A Futurology of Theology

Many descriptions of Christianity’s traditional and mostly metaphysical theological formulations, creeds, confessional statements and individual doctrines fill many shelves in the libraries of theological seminaries and of denominational priests, clergymen and clergywomen. Many of these within the West’s Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions present such formulations within their patriarchal, exclusivistic, absolutist and often dualistic context.

On the other hand, a Futurology of Theology, which is concerned with prediction and anticipation of future trends and formulations, will need to analyse and hopefully modify such oppressive patriarchy, rigid exclusivity, dogmatic absolutism and conflicting dualism and will need to contemplate a theology, including a  thealogy, which is able to move on from these unfortunate vestiges from the past..

Surveys of biblical theology as presented by historians of Christianity soon reveal many and varied types of previous theologies (but no thealogies!), which have been explored and expressed by many thinkers in various schools of thought and practice during the past 2,000 years. In this brief article, my glimpse into the past can only include (1) Revealed Trinitarian Theology, (2) Natural Theology and (3) Deistic Theology.

(1) Revealed Theology                                                                                

Christianity as “Revealed Theology” is in general in line with the Oxford Dictionary’s  definition of “God” as “a superhuman being worshipped as having power over nature and human fortunes” and as a “Supreme Being, Creator and Ruler of the Universe”. “Revealed Theology” is therefore presented as the knowledge of this Supreme Being directly implanted into the minds of human beings and in particular, the minds of the writers of the biblical epistles, Gospels and revelation literature. A common assumption has been that the status of this literature as “Gods’ Truth” makes it “absolute truth”.  This thinking guided church fathers and medieval theologians to develop a vast dogmatic theology, which included a detailed history of particular doctrines, as well as their elaborate articulation within the topic areas of theology, christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology and many other doctrines.

This apologetical approach was continued by Protestant Reformers in the 1500s, such as Dr Martin Luther and John Calvin. More recently, it has featured in the school of Neo-Orthodoxy and in the writings of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Reinhold Niebuhr and Oscar Cullman, whose writings were part of my Lutheran theological education and explorations back in the 1960s in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

(2) Natural Theology

In contrast to this divinely-authorised and supposedly infallible “Revealed Theology”, “Natural Theology”, which can be described as enlightened liberalism, sought to gain  knowledge of a superhuman Cosmic Power or God from the study and contemplation of external Nature and of all natural phenomenon. Nature is seen as providing the required evidence for the existence and the character of such a Cosmic Power. A present-day concept for this would be something like “Intelligent Design”.

(3) Deistic Religion

Hence, some thinkers, who preferred to move beyond the theistic, person-like God, which is depicted as supernatural and superhuman, arrived at the position of “Deism”. This approach emerged in England during the 1600s and it viewed the Deity as an extremely remote and once-only Creator of the Universe. This Deity was separate from the Cosmos and it did not meddle in the affairs and concerns of the world in particular and the universe in general after this initial act of Creation. Such thinkers were skeptical of the reality of divine revelation and they were supportive of the sufficiency of human reason in relation to understanding our current cosmogonic, cosmological and eschatological view of the universe. The sort of free-thought displayed here was a feature of  the approach of David Hume in his 1779 book “Dialogues on Natural Religion”, of William Paley in his 1802 book “Natural Theology” and of both William Wolaston (1659) and Anthony Collins (1679-1747).

In the context of these conflicting theologies of knowledge through revelation and of knowledge through nature, supporters of revelation have tended to criticise their opponents as pursuing a purely human study, with more errors than truth and confined by human limitations.

Supporters of knowledge through nature have tended to criticise their opponents belief in the super-naturalism of mystical inspiration and divine revelation.

Roman Catholics have perhaps sought the best of both worlds by proposing that the above revealed and natural theologies are connected, on the principle that grace perfects nature, instead of destroying it.

This preceding historical and theological theorizing within Christianity’s past has looked at revealed, natural and deistic theologies but a theological futurologist is equally as concerned about future trends and probable futuristic formulations in relation to Christian dogmas, doctrines, creeds, confessions and even sound hermeneutical principles for biblical analysis. The issues of correct gender-balance in religious concepts and attitudes and of scientific and up-to-date methodology are two important concerns for a religion or spirituality looking into the future.

The Restoration of Gender-balance

Nearly all women would affirm that patriarchy during the past 3,000 years or more has been a powerful and detrimental influence in the culture and religion of the West, especially since the Iron Age. There is much scope for rectifying such gender-imbalance and religious sexism.

Words, concepts and attitudes will need to include both male-oriented theology and female-oriented theology, as well as both the cosmic, masculine principle and the feminine principle as Cosmic Ultimate Realty,  as Cosmic “Ground of Being” and as Cosmic “Goal of Becoming”; Most important is the need for a shared quest for the truth, for  polar and for integrative thinking.

There are clear hints of this much needed restoration of gender-imbalance in the early biblical depiction of the Hebrew’s deity, which has been variously called El, Elohim, El Shaddai, El Elyon and Yahweh. This depiction includes the sharing by El or Yahweh, who appear to be presented in the Bible as masculine, in the feminine-gendered aspects of “Hokmah”, which is “Wisdom” in English and “Sophia” in Greek; and in the feminine-gendered “Ruach”, which is “Spirit”, breath or wind in English and “Pneuma” in Greek. Yahweh is also connected with a grammatically feminine concept of “Shekinah”, which as light appears to be the rays of the sun. The sun daily rises at dawn in the East at dawn and these rays then shine through the Eastern door of the Temple in Jerusalem and continue to light up the area of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. This is another feminine aspect of Yahweh, which provides scope for the use of the concepts of “theology”, which means in Greek a study of God or the cosmic masculine principle and “theology” meaning in Greek, a study of the Goddess or the cosmic feminine principle. Such Hebrew gender balance disappeared in Christianity.

In relation to labelling the biblical masculine-gendered God as “Ultimate Reality”, this is clearly a Christian patriarchal bias, which asserts that this definition of God as “Ultimate Reality” is to be viewed purely in terms of masculinity.  Since the cosmic masculine-gender reality is not the whole of  but only one half of reality, obviously sharing the other half with the cosmic feminine-gender, this definition of the Christian God as “Ulimate Reality” means in fact that paradoxically, “Ultimate Reality” consist of only half of cosmic gendered reality. Such faulty and offensive Christian thinking is surely in need of future attention and correction.

The Christian Trinity, which is depicted with only one nature, also shares in this masculine bias. Its dogmatised Three Persons have mostly been expressed as a Father, not a Mother; as a Son, not a Daughter and as a Holy Spirit, which is derived from the Latin, masculine-gendered word “Spiritus”. This Trinitarian language is clearly masculine and male-oriented. The question which clearly needs to be addressed here is: “Where is the location within or beside  this all-male Trinity for “thealogy” and for the Feminine half of “Ultimate Reality”?

A Scientific Hermeneutic

Another feature from the past, which will need future attention and modification, has been the presentation of the  miracle-stories and the life of the God-Man Jesus/Yehoshua/Yahweh Saves in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John and  the metaphysical and cosmic, Christological formulations of Paul in his Epistle,  as infallible history and as proclaiming absolute morals and concepts. The future, just like our present here and now, is and will be at least 2,000 years removed from this first century cosmological and theological thinking and its ancient world view. In this first century, the writers were drawing on the best possible theories and outlooks in relation to cosmogony, cosmology, geography, philosophy, political thinking, history and other means of understanding their world, which were then available to them. In our present and still future 21st century, as humanity and the Christian World proceeds into the future, it will require moving through these past 2,000 years to our presently-conceived universe of many galaxies, dark matter and energy and complex solar system.    Macroscopically, we can now and in the future view through telescopes these immense depths, distances and complexity of galaxies within our known Universe and microscopically, through micro-scopes, atomic-detectors and other means, we can explore the fields of minute sub-atomic particles, phenomena of quantum physics and other aspects of our mysterious and marvellous material cosmos.

At the same time, the human mind will continue to quest for intellectual honesty and scientific certainty, as well as for spiritual fulfilment and soul-sustaining sustenance. This is essential as the soul or psyche experiences its five levels of human reality and experience, including the (1) physical or bodily; (2) the instinctual or autonomic, (3) the mental or intellectual, (4) the spiritual or imaginative and (5) the celestial, integrative and the holistic. It is also essential for the life-journey of the soul or psyche from its [1] unconscious wholeness or cosmic integration; through [2] conscious un-wholeness and differentiation in the ups and downs of life to [3] conscious wholeness, inter-connectedness and bio-psycho-socio-cosmic integration.

Many other features and perspectives will emerge in relation to religion and theology in the future, which cannot be predicted or foreseen. However, a much needed restoration of the past and present gender imbalance and the need to continue to use the most reliable and up-to-date scientific methodologies in the formulations of our world-views and perspectives on life will be essential for any future desire for both a soundly-based Science and a soul-sustaining Spirituality. Hopefully, a better and improved future for these two currently traumatic and often anachronistic aspects of Christianity relating to Science and Spirituality, is not very far away and that these often distressing issues will be honestly and bravely addressed in all Futurologies of Theologies.

John Noack, June, 2012.    Email:   johnnoack@yahoo.com.au

John Noack (BA DipEd) has been a Lutheran clergy-person at Rainbow in Victoria, Australia. He has been a Tutor in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Melbourne Victoria and he has been a Teacher of History and World Religions at Trinity Grammar School in Kew, Victoria. He has conducted archaeological research at the Australian Institute of Archaeology and he has produced archaeological and text-related book reviews, which have been published in its Journal “Buried History”.  He is at present engaged in an academic investigation into the many enigmas in the Gospel according to St Mark.

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