Thursday, 16 April 2009

Theology that changes things

As an advocate of social change, who likes to sit at home and do as little as possible, I've been wondering:

What kind of theology changes society as well as people’s hearts?

Here are a few historical perspectives:

Postmillennialism to Pre-millennialism. These ideas can be highly tedious hair splitting exercises in interpreting Revelation. On the other hand, they can reflect very different perspectives about the relationship of God to social change. Certainly from the time of the Puritans until the end of the 19th century Protestantism had held the view that Jesus would return after the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. This meant that social change was both desirable and achievable. It meant human beings were a part of the process of the return of Jesus. At the end of the 19th century, and coinciding with the mainstream church becoming less interested in social change, the church moved to the idea that Jesus would return before God’s kingdom was established on earth. If Jesus was to return to earth first, what happened to the earth before that was pretty academic. I, personally, do not want to advocate either, but I do think a theology that hopes for the kingdom of God established on earth is preferable.

Imminence and Transcendence Most churches have historically preferred transcendence over imminence. Look at the songs we sing – they talk about God ‘up there’, beyond us, understood by admiring the wonders of creation. By contrast, such songs did not appear amongst black slaves in North America. Instead, God was among them – he worked out his purposes through the slaves. They saw God as imminent. Thus, they did not wait for God to come as a bolt from heaven, for when they acted God acted.

Predestination and Free will. I have no desire to unpack these philosophical ideas! Just to say, that advocates of free will (e.g. Wesley, Finney) were active in bringing social change. I’m sure either extreme is mistaken and maybe reflects the failure to grasp what the slaves recognised – that God acts through us, so such distinctions are irrelevant.

Who is up for a theology that incorporates the imminence of God with a belief that God will establish his kingdom on earth?

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