Doing Theology in the 21st Century. or why Aquinas is a footnote

We are going to have to agree to disagree about some things. One thing that I would ask (in my generous orthodoxy style) is that we both acknowledge those things that we agree on as well as those we don’t.

The reason that is important is because of something that Phyllis Tickle points out (paraphrase): it is not that former (and maybe dominant) expressions go away, it is that they no longer hold the prime spot and wield the kind of power that they once did. They are all still around however. MP900405058

The interesting terrain that we inhabit in the 21st century is littered with artifacts and occupied by pockets of groups – possible ones that were once in the ascendancy. This is, as I am often saying, the bricolage nature of our cultural/societal environment.

You have methodists who have no idea what the methods were. You have ‘Amish’ fireplace stoves being mass-produced and sold on TV (think about it). You have can still, more tellingly, find actual Amish folks if you know where to look.

Here are two things you need to know:

  1. I come to the theological endeavor as a contextual theologian.
  2. In my context, practical theology and its qualitative methods (interviews, case studies, ethnography) is my chosen approach.

There are several implications of these two things. Unlike Tripp, I don’t do systematic theology.* It is not that I don’t value other branches of theology. In fact, practical theology as a field is in a major renovation, at least in part, in order to join the other 4 primary branches of theology that do their own research and provide their own innovations:

  • Historical Theology
  • Biblical Theology
  • Systematic Theology
  • Philosophical Theology

As my professor Kathleen Greider says:

Practical theologians commonly assert that the primary text of our field is lived experience– diverse persons and communities that are contextually located, inextricably related, and experiencing each other through countless interconnections and interactions.

Almost invariably when I am enduring critique from a conversation partner who is more conservative than myself, it is only a matter of time before they bring up Aquinas. I don’t get the nuance of Aquinas. I didn’t distinguish between the early and late Aquinas. I wasn’t careful to appropriate this or that of Aquinas’ formulations. I didn’t read the right translation of Aquinas. (the same things with Barth and Scotus too) 

What I am saying is that we don’t need to understand Aquinas better or deeper. 

We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his.

As a contextual theologian I don’t think that is accomplished by obsessing over Aquinas. I’m not saying that we aren’t generous or respectful … I’m saying that Aquinas lives neither where we do nor when we do. He lived in a different context and time.

Call this dismissive if you will but  The Church’s future is not to be found in Europe’s past. I say it all the time.

You may disagree with me about this. That is fine. I’m just telling you where I am coming from since our latest TNT has raised some eyebrows, questions (and hackles) both here and on twitter.


Historic thinkers like Aquinas never saw what I call the 5 C’s of our theological context:

  • post-Christendom
  • Colonialism
  • global Capitalism
  • Charismatic renewal (especially Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Cultural Revolutions (from Civil Rights in the 60’s to the ‘Arab Spring’)

Add to those 5 to pluralism, the internet and a growing environmental crisis and you have the 8 things we as theologians need to give great attention and care to. They are the context in which (and for which) we do theology in the 21st century. Go listen to our interview with Grace Ji-Sun Kim if you have questions about this. 

You may want to focus more on the christian tradition (like Augustine or Aquinas) and I would understand that – I view that impulse through a Lindbeckian tri-focal lens. I understand the work you want to do within that cultural-linguistic silo. [I’m having fun in this part for those unfamiliar with my style]


Disagree as we might about the importance of a writer in the 3rd or 13th century – I just wanted you to know where I was coming from and what my focus was.**

 I would love it if everyone would leave a comment and let me know how this sits with you. 


*One implication of that is that when I read systematic theologians I do so though mostly thought trusted secondary sources. Admittedly, I don’t major in primary sources – for reasons I hope are clear in this post. I find scholars who know their stuff like Elizabeth Johnson, John Caputo, Joseph Bracken and Stuart Murray and trust them.

** If you want to read more about my approach check out ‘After MacIntyre’ that I wrote a while ago but never put up on the blog. It will explain my concern about everything from consumerism to hipsters and the radical orthodoxy project.

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BoSanders moderator

Hey @bwalkeriii @BoSanders  @trippfuller @Jonnie Russell  @austinroberts13  Just one thing I feel like I need to defend myself on :)

Aquinas is a footnote. That means that I have read and am citing him.   Somehow this is being paraphrased as "we don't need him" or "studying him is useless".  That is not what I said :p 

It's like when I talk about communion and say "Repetition with Variation" and people focus on the variation part (how dare change anything) but miss the REPETition part.. that we take communion regularly.  

I didn't mind when Bill Baylor polemics got it wrong ;)  but when Austin  Drew (get it) the same conclusion I thought I should say something.  -Bo 


"Admittedly, I don’t major in primary sources – for reasons I hope are clear in this post. I find scholars who know their stuff like Elizabeth Johnson, John Caputo, Joseph Bracken and Stuart Murray and trust them."

I'm dubious about this method, if only because I could find a different set of scholars who know their stuff, and come to radically different conclusions about the primary figures, which is generally why I refer to secondary authors only after looking at a primary text.  Or, barring that, referring to the primary text that an author has spent time dealing with.

I understand why don't deal with primary sources from the post, but methodologically, I find this similar to doing interviews about one group of people, with another group that just happens to know them very well.  Different in nature, but the contextual approach has its set of primary sources.

Perhaps this is why I appreciate Sarah Coakley's approach in her new book, where she brings the contextual methodology together with a robust understanding of primary sources (especially historical theology).    


@jwmccarty figuring out what Aquinas was up to (in order to do it today) requires reading him quite carefully & attending to details (2/2)


@jwmccarty IMHO fine not to work on Aquinas et al, so long as this isn't an excuse to critique or dismiss w/out understanding them and (1/2)

BoSanders moderator

Hey @Bill Walker III The more I think about it the more I TRUEly disagree with you

1) That we didn’t spend enough time on the classical view before we began to deconstruct/disagreed with it. We are not playing on a level playing field. Classical understanding are nearly ubiquitous (can I say hegemonic) and so as we went to re-present a Process understanding we get to take some short-cuts in people understanding the inherited frameworks. 

  1. That one must deeply and thoroughly understand and appreciate ancient/historic theology in order to _______. 

Would you say this about anything else? Or is theology different? 

Farming: Would you say that you really can’t farm or grow food unless you understand how the Greeks farmed in the first century? 

Sexuality: Would you say that you can really have sex until you understand the way in which Adam & Eve were naked? 

Music: Would you say that you can’t really play music unless you have interacted and played a lyre or timbrel?  

As a contextual theologian, the gospel is a seed that grows just fine in every new soil and every new year. 

Having said that - I will concede the inheritance of the christian and tradition are important to understanding ... but I just worry that you have overstated your case. 

I would be interested in your thoughts (also @Jonnie Russell @BrandonMorgan2 @trippfuller


"We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his."

i do love this and think this is right. Bu that would mean getting clear about what someone like Aquinas actually WAS doing in his day. It wasn't popular that's for sure. No one even touched Aquinas' writings, much less devoted to following him, until a century after he was dead. 

So I want to raise a problem that I have that I imagine you face often, and that is the precise place/proper description of 'practical theology' within the theological discipline. In some ways I'd want to say that all theology attends to the practical. The summa was written to prepare dominicans for preaching and ecclesial practice. But I don't see how that should require sidestepping the 'systematic' or dogmatic task. Following Barth, "To do Dogmatics is to do Ethics" SO there is no room for a methodological rupture between the task of 'primary source' theological work and otherwise 'on the ground' work that would justify escaping needing to read the history of Christian theology. Everything you listed (

  • post-Christendom
  • Colonialism
  • global Capitalism
  • Charismatic renewal (especially Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Cultural Revolutions (from Civil Rights in the 60’s to the ‘Arab Spring’)

Add to those 5 to pluralism, the internet and a growing environmental crisis)

can be addressed without going through the roundabout route of studying theology in the academy. Solving these elements is not what gathers theology/theologians to its task, because theology would continue without these problems. So what is the justification for approaching these issues through "practical theology" in a way that apparently sidesteps the "systematic" question. I ask this from a religion dept that refuses to bear out those (relatively recent) disciplinary distinctions. Wouldn't it be more fruitful to do urban development, social work, international relations,etcaI guess the question is, what does "practical theology" (as distinguished from the "systematic" concerns) give you that these other disciplines couldn't give you more fully? Does our context change the fact that theology is speech about God, a secondary discourse about the worship of the church? 

Also, the division seems to imply that other theologians (myself?) are not contextually driven, as if global capital and colonialism are not live issues for me (or for dogmatic theology) and that is false. When we say that creation is a gift from the trinitarian life of God, we are saying something about ownership and possession, about the self and its identity that bears out in so many 'contextual' ways. What the church says about God matters for how we live (and that includes what the Barth's and Aquinas' of our history say.)

This is not to be dismissive of the discipline of 'practical theology." I largely agree with Hauerwas, who calls theology a performance of practical reason. But I don't see how that should close one from "knowing [say] Aquinas better or deeper. I went to an AAR session about the contribution Aquinas' account of virtue has for democratic political life? Isn't this a vitally "practical" way of knowing Aquinas better or deeper? When we read the Barman Declaration, a "dogmatic" document if there every was one, aren't we studying a perennially applicable example of how dogmatic claims about Christ's Lordship over history bear out "practically" (ie politically)? Doesn't this entail "knowing Barth better and deeper?" When Gutierrez

calls the church, the sacrament of the world, does he not mean to place Christian doctrine within the vitally important sphere of South American political life? And would not this entail knowing Vatican II better and deeper? Even the seemingly not so practical parts? I suppose the strict division that you seem to paint underwrites the idea that systematic or dogmatic theological talk is irrelevant to how we live. It seems to contribute to a policing of what counts as rationally applicable, as if we "do theology" and then we "apply it (accommodate it)" to moral dilemmas because theology does not bear directly upon what we do. I don't know if this is what you mean to say by invoking the differences, but it can come off this way. 


Great post, Bo.  "We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his."  Love this.  And you know I'm as concerned as you are about postcolonialism, global capitalism etc.

It's not about what you make of the classical tradition.  We can disagree.  It's about being fair to it/not cheapening it (e.g., not saying traditional theism = caesar-God) -- because, as you know, the tradition is why we are here calling ourselves Christian in the first place.  Our integrity as Christians depends at least somewhat on the integrity of the theology before us.  We should only innovate what we've gotten wrong. We have to understand first before we can do this faithfully.

One foot in the tradition, the other in the present.  It's the theology of correlation so well expressed by Tillich. 

In my case, I'm not writing my diss about Aquinas.  I'm writing about the U.S.-Mexico drug war and liberation theology from the standpoint of postcolonialism and the beauty of Christ.  Without the latter though (beauty of Christ), preserved and reimagined by those like Aquinas, I could not write "Christianly" about the former (our rapidly changing and conflictual contemporary situation).

BoSanders moderator

@tamedcynic I will look forward to reading this - but just to be clear there is a U in Aquinas and a U in Irenaeus but not in Sanders :) 

BoSanders moderator

@archambt WHAT? - Sarah Coakley (while amazing) is a systematic theologian and a philosopher of religion. 

I'm doing sociological examination through qualitative methods. 

My interest - as I say in the post - in Historic, Philosophic, BIblical and Systematic theology is secondary. I love them and engage them but they are not my primary focus.  Apples and Oranges. 


@David_Mahfood re: this person. Or "the history is more nuanced..." but then they don't engage the meets of the constructive argument.


@David_Mahfood My frustration comes when folks who specialize in a figure/period/etc main critique is "well, that's not EXACTLY right +


@David_Mahfood agreed but can one do that for every important historical figure, especially if one's project is not primarily historical?


@BoSanders @Bill Walker III @Jonnie Russell @BrandonMorgan2 @trippfuller 

1. To state that classical theology is "ubiquitous" in just the manner that process claims as its impetus for innovation is begging the question. You literally assume within the premises of the argument part of the conclusions that you hope to draw. The question is whether or not any such "ubiquity" or agreement exists about the state of classical theology and how it should be read. My argument has been consistently that process theism is a question begging enterprise in just this poses premises about certain failures of classical theology that have been drawn from a conclusion you hope to make about it, but have not sufficiently made it. So innovation arises upon a false premise. This particular short-cut just happens to be a logical fallacy. 

(other # 1) This is an interesting test case. Theology is a natural discourse arising from practical questions that Christians have in cases of abnormality. So its distinctions develop, not out of innovation for the hell of it, but out of specific ailments that, had they not come along, would not have animated the conclusions that Christian theology came to and comes to. No Arius, no "begotten not made" in the creed. Theology looks the way it does because of the ways its reacted against problems like Arius' account of Christ. So yes one will need to know how this development happens, at least in broad sense, in order to know why certain contemporary innovations are worth it. So, from my point of view, Tillich's Christology is a dead end, not just because I disagree with it, but because we have already developed a response to Nestorius' Christology and Tillich's is, in his own language, the same. It upends the distinctions that were made as a response to the temptation that Christ and Jesus were two different persons. If you don't think Nestorian Christologies (or proto-nestorian Gnostic Christologies) matter for "practical" issues, then you need to read Carter's Race: a theological account. He lays how such theology informs racialized aesthetics. 

So Music is an exercise in sensibilities and recognizable skills and responses that how come be natural (so is sex and farming). Theology happens to be different since its largely a textual enterprise. But the idea still stands that such responses and sensibilities arrive because of the past responses and distinctions theologians have already made in history. And they bear out practically. 

BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 Oh wow Brandon - this was fantastic response ... now just FYI  I tend not to respond to comments that were longer than the initial posts :)   This one came in a 690 but it was so good and thorough that i could not resist !! 

[you may want to revisit both the comment word count thing - it makes it very difficult to respond well as a host] 

ANYwhoooo   - YEs.  You are both right and wayyyyyy  understated. 

You have barely scratched the surface of the problem with the term 'practical' as it relates to the theological endeavor. Trust me ... it is a HUGE issue within the discipline. 

Real Quick:  I have been re-reading  an article by Terry A. Veling called "Practical Theology: on Earth as in Heaven" that is part of the Orbis/Maryknoll imprint. 

Well - PT has undergone such a transformation in the last 30 years that it definently 100% includes 

practicing theology 

practices with theology

practical implications of theology 

the practice of theology 

and SO much more. 

What it does not include - and this the thing that only people within the discipline can understand - it that the one thing it does not include is .... the practical application of theology.

If that does not make sense to you - welcome to the academy :)  @Jonnie Russell @Bill Walker III

I don't even know how to initiate someone into this matrix of discipline/limitation.  Suffice to say that for too long PT has been the runt of the litter when it comes to theological approaches within the academy - and the ONE thing that we are not OK with simply applying what somebody else has done in some other branch of theology. 

"oh - there is an innovation in Historic Criticism of the BIble - how does that change preaching?" 

"oh - Rock n' Roll is moving into evangelical & charismatic worship services? What does that mean for us?" 

Those days are GONE.  So - yes - you are 100% correct in some of what you have said AND you have barely even scratched the surface of how deep and complicated the issues goes :)

But I am Super Glad that you wrote in!  Thank you    -Bo 

BoSanders moderator

@bwalkeriii  Great clarifications here.  Thank you so much for the generous response even in the midst of disagreement. 

Following my own requests I will acknowledge that we agree on 90% of what you have stated here. 

I also now clearly see where our disagreement is coming!!   

(The words used in the comments on your post yesterday and on twitter like dismissive, caricature, unsophisticated and unfair have been baffling to me and that is why I have stayed away from that post - so I appreciate your engagement here.) 

The problem comes here - when you say " It's about being fair to it/not cheapening it (e.g., not saying traditional theism = caesar-God) -" 

Bill, my take on the brief Galilean vision and Stuart Murray influenced critique of the Constantinian compromise is exactly that.  You read it a different way. That does not mean that I am belittling/ being dismissive/ or cheapening the classical view.   I hate what has happened to the brief Galilean vision and am horrified at Christendom-Colonial-Consumer christianity.  

If you disagree - that is fine... but that is not caricature ... that is an honest opinion. For you (and your Baylor brethren) to cry foul is perplexing to me!   

Look - our job the other day on the TNT was represent a Process response to the combative post by Olson and I think we did that. We took an hour and half to do it (fairly thoroughly I feel) and part of Process is a deep concern about the nature of God's power and the Greek metaphysics that shows up in the Creeds of the early churches.   I think we did that fairly appropriately.   

The show is called a 'throwdown' - not a chat over tea or an AAR session.  For you and Tony to say 'not fair' 'unkind' 'dismissive' and 'caricature' .... I just think it would better for ya'all  to say that you just don't like our take  ... 

The nature of the medium means I have to paint with a broad brush sometime - but it was NOT absurd or a caricature.   -Bo 


@BoSanders Ah. Given the analogy, I suspect Sarah's attempting to make fruit salad, then.  At the very least, she doesn't think a systematic theology could be called such now, if it doesn't incorporate exactly what you're working on.


@jwmccarty a legit frustration, but one probably needs to coexist w its opposite for theology to be relevant but aware of its past


@jwmccarty ... how odd it is to say "do what Aquinas did rather than study him intently." Cannot know ur doing the 1st w/out doing the 2nd


@jwmccarty yeah, Aquinas meant to stand in for et al there; obv no one can major in everything, but I wanted to note...

BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders @Bill Walker III @Jonnie Russell @trippfuller @Jesse Turri

Remember when this whole thing began and Roger Olson said that process was esoteric?  That was funny after reading this weeks comments by his students :) 

Ok - this has been fun. But the times a movin' and we have clearly seen that we are just coming at this from two very different ways.   Seriously, Thanks for the deep engagement yall.  The winds are changing direction and I got a bad full of topics to cover    -Bo 


@BoSanders @bwalkeriii 

(Baylor Brethren here). We are no doubt as horrified at Christendom-Colonial-Consumer christianity as anyone. Hell, my department is full of Hauerwas students who are about as pacifist as they come and more anti-capitalist than any I've ever met. No pro-constantinians here. The difference is perhaps that we perceive of the political ailments of such a compromise as working against the metaphysical presumptions Christianity has tried to profess (peace is ontologically prior to conflict, evil is a privation of being, creation as gratuitous gift, Christ as both example AND doctrine) and not because of them. This is simply to say that Christianity is not fundamentally violent and its perpetuating of such implies a lack of faithfulness to its own past claims (namely, that Jesus is Lord and his Lordship is of the Lamb not the lion). So the goal is to discern how to be more faithful to those claims in the present context. So maybe we are just presuming different things about what counts as "sophisticated" or "charitable" or not. "Charitable" for me, for instance, would require me to see the spectrum of process positions...a point the podcast made really well. It would also require you to see that, for example, Gregory of Nyssa was deeply committed to a version of platonism, but rejected outright any form of slavery, which was more consistent with the form of platonism he held (a Christian form, if thats allowed) and not a point of inconsistency for him. Even Augustine was no constantinian in a deeply Eusebian way at least. Rome is the quintessential earthly city built on violence, which Christians should be wary of relying on. 

So we are, I imagine, agreed on what is at stake in the modern world. We perhaps disagree on what Christian theology should attend to in order to attend that world. It may turn out (again, for example) that Aquinas' (and all of ancient Christianity's) rejection of usury, would, among many other things, re-calibrate what economic relations should entail. One does not need a metaphysics of any sort to see those entailments, which also means that missing those entailments is not reducible to a "ceasar-metaphysic". Humans can just be blind and wretched to one another, no matter what kind of God they claim to worship. 

Jonnie Russell
Jonnie Russell

@BoSanders @bwalkeriii Bo, I really appreciate your (again) laying out your context and project here, as one immanently and unabashedly a practical theology. I even agree with those like Murray for the most part on the Christendom tip. However, I think the risk is always twofold when the response to charges of thin thinking of over-reification/simplification with this kind 'schematizing one's project.'

First, it can have the effect ofmaking practicality a kind of insulation from questioning where one has ended (e.g. X thinker is a mere footnote, etc.). In other words, if practical sounds like an excuse for reifying or lopping off all things classical theology we have a problem, most notably for one's practical theology being respected as nuanced and open to making footnotes genuine engagement partners. I DON"T think this is at all what you're using this lay out of your project for (not to mention I'm in large agreement with it), it just needs to be constantly asserted that practical doesn't mean or enable insulation.

Second, I take the bolded "The churches future is not to be found in Europe's past" to be a good distillation of your impulses here. Assuming I'm right, can we distinguish two prior commitments inherent in it? First, is the theological project (or questions like these we've raised of the past few days that swirl around theodicy etc.) to be engaged only under the banner of the churches future? In other words (and this will be a nice clarification for others), is an engaging ecclesiology your fundamental starting point?

Second, how do we assert this forward thinking 'progressive' message, without collapsing into a modernistic progress myth view? I ask this because I want to think the same way but am totally irked by this risk.

Just a couple thoughts. Fundamentally, practical theology I think must be venerated in this discussion, FOR SURE. But it's invocation in these contexts seems in danger of appearing as a defense for a kind of unthinking or reification of a history of certain idea.

Anyway, loving the exchange and just want to re-emphasize that this perception has to be combated so as not to debase the discipline.


@BoSanders @archambt 

Coakley's new book performs sociological examination on two distinct communities regarding prayer and the trinity. Its a great example of why "practical' and "systematic" or "theological" and "sociological" are not separate for Christians 


@David_Mahfood good luck on the committee! A good one is a joy, a bad one a nightmare. I hope you've got good folks o work with.


@jwmccarty ...with a view to reframing how we do atonement theology today... In process of getting proposal approved by committee


@jwmccarty funny you should ask! My project is very much about getting "what Anselm & Aquinas were doing" viz. atonement theology...


@David_Mahfood rather than exegeting Augustine as a potential model here. Of course, this came after years of exegeting Augustine...


@David_Mahfood I find Charles Mathewes' claim that he's doing Augustine-esque theology in Republic of Grace +


@BoSanders@bwalkeriii@BrandonMorgan2@trippfuller@Jonnie RussellWe are indeed having fun! Let the banter continue.

more excuses Bo... :)  i admit you're right though, instead of always, I should have said good critique is very often best preceded by a generous recasting of an opponents case. 

So you're telling me that it's just my opinion vs. others, and there's no way to know if your comments stem from bad interpretations of traditional theism?  Why would anyone study theology then and try to arrive at better understandings of what past people have said, if we're just granting the opinion of the majority?

Yes, of course people in the pew do think about eschatology in that simplistic way.  You don't have to be a pastor or blogger for many years to know this.  That's what an evangelical plain reading of the text will getcha, as you are well aware.  Does this mean they are right about classical theism?  Obviously not.  They're just rehearsing what their literalist pastors have told them.  All the more reason to point out to them that Christians haven't always thought about eschatology and God's character like that.  Teach them process too, by all means, but why not give the best version of the tradition that we've inherited as well.  I don't think we do ourselves or congregants any favors by making it sound like process is the first kind of theology to get God's character right.  I'm not going to let up on that point.

I liked most of the podcast.  You did a good job talking about process.  I already said that.  

Great, then Ogden is wrong.  See Anselm Min's article entitled, "How Not to Do  a Theology of Liberation: A Critique of Schubert Ogden" -- yes, he seriously published it with that title.  That's how wrong Min thought he was, ha!

BoSanders moderator

@bwalkeriii @BoSanders @BrandonMorgan2 @trippfuller @Jonnie Russell  

Bill!!!   I am surprised at you!   a) for being so sensitive and b) for being this blindly wrong :)  

[Bill and I are buds everyone - we are having fun here

Bill, I was an evangelical pastor for over 15 years. I went to evangelical seminary.  I have been blogging for 6 years. 

IF you don't think that this is EXactly what people say to me and what many people believe - ALL you are telling me is that in YOUR tribe of the thoughtful evangelicals that YOU don't think this. 

People think this man. This is how Revelation gets preached and read.  The fact that you would even contest this as a 'caricature' ONLY tells me that this is not how you see it or have experienced it. 

Those things that you quoted are not absurd.  Sure they may be un-nuanced because of the nature of talking fast ....

But for you to say that they are gross mischaracterizations of the outcomes of modernist or classical  eschatology is a true overstatement. 

AND - if I can just say one more thing:  you say "Good critique is always preceded by a generous recasting of an opponents case."  

WRONG - that is ONE way of doing it.  That is not the only way.  That may be YOUR preferred way (and I love this about you) but it is NOT the only way. 

Is it my normal way?  Do I try and be irenic and generous at every turn? Yes

But when it comes to eschatology man ....  AND by the WAY - that thing about the status quo was from Schubert Ogden. 

Bill our job was to try and represent Process' concerns and I think that we did that. I think we did that well in 90 minutes. Were we hard on bad eschatology? yes. 


also - thank you for finally providing some actual examples it was really helpful.  The whole thing with you and Tony Jones saying 'unfair' was baffling me.  At least now I know what the sticking points are.  


@BoSanders @BrandonMorgan2 @bwalkeriii @trippfuller @Jonnie Russell 

Well, I don't know jack about cricket so I can't really respond fully to this analogy. But it seems like this picture simply affirms what Olson says...that process is playing a different game than the game creedal Christianity is playing. I don't necessarily agree with that, but it seems right to infer that, at a certain point of innovation a judgment is made about whether or not we are playing the same game in the end...whether or not the rules are changes to the same game or the creation of a new one. There is no obvious point where this judgement must be made, but that would not make such a judgement unreasonable. 

If it has elected to diverge enough to play a different game, why would Olson's line drawing be offensive? You seem to agree. Understanding how baseball is played does not mean i would know how cricket is played (I don't). I have no clue what would count as a good or bad move in cricket...what an 'error' would be. They are different games with different rules. This analogy breaks down (in my interpretation) given that neither baseball nor cricket was developed full blown as an opposition to the other. But this is how process works. It looks at a couple thousand years of development (including Jewish and Islamic development), decides it doesn't want to play anymore, and starts talking differently...very differently. I simply want to forestall the notions about ancient/medieval Christian theology that seem to compel one to think that they need to innovate so radically...that our language is screwed enough that process would appear an advancement by comparison. This is also why I claimed that talking so differently all of a sudden would alienate Christians from their words and their life with those words. 


@BoSanders@BrandonMorgan2@bwalkeriii@trippfuller@Jonnie Russell  

Bo, your analogies are evading the central point of contention, and I also think they fail in general (which I would have to explain in a follow-up comment, though Brandon already addressed this), but I want to re-focus on my original critique.

The majority of the podcast episode about Olson and process was helpful and fair. But there were exceptions to this.

Tripp said about traditional/classical theism that it claims:

“God really is like Ceasar, just not yet.”

You said traditional/classical theism makes God out to say:

“I tried that nice thing. Now I’m back and I’m going to kick ass.”

Both of these statements are gross mischaracterizations of traditional/classical theism by any fair account.

You also argued in the podcast that to believe in God’s power as coercive necessarily leads to a reinforcement of the status quo.This is equally untenable.

I’m not angry. I’m giving you fair, critical feedback based on having studied classical/traditional theism in substantial depth. It’s not about a difference between my approach or “game” and yours, which is what the analogy of baseball and cricket implies. I don’t care if you disagree with classical theism or aren’t “playing that game.” I think that’s legit, and I disagree with certain things about it too! But why do you get to keep making excuses for failing to give an integritous account of it? It’s a big deal for the integrity of our faith that we recall it charitably, even if we critique and innovate it! You betray your own cynicism toward the tradition here by using the hegemony of Christendom as an excuse for misrepresentation -- and I'm all about exposing and dismantling hegemony. 

Good critique is always preceded by a generous recasting of an opponents case.

BoSanders moderator

@BrandonMorgan2 @BoSanders @bwalkeriii SO the more that I reflect upon the comments of the Baylor Brethren :) the more it seems to me that we have a really simple problem ...  allow me to use an analogy 

It seems to me that @trippfuller and @Jonnie Russell and I are saying basically "Baseball is an innovation based on Cricket." 

and then you come back (Brandon - not so much Bill) and say "ya but Cricket is played this way" 

and we are like "Ya. We know. We know that. and that is why Baseball does X" 

then you say "But cricket Y and Z" 

We say ya - Baseball left that behind and keeps tracks of 'runs' scored. 

You say " Scoring in cricket matches involves two facts, the number of runs scored and the number of Wickets lost by each team. The number of wickets lost shows how many wickets the bowling team has to get to end the batting team's innings (and thus how likely the batting team is to improve on its score so far). In making a judgement at any point in a game about which team is more likely to win, other factors would be taken into account, such as the number of overs or the time remaining, the state of the pitch, or even the weather." 

We are like "Right. Yes. We know.  They are different." 

Does that make sense?  

We know what early centuries said about god's power. We get meta-physics. We understand councils and creeds. We account for tradition and precedent and given-ness and trajectory and reformation and ...

WHAT we are saying is that Process takes a different angle, approach and comes to different conclusions. It has elected to diverge or differentiate - so stating the former understanding or previous conceptual framework is somewhat .... redundant I guess.  

SO to come back and say "Aquinas X" or "Barth Y" or "Augustine Z" is like just stating the thing implicit in the critique and a refutation of the innovation. 

sincerely and respectfully  -Bo 

BoSanders moderator

@Jonnie Russell @BoSanders @bwalkeriii Jonnie is fairness you are a bit analytic-AL    Right? 

You do analysis. Your analytic.   I mean ... come on.  ;p 

OH and by the way - I didn't say that doing  Practical does NOT mean that you ignore Systematic, Biblical, Historic or Philosophic  ... should have been more clear :) 

Jonnie Russell
Jonnie Russell

@BoSanders @Jonnie Russell @bwalkeriii Thanks Bo. This post was definitely intended to be (in part) an out loud clarification of how not to read such a manifesto. :) And your development here helps in that regard. I guess the only thing I would say re: 2) is that it is precisely here that speculative non-interpretative/practical modes of though (cough cough 'Philosophical theology') can help all of us embody that practical goal better. So we need these supra-practical interventions, which is why I think you and Tripp create the right kind of chemistry.

But yeah, without that supra stuff...i.e. the rez beyond the 'al'... it can be a wheel spinning deal right? ;P

Oh, and I'm totally *post-analytical* for the record. (Self serious designation notwithstanding) :/

love my BO

BoSanders moderator

@Jonnie Russell @BoSanders @bwalkeriii  JR I really appreciate about 90% of your pushback :) 

Here is the 10% you will have to help with. I am constantly surprised by analytic types with the 'by saying 1 are you inherently saying not 1?'  thing. My brain just doesn't work that way. 

It's like if I say "I like beef" and someone responds 'what do you have against chicken?' 

or if I say "Your haircut looks nice" and the response is "You didn't like my hair before?" 

or If a colleague says "Theologian use words differently than normal people" and the person responding to the paper says "On now theologians are not normal people??  Normal people don't qualify as theologians in your mind?" 

Jonnie - unfortunately you will have to spend the next 3-4 decades reminding me to clarify what I didn't mean and never intended... but that is what friends are for :) 

SO lets take this point-by-point   

1) fantastic clarification.  There is no insulation.  I only meant that systematics is not my primary address nor are ancient texts for the most part. 

2) While I hope for an engaging ecclesiology - the starting point is most likely the real lived experience of communities and the witness of those who make them up OR the conceptual (maybe historical) framework through which people have inherited an understanding that needs to be addressed (maybe like the centuries long practice of scapegoating teen girls for witchcraft when crops fail or illness comes) 

3) We avoided the modernistic 'inevitable progress' myth by engaging post-Colonial voices who assure us that the enlightenment/civilization project was neither of those things. We do it by listening to voices at the 'underbelly' of our economic enterprises.  At least that is how we start ;p

Ya so thank-you for the heads up on the my take "seems in danger of appearing as a defense for a kind of unthinking or reification of a history of certain idea."  I appreciate the heads up and I will endeavor to be more clear in future posts. 

much appreciated   -Bo