Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Contemporary Theology

I was tagged for a meme a while ago by Chris T. and didn't know it until a few weeks after the fact. Since then, this entry has been sitting around unfinished because...well...I can't think of many books that fits the meme criteria that I've read. I've been reading so many spiritual memoirs and books on church structure that straight up theology hasn't been on the radar lately.

The meme states to list your favorite contemporary theology books. "Contemporary" is set as 1981-present. He picked three, so I'll pick three:

God, Creation, and All That Jazz - This is a book out of the school known as process theology, the thought that creation isn't finished and God is still actively creating alongside us as opposed to having it all finished from the get-go and now we're just along for the ride. Here, Pedersen uses a jazz metaphor to explain what she means: jazz is more of a free-flowing style. It has a basic structure, but the musicians know their instruments and the song so well that they can improvise without losing the main idea (I shall soon write the second installment: God, Creation, and Dave Matthews Band). This is in contrast to a symphony orchestra, the music of which is planned and directed down to the last note and rest. Pedersen suggests that God and creation both are more like jazz: the basic structures are there and God has a purpose for all of it, but there is a lot of change, risk, unexpected and unplanned sorts of moments. God is present during all of it and works with all of it, but not necessarily by controlling or determining all of it. In other words, God and creation are both much more dynamic in nature.

A Generous Orthodoxy - I think I'm going to re-read this one soon. Brian McLaren puts in book form something that I've long believed: you don't need to be exclusively from one theological school. In fact, here's the tagline: "Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN." He presents chapter after chapter of ideas that he appreciates from theologies across the board while offering his gentle McLaren-esque critique of them at the same time. One of my favorite metaphors I've heard recently comes from this book. McLaren talks about a game of basketball, and how we learn the rules not so we can point out when others aren't playing right, but so we can enjoy playing the game. McLaren calls for a way of doing theology that doesn't focus on pointing out others' errant beliefs, but so we can live by those beliefs. We're not called to be referees; we're called to be players. Jesus was all about that.

Faith Seeking Understanding - I really hope that I come up with a better third book to stick on this list. In the meantime, this was required reading in seminary and I stick it on here because it's contemporary and not terrible. It's pretty systematic and, by my reckoning, sort of a modern liberal/neo-orthodox hybrid. It's good for what it is, which is more of an introductory text than anything else. If you read all the books on this list, start with this one and then maybe the others won't scandalize you as much. This meme fizzled out just now, didn't it?

I'm adding a fourth, but for some reason keeping Faith Seeking Understanding on here. It's my blog, I'll do what I want. Anyway, Terence Fretheim's The Suffering of God has stuck with me since I had to read it in seminary. In some ways, this book goes hand-in-hand with Pedersen's, although they do differ in some respects. For instance, where Pedersen suggests that God's control is limited by nature, Fretheim suggests that it is limited by choice. That's the difference between process theology and open theism. Here's the main reason that I stuck this on here. Pedersen's book may sound strange and even heretical to people. Fretheim presents similar ideas, but pulls them straight out of scripture. There are, off the top of my head, four texts where God changes God's mind about something. Three of them are because of a human being arguing on the people's behalf. Abraham did it with Sodom, Moses did it during the golden calf episode, God told Jeremiah that God would change God's mind if the people repented, and Amos did it. So I stick this book on here to show that this theology isn't just made up because someone decided that they didn't like high Calvinism any more. One can argue that it isn't a "complete" view, but one needs to first acknowledge that the view has scriptural merit.

Okay, I'm done. Time to go to work.