian has to be as rigorous as possible in thinking through the various range of issues questions in in theology but also has to try to be imaginative about the possibilities of theology to try to experiment in their thought and so the third one is thinking and the fourth is communication I think this is often neglected by theologians but I don't see communicating theology as an add-on as if you have the content and then an extra packaging but trying to think how to communicate is part of the theological task and I think of one of my favorite theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer who having done the classic German theologian things like writing monographs and doctorates and so forth and also commentary on scripture at the end of his life he blossomed out into a whole range of different types of theology he was writing poetry he wrote was writing a drama he began a novel he's writing letters and papers and so forth and I think this creativity in relation to the different genres of theology is very important too and for me myself as a theologian one of my very closest friends has been the Irish poet me hollow Sheol that's spelled Oh ' SIADH ail and and we've been friends for over 40 years and he's my first reader and I'm his first reader and I must say that the experience of having a poet read my theology always for the first time and comment on it has made me much more aware of the importance of the communication side of theology one of the different things about writing the future of Christian theology was that it is one of three books in the series the others being the future of Jewish theology by Stephen kepner's and the third the future of Islamic theology by Arif Ali Naiad and one of those has now been finished and is with the publishers the future of Jewish theology by Steve Katniss it the other one has been delayed because Arif nayad got involved in the Libyan Revolution and ended up as the Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates where he still is at this moment though he intends to resign from that after the libyan elections but but having to a jewish thinker and a muslim thinker thinking about the future of their fields at the same time was very stimulating and we had one meeting for quite a long time in abu dhabi at one stage where we lay before each other our thoughts about our books and they responded to them and somehow thinking about the future of Christian theology always with a particular Jewish in a particular Muslim thinker in mind was very helpful and it helped you to think about a different sort of audience so to speak for it and the and also knowing what they were planning to do in their books and it also actually changed somewhat what I was doing it wasn't that they were arguing me out of my positions or anything but they commented on the way I was conceiving the book in a very helpful way and that changed things somewhat I suppose the leading concept about theology you know in my own theology for some years now has been that of wisdom I see wisdom as the most helpful concept summing up what theology is about in other words it's about understanding certainly but it's also about living I mean wisdom it seems to me is the relating of our understanding to good judgment and good living and the flourishing of human life as a whole and not just human life as itself but also within the context of the whole of creation and so I find wisdom has been an increasingly helpful concept to focus on not least of course because it is a basic biblical concept as well and there's a huge amount to think about there so so I tend to take about 10 years to write her one of my main books and the my book Christian wisdom was took 10 years more than 10 years in fact in terms of its roots but it was a very helpful time to just think about the whole Christian theology and of course the Bible too and the various ways in which Christian theology relates across different disciplines and to different spheres of life through the concept of wisdom I think a wisdom is an idea that was often seen as outdated somewhat in modernity but I think it's now coming in again that it's in in more greater fashion and I think for a very good reason because people realize that that combination of understanding and practice and you know good living that all of those need to be what shapes our lives and so I see wisdom as a leading concept and with every while writing the book Christian wisdom I think one of the surprises was the way in which wisdom emerged as where is it sometimes seen as a rather cool category as a very hot category rather in other words in biblical terms wisdom cries out passionately to people to seek her to follow her to get up early in the morning to rate her above silver and gold and anything else that you could desire and so this passion for wisdom seems to me something that is ideally at the heart of Christian theology and allied to that was the sense that wisdom is about what I called the discernment of cries that the world is full of cries cries of suffering cries of joy cries of wonder cries of satisfaction cries know that that and internally we have the cries that are there in our hearts of various sorts good and bad and we are surrounded by other people appealing to us in various ways and in the midst of all these cries I'd see wisdom as the discernment of Christ no trying as wisely as possible to see what these cries are about how far they should be responded to how do you respond to them how do you prioritize in relation to all the demands that come to us and I think theology is very much at the core of that enterprise of seeking in relation to the cries how to respond both thoughtfully and also practically one of the things that I became increasingly convinced of while writing the book Christian wisdom was that Christian faith is a matter not just of saying I believe this and I should do this in other words indicative you know this is what we affirm and imperatives this is what you must do but that there are other what I call the moods of faith you know besides the indicative mood in the imperative mood there's also the interrogative mood the fact that a lot of theology is about allowing questions to grip you more and more deeply and the great theologians are always those who have allowed the great questions to get in on them and without saying that the answers are going necessarily to be neat and tidy or that there even are answers to all the questions and so in the interrogative mood became increasingly important and one of my own great teachers was Donald McKinnon a great philosophical theologian in Cambridge who whose whole theology was really in the interrogative mood and insisted that you wrestle with the deepest questions I remember once him describing theology as wrestling with reality at its darkest points now it's also I think wrestling with it at its brightest points and all the other points in between but but that sense of an interrogative mood and theology I think is very important I think also the subjunctive mood you know the mood of maybe and might be the mood of perhaps the experimental mood where you let your imagination go in theology and think well maybe this maybe that might this work out this way that that also is a very important mood and of course often artists and poets I mean my friend me although she'll for example has often reminded me of the huge importance of the imagination in theology and trying to experiment in various directions and think of one road think of another road without a great pressure to come to clear premature conclusions of course you have to come eventually to some sorts of conclusions but err but a lot of the the best theology I think to is theology that opens up your imagination as much as your mind and and then there is the supreme mood I think of theology which is the octave mood the mood of desire I mean the octave in in Greek is the mood of you know if only you know the mood of longing and M I think that's the most embracing mood of theology because you are always lying for more you never have God wrapped up God is always greater God is always richer deeper brighter and more exciting than we can ever get hold of and so therefore we our theology should be dominated by a longing for God the desire for God and for God's purposes and for understanding everything else in relation to God and so the the desire this mood of desire I think is what should be most fundamental of all in theology just because we never have it all wrapped up we should always be open to more and more and more theology is a super abundant discipline and therefore the mood of desire it seems to me is that the right one to be the embracing one even though we can never do without the affirmations and the imperatives and the the subjunctive and the had the interrogatives I think in considering wisdom one of the further surprises for me was how much I was gripped by the book of Job this came about partly because I was helping Ben quash to supervise the doctoral thesis of Susannah to chiotti at the time which has since become a very interesting book on job and the inter and and the interruption of identity but but that engagement with the book of Job made I just think a great deal about that extraordinary text and I think my conviction that the understanding of what Christian faith is about has to have all those moods of faith mean job there he does have the things that he's affirming and there are imperatives in that text but above all he's asking the big questions he cries out the big questions and also of course in that glorious poetry of the book of Job he experiments he thinks he imagines all sorts of possible theological responses to his terrible situation and of course most basic of all he desires God that he just longs for God and never gives up in his longing for God and that in the end he is vindicated for and his comforters his friends who try to come up with the neat theological solutions the neat indicative is an empiricist you know joke this is how it's all wrapped up they are the ones who are fundamentally criticized by God at the end of the book where is job's insistence on doing a much messier theology on actually pursuing the big questions and not having neat answers that that is actually affirmed in the book in a way that's very encouraging I think for theology that insists on being immersed in the real world the real world of sufferings and joys that were all part of I thought that writing the book the future of Christian theology would be fairly straightforward because I had a whole lot of ideas about it and I thought I'd just sit down and write them but it wasn't like that and partly that was due to the concept of drama that I became increasingly convinced should be a lead concept in the book and this was partly being influenced by the thought about drama that goes back to Hegel and they was taken up by the Swiss theologian Hans von Balthasar and in this country I think very perceptively by the theologian at King's College London Ben quash in his book theology and the drama of history and what Ben and Hegel and von Balthasar do is they take three basic concepts of drama epic and lyric which are like literary genres if you like and they give a priority to drama all of them in a way that I think is very convincing especially in relation to Christian theology it isn't that the others are not important and they really try to do justice to those but just know putting briefly I think the point is that the epic approach to things tells one big story has one big overview of reality and tries to integrate everything into that story and that's a very attractive thing to do but I think it's also quite dangerous in theology to think you can fit everything into that sort of totality and the lyric is much more subjective and passionate and focused on the intensities of life and of course you need to do that too but the drama tries to draw on both the narrative dimension of the epic and also the subjective intensity of the lyric and to put them together in an approach to life that has genuine conversation and difference and engagement over time and it's not nearly so easy to have an overview of and it seems to me that's much more true to what our daily lives are like that were in an ongoing drama of engagement with other people we don't have an overview of what's going on in their minds or often in our own lives either but we have to respond constantly to the challenges to the events that happen and so forth and I think the Bible is a highly dramatic book which leads you into one dramatic set of events after another and of course the time acting one for Christians is the Gospel story and that to understand that in terms of a drama which we are continuing in some sense is a very helpful way of doing it and for me the most recent way of doing this has been in relation to the Gospel of John now the Gospel of John can be read in so many different ways I'm myself writing a theological commentary on the Gospel of John for the Westminster John Knox series belief and and I've been teaching courses to students on this as well and have found that a where is some interpreters of John see John as a great source of doctrinal theology of various sorts which it is of course it is the great theological gospel if others see John like biltman for example see John as about existential intense decisions you know that they that you take the decisions about life and so forth therefore that's more lyric if you like the first one of the big doctrinal overviews is more epic but I think John is the great dramatic craftsman of the New Testament if you look at the stories that he has they're often at greater length than the ones in the Synoptics but also much better crafted dramatically like the woman at the well in chapter 4 or Nicodemus in chapter 3 or the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11 and the whole of this telling of the story of the passion death and resurrection – is wonderfully crafted by John and I think what John wants us to do is to take a sort of dramatic perspective on life that he's not trying to offer us a big system for understanding the whole of reality and he's not also just offering us a way of dealing with our immediate encounters in a a two-day way but he wants us to enter into this drama they had the drama of Jesus Christ which he begins of course right from the very beginning of Genesis he quotes in the beginning was the word and that is right at the beginning of Genesis and so he has this huge overarching drama but he is above all interested in our continuing that drama in other words if you look at the ending of John's Gospel in chapters 20 and 21 he's giving a series of encounters with the Risen Jesus and then the breathing of the Holy Spirit and the emphasis above all in that marvelous engagement with Simon Peter in chapter 21 is on love and he wants us to take part in an ongoing drama that's centered on love and notice how when he talks about the Beloved Disciple when Peter questions Jesus about the Beloved Disciple and Jesus says hey what is it to you at least should wait until I come that's a very interesting way of talking about the second coming of Jesus it takes for granted that there is a future know that Jesus is the future the coming of Jesus is the future for all of us but it's not emphasizing it it's not giving you no vivid apocalyptic pictures of it what it's doing is saying concluding follow me in other words the perspective of John is to help us in the ordinary drama of living in following Jesus in a way of life in love and that is what we've to focus on in other words the the primary perspective is not what's going on inside us necessarily and it's not a big cosmic picture though it's nice to have both of those included but it's primary the drama of interaction with other people in a day-to-day way and I think that's why John emphasizes love so much that the absolutely primary commandment is love one another as I have loved you you


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