Friday, May 05, 2006

Crisis Theology and Theology of Decline

I still have some time before my flight so I thought I might produce yet one post.

The great risk with pessimism is obviously despair and resignation in face of the inevitable. This is the problem one has to try to solve. This is an area where I believe a religious faith can be immensely helpful.

One can gather this from the fact that throughout the history of the Church periods of decline and crisis have often coincided with very creative periods in the development of theology. For example, Augustine wrote The City of God in response to the decline of the Roman empire. A century earlier the decline of the roman administration in Egypt sparked the massive ascetic movement that I consider to be one of the most vibrant periods in the history of the church.

A more recent example is the blow to our own culture that was the First World War. The period after the war, that effectively broke off the optimism of the 19th century, produced the best theology of the 20th century: Tillich, Bultmann, Brunner, and this other guy, yeah, Barth. ;) All this so called “crisis theology” was a reaction to the feeling that the Church could not go on as it had before.

However, after World War II, with the great increase in welfare and standard of living, this crisis awareness soon levelled and was replaced by increasing optimism. Brilliant theologians like Moltmann and the catholic liberation theology focused on theology as a way to improve people’s life in this world. The underlining thought was that the main problem is injustice, something that can (and will) be solved.

While the world still is very unjust, we now have to face the fact that a just world is probably not something that can be sustained, at least not in the sense that the whole world could be lifted more or less to standard of the western world.

The Church can not give up the demand for global justice, of course. This has to be a constant in any pessimistic theology. But there is a shift from sharing the goods in the world fairly towards solidarity in the suffering that saintly people have already pointed out. This has to become more than gestures.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that it seems that theology too has slipped into believing in what Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright called “the myth of progress”, the belief that economical and technical progress is something that can be sustained indefinitely, and that it mirrors a progress in humanity in general. The idea in theological terms is that humanity progresses during this era towards something that will only fully be realized in eschaton, but can be seen already here. Is this a scheme that can and should be questioned? Or modified in some way?

Next weak I will look at a few central Christian doctrines and discuss how a context of decline might cause us to reinterpret them.

8 comments:

Steve Hayes said...

I thought the myth of progress died at the end of the 19th century, or at least after the First World War.

By the 1960s environmental degradation had becoem a serious concern, and the oil crisis of 1973 made it clear that any economy dependent of fossil fuels didn;t have a long-term future, so I'm not sure how "the myth of progress" has affected theology recently.

Patrik said...

Well, I'm not sure. I think the myth of progress is still alive, although my generation finds it harder to subscribe to it the most of those that belong to the previous one. In spite quite clear signs of imminent problems, people still tend to belove that science will come up witha solution at some point, or something similar. It is of course more difficult to argue for the impact of this myth on theology, I hope to be able to present some examples in the future.

ianrutherford said...

The myth of progress may not be espoused abroad, however the advance of humanism, which is the mother of this myth, is everywhere through out the church, in my opinion.
I am surprized that in your list of esteamed theologins you did not mention Bonhoffer. He alone in my opinion, had a theology that was able to be true to the mission of the church and stay loyal to Christ while at the same time was able to sound a clear call for justice.

ChestersVault said...

Interesting points - can you help me understand Eschaton? I have trieds in vain to translate to English. What does this refer to?
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Patrik said...

Eschaton refers to the new existence after this one.

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Luke Lea said...

Beyond a simple "there is a God and you will be judged" I have no use for theology, frankly -- to me it is all church politics. But I was struck by this:

"it seems that theology too has slipped into believing in what Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright called “the myth of progress”, the belief that economical and technical progress is something that can be sustained indefinitely, and that it mirrors a progress in humanity in general."

I thought the whole idea was turning the old world upside down and making it new, and event or destination to be reached, not a process. And it appears to have already been reached in the form of liberal democracy, which is not incompatible with a simpler standard of living.

Anyway I would like to know more about Barth in connection to my reading of John Updike, a writer I admire who seems to have been an admirer of Barth's. What is the best thing on the web? thanks,

7/02/2010 4:43 AM

Luke Lea said...

Forgot my email: luke.lea@gmail.com