What Is New In Theology? -- By: Thorwald Warner Bender
BETS 2:3 (Summer 1959) p. 14
What Is New In Theology?
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary
A lecture delivered as part of the Annual Lecture Series at California Baptist Theological Seminary, Covina, Calif., January 7-10, 1958.
To one alert to history as dynamic the answer to the above question would be, “Everything.” To one committed to the notion that history repeats itself the answer might well be, “Nothing!”
In fact, it might properly be observed right here, that recent philosophies of history, such as Spengle^s The Decline of the West, or Toynbee’s A Study of History, have contributed to the Sitz im Leben consciousness of theology. A few decades ago the Sitz im Leben emphasis sparked a fresh historical perspective for textual studies. Today, we note that theology per se reflects in its variant expressions from one generation to the next a responsiveness to the external world.
Whereas once men of faith considered themselves under compulsion to disavow any change of form in theological expression, (not to be confused with the truth being formulated), evangelicals as well as others today find a new challenge in the realization that changing forms of theological expression provide a means for communication with the contemporary world. And adequate communication is essential to an effective Gospel witness. Such adequate communication includes the 20th century promotional techniques of a Billy Graham Crusade as well as the perpetual struggle of theologians to make eternal revelatory truth relevant and intelligibly accessible to Main Street. Much contemporary theological literature, not to mention recent versions of the Scriptures themselves, breathes this desire to remove medieval garbs from 20th century Christian experience.
Paul Althaus in his systematic theology, Die Christliche Wahrheit, defines theology as the process of the church reflecting upon its Christian experience. To this we must add that Christian experience never occurs in a social, or political vacuum. Theology is not the invention of priests who wish to exploit and control a superstitious people, but theology in the 20th century represents the reaction of the Christian community to literally world shaking events outside the proverbial ivory towers of theologians. The two world wars, with an economic depression thrown between for good measure, determined the present theological trends more directly than the theological studies pursued in seminaries.
The fact that Fundamentalism has come off rather poorly in this current reshuffling of theological perspectives may be due, among other things, to its mistaking of forms for substance in theological expression...
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