When I wrote my articles about LGBTQ , one of the comments I received was that I had a “liberal theology”.
The more I think about this, the more I realize that the way the word is used today in the Swedish Christian community is: Liberal equals not conservative, or at worst non biblicist.
If this is the proper definition then I am guilty as charged, that is. I am not and never will be a biblicist (again). If liberal theology is the only alternative to biblicism, then I am a liberal through and through.
Fortunately, it’s not so black and white. Indeed, there are many other ways to relate to the Bible.
I agree (with liberal theologians) that we must learn biblical criticism and exegesis, we must understand the historical context and where / how the text has come to be, if we are to extract the gold from the biblical text, and if we are to have a theological conversation that allows for depth, while still respecting the text.
But that’s not enough, a liberal hermeneutic not enough to build a Christian community in a secular post-modern society. Liberal theology (in the most extreme cases) robs the Bible of its deep mystery and the revelation of the holy spirit. Liberal Theology, many times result in a secular biblical stance that is not congruent with a living Christian faith.
Post Liberalism, narrative theology, progressive christianity
So what do you do when you are no longer a biblicist but find that liberal theology falls flat?
Well, you could enter the world of post-liberalism (it means exactly what it sounds like, after liberalism and is a reaction to liberal theology). Post-liberalism is based on narrative theology, ie. “the Church’s use of the Bible should focus on a narrative presentation of the faith as regulative for the development of a coherent systematic theology.” (Wikipedia)
The post-liberal or narrative theology stands in stark contrast to the liberal and modernist individualism and interpret the biblical text not only in historical context but in a broader perspective that takes into account the culture, spoken tradition and contemporary culture. Instead of staring themselves blind at the historical context as they read Bible stories as an imaginative act where the story is reborn and reinterpreted (from its historical context, with great respect for the contemporary culture and tradition) into our own context and in in our own contemporary Christian community and tradition. Theologian Walter Brueggemann calls this “imaginative remembering” who says that:
“The traditioning process of retelling does not intend to linger over old happening, but intends to Recreate a rooted, lively world of meaning That is marked by bothering coherence and surprise in Which the listening generation, time after time, can situate ITS own life” (Brueggemann – An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2003 pts
This post-liberal theology is the basis for much of the thinking of the emergent church. But there it has been discovered that it is not enough to employ a new hermeneutic (a new way to read and understand the Bible), but you need a new practical theology (how we live out our theology and how we shape our modern tradition and liturgy of this post-liberal hermeneutic. When you begin to ask these questions it may be that you take the next step in progressive theology .
Progressive theology is what happens when the Christian church listen to the voices of liberation theology, feminist theology and the secular critique of the traditional church. Another way to see it is to say, progressive theology, or progressive church is what you get when you let Jesus love-priority be central in the Christian community. With Jesus’ love priority, I mean:
“” Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? “He answered,” Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. ‘”(Matthew 22:36-40 SWED2K)
This coupled with the realization that we must be shepherds not devourers of the Earth. Creating a love-centered, eco-conscious Christianity can (all be it very simplified) be called progressive Christianity.
Wikipedia defines the following items as the characteristics of progressive Christianity.
- A spiritual vitality and expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused, and lively worship as well as a variety of spiritual rituals and practices such as meditation
- Intellectual integrity including a willingness to question
- An affirmation of human diversity
- An affirmation of the Christian faith with a simultaneous sincere respect for other faiths
- Strong ecological concerns and commitments
The lure of theopoetics
In all these theological waters, there are many currents, uncharted depths and an incredible openness to diversity.
One flow of theology that I feel a strong attraction to isteopoetics.
Wikipedia has the following definition of teopoetics:
Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study That combines elements of poetic analysis, process theology, narrative theology, and postmodern philosophy.Theopoetics … Suggests That deprecated of trying to developement a “scientific” theory of God, as Systematic Theology Attempts, theologians Should deprecated try to find God through poetic articulations of Their lived (“embodied”) experiences. It Asks theologians to accept reality as a Legitimate source of divine revelation and Suggests That bothering the divine and the real are mysterious – that is, irreducible to literalist dogmas or scientific proofs.
This teopoetic lure is calling from the forgotten depths and reminds us of the mystery. The mystery, the secret that can only be experienced, that ever dances an alluring wild dance at the limits of our consciousness. A mystery that contains both the Cataphatic and Apophatic tradition, a mystery that is both 100% man and 100% percent God, a mystery in which we are co-creators with the divine and where we lose ourselves in Christ and become one with God without us becoming god.
Polarization and pirate theology
The problem remains, as soon as you begin to question the biblicist fundamentals, you become a Pariah thrown out of the Swedish Theological mainstream, branded a liberal.
There is no theological argument that can win these biblicists over and I do not think it’s something we should aim for. Who am I to argue that my interpretation is better than yours? No, we need to create small pirate islands. where we live out a different reality, a different world view, a different hermeneutic, a different kind of Christianity in the middle of the biblicist mainstream.
We become pirate theologians (with all the positive, or romanticized aspect of that image, and perhaps unfortunately, sometimes some of the negative). But our purpose is not confrontation, or to somehow take over the establishment. No, our purpose is to gather in these wild, lawless islands and live out a rag-tag but true, lawless but loving, tradition-breaking, but not without tradition, or simply a radically different Christianity that does not actively threaten the normal Christian daily life in any other way than that it exist.
All are welcome
What’s great with the lawlessness of the pirate island is that it is diverse, colorful and totally unmanageable. Everyone fit in, everyone is welcome. Conservative biblicists and liberal secularists, theopoets and systematic theologians, stay at home dads and graduate students, hobby theologians and professional theophiles, philosophers and scientists, hetero and homo, atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, however queer you are, you are welcome … As long as we all respect the lawlessness of the pirate island and the diversity and intrinsic value of each other, then we call can let the theological conversation flow in this noisy environment with wide doors, high ceilings and low thresholds.