Reading the end of Harvey Cox's " The Seduction of the Spirit ", in the last chapter he talks about the future of theology. Hard to believe this book was first published in 1973. There are times when I think we need to travel back down the library corridors of history to re-engage certain voices of wisdom...Harvey Cox is one of them.
The lack of theological imagination is a reality. I imagine today our " theology " as sterile garden plots, with well fortified fences. I see them not as being well fertilized, but more " immunized ", sprayed with weed killer, fungicide...any threat, is sprayed, pulled...and killed. It is a garden in which evolution, and creativity have come to a stand still. Our only goal know is to protect... because, maybe the truth is, if our " theology " dies. God is dead. I think we are trapped in the " ology " of theology. It has become the church's science. But even sadly as science, it hasn't lived up to that. For the books are closed, imagination evaporated...there are no more experiments. I envision a " -logos " of theology. It is rationale discourse, a profound emergence between creator and humanity; the animating principle pervading all creation. It is a language, and conversation that does not belong solely to the church. It is a conversation birthed into the embryo of " all " that exists.
Harvey Cox, speaks of 3 things vital to a future theology...a theology we do just for the " hell " of it, because we are human.
( 1 ) As " making fun of ", theology is a satirizing activity which debunks destructive myths. It criticizes the cramping symbols that keep people busy turning the wheels of grandiloquent institutions and bowing down before bloated cultural and political tetrarchs. The theologians job is to be a persistent muckraker of spurious mystiques. He is a " demythologizer ", the exposer of fraudulent meanings and pasted-on values. He is the theologian as jester or holy fool, the one who pricks pretenses and shouts out for everyone to hear that the king has no clothes. I call this " making fun of " because I believe lampoon is one of the most effective forms of cultural demythologizing. Denying the powerful their mystique destroys the fear they must nurture in the souls of the powerless. Dismantling and deflating auras, halos and nimbuses is part of any theology devoted to human liberation.
( 2 )Theology is play not just as making fum of but also as " making believe ", as fantasizing, pretending or imagining. Theologians should be transmuting old symbols, exploring alternative metaphors, juxtaposing unlikely concepts, playing with new and improbable images of man and woman, God and world. earth and sky. Great theologians of the past have not merely examined and systematized existing religious patterns. They have ventured new ones. They have invented new pictures, woven new connections, spun new ideas. Admittedly constructive, imaginative theology has been neglected for a long time. This is due to the century-long reign of critical theology. Consequently theologians today would sometimes prefer to us another word for the fanciful side of their activity---maybe " theo-poetics." Some purists argue that the " ology " part of the word " theology " makes it a science in which imagination and fantasy would naturally be out of place... ... ...
To banish the imaginative side of life to the il-logical in-significant or meaning-less is to accept a crippling restriction on what counts as meaning or on what is " logical ." I believe, on the contrary, that play, pretending and imagining are alive with meaning and significance. Only a prosaic definition of what is " logical " could deny that play is " logical." Our whole age is bogged down by such restrictive nomenclature. Happily the condition may be temporary. Some of the best thinkers in modern science are beginning to notice again how essential the imaginative component is in any science.
( 3 )Theology can become a play in the third sense, namely as non-instrumental, non-productive, " useless " activity. As an enterprise which, like play, serves no goal beyond itself, theology rightly defies the modern prejudice which decrees that only useful things have a right to exist... ... ...
Theology is play in the sense that it is not just useful, relevant or productive in the way those words are understood in societies organized around efficiency and getting results. It represents a stubborn hold out among the " sciences " and when it accepts the industrial-technical closure of the world of human meaning, or tries to blend into the one-dimensional flatland, it betrays itself. As a hold out theology has, paradoxically, something important to say to technopolis. It has an eschatological word, a kind of summons to mankind to decide about its future. The paradox is something which seems so out of date, so strangely held over from such a remote past, may be in the only possible position to postulate a radically alternative future... ... ...
The marvel of play is that it reminds us that productive work is not the ultimate end of man. Man was made not just to shape the world but to delight in it, not just to glorify God but " to enjoy Him forever." Play, among other things, is something we do for its own sake, with no intrinsic goal in mind. It is something we do just for the hell of it, and so is theology. It is not only, as St Thomas said, the intellectual love of God, it is also an intellectual delighting in Him, and His world, forever. My hope is that, in this sense, theology will always be a little useless.
We live lives in a world, a creation of profound mysterious change...and God is apart of it all. Even in modernity we saw the fabric of the universe as absolute, time and space were fixed...unchangeable. Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity changed all that. The universe was elastic, mutable...it curved, it collapsed, and life is lived in the midst of all that. For Einstein, he engaged theology in the midst of that changing reality.
For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress.
The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge. ( from an address presented at The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in 1940 )
The reality is we live in the midst of constant change, and yet we lack the imagination, the language, or the conversation to engage God, or humanity. Yes, we can't forget the past, some of the theological foundations of earlier thinkers...but the conversation, and the imagination must continue in the midst of an evolving, elastic, mutable life.
This quote from my good friend Bill Dahl's site. Imagination is not the poor cousin of reason, trafficking in desire-driven fantasy, dreaming, and delusion, but rather, as Fauconnier and Turner show, the very basis on which intelligent, sense-making thought builds. Independently, the philosopher Colin McGinn has reached a similar conclusion in his recent book Mindsight, arguing that without the faculty of imagination, there could be no thought, rational or otherwise. To think intelligently is to create webs of meaning about how the world might be, and this is the work of imagination. Reason follows, creating the rational links and chains of inference that validate and extend our knowledge of reality. Fundamentally we are, as McGinn asserts, Homo imaginans. P. 72 ( Smart World – Breakthrough Creativity and the new Science of Ideas by Richard Ogle )
But, I see theological imagination as sort of an infinite scrabble game. The pieces of the past already on the board can not be pulled up, or undone. We can play off the pieces on the board, but we can not start or invent a new game. But we live in the constant reality that God who lives in this evolving elastic mutable creation...is always giving us new pieces in hand. Emergence is exploring, expressing and navigating on the board with what is in our hands. This is what I see Brian McLaren doing in a New Kind of Christianity. This is theological imagination that is changing, constantly engaging God and humanity.
The problem is religion always seems to kill theological imagination. I still struggle with Jesus dying for the original sin of humanity. I mean, think...seriously. If this is the reality of the predestined time line of point A to point B. That this is just unfolding script, merely turning the pages. Then God is the premeditated murderer of his own son. Sometimes, I believe religion is our scapegoat...our cop out.
I believe...in Jesus Christ. But reading the gospels I can not deny that Jesus was filled with divine eternal redemptive imagination. He spoke and lived a life of theological imagination. He played with the pieces of the past, playing off the pieces. But he stretched us, because in this elastic mutable creation in which the divine and humanity live in relation...God, through the Spirit constantly gave him new pieces in hand.
But just as the religion of the day killed theological imagination, Jesus. The religion of today kills theological imagination.
Man was made not just to shape the world but to delight in it, not just to glorify God but " to enjoy Him forever." Play, among other things, is something we do for its own sake, with no intrinsic goal in mind. It is something we do just for the hell of it, and so is theology. It is not only, as St Thomas said, the intellectual love of God, it is also an intellectual delighting in Him, and His world, forever. It is time, long over due, to imagine...a new conversation with God and humanity.