The very title 'Theology Now' suggests that theology, far from being a static body of knowledge, moves on. At least as much as other intellectual disciplines, theology is a dynamic enterprise, interacting with circumstance and changing through time. Even those theologies which claim to be maintaining fixed positions of traditional doctrine, and to be resistant to passing philosophical and cultural fashions, are able to do so only by developing new forms of argument to counter new criticisms of their position. Theology has been likened to a bird on the wing, and therefore to give an account of 'theology now'—particularly when there are in fact a number of birds, not all flying in the same direction or at similar speeds—is a far from easy undertaking. In order to do justice to the historical dynamism of theology, rather than attempt to describe a multiplicity of present 'positions' it is more important to indicate the most important directions in which various types of theology are moving, and the motivating forces behind them. Clearly in a chapter of this size a broad picture must suffice, and certain limits of scope must be drawn.
By 'theology' in this chapter is meant what is broadly called systematic theology, which has the task of interpreting Scripture and the doctrinal tradition for the believing community—and as always, this takes place in a particular historical situation. By 'now' is meant, more or less, the last two decades of the twentieth century. Of course a specific 'here' should also be added which in the case of the author means Britain, or perhaps Europe or 'the West', but with certain global dimensions to theology fully recognized.
Even the 'now' of theology, however, cannot be described in isolation from the 'then' which has preceded it. To say that theology is a dynamic, developing enterprise does not mean that in every period it starts anew from scratch. The significance of the 'now' lies in the way it receives and develops the legacy of the past, both recent and historically distant, and continues in dialogue with it. This chapter will therefore first outline the recent historical legacy to which theology now is indebted in the West, and will illustrate how a good deal of contemporary Christian thought is still in recognizable continuity with the theology and philosophy of the immediate post-
Enlightenment world. It will then examine how contemporary theologies take different approaches to the central question bequeathed by the Enlightenment to this century: that of defining the relationship of theology itself to the total intellectual, religious and cultural world of its time. Finally, it will attempt a survey of how, for much contemporary theology, a most critical question is the necessity, or peril, of relating itself to a quite specific context within this total world milieu in which it is set. Indeed, as will be shown, it is the highly self-conscious approach to contextuality which is perhaps the chief distinguishing feature of theology now. It is certainly one of the most controversial aspects of theology today, especially when 'context' is defined in social and political terms.
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