A lecture in contemporary theology commenced with the question: how many of you like theology? The majority responded: “we don’t like it but have to study it.” “Why don’t you like it?” asked the professor.
Challenging comments pooled in. One said, “theology is too critical, suspicious and negative.” Another, “theology is unpractical and abstract.” A third, “theology is boredom with words.” Still another, “theology is not worthy of its name.”
What is wrong with today’s theology?
Even experts express dissatisfaction. One may argue that it is a mere protest of prejudice. To another, it is a problem of how one understands theology. To others, it is a matter of one’s worldview. Still others, it is an issue of one’s personal interest. Is that all? Can there be reasons within the theological discipline? It seems that theology itself is partially responsible for the blame though one cannot ignore its benefits. The class reflected four fundamental challenges to contemporary theology: a question of theological method, task, language, and subject-matter.
For instance, what is an appropriate theological method? It is almost impossible to point out one as appropriate. A traditional method consisted of word, faith, reason and experience. Here reason was a helper to articulate faith in meaningful terms. It was a servant to the word, regulated by faith. But Aquinas introduced a way of doing theology by reason. He argued God’s existence apart from Scripture. Here theology is informed by reason, not by revelation. Descartes promoted suspicion as the fundamental method of scientific inquiry. The enlightenment pushed suspicious reason to its zenith. This pure rationalism left nothing unturned. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, as the masters of suspicion, completed the course. Theological rationalism appropriated such a method into theological discourse, which left us dance on the ruins today.
Yes, theology is unwell in a certain sense. We live the consequences. Experts, students, and lay believers alike deeply feel it. What must we do? Can we do theology differently? Thanks to those experts who are already moving “beyond the desert of criticism” to fresh, interesting, and fruitful ways. They want to hear again God speaking so that we can live meaningfully again. Can we make theology a meaningful way of life? Certainly, we can. But how shall we do such a dynamic theology without archaizing the holy text, neither modernising Christ, nor ignoring our cultural context? Come on board, we will discover it together.
Dr Xavier Lakshmanan is a theology lecturer at ACCS. If you are interested in learning and studying theology, enquire today for an information pack.