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25th Anniversary Edition of Modern Theology

The articles from the 25th Anniversary Issue of Modern Theology are now available for free online.  We discussed this issue last night at the Theology and Ethics Colloquium for Duke doctoral (Ph.D. and Th.D.) students.  I was asked to initiate our discussion.  Below I have pasted my handout. 

Contributors to 25th Anniversary Issue of Modern Theology Jim Fodor. Professor of Theology; St. Bonaventure University (New York). Ph.D., University of Cambridge 1991; M. Christian Studies, Regent College 1984; B.A., North American Baptist College. Anglican. William Cavanaugh. Associate Professor of Theology University of St. Thomas, Minnesota; Ph.D., Religion, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 1996; M.A., Theology and Religious Studies, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, 1987; B.A.,Theology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1984.  Roman Catholic. Kenneth Surin. Professor and Chair of The Literature Program, Duke University; PhD., University of Birmingham, England, 1977; BA (Hons), University of Reading, UK, 1972. L. Gregory Jones. Professor of theology and Dean of Duke Divinity School. Effective 1 March 2010, Senior advisor for international strategy at Duke University; B.A. M. P.A. University of Denver; M.Div. from Duke Divinity School; Ph.D. in theology from Duke University. Methodist. James J. Buckley. Professor of Theology and Dean of Faculty, College of Arts and Sciences Loyola University in Maryland; Ph.D. Yale University Graduate School (Department of Religious Studies) 1977; M.A., M.Phil. Yale University Graduate School (Department of Religious Studies) 1975. Roman Catholic. John Milbank. Professor in Religion, Politics and Ethics, Faculty of Arts University of Nottingham. BA and MA Oxford and Cambridge; PhD from the University of Birmingham. Born 1952. Anglo-Catholic. Kathryn Tanner. Dorothy Grant Maclear Professor of Theology in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago; M.A., Ph.D. (Yale University). Episcopal. Nicholas Lash. Norris-Hulse Professor Emeritus of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. Born 1934. Roman Catholic. John W. de Gruchy. Emeritus Robert Selby Taylor Professor of Christian Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa; head of the Research Institute on Christianity in South Africa. Congregationalist. Stanley Hauerwas. Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics; B.A., Southwestern University, B.D.; M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., Yale University; D.D., University of Edinburgh. Born: July 24, 1940. Methodist. David F. Ford. Regius Professor of Divinity, and Fellow of Selwyn College, University of Cambridge; B.A. Mod. (Dubl); M.A., Ph.D. (Cantab); S.T.M. (Yale); Hon. D.D. (Birmingham).  Born January 23, 1948. Anglican.

Three Significant Themes in the 25th Anniversary Issue of Modern Theology

1) What should be the focus of future theological reflection in journals such as Modern Theology?

a) Surin says contemporary issues. About the founding of the journal, he writes, “This was not a matter of looking for the ‘next new thing’, but rather a question of coming to a theological reckoning of the things that were transpiring intellectually at that time” (5). “A number of these uncoated and ungloved younger theologians . . . who in some cases became very impatient with what they perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be the political spinelessness of their theological seniors” (7).

b) Tanner says everyday life. “But such a theology, if genuinely concerned at the end of the day not just with academic matters but Christian living, would also benefit from seeing beyond elite forms of theological expression, in written texts primarily, to the popular theologies of everyday life: how people without specialized theological training go about trying to live in accord with their Christian commitments” (42). “Doing so means taking seriously what disciplines such as sociology and anthropology reveal” (44).

c) Hauerwas wants work that transcends disciplinary boundaries. “. . . Modern Theology needs to encourage inter-disciplinary (or as I would prefer, non-disciplinary) work that I believe is required by the very character of the subject matter of theology” (65).

d) Many note the dearth of writing about the hard sciences.

e) Ford says the Bible. “I also think the Bible is so far ahead of other aspects of the past as a creative source for contemporary theology that it could be even higher on the agenda for the future” (71).

2) Who should the theologian write for and how accessible should the style be?

a) Surin says an academic audience and style (6). About the founding of the journal, he says there was a need for articles longer than 2,000 words in length—“ a longer and more academic kind of essay” (6).

b) Jones, de Gruchy, Lash and Hauerwas say an intellectual audience and style.

i) Jones: “The journal has thus far succeeded as an academic journal rather than as an intellectual one or one explicitly connected to religious communities and their worship and other practices” (17).

ii) De Gruchy: “But unless I am woefully misinformed, it is surely regrettable that so much that is so good reaches so few who are in the trenches or, which is perhaps more to the point, is read and understood by scholars in other disciplines with whom we are meant to be in dialogue” (57).

iii) Lash: “Articles published in the journal these days are consistent in the high standards of scholarship which they sustain, although, perhaps, a price is sometimes paid in terms of lucidity” (47).

iv) Hauerwas says to write for interested outsiders. “The articles published in Modern Theology are, to be sure, models of rigorous academic analysis. But often I worry that they are at the same time unreadable by anyone not well-schooled either in the subject or deeply familiar with the person who is the focus of the article . . . To ‘write-out’ is to write in a fashion that welcomes the reader who may not share our academic specialty but who nonetheless can identify and resonate with the issue or problem that the article addresses” (64-65).

c) Ford urges theologians to remember they are writing for the church. He tells about an interaction he had with Hans Frei in 1987. “One [of Frei’s direct judgements] that rather surprised a young theologian keen to keep up with the latest intellectual trends (I had mentioned Derrida or some other fashionable thinkers) was his forthright dismissal of ‘high culture’ theology that did not connect thoroughly with the Bible or with ordinary Christians. I remember thinking that much of his own writing was not exactly easy to read; yet I also saw that his point was not to rule out complex, technical discussions where necessary, but rather to insist that these be in the service of Bible-reading and contemporary Christian thinking and living” (69).

d) Lash warns against glibness (49). “In a word, nothing is more destructive of theology, of our attempts appropriately to speak of God, than glibness” (49).

Note: In our discussion, someone noted that there are really four audiences: intellectual Christian, intellectual not Christian, popular Christian, and popular not Christian.  Which do we expect theologians to reach?  Need they all speak to all of these audiences?

3) Milbank and Lash objected to Surin’s dismissal of recent Roman Catholic theology.

a) Surin opines that Roman Catholic theology has been squashed. “The period from 1945 to 1980 was marked by a powerful Roman Catholic theological efflorescence . . . and there is nothing like it today in Roman Catholic theology. . . Under the last two popes the shutters have been drawn again, and Roman Catholic scholarship has in my view suffered accordingly” (8) This is “. . . a Roman church where for nearly three decades now a large papal cosh has descended on the heads of those suspected of deviancy in doctrinal matters” (9).

b) Milbank argues that there are indeed stronger and weaker strains of Roman Catholic theology today. “Today, instead, it is the debate within Catholic theology that is the vital one, to such a degree that a definitively Protestant theology is now extinct” (26). Milbank describes the Catholic debate as between the romantics (such as radical orthodoxy) and the classicists (28-29). He ends his essay this way, “For myself, as ‘radically orthodox’, I am convinced that the future of theological reason will be neither cold, nor ill-lubricated, nor androgynous. It is through the feeling exercise of intellect that it will be able successfully to articulate a renewed metaphysic of the Triune God and the divine humanity” (36).

Note: In our discussion, some wondered about the categories Milbank distinguishes here because they seem to be a division uniquely made by him.

c) Lash argues that there are fewer stars because all of Catholic theology is improved. “I remember, twenty or thirty years ago, discussing the absence of individual ‘stars’ in the Catholic theology of the day with Edward Schillebeeckx. He attributed this, not to papal coshes, but rather to the extent to which demolition of the aridities of modern neoscholasticism by the ‘ressourcement’ carried out by the heroes of Surin’s ‘golden age’, had resulted in the general raising of the quality of Catholic theology across the board” (52; Cf. 50-51).