The systematic agenda

The traditional topics of what is variously called systematic theology, Christian doctrine, dogmatic theology, or constructive theology are: God and revelation, predestination (or election), creation and providence, human being, sin and evil, Jesus Christ, atonement (or redemption or salvation), the Holy Spirit (or grace), and Christian living (including justification, sanctification, vocation, ethics, and politics), the church, ministry and sacraments, and eschatology. These doctrines (or dogmas or loci) can be seen as a concentration of the main events and issues in the Christian overarching story from before creation until after the consummation of history. They continue to be important for modern theology, and even when a theologian has a very different framework the questions raised by these doctrines will have to be answered. Among those topics, there have been some characteristic modern emphases. At least until the 1960s the distinctive contributions of twentieth-century thinkers were in the areas of God (especially the reconception of the Trinity and the relationship of suffering to God), revelation (very different approaches, represented for example by Barth, Tillich, Rahner, Pannenberg, and Bultmann), Jesus Christ and salvation in history (closely tied to the previous two issues), human being, and eschatology.

Eschatology deserves special mention. The twentieth century opened with the rediscovery by academic theology of its importance in the New Testament. Secular eschatologies (of progress, socialist revolution, empire, or race) have had immense influence in modern times, but mainstream Christianity had largely ignored the eschatological dimension of its own origins. When it was widely recognized, partly under the pressure of secular alternatives and the crisis of European culture and society manifest in World War I, then it gave a new standpoint for thinking through Christianity. There was a great variety of eschatologies, and the unavoidability of the question has been one of the distinctive marks of twentieth-century - in contrast with nineteenth-century - theology.

It becomes increasingly difficult to generalize or have any adequate perspective on more recent years. Any neglect of sin and evil (especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Gulag, and Hiroshima) is being corrected in recent theology. As the Pentecostal movement has spread, not only in new independent churches but also through millions in the traditional denominations, the Holy Spirit has also been a major topic, though some would see this as a variation on the typically modern preoccupation with subjectivity and immediate experience. Christian living and the church have also had increasing attention, in line with emphases on praxis and community. The earlier concern with eschatology has been somewhat overshadowed by a (not unrelated) focus on creation and ecological matters. Some of the additions to this third edition tell their own story about recent doctrinal concerns: Jenson, Gunton, John Paul II, philosophical theology, theology and spirituality, pastoral theology, and Pentecostal theology.

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