For some important background, first read
If you take the time to read these, or at least the third, you’ll see that a lot of water has already passed under the bridge. And over some Chinese food last night, Steve tried to rehabilitate my understanding of Barth, with some success. (I have no trouble acknowledging the extreme importance of Barth, but I think we need to go beyond him, hence my affinity with Moltmann.)
There’s a lot at stake in this conversation; these are not simply the musings of a couple of doctoral students. Currently, there are only a few options available to Christians in a globalized/pluralistic/postmodern society: liberal accomodationism, conservative retreatism, Hauerwasian sectarianism, and the newcomer: Milbankian (Radical Orthodoxy) withdrawal into the liturgy.
I know, that’s a lot of “-isms,” but none of these options offers a Christian the ability to maintain a “robust doctrine of God” (Steve’s words) and a robust understanding of pluralism. In other words, is there a way to negotiate a healthy, dialectical relationship with culture and maintain an orthodox doctrine of God? Steve and I both think there must be, there has to be.
Among practical theologians, there have been a couple major avenues for navigating these waters. Among the University of Chicago theologians (Tillich, Tracy, Browning), there has been an evolving “correlational” model in which theology and culture stand in a dialectical relationship. Tillich said that culture asks the questions and theology provides the answers; Tracy and Browning amended this by saying that each asks questions and each provides answers — i.e., theology and culture stand in a mutually critical relationship.
Among the Barthians (Frei, D. Hunsinger, Loder), the response has been more of what Steve alludes to in his posts: theology has a unique ability to articulate issues of ultimacy, like God’s revelation, which comes from outside of the created order. Thus theology trumps all other disciplines when it comes to issues on which theology is uniquely articulate.
While I appreciate the former’s ability to take culture seriously, it tends to reduce theological reflection to the terms of culture (and can be a mask for natural theology, as Steve points out). The latter maintains theology’s integrity, but stands in a position of interdisciplinary domination, which I find unacceptable in a pluralistic environment (it’s tough to convince someone to have a conversation of mutual regard if you start out by stating that you will inevitably win the argument!).
That’s why I’m attracted to the model of transversal rationality. I’ll flesh that out in the next post…