Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Start of In Depth Theology Sessions

I'm very pleased with how the In Depth Theology session went Tuesday evening. The best comment came from one participant: "It's not exactly Sunday School!" I replied that that is the subtitle: it is not Sunday school.

First of all it was a case of introducing what I'd been doing, and then what the structure of now 25 sessions would be, with seven written and the eighth on the way. The folks would engage with this however they liked: it could be as a course where they both do the course and comment on it. Or we could just treat it like a conversation prompter. The latter is what happened, and in any case this first session had much more in the way of introductory elements.

I took along two large handled baskets of theology books, and went through these that had been background for me, as well as two core books that had helped produce summaries of theologians.

I was pleased that my ad-libbing made what I had written easier to understand; because of the person doing the printing was elsewhere the number of copies were very few, but the chap who'd read everything previously made this comment.

Ethics isn't one of my main interests as a subject, but I took it as going from the me, or the I, as self-conscious, language speaking and library recording biological units, aware of our own death, going from that to recognising similar in the other and developing an ethical stance. Then the other means the collective, and from the collective to institutions for us that then come under ethical criticism. But there is no agreement on ethics, there are clashes of ethical values. Theology comes rushing in (and in different religions and traditions) as a resource for ethics, and there are many homes or bases for theologies - and even Jurgen Habermas who has supposed that rationality to truth is available to the disinterested conversation, the last of the Enlightenment thinkers, has in later life seen the value of tradition as a resource. There are many traditions.

One of the conversations we had was as thinking, collective beings - as products of emergent evolution - was how Richard Dawkins turns against evolution for his ethics. Some, after all, I said, took Darwinianism and came up with eugenics, to kill the rubbish. Such is an ethical stance! In coming up with also expressions of wonder and awe, and non-precise language like art and music, does convergent music mean we who are religious build a God from such traditions and culture or are we meeting our maker. I was trying very much not to put my own view on this, but the room seemed to be of a general view that we make the God from our own cultural and traditional development (it happens to be my view).

We also referred to the Golden Rule throughout religions, and what is useful ethically in the Ten Commandments. For example, as for an identifiable local who polishes his rarely used large car, what ethical damage does that graven image do? Very little, probably. Some religions, or parts of religions, are full of graven images - Anglo-Catholcism being one. Even Islam has pictures of Muhammad on his Night Journey. We talked about the ethical drive in Buddhism and in Islam: and someone said about no images of Buddha for quite a long time in Buddhism.

We spoke about Christian "flat earthers" and a good point was that there are a number of flat earth theologies about now - in that, what was a response against nineteenth century liberalism is today being seen as liberal by all sorts of present day reactions within Christianity.

My point was that we'll see how the ninteenth century theologians - back to Schleiermacher (earlier) but then Ritschl, Harnack and Troeltsch tried to access theology through the newly clarified academic subject areas and found problems (of losing Christian uniqueness). Too hooked to optimism and social progress, the effect of the First World War, the Depression and Nazism was a set of modern theologians and all of them finding a special reserved space for Christology. But this method (with God belief) also means that history and science and social science has no interest in what theology thinks, whereas theology is interested in history, social science and science. It is a one way street, and how to do theology in such a secular world.

I said the idea that clergy in training only look at these theologians and that there is a gap between this training and most people in the pews, and in any case in position many clergy revert away from such learning, is something we can reject and thus break into what theology is about.

So we have ethics and defining theology (we did some theology defining before we got to the resource paper), then the nineteenth century, then the theologians that have set the scene, then some Anglican controversies and reactions, and then a general survey of theologians. For example, I mentioned in passing David Tracy, supposedly Roman Catholic theologian, who has a theology of the impact of the classics, like the Bible Qur'an and Bhagavad Gita, and the compelling impact the classices have on us, and who values the place of conversation... What makes him Roman Catholic? It is, I suggested, that unlike Karl Barth or Radical Orthodoxy or Yale postliberalism there remains an engagement with the world and not a withdrawal from it, either into a postmodern bubble or revelation. I'd shown some of these books and quickly mentioned them, such as Radical Orthodoxy and its move to its base at Nottingham.

England is really a bywater in theology. Asked why Germans and Americans should be so dominant, someone gave a better answer than me. It's not just the original seat of the Reformation (in Germany) but the princes of the many diverse German states each wanted a university and theology was an important long-standing subject in each. The answer for the US is in its well resourced educational institutions.

It is the first time I have done some planned and sustained presentation for some time, with more to come (how much more - well until people get bored, I said, and I can stop, but some said two years in the life of In Depth is quite short! It has been running for 15 years).

So I shall carry on, with a number in the bank. However, reading and mainly ad-libbing, I did say how the first three paragraphs in particular of the ethics and theology resource paper were terrible (they thought not, but then I had my text and my mouth said differently) and I will just have to clean this up. Half the people there (one new, could have been another, should be more when back from holidays) seemed not to be on the Internet, which makes resourcing difficult unless I spend loads of my own money on ink - we shall make sure papers are delivered in advance next time.

So maybe we will have a run through of the structure: trouble is, I don't know what I'll be doing in two years and this all may be a passing phase in my life. I just don't know.

I put it that I have written this to try and let each position speak for itself, not impose myself. Well why not, one asked, as though I should. Well I was happy to say that I think Ernst Troeltsch was about right, and all rounder, but exposing the difficulties of Christianity into the new situation from one where it was culturally more anchored. I was pleased to lend two books out, one by Dennis Nineham as I'd mentioned his scepticism about history and Jesus, and one on Theology and Anthropology (very close to my position too - a fantastic book of overlaps and insights) by Douglas Davies.

Here is the list as it now exists (session 8 has been changed):

  1. Ethics and Doing Theology Today
  2. Mainly Nineteenth Century Theological Liberalism (Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Harnack, Troeltsch)
  3. What Became Narrative Theology: Karl Barth (1886-1968)
  4. Towards God and Secular Theology: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
  5. Theological Correlation: Paul Johannes Oskar Tillich (1886-1965)
  6. Demythologising and Keeping a Distinctive Christianity: Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976)
  7. Pragmatism and the Supreme Sacrificial Ethic of Jesus: Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
  8. The Place of Theology and Other Disciplines
  9. Anglican Controversy: Essays and Reviews
  10. 1938 Church of England Doctrine Commission
  11. Honest to God and Debate - Metaphors and Mixing Bultmann, Tillich and Bonhoeffer
  12. The Myth of God Incarnate - Meanings of Myth
  13. Theology of David Jenkins - using Barth and Bonhoeffer
  14. Traditionalisms from the past (eg Thomist theology, Anselm, Puritans, etc.)
  15. Victorian Oxford Movement and Evangelicalism
  16. Evangelical reactions - National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) 1967 and after; the rise of fundamentalism
  17. Comprehensive: Hans Kung
  18. After the Shoah and a Theology of Suffering: Jurgen Moltmann
  19. Theologies of Liberation with Politics and Radical Education
  20. Eco-Feminist theology: Sallie McFague and Rosemary Radford Ruether
  21. Classics and Conversation: David Tracy
  22. Faiths: John Hick and Exclusivists, Inclusivists, Pluralists and Universalists
  23. Real Absence and Back to Transcendence: Raw, Cold Theology and the Poet
  24. Postmodern Theology: Nihilist Textualism and Radical Orthodoxy
  25. Theological Issues for the Future

1 comment:

Scott Hankins said...

"the people in the pews, etc."

I understand the need to review the foundation, but sometimes one needs just to jump into #25.


I'm waiting for #25. The sooner the better.

It's a great course. Courage, Adrian!