Trends in Theology, Pt. 2

This is the second article among several exploring trends in theology.  Theology is a search for and conversation with God to realize how God is working in each one of us, in our communities, in our world, and in history.  We do theology because God calls us to respond to His love in creative ways; such reflection is the stuff of theology.

Last week I mentioned that the work of theology is becoming a global discipline, meaning that Western civilization no longer has a monopoly on theology and that various regions spanning from South America to Japan are contributing to the conversation on how humans and God interact.  The trend I’m writing about this week has to do with the relational aspect of theology.

As the world continues to connect in urban, suburban, rural, and cyber-communities, people are hungering for deeper relationships and sustainable partnerships.  But there is an irony here because people are seeking these relationships outside of churches.  People are attending church less but are joining intimate fellowship groups in far greater numbers.  The aim of relational theology is therefore to put Church back in center stage to help build sustainable relationships.

A theology that focuses on relationships mirrors the Trinity—God-in-Three Persons—for it is the Trinity that gives us a vision of the diverse-but-interdependent mode of what it means to be truly human.  What this means is that we are to see that all humans are interdependent upon one another, and that we find God and experience God by listening to one another’s life stories.  It is within this storytelling that God emerges as a major character in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

This trend in theology also obliges us to seek Christ in community, for the sake of community.   In this way theology does not merely help us think about God or talk about God, it forces us to discover God’s Presence no matter how mysterious or uncomfortable that Presence may be.  It forces us to respond in active social justice and repentance.

Emerging out of this theology is the idea that we are firmly rooted in all of God’s creation whereby Christians see themselves as a part of creation.  We are interconnected with creation and have mutual obligations to creation.

This does not lead to pantheism or panentheism (worshipping the Earth or creation); rather, this is a re-claiming of the ancient biblical understanding that humans are holistic beings who partner with the Earth in order to bring about the effects of God’s redemptive plan in every square inch of our world.

Additionally, relational theology assumes that humans naturally seek out authentic relationships and make us aware that there are some ways of seeking relationships that are inauthentic.  These deceiving paths do not lead to the type of authenticity that includes God in the mix.  One false way of building relationships is partnering with the idol of mass consumerism.

It is my opinion that we live in a sort of technocracy in which major corporations study how we live and then feed us products that we think we need.  As long as these products insure us that we “belong”, we buy into the myth that our material things provide identity.  Such an identity does not foster the God-conversations that theology demands, nor does it enact wise stewardship of creation and of the Earth’s resources.  Instead our own desires in a must-have world blind us to the needs of others.  We are so busy seeking the things of this world, we miss out on exploring how God’s Kingdom is manifesting itself in our midst.

A friend of mine often quotes Desmond Tutu: “I am who I am because of who we are.”  Relational theology requires us to stand before a Trinitarian God that calls us into sustainable communities with our neighbors. It keeps us from falling into a consumerism mold.  It intentionally builds relationships that emphasize our interdependence on the Creator and all creation.

Trends in Theology, Pt. 1

By Joe LaGuardia

Over the next few weeks, I would like for you to journey with me into a field that we rarely explore in the everyday interactions of church life: the discipline of theology.  Theology is often neglected because we think it is a topic that is too esoteric or cerebral to confront; however, I believe that theology is something that we do all the time.

Whenever we reflect on our faith or figure out how our faith applies to our daily living, we are doing theology.

I know that when we speak of theology, it is hard to not feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the tidal wave of history and heritage that gets pulled into perspective from over two millennia of Christian tradition.  Theology is a fluid and evolving discipline.

And there have been those who have tried to control theology and turn it into a scientific equation in which all the pieces fit into a perfect jig-saw puzzle; even systematic theology has shown the wear of time as Modernity fades into human history.

Writing about theological trends, therefore, requires a great amount of humility and an even greater amount of skepticism.  When all things are said and done, establishing trends is like trying to swat a fly–God always seems to elude us at the last minute, right when we think we have Him figured out!

The future of Christianity and of theology is changing as more voices clash for publicity rights and audiences, tenures and lectureships.  Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, I would like to take a stab at what I think the future holds when it comes to Christian theology and the Church.

I should define theology before I continue: Theology is a conversation with the Trinity in which humans try to catch a glimpse of how God is at work in their personal lives, in the world, and in all of history.

With that said, trends in theology are shifting from a science-based approach (systematic theology) to a global approach, letting in perspectives from a vast amount of church traditions and regional contexts.  The first trend I would like to explore in this article starts from the broad perspective of globalism:

Theology is taking on a global phenomenon in which the West (Europe and North America) is no longer determining what the purpose of Christ’s Church is for the rest of the world.  In The Next Christendom, author Philip Jenkins argues that the southern, global hemisphere is becoming a hotbed for Christian growth, evangelism, and (naturally) theology and ecclesiology.

The epicenter of Christian thought is moving from the cathedrals of Europe to the village churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In addition, Christians in North America are catching on to a global worldview.  Ecological, humanitarian, and economic concerns are striking the hearts and imagination of Christians who are hungry to change the world.  Rick Warren, as one example of a global-bound Christian, is leading a whole new generation of socially-conscious Christians into places like Africa to help the most impoverished and marginalized of people.

Christians are also heading to China, Japan, and India to live among people that have the potential to know Christ through a stranger.  Theology will take on a global hue as cultural diffusion continues to shape the “melting pot” of an increasingly mobile world.

In our community we can see how globalism is shaping society.  We are a multiethnic and multihued society that makes room for various perspectives and approaches to worship, church life, culture, ethics and social justice.  The internet is also making the world a smaller, more connected place.

Many people fear globalism, but my deepest conviction is that globalism will be an asset in the larger vision of evangelism and missions when it comes to spreading the Gospel.