Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Christian story is no longer the de facto organizer of reality

Indistinct Union: Christianity, Integral Philosophy, and Politics Exploration of Unity Consciousness, Christian Life, Integral Thought, and the Future of Politics in a Post-Postmodern World Saturday, March 17, 2007 Varieties of Christian Theology Chris Dierkes
There are four basic theologies in current Christian discourse: fundamentalist, conservative, liberal, liberation [My own work is an exploration of a fifth--namely an integral theology. Also missing from that list is mystical theology which is not to be subsumed completely under integral but gets short shrift in theological discourse].
  • By fundamentalist I mean a belief in the inerrant literal Word of God for all doctrine and morals as found in the Bible. Common in English-speaking evangelical churches, Pentecostalism, Southern American Baptist Churches, born agains, etc.
  • Liberation theologies works from the starting point of the experience of the poor and marginalized of our world. They are the context and medium (a 3rd magisterium after The Bible and Tradition) of God's word and salvific liberating praxis/action in our world.
  • Liberal theologies start with human experience and culture. Liberation theology can be considered a sub-set of liberal but generally liberal support a middle class status-quo socio-economic structure and tend to focus on issues like women's empowerment, gay and lesbian struggles, anti-war, etc. The upside is an ability to listen to the Spirit working outside the Church. The abolition of slavery is a great example, as well as women's ordination (women's rights grew outside the Church). The downside is that it can often be unclear how one is different than social-political liberation movements.
  • Conservative theologies--modern conservative theologies as opposed to fundamentalist modernizers--start with the Christian story and emphasize non-comformity to society (as do liberationists but with different aims and for different reasons). The upside (usually) a stronger sense of identity and of one's sacred story/narrative. The downside, in a postmodern world how does one argue that this story is any different/better than all the others? As well as possibility of being so story focused that the human element of the church and ethics is left untouched, leaving oppressive structures in place.

An excellent summation of Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) and his modern theological outlook here from Commonweal. Benedict is one of the greatest of these modern conservative theologians. Another great Catholic modern conservative theologian is Hans Urs von Balthasar, a influence on Ratzinger. Ratzinger's biggest influences are Augustine and Bonaventure (13th century Franciscan Augustinian). In Protestantism, the name most associated with modern theological conservativsm is Karl Barth. I've been getting more interested in the work of Hans Frei and the rise of what I call postmodern conservatives. Alisdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauwervas, and John Milbank I think fit this category. (Ross Douthat too?). They promote a conservative ethos and communal reflection but do so in a postmodern worldframe.

Frei described his theology as "post-liberal." (Commentary here). Frei's work opened up avenues in Biblical studies towards literary theory and narrative study to the Biblical text. Prior to that in source criticism and form studies, the Bible had been read for historical content or sitz im leben (life-situation) of the stories, either in oral or literate culture.

Frei began to notice that the stories were crafted no matter what the sources and/or original form/life situations of the texts, especially in their hypothesized oral stage. These conservative theologies of the narrative variety have gained a strong following in terms of music, aesthetic, and dramatic portrayal of the Christian story in more evangelical circles. Some of these reflections are high quality--sadly a lot more is not (Christian pop & rock).

The issue all of these theologies struggle with, as Frei himself knew, was the move from an assumed Christian story/worldview to the rational Enlightenment modernist one (and now postmodernist worldscape). Once the Christian story was no longer the de facto organizer of reality, then what?

Liberals tended argue either for eternal truths from the text (Jesus as Great Moral Teacher for example) or the Bible as History (Historical Jesus Studies). Evangelicals, born agains, and charismatics Pentecostals have generally given up on the story and engagement with the world and can easily fall into individualistic experience based theologies and churches.

These conservative traditions---Balthasar and Frei especially--retained this notion of proclaiming the story, the narrative and seeping the world in the Christian vision. Like I said it has its limitations as an absolute path, but I'm finding that I've neglected this lineage and need to find more outlets for it. Don't know what that means for now but keeping it as a pray and desire of my heart. posted by CJ Smith @ 9:22 PM 0 comments

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