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Systematic Theology in the Twenty-First Century
Systematic Theology has taken different approaches throughout the centuries since Christianity was founded two thousand years ago. St. John of Damascus set forth an early form of Dogmatics in the early Middle Ages in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. Other examples abound, most notably in medieval times, such as St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. The Summa, a massive product of medieval scholasticism, relied heavily upon the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato to expound upon the mysteries of the Catholic religion. The modern age saw Jean Calvin put forth his Institutes of the Christian Religion during the Protestant Reformation, a theological text that would help shape the theology of the New World. Systematic Theology took a more Romantic direction under Hegel with his synthesis of scholasticism and modern philosophy (as influenced by Kant, Fichte, Rousseau, and Leibniz). The synthesis essentially altered the way in which modern theology is approached all over the world, with variants ranging from Feminist Theology to Liberation Theology to Black Theology to Biblical Theology. This paper will analyze different examples of systematic theology as they are used to address the needs of the twenty-first century.
Approaching a Theology
The theological approach of the twentieth century took a more radical perspective concerning evolution, social class, and redemption with theologians like Teilhard de Chardin producing his works on the Omega point, and Gustavo Gutierrez writing from Latin America, reinterpreting Jesus' message according to Marxist analysis. Ecumenism in the latter half of the century has seen the Roman Church make strides to identify with Protestants, especially since the Second Vatican Council. Systematic theology in the twenty-first century has responded by tailoring doctrine to an individualistic, subjective age.
Of course, as David Ford says, Christian theology has great range today. Why such is the case "has not just been a matter of diverse approaches and conclusions, but also of fundamental differences about what theology is, what modernity is, and what Christianity is" (Ford 2004, 1). Since systematic theology itself deals with a great variety of topics, and the number of individual perspectives upon those topics differs for as many interpretations of Christ exist, it is no wonder that systematic theology in the twenty-first century should be so varied. Ford states that the diversity can range over a broad number of subjects:
God and revelation, predestination (or election), creation and providence, human being, sin and evil, Jesus Christ, atonement (or redemption or salvation), the Holy Spirit (or grace), and Christian living (including justification, sanctification, vocation, ethics, and politics), the church, ministry and sacraments, and eschatology (Ford 2004, 4).
Many theologians see integration as being of prime importance, which is to say that dogma should integrate itself with modern philosophy. This, however, presents a number of problems; for example, if God is unchanging, how can His doctrine be? One typical response is that His doctrine does not change, but that our understanding of that doctrine changes-which is standard evolutionism. As John Berchmans Barla states, "In the 'old' vision, the four elements engender a pejorative attitude towards other religions and ideologies. Whereas, according to the Vatican II vision of reality, the whole of the human society is caught up in the movement of history towards its destiny" (Barla 1999, 122). The modern age's different philosophies are what theologians attempt to graft their message to.
Gustavo Gutierrez is one such theologian who has attempted to meet the demands of the modern age through a kind of social activism called Liberation Theology, which places class struggle above spirituality. By establishing Bible Communities where individuals could interpret Scripture, Gutierrez promoted a new kind of ecclesiology that dismissed the kind of authoritative theological rigor of Aquinas. Gutierrez to promote his theology at Notre Dame University and his theological followers continue to spread his teachings in their own ministry. The ministry is centered on social unity before eternal truth. The latter is held to be subjective and the former of greatest importance. The concept has its roots in Hegelian dialectic, but few modern theologians stop to consider such a point. As Barla states, rushing to explain his belief system: "All human beings, Christians and others, are fellow pilgrims in genuine belonging and vital solidarity, identified with the common cause, committed to liberation, development and the realization of a just human society" (Barla 1999, 122). Such idealism is more utopian than pragmatic or realistic-but such is the state of modern theology. Any serious approach to a theology that does not bend to circumstance, race, gender, or ideology is considered to be outdated and inflexible. The theology of the Middle Ages is as restrictive as it is certain-but the modern theologians appear to have no use for it. Modern theology is based on ecumenism: "Seen in this perspective Christians are called to become 'a most sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race.' Then Christianity will be relevant to others, inasmuch as it brings them hope and inspiration, light, truth and salvation" (Barla 1999, 122).
Liberation Theology (perhaps the most famous theological movement of our day and age) is of a movement that brings a new (Marxist-based) interpretation of Christianity into the lives of others, not through doctrinal conferences or dogmatic ecclesiology, but through class struggle and the revolutionary mantra, "liberty, fraternity, equality." Barla uses the words "light, truth, and salvation," but their meaning has altered, as Malachi Martin observes, and their usage pales before the likes of "liberation" and the economics emphasis. Martin states the mission of Liberation Theology to be
based on the analysis Karl Marx had made of the socioeconomic and political situation of what he called "the world proletariat." Marx's concern was for labor with its value and its rights. The masses-the proletariat-possessed nothing but the value of their labor, and were forced to work under the control of...the capitalist elite, the few. For Marx, the historic task of the proletariat was to struggle against the capitalists and to liberate the people from their oppression. The "mission" of Liberation Theology, in other words, was Marx's "class struggle." (Martin 1987, 309-310).
Liberation Theology, as the Vatican concluded in the 1980s, was a de-emphasis of spirituality and a new emphasis on liberty.
Systematic Theology and Ritual
Other modern theologians emphasize the importance of spirituality and liturgy. Arthur Just (2006) states that "in our worship, we repeat the same things Sunday in and Sunday out to learn the posture of forgiveness in daily life" (5). Ritual, according to Just, plays an important part in the mission of modern theologians because ritual and rhythm are essential elements of nature and have always applied to the exercising of religion in various civilizations throughout the centuries. What has worked for the past, it may be concluded, should surely work for the present. As Just says,
Rhythm, which organizes repetition, makes things memorable, as in music, poetry, rhetoric, architecture, and the plastic arts no less than in liturgical worship. Rhythm constantly insinuates, as propagandists know. It constantly reasserts, as good teachers know. It constantly forms individuals into units, as demagogues and cheerleaders know. It both shrouds and bares meaning which escapes mere words, as poets know. It fuses people to their values and forges them to common purpose, as orators such as Cato, Churchill and Martin Luther King knew. (Just 2006, 8).
Liturgy, therefore, is a natural way of communicating systematic theology: it corresponds to nature and reinforces doctrine-it is repetitive and authoritative. It does not rely upon an ever-changing zeitgeist, but upon fundamental principles of belief. Systematic theology can have very impressive results by using a liturgy that acts as a conduit of grace. Just emphasizes such a perspective by arguing that "within the structure of the ritual there is the opportunity for great joy that results from the surprise we experience when, within the ritual, things happen that we did not expect. This surprise is only possible if there is a pattern of formal, repetitive behavior" (5). Such ritualism played a significant part in orthodoxy of both East and West in the medieval world, where ceremony and liturgy were united. Gregorian chant emphasized the transcendent as well as the melodic and harmonic elements of nature.
The problem with exercising a systematic theology in the twenty-first century is, as David Ford illustrates, a problem of piercing the modern consciousness. Modern times in the twenty-first century see a struggle for identity as being of prime importance-emphasis is placed upon Self first, and then a Christ is created that will fit that Self. There is less emphasis placed upon adapting oneself to the demands and doctrine of Christ, especially since those demands and that doctrine are left up to conjecture. The many different theologies that are professed in our time mostly appeal to unity, but unity before truth never suffices. Therefore, as Ford shows, "these theologies display a tension between the identity of Christianity and its relevance to modernity" (5).
What Paul Rasor (2005) states is the case is that the…[continue]
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"Topic Systematic Theology The Paper Make Application Topic Church Christianity Ministry Twenty Century A Bibliography Resources Books Jorunal Articles Textbook Included Text Book Called Bible Doctrine Wayne Grudem", 25 May 2011, Accessed.31 July. 2015, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/topic-systematic-theology-the-paper-make-51035