Theological Change – A Matter of Investment

There can certainly be theological change within a tradition but there are also core concepts that may in fact be untenable for many in this millennium. There is a general decline in religious affilliation at least in the West. Reasons for this are varied but the trend should be disturbing for professional theologians. Why does there seem to be a general intransigence among most professional theologians to make any sort of radical change. I believe it is because of the investment they have in the status quo. To become a professional theologian requires a considerable investment in time and effort. It takes years of hard study and writing to attain professional status as a theologian. It also usually requires an investment in some affiliation. One has only to do a search for academic institutions that are not affiliated with some tradition to realize that they just aren’t there. Professional theologians for the most part end up becoming part of a community within a tradition. This makes it extremely hard for them to be significantly critical of core principals. Accordingly theological change tends to be minimal.

Perhaps a parallel is found in science where “normal” science is, for the most part, what is taking place. Professional scientists also have an enormous investment in a current paradigm. To go against that paradigm is risky business that most scientists are not willing to take. Unfortunately I’m afraid the same is true for theologians. There are, of course, some brave individuals who do buck the trend and often find themselves ostresized. Hans Kung comes to mind. Spong is another who proposes a radically different approach to Christian theology and I suspect he does not find a happy place within the church. Borg is another radical theologian and I also wonder what his relationship to the church is like now. Unfortunately these brave proponents of radical theological change are rare. They do have an investment in the church but somehow they have been able to put that investment at risk in favor of the belief that radical change is needed. These are rare voices that can make some difference but in order for widespread change to take place there must be many more. Where will those other voices come from?

Think they will come from young theologians and theology students who do not have so much of an investment in the status quo. As they come up they are not as constrained from forging new directions. They can respond more radically to the challenges of the current situation. Those brave theologians who have had a substantial investment in a tradition, but who are willing be critical and formulate new directions can offer an outstanding example to the young theologians who will be the theological leaders of the future. They can deal more creatively with issues like pluralism, religious knowledge, science and religion, etc.

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