Last year The Expositional Times journal ran a series of papers outlining ‘trends and directions’ in contemporary academic theology. A great way to get on top of the literature if you are a student of theology (formal or informal). Reflecting on the series is an interesting way for me to make some gross generalisations, which I admit I have a particular weakness for!
There are a four things that stand out to me through reading this series.
First, theology is clearly grappling with the challenges and opportunities of global, cultural pluralism. On the one hand, this is simply about multiplicity – the sheer volume of perspectives is overwhelming! On the other hand, this is more seriously about subjectivity – how do we negotiate the choice of truth in all these options? Perry Schmidt-Leukel’s article on Pluralist Theologies (Nov 2010) proposed three categorisations in this regard and I’ve found it helpful to use them to think more carefully about the assumptions in each particular theology as I’m reading it:
- Exclusivist theology suggests ‘I am right and others are wrong’
- Inclusivist theology suggests ‘We might start at different places but you’re caught up in my explanation in the end’
- Pluralist theology refuses to dissolve differences and thereby leaves lots of questions unanswered.
A second group of issues is grappling with the present day relationship to the Enlightenment. There are definitely signs of people trying to integrate across these three (eg. postliberal hermeneutics) and the next few decades should begin to produce lots of original work. I observe responses to the era of humanistic empirical rationalism which:
- return to pre-modern resources for theology (eg. mystical theological approaches and elements of radical orthodoxy),
- an embrace of post-modern experiments in Christianity (eg. analytic theology)
- and yet others continuing to work with the resources of the modern era (eg. conservative approach and some political theology).
Third, in relation to content, a couple of dominant themes come through the series. The two articles on Orthodox Theology address the question of ‘the ontology of personhood‘ and this can be seen in other discourses as well: sometimes as an investigation into the body and sexuality, sometimes as an investigation into the location of truth and knowing.
Fourth, what is notably absent from the series is any third-world voices. The article on political theology touched on South America, but African and Asian perspectives are entirely absent. This might just be a reflection of the readership of The Expository Times journal, but I suspect it reflects Western academic theology more broadly. Just as for our denominations, Western theology is struggling to get up to speed with the Christendom shift to the global south. Further, I would have thought environmental concerns would have figured more prominently but from memory only came up in relation to eco-feminism. Pentecostalism is also missing from the series which seems an unnecessary oversight. Finally, it’s clear that academic theology is still largely dominated by men.
So, who are my favourites from the series (at this point in time)?
- Rowan Williams, Mark McIntosh, Stanley Hauerwas, Alvin Plantinga and Christos Yannaras are all guys that I enjoy reading.
- Sarah Coakley and Catherine Tanner are two chicks I’ve found particularly interesting.
- When all is said and done though, there is nothing more edifying than the everyday theological conversations I have around my kitchen table.
The articles in the series are as follows…
2010: November – pluralist theologies
December – postliberal hermeneutics
2011: January – feminist theology
February – anglican theology
March – radical orthodoxy
April – reformed theology
May – catholic theology
June – political theology
July – analytic theology
August & September – orthodox theology of personhood (parts 1 & 2)
If you’re keen for more detail I’ve cut and paste the series abstracts into a 2 page document – click here. If you’re not part of a library I’m afraid you’ll likely have to pay for the papers on-line. Here’s a link to The Expository Times journal.