Lots of big questions these days about developing postmodern theology…. somewhere between, “The church will die if we don’t!” and “Perish the thought! Anathema!” lies the bulk of the conversation. Yeah, we can distinguish between postmodern theology and theology for postmodern times, but the bigger question being asked is how much theology should “adapt” to the times or to the culture. Should it be contextualized for postmodernity or not? If so, how much is acceptable and how much would be “crossing the line”? After all, we’ve never had to deal with issues like this before, as they’re just coming to the surface in the face of the postmodernity of the past decade or so. At this juncture I just thought I’d make an observation, which is this: there’s nothing new under the sun.
For various reasons, I was rifling through the bookshelves in my study looking for things at least two or three times over the past few weeks. Whatever I’d actually been looking for, serendipity struck twice, and I found two books of note: Helmut Thielicke’s How modern should theology be? first published in German in 1967 and in English in 1969 (now o/p). Hmm, change the name, and this question has been around at least 40 years. Then there’s a second volume I found, by Charles Harris, D.D., titled The creeds and modern thought: Can theology be progressive while the faith remains unchanged? (also o/p). Well, Dr. Charles Harris, you pose a good question. By the way, my copy of your book still has the dustjacket, though it’s been torn at some time before I came to posess it. A first (only?) edition, it’s otherwise in good condition; the original price of the the book is listed on the jacket at “2s. net”. I paid fifty cents. This short book proclaims itself to be “A paper read at Christ Church, Oxford before the Nicene and Origen Societies on December 5th, 1918, to which are added brief notes on the discussion”.
You see, the question isn’t new at all. It’s been going on for ages certainly longer than the 87 years I’ve just demonstrated. And theology has adjusted itself, without losing its faithfulness to the apostles’ teaching. Charles Harris, D.D. has a dedication inscribed in his book… one which I resonate with, because in a sense, the book is dedicated to me. The dedication page reads, “To those who believe that the new knowledge and the ancient faith can be reconciled.” I’m not so sure about this “new knowledge” but I do know that the ancient faith is relevant to all times, if we can find the proper means to communicate it to each time. Like these postmodern times, and those which come after them, and later, after even those times.
It’s so tricky figuring out how to worship and be in a relationship with God without making an idol out of it, without trying to control it. The picture that comes to my mind is communicating with my mom: ten years ago, we would’ve primarily talked on the phone, but now we chat online. It’s still the same relationship, but the tools we use to communicate change. Because times change, does that mean theology needs to? God’s the same God; we’re still the people He created with the same aches and needs and holes that only He can fill. If the tools change, does that mean theology changes? I’m too much of a non-seminarian to know. :)
Last week I was leaning over the side of a wooden bridge that crosses over a creek near our home. I was thinking about an Einstein quote I read a few months back: “when we step into the river, we step into the last of what was and first of what is to come.”
From there I got thinking about the fish that reside in the creek. You may know that fish tend to be territorial in creeks and rivers. There are species that live out their lives in 100m of creek or riverbed.
Many times in Scripture the Spirit is compared to wind and water, some of the most powerful natural forces we know. Interesting.. when wind or water pass over you, they are never the same wind or water. YOu can never step into the same river twice.
As for the fish, the river may push them around, but the water that flows over them is never the same. And because of the nature of this dynamic, fluid, living force, in order for the fish to stay in the same place, it has to keep moving.
Interesting isn’t it? Because of the nature of culture, in order to stay in the same place, we have to change.