A Theological Miscellany: Fall 2016

A Theological Miscellany

by Michael J.K. Fuller

When we were first putting this edition together, the thought was simply to publish some of the interesting and intriguing articles we have received this past year that did not really have a home in one of the other “themed” editions.  But as it turns out, in putting these “homeless” articles side by side, a theme did emerge – the simple, yet always significant one, of asking: how do we address the preconceived notions operating in our world today?  In some ways this should not be surprising, because theology, when done with the right intention, is always about addressing the current world we are living in.

In our postmodern, or post-postmodern world (what the philosopher Alan Kirby calls pseudomodernism and still others are calling metamodernism), and despite all claims to the contrary, our cultures and societies are still operating under philosophical notions – often inherited from some form of rejection of the previous philosophical ‘movements.’  Such notions shape people’s ways of thinking and talking.  How we use language, what we mean by certain terms and concepts, all go into shaping how we view the world.  Within these successive philosophies, it has always been the purpose of theology to present the worldview of Christ, even if using the language of the current time.  This worldview of Christ, being received by the Church, always shows what is good and right in this world of ours, and also points out where we diverge from that truth and beauty.  In all the article of this issue, the authors try to wrestle with this reality – the line between the worldview of the Christian, that which is to be accepted and acted on, and the false worldview that needs to be rejected or transformed.

We begin with two articles from the 2015/2016 Paluch Lecturer at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary, Dr. Reinhard Hütter, who is a professor of Christian Theology at Duke University.  In his first article, “Faith and Its Counterfeit: Newman and Aquinas on Divine Faith and Private Judgment,” Hütter addresses a particularly important current in our culture today, the misunderstanding of faith, and how such a misunderstanding is used by the cultural warriors of hyper-rationalism and atheism.  In doing so, he is looking at “one of the … dominant self-images of the present age: the sovereign self and its most cherished principle, the principle of private judgment.”  To answer this problematic image, Hütter turns to two greats, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman.  “It was Bl. John Henry Newman,” he writes, “who, in the rapidly self-secularizing Great Britain of the nineteenth century, advanced the highly pertinent distinction between faith and private judgment, a distinction that turns out to be crucial for any contemporary recovery of the very nature of faith as it is confronted with the social imagery of the sovereign self.”

Dr. Hütter continues along a similar theme in his second article, “Conscience — What It Is and Why It Matters: Learning a Crucial Lesson from John Henry Newman and Thomas Aquinas.”  In this article he uses a famous and often misunderstood quote of Newman’s to help show the key teaching of the Church on the concept of conscience.  When the quote, “if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts …, I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards,” is taken in its proper context (an open letter to England’s Prime Minister) the Catholic teaching on conscience is truly explored.  As in the first article, Hütter demonstrates how many of us misunderstand, and in fact follow, a “counterfeit” understanding of conscience.  He writes, “Modernity’s anthropocentric turn—the epochal turning away from God and God’s glory as the beginning, center, and end of all things to the human subject as the beginning, center, and end of all things—has given rise to a pervasive counterfeit of conscience, the presumptuous sovereignty of self-determination (commonly understood as the absolute freedom we so much cherish).”  In this article, Hütter points out what is truly understood by the faith in regards to conscience.

Following these two articles is a piece entitled “Recovering Biblical Eschatology: An Urgent Priority for Evangelization in the 21st Century,” by Fr. Scott Hebden. In many ways the author is trying to address the same contemporary issues that the two previous articles discussed.  In this article, Hebden explores the work of two recent books (one by a Catholic and another by a Protestant) to help demonstrate the urgent need for Christian evangelizers to understand the deep biblical theology of eschatology in order to answer, in a convincing way, the modern dilemma of a world that reduces everything to a scientific way of understanding.  As Hebden notes, “In the 21st century, the question is not what kind of Christian one will be, but whether one will be a Christian at all.”  And our traditional approach of having people imagine the next life as a form of escape is no longer convincing; but the biblical view of the post-resurrection times can be quite compelling to all eras.

Deacon James Keating follows with his article, “Interior Living as a Condition for Clerical Mission.”  At first glance, this article may not appear to follow the theme of competing philosophical worldviews, but on closer consideration, you realize that the author is trying to really elaborate and stress the fact that those in Holy Orders need to be calibrated, that is, their worldviews need to be constantly adjusted and corrected, by a deep interior life directly connected to the Lord.  The worldview that those in Holy Orders constantly need to fight is one that favors productivity over prayer.  Or better yet, a worldview that defines productivity in more secular terms.  Keating rightly quotes Pope Francis, who wrote, “We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning.”  It is always good to spend some time reconnecting to this worldview.

Finally, even within Christianity there is a diversity of “worldviews” that appear to be in conflict.  Today Pentecostalism is the most vibrant and rapidly growing religious movement; no branch of Christianity has grown more rapidly than Pentecostalism, especially in the southern hemisphere. Characterized by speaking in tongues, miracles, television evangelism, and megachurches, it is also known for its small-group meetings, empowerment of individuals and humanitarian concerns. Fr. Andrzej Kobyliński takes a look at this major movement in his article, “The Global Pentecostalization of Christianity and its Ethical Consequences.”  He argues that in order to understand this very complex and multidimensional worldview within the worldview of Christianity, it is necessary to understand the origins of Pentecostalism, looking at not only the theological aspects of this global process, but also the sociological influences of its political and humanitarian viewpoints. Those political and humanitarian viewpoints have some far reaching ethical dimensions that affect how the world is understood.

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