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Contemporary Theology

Contemporary Theology

Contemporary theology is generally defined as a study of theology and theological trends from post-World War I to the present. Roughly covering the twentieth century to today, the major categories typically addressed by contemporary theology include fundamentalism, neo-orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, neo-liberalism, Post-Vatican II Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox theology of the twentieth century, and the Charismatic Movement.

Contemporary Theology

Contemporary theology is generally defined as a study of theology and theological trends from post-World War I to the present.

It roughly covers the twentieth century to today, the major categories typically addressed by contemporary theology include fundamentalism, neo-orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, neo-liberalism, Post-Vatican II Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox theology of the twentieth century, and the Charismatic Movement.

More on Contemporary Theology

In addition to these larger categories, contemporary theology also deals with specialized areas such as liberation theology, feminist theology, and various ethnic theologies. With the wide variety of credos involved, few scholars would claim to serve as “experts” in contemporary theology. Rather, the trend is to specialize in one or more areas of contemporary theological research.

A more recent branch of contemporary theology is the study of interfaith dialogue. Historic Christian theology is compared with the worldviews of non-Christian belief systems as the basis for dialogue between different faiths. Recent pursuits have focused on the shared values between two or more faiths, such as the “Abrahamic Faiths” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) or Eastern Religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christian movements such as the underground Chinese Church).

Contemporary theology is primarily a field of academic scholarship. As such, it addresses intellectual challenges facing theology, including science, social issues, and religious practices. While many contemporary theologians share a Christian heritage, not all do. In fact, many agnostic or even atheist scholars have entered the field and are teaching their views regarding faith and belief in contemporary society.

For the Bible-believing Christian, contemporary theology is important, as it traces the development of beliefs in recent history. However, it is critical to realize that contemporary theology often departs from traditional Christian theology when it evaluates faith in the context of various social movements or in comparison with other belief systems. Adhering to a biblical worldview is not usually the goal.

Those who want to understand what God’s Word teaches on today’s important topics can find helpful information in a wide variety of contemporary theological materials. However, the Bible itself does not change. It is the standard of truth for the believer, both now and forever (1 Timothy 3:16-17).

Contemporary Theology Brief Overview

For good or for bad, philosophy has played a pivotal role in the development of theology and culture. In this course, learners examine the major trends in contemporary theological thought in light of their philosophical contexts.

The course begins with a review of the major developments in Western thought prior to Hegel, and then explores the theologies of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich. The course culminates in the Death of God theologies of Paul Van Buren and Thomas Altizer.

The course enables learners to evaluate contemporary, non-evangelical theologies and to recognize their impact on everyday life.

Contemporary Theology Course Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, the student should be able to:

1. Know the major trends in contemporary, non-evangelical thought.

2. Understand the presuppositions (philosophical and otherwise) that generate such modern theologies.

3. Recognize and defend against such views.

4. Better comprehend orthodox positions through analysis of errant views.

5. Apply Old Testament theology to life and ministry.

Contemporary Theology Texts

The following texts are required reading (or possible alternates to the requirements**); specific reading assignments are listed within each Lesson. Some of these are out of print (indicated by OP) but are necessary due to the nature of the course.

The code LIB suggests that the student borrow the book from a library;

The code BUY suggests that although the student may borrow the book, he/she might find purchasing the book worthwhile.

Various editions of the primary sources may be used, as may appropriate substitutions for secondary literature that becomes unavailable. The course is up to date on this matter as of Summer 1999.

OP: Altizer, Thomas J. J. The Gospel of Christian Atheism. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966.

LIB: Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1936-1962.

BUY: Bretall, Robert, ed. A Kierkegaard Anthology. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951; reprint, 1973.

LIB: Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Scribner, 1958; reprint, New York: Macmillan, 1981.

OP: Collins, James. The Existentialists. Chicago: Regnery, 1952.**: Ford, David F., ed. The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

OP: Gilkey, Langdon. Naming the Whirlwind: The Renewal of God-Language. Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969.

LIB: Grayling, A. C. Wittgenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.**: Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1992.

BUY: Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1986.

LIB: ________. Philosophical Fragments. Edited and translated by Howard and Edna Hong. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

BUY: Lowrie, Walter. A Short Life of Kierkegaard. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1942.

LIB: Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

LIB: Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. in 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

OP: Van Buren, Paul. The Secular Meaning of the Gospel. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

LIB: Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1922.

LIB: ________. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. Paramus, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Contemporary Theology Course Outline

1. Time

Students are expected to spend a minimum of 120 hours in this course for 3 semester/4 quarter hours of graduate credit.

2. Listening/Lesson Plans

Students are required to listen carefully to the 24 lectures of recorded material by Dr Feinberg, keeping in mind the questions and the intended outcomes listed in the Lessons. Completion of the Lesson Plans constitutes a portion of the course grade (see below).

3. Collateral reading

In addition to the required readings listed in Lessons, each student is expected to read an additional 500 pages. It is assumed that not more than 200 pages of what you read in prepara¬tion to write your research paper (see description below) can be used to satisfy this collateral reading assign¬ment. You are encouraged to use the bibliography below and to read from the primary literature, though further reading in secondary sources is also acceptable. Please be sure to submit a report to the supervisor of this course indicating what you have read to satisfy this 500-page requirement.

4. Research Paper

Each student will be required to write a 15-20 page (double-spaced) paper on some aspect of contemporary theology involving the theologians and movements covered in this course. The following are suggestions, but are not meant to limit your options:

a. Compare and contrast two thinkers on a given topic (e.g., you might compare and contrast Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Tillich on their understanding of Christ and the role this doctrine plays in their overall theology/philosophy);

b. Analyze some concept/doctrine in a modern thinker and compare and contrast it to a traditional orthodox understanding of the doctrine (e.g., Barth and orthodoxy on Scripture; Kierkegaard and orthodox soteriology on saving faith; Bultmannian hermeneutics vs. the evangelical commitment to literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutics);

c. Expound and explain a particularly difficult concept of one writer or difficult portion of his work and evaluate it (e.g., Kierkegaard's concept of truth as subjectivity or his understanding of the relation of faith and reason; the later Wittgenstein on doubting, explaining, and certainty; Kierkegaard's comparison of Idealism [especially Hegelian Idealism] and Christianity and his critique of the former in Philosophical Fragments);

d. Take a theme and trace its development throughout the period (or a portion thereof) we are studying (e.g., the concept of God; the concept of faith; the meaningfulness of religious language). As noted, these are only suggestive of the direction you may take. It should be obvious, however, that whatever topic you choose, you should not merely repeat course lecture material. Your own creativity and analysis are expected. Recommended guidelines for the paper are those set forth in the latest edition of Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers for Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).

5. Final Examination

A final exam will be offered at the conclusion of the course. It will test your mastery of the lecture material. Insofar as the lecture material interacts with your required reading, that reading is fair game for the test. However, make your focus the lecture material. The test will be an essay in nature and will test your understanding of the various thinkers and movements covered in the course. You will be tested not only on how well you understand each thinker on his own terms, but also on how well you can relate the thinking of the different theologians to one another. Study questions in the Lesson Plans should help you prepare for the exam, though you will also need to be able to relate the ideas of one thinker to another and understand the development of individual themes throughout the period.

Click here to download the course outline (PDF)


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