Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theologies of Retrieval

I picked up The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology today from the library for fun. I started to read the chapter concerning biblical studies by C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hays. However, as I tried to find that chapter while eating lunch, I found a chapter by John Webster entitled "Theologies of Retrieval." If I'm understanding him correctly, he uses this provisional title in reference to the following theological groups: post-liberal, post-critical, restorationist, palaeo-orthodox, intratextual, and ("even") postmodern. At the end of the chapter, he offers a conclusion with some critical remarks. I believe he articulates the weaknesses of these theological groups very well and in a balanced/fair manner.

"A further temptation for theologians of retrieval is to subscribe to the myth of the fall of theology from Christian genuineness at some point in its past (fourteenth-century nominalism, the sixteenth-century Reformation, seventeenth-century Cartesianism, or whatever 'modernity' is considered to have first presented itself). The oversimplifications which attend epochal interpretations of history are well known. But there is a deeper point here. However necessary 'anti-modern' protest may be on certain occasions, however much it may empower the re-engagement of neglected constructive tasks, it should not betray theology into the illusion that all that is required for successful dogmatics in the present is the identification and repudiation of an error in the past. Such a stance can indicate the same illusion of superiority as that sometimes claimed by critical reason. Moreover, it can fail to grasp that the problem is not
modern theology but simply theology. All talk of God is hazardous. Modern constraints bring particular challenges which can be partially defeated by attending to a broad and wiser history, but there is no pure Christian past whose retrieval can ensure theological fidelity.

This does not in any way call the project of retrieval into question or minimize its impact. The recovery of the present ecclesial vocation of systematic theology, as well as the renewal of its public functions, surely require persuation of the weightiness of the past. But however basic a task, retrieval cannot constitute the entirety of theological work. 'In ... obedience to the church's past it is always possible to be a very
free theologian. But it must be borne in mind that, as a member of the church, as belonging to the congregatio fidelium, one must not speak without having heard ' [Barth 1962:181]."

- Webster,
The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 596-597.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this quote it was very helpful. What's the relationship between the theologians of retrieval and the focus on theological interpretation in scholars like Kevin Vanhoozer, John Thompson, David Steinmetz, and others?

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