There are billions of religious adherents worldwide. Most adopt the tradition of their culture with little questioning. However, among those billions of adherents there is a small but growing group of disaffected. They find many of the claims of the traditions untenable from the worldview that they find compelling. They can not longer in all honesty say the creeds of dogma. They have embraced a personal intuition about how reality works based on the best human knowledge and learning can offer. Many try to cling to their traditions while silently disavowing many of its supernatural claims. Often they can no longer tolerate this duplicity and leave their traditions all together. They still remain committed to their core intuitions that there is a God who loves them but they have great difficulty finding a community within which to celebrate and expound on that deep belief. (more…)
Paul Tillich once said that “culture is the form of religion and religion is the substance of culture”. He could say that because to Tillich religion is about ultimate concerns and cultures all emerge out of the ultimate concerns of its constituents. One has only to look at the results of theologies that support materialist egocentricity or religious extremism to see their devastating influence. The fate of our planet and its inhabitants rests to a large extent on the theologies that are offered and maintained to see the enormous responsibility for theologians in the future.
Now every theology has its complexity. Within a given theology there are usually many theological concepts that could be emphasized. For instance if the theology emphasizes personal salvation then this creates an egocentric ultimate concern that places the individual at the center for both religion and culture. Theologies that claim an exclusivity in relation to ultimate questions will necessarily create religious and cultural conflict and divisiveness. However, those theologies that emphasize love, compassion, inclusively and humility in theology can foster a climate where cultures can appreciate the others traditions and at the same time work for the betterment of all creatures on Earth. (more…)
There are many things that religion has in common with other forms of human endeavor. Religion creates community. It offers support and structure for society. It may even venture into the political and activist arena. However, the one area that makes religion distinctive is its focus on ultimates, the depth of reality. For whatever else religion is, its primary focus is on ultimate foundations and ultimate concerns. Religion asks the deepest questions about reality. Why is there something and not nothing? What is the meaning of the cosmos? What is the meaning and purpose of my life? What happens when I die? These are questions implied by life itself. They point to life’s deepest mysteries. They are the foundational realm of religion. (more…)
One has only to look at the roots of the religious traditions to see that they arose out of certain existential emphases. Why certain existential concerns were emphasized in the theology and religious philosophy of the time is a complex question and one that can only be answered by an indepth study of the particular culture and history of thought. For whatever reasons certain aspects of the existential situation became the foundations of the traditions, they drove religious sentiment in certain directions. In the East the emphasis on suffering profoundly shaped the religious answers that ensued. In the West the emphasis on law and justice invariably effected the answers provided by religion for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. That certain things were emphasized reflects the operation of what Paul Tillich called “the method of correlation” where the existential situation is examined before religious answers are offered. While this may not have been the explicit or conscious intent of religious thinkers, the cultural and personal context will have, no doubt, affected the content of their insight. (more…)
Many of the new theological approaches attempt to distance themselves from the supernaturalistic interpretations in the traditions. They try to “naturalize” their theology. I believe there is some merit to this with a few caveats. Many people today are abandoning traditional religious systems because they are unable to accept the supernatural claims inherent in them. This can have various effects. Some become so disillusioned with religion, per se, that the religious dimension of their lives disappears or is diminished in its potentially beneficial impact. However, many others still have religious longings and forge out on their own outside the traditions to find a religious bearing that does not offend their intellect. What a noble adventure! These folks may then explore new “naturalized” religious frameworks that are being offered. Whether or not these new theological perspectives will fill their needs is an open question. What I would like to explore in this post is what “naturalism” could mean for a theistic system. If supernaturalism is rejected then it is important to understand in what way theology can be naturalized and still maintain its eternal substance. (more…)
The shape of Christianity’s future is to be found in the theology surfacing today.
When I went to Lutheran seminary in the mid ’70’s I was shocked by how different theological perceptions were at seminary relative to those at the grass roots level. That difference could have been taken as an anomaly were it not for the fact that the same perceptions could be found in the Presbyterian and Catholic seminaries. What was the difference specifically? The de-literalization of scripture. It was based on the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship. It only took a few months studying Tillich, Bultmann, Jeremias and others to realize that grass roots theology was significantly out of sync with professional theology. (more…)