Friday, February 27, 2009

Transforming Theology -- Adventures in the Spirit: Introductory Thoughts


I have been asked to participate in a conversation concerning Christian theology, and its role in transforming the Christian faith and the Christian Community. It is a project that seeks to rekindle or reinvigorate the theological conversation in a way that will stimulate conversation in the church as well as the academy. The purpose of the Transforming Theology venture is seen in this statement:

“Our goal is an ambitious one: to create the intellectual framework for a progressive religious vision. By forming a broad alliance between the leading scholars and organizations in Christian religion today, we aim at nothing less than to ‘reclaim the progressive voice’. There are movements on the ground, active in various denominations and schools. Up to this point, however, what has been missing is a uniting intellectual and theoretical vision, comparable to what has emerged from the conservatives.”


As I embark on this journey, I do so with a degree of reticence. While I resonate with much that is happening among Progressive Christians, my evangelical roots permeate my thoughts and actions. In many ways, I see myself as being both liberal and evangelical. Indeed, when I consider where I stand, I often think of Charles Augustus Briggs – that 19th century Presbyterian turned Episcopalian theologian from Union Theological Seminary. Briggs was tried for heresy because of his critical studies, but at his heart, he was evangelical. So, I’m not sure where I belong in this conversation, but my job is to interact with a particular book, and I shall do so.

The book that I’ve been assigned is Philip Clayton’s Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action (Fortress Press, 2008). It is edited by Zachary Simpson, a former student of Clayton’s at Claremont Graduate University. Clayton is, himself, Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at CGU. He is a Process Theologian, and as such is the successor to John Cobb at CST.

In this book, science is the primary dialogue partner. Although I am very interested in the dialogue between religion and science, my own training is in historical theology and not science or philosophy, for that matter. That means that I will likely approach the conversation a little differently than perhaps someone whose training is closer to that of Clayton’s. Having finished reading the first chapter, I will admit struggling with the concepts and their implications. At the same time, I was challenged to broaden my thinking and consider the context that science provides for theological discourse, a discourse that has important implications for the church. Indeed, it is from the perspective of a working pastor, who sees the need for the church to be transformed, that I will engage this project.

The question that will haunt us in this ongoing discussion is the intellectual viability of theology. Clayton writes of the modern day context:

“In today’s context multiple reasons are given to doubt whether the core assertions of the Christian tradition are still viable – reasons that are regarded by many as decisive objections to Christian belief and practice.” (p. 23).


In the first chapter, of the book, to be considered momentarily, Clayton lays out several theses that will help us respond to this challenge.

In the coming days, and perhaps weeks, I will respond, chapter by chapter to this important book I understand that Dr. Clayton may respond to my postings. I look forward to the conversation.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Go Cornwall! You'll be right at home amoung that group of heretics and apostates!