November 21, 2011

Types of Theological Development

I realized that I have never written on this, and it kind of surprised me. I personally, and this is completely me, see four modes of theological development. By this I mean that a person's or a group's opinion on a certain theological/philosophical matter doesn't simply develop on its own. There is generally some kind of impetus which causes us to think on things, and that impetus influences how our theology itself develops. Because of this, certain theological ideas are based more out of the mode through which it was birthed. I think it is best to see what I mean.

The Four are:

  1. Apologetic: In this mode, a person's theology develops essentially through combat with other ideas. The person begins with a basic belief system, and then engages in other belief systems. That core belief system is then protected through new theological ideas intended to combat or dodge certain criticisms, or new ideas that are designed to demonstrate that system's superiority over other systems.

  2. Irenic: In this mode, a person's theology develops through optimistic comparisons with another perspective. The person begins with a belief system, and then looks at another belief system to see what they have in common. Those commonalities are then emphasized and are considered to be more important. The differences are either altered, or talked about. New ideas result from seeing an idea in the other belief system that the person likes, and then altering it to fit within their own views. Irenic development is not necessarily postmodern relativistic interfaith kind of thinking (though that can be an example of it). It is can also be anytime when two or more groups are trying to unify (Such as the original Fundamentalist movement).

  3. Scholastic: In this mode, a person's theology develops through careful and systemic analysis and meditation. The person begins with a basic belief system, which is then critiqued, analyzed, expounded upon, etc... Scholastic development often results in systematic theologies, and other such tomes. As far as new ideas are concerned, that is the goal of Scholastic development. It is people trying to come up with new ideas.

  4. Pragmatic: In this mode, a person's theology develops by attempting to use one's theology/philosophy to achieve certain objectives. The person begins with a belief system and a goal. The person then eliminates those aspects of that belief system which impedes their goal and adds ideas which help their goal. To be frank, this is the typical mode of theological development in America today, which isn't surprising given our culture.
In the best cases, a person or group should really be employing all four of these modes. If one's theology were a city, then scholastics are the foundation upon which everything is built, apologetics is the wall which protects the city from invaders, irenics is the infrastructure (roads) which keeps the people united, and pragmatics is the industry which keeps things moving.

When any of these becomes over emphasized, things go bad. Scholastics starts dealing with worthless ivory tower nonsense, apologetics causes strife and fracturing groups, irenics makes your ideas wishy-washy and easily ignored, and pragmatics causes you to lose sight of what really matters. It is when the four are in balance that your ideas develop in a healthy manner.

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