Questions for theology

Michael Welker, in his essay included in the book The Future of Theology, asks some important questions about the present state of theology. It is not just church that is struggling. Our theology itself is broken. And it is the very foundation we need to address if we are to find a renewal of Christian communities in our era and beyond.

Here is what he writes in “Christian Theology at the End of the Second Millennium”:

Under the spell of [distorted] perceptions of the world and self, many theologians in the Western industrialized nations find themselves confronted by the question: What direction can theology take in the third millennium? At the same time, Christian theology must ask itself whether and to what extent it has itself contributed to this crisis in orientation.

Has theology taken seriously its task of bringing to people’s attention God’s vitality and love for human beings, God’s creative and delivering power? Or has it rather directed their thoughts and feelings to some rigid authority in the beyond that has merely formal ‘relations’ to the world and to human beings? Or has it directed them to mere projections of deliverer and deliverance amid the various problems and crises?

Has it, in its questions concerning God, assiduously exhausted the biblical sources of knowledge of God, sources that grew for more than a millennium and that for more than two millennia have shaped ‘world culture’ for both good and bad? Or has it contented itself with theological abstractions that are seductive because they offer simple, integrative syntheses, thereby offering to common sense impressions of God and of salvation?

Has it developed forms enabling people of different cultural and social spheres to organize their various searches and questions concerning God as well as their various experiences of God into a critical and creative framework? Or has it become specialize in ‘the God-human being relation’ characteristic of the abstract, imperial modern thinking, or in those particular contextual experiences of God that maintain their immunity against any enrichment and questioning by other experiences of God?

Has it released the powers of distinguishing between experiences of God and images of idols, between illusions of self-redemption and an orientation toward God’s saving acts? Or has it largely specialized in strengthening religious claims of immediacy and religious moralism?

Has it found forms for critical discernment that do justice both to the vitality and the doxa of God on the one hand, and to the creative freedom of creatures on the other? Or has it stabilized old, long-transparent forms of dominion and self-preservation in order to avoid the difficulties of real joy in God’s vitality, genuine fear of God, and the vitality of human experiences of God?

These self-critical questions about whether theology has not contributed to the present crisis in religious orientation direct our attention to a religious form that has long dominated the Western world, and that now is deteriorating. At issue is classical bourgeois theism. Its collapse strengthens the present crisis in normative and religious orientation just as much as does half-hearted, immature searching for alternatives.

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