Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Hope is a great plain to build upon because it’s complex. It’s not optimism, it’s not positive thinking. Hope is something that is taking into account the wounds, the pains, the ups and downs, and it’s greater than all of them. Hope doesn’t exist instead of pain. It exists in spite of pain. "

-Jon Foreman (Switchfoot)


The Emerging Relational Theology #4

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hans Frei's narrative theology focused on a hermeneutic through which to understand Scripture interfaces with the ethics based narrative theology of Stanley Hauerwas as we allow God's story - God's Heilsgeschichte - to become our story.

This ethical narrative theology of Stanley Hauerwas is heavily influenced by Alasdair MacIntyre's "Virtue Ethics". Virtue ethics is an ethics based on the development of character. In contrast to deontological and utilitarian ethics which following the Enlightenment attempt to form an objective and detached universal ethics based detached reason, and free from the biases of culture or tradition, an ethics based on character says that morality is formed in a person as they develop character in community. This differs from relativism because it is not my story, but our story, and for those who follow Christ, God's story that we are a part of. We are relative in the sense that we are God's children, connected to relationship - our story tied up in Christ's.

A big part of this shared narrative in a community forming character in a person has for Hauerwas to do with a counter-cultural understanding of the body of Christ as salt in the world. Coming from the United Methodist Church, Hauerwas speaks out against what he calls "Christiandom" in books like "Resident Aliens" and calls for us to model another way that is in the world but not of the world. Joining him in this is the Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank. Like Hauerwas, Milbank is concerned about the church being co-opted by culture, specifically the spirit crushing values of modernism. Because of this Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy speaks in the context of a post-modern critique on modernism, but it would be a mistake to see it as postmodern theology, rather it is an attempt to return to the roots of Christianity focusing on the patristics (the early church fathers) applying this to the post modern context we live in today.

One person who has championed Radical Orthodoxy in an easy to understand way (Milbank and others have a habit of overloading their work with mind numbing histories of philosophy), and addressing this directly to the emerging church is James K.A. Smith. In his book "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?" Smith argues that rather than promoting relativism, postmodernism as the death of modernism also heralds the death of secularism, which is indeed good news.

As you can see, the emerging relational theology that began with narrative theology has taken on many different bannersn(narrative theology, postmodern theology, radical orthodoxy, ancient-future faith, neo-evangelicals, the emergent church) and a host of names - Hans Frei, Gerorge Lindbeck, Stanley Grenz, John Milbank, James K.A. Smith, Robert Webber, Stanley Hauerwas, and Nancy Murphy just to name a few. What they all have in common is a shared understanding of a relational theology, of people as relational beings in community with each other and a social God.

These growing critiques reflect a move away from modernist assumptions from both the left and right, each respectively critiquing their own traditions. As a result Christians on both sides of the theological fence are finding commonality and space for conversation rooted in a new shared relational approach to theology. In contrast to a modernist tendency (found among both liberals and conservatives) to break from the past and tradition, this approach is characterized by (1) a deep appreciation for history, (2) a recognition that there is no neutral ground and that we all speak out of a cultural context, and that (3) faith is not an individual intellectual project, but rather is formed in a communal context: Spiritual formation comes through relationship and discipleship. It is always incarnational: a faith lived out in relationship that cannot be detached from this communal context. As social beings we cannot live in the general, but are always situated within a specific world and history that shapes us. Relational faith entails a specific faith contextually rooted in the unique narrative of Scripture and the Christian community that forms a person in Christ – an identity rooted in social context to God, community, and history.

Perhaps the clearest voice here has been that of Robert Webber and his "Younger Evangelicals", but that will have to wait until next time...

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