I will begin this post with a famous quote from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). The reason for quoting Nietzsche is to make a claim about the modern worldview which will then serve as the starting point in an argument regarding my understanding of how we should do theology.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
Using this vivid language, Nietzsche paints a picture that can be said to well represent how the modern man have come to understand the world. God is dead, they preach, and so it is now dark. The modern worldview perceives the world as unchained from God and the result is that everything is understood to function on its own. The tendency had for centuries been to push God further and further away from the order of existence and Nietzsche predicted, as did many others, that God would in the end be out of sight . . . dead and decomposed. To many people’s surprise, the death of God never occurred and today we rather speak of God’s return than of his death, but I save that discussion for another day. What I want to adress instead is a fundamental question for theology, a question which sets us off in radically different directions depending on how we answer it.
Should the undertaking of theology be understood as a way of mediating the Christian faith to the modern man?
Many have thought that this question should be answered in the affirmative, but I would like to propose that this is a futile way of doing theology and I believe that it will not only fail to achieve its goals but our theological understandings will themselves will be distorted as a result of it. The worldview of the modern man is devoid of God’s presence in the world which in effect creates a specific understanding of the order of things and thus distinctions that are foreign to the viewpoint spelled out in the Biblical narrative. Consequently I claim that it is impossible to articulate Christian theology within the language structure offered to us by modernity.
Theology should not be about mediating the Christian faith to modern men and women, rather theology should be about helping them to understand themselves as part of the Biblical story. The words that we use when we write theology are connected to each other in a specific way and therefore carries a certain meaning within the overarching Biblical structure. If you change the structure you consequently change the sense which you are communicating. If theology is written, or spoken for that matter, within the structure offered by the modern worldview, then it will be controlled by this way of understanding both the world and God, and ultimately the message will never be true to its source. That is why I propose that we should understand ourselves as part of the Christian narrative and invite people to understand themselves as part of this story rather than understanding the Christian faith as part of their own.