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.