Thursday, May 31, 2012

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4    
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5  

Where have all the theological giants gone? In his prolegomena, Millard Erickson makes a few points regarding the theological scene today. His third point is particularly interesting:

Related to these two other developments is the fact that there do not seem to be the theological giants such as were abroad even a generation ago. In the first half of the twentieth century, there were great theological thinkers who formulated extensive, carefully crafted systems of theology: Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann. In conservative circles men like G. C. Berkouwer in the Ntherlands and Edward Carnell and Carl F. H. Henry in the United States were recognized as leaders. Now most of these theologians have passed from the active theological scene, and no thinkers have risen to dominate the theological landscape quite as they did. Two who have made noteworthy accomplishments are Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jurgen Moltmann, but they have not garnered sizable followings. Consequently, there is a considerably larger circle of influential theologians but the extent of the influence exerted by any one of them is less than that of the men already mentioned. (65-66)

One must wonder why this is. Prior to this, Erickson noted that theological movements throughout history have gotten shorter and shorter. Augustine's influence was for centuries followed by Thomas Aquinas whose influence was great, but not as long as Augustine's. Then there was the Reformation then Wesley, liberalism, Karl Barth, etc. Each theological movement and representative gets shorter and shorter.

This perhaps explains part of the reason why there has not been a theological giant in recent years. Erickson does not mean to say that there are no competent theologians. I'm sure Erickson thinks himself to be one since he has penned countless theological works including this 1300+ page systematic theology textbook.

But this trend can be moved beyond theology. For example, where is the next Billy Graham? TIME Magazine once thought T. D. Jakes is him, but let us pray that that is not the case. Billy Graham was preceded by Billy Sunday who was preceded by D. L Moody. So where is the next Billy Graham?

I don't think there will be one. Instead, what God seems to be doing in his providence is change the focus from one man and his ministry to a number of giants throughout the world. For example, the most influential churches in the country are spread out. John MacArthur is in California with Rick Warren. Then there are influential congregations in Atlanta, Texas, Baltimore, Michigan etc.

This is to say that Erickson raises an issue than appears to follow a broader cultural trend in Christianity, theology, and culture in general. It appears that people are not turning towards an individual giant, but to several influential voices and I'm not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.

But Erickson explains this strange phenomena this way:

Theology is now being done in a period characterized by, among other things, a "knowledge explosion." The amount of information is growing so rapidly that mastery of a large area of thought is becoming increasingly difficult. While this is especially true in technological areas, biblical and theological knowledge is also much broader than it once was. The result has been a much grater degree of specialization than was previously the case. In Biblical studies, for example New Testament scholars tend to specialize in the Gospels or in the Pauline writings. Church historians tend to specialize in one period, such as the Reformation. Consequently, research and publication are often in narrower areas and in greater depth. (66)

This is a valid point and I think he's on to something here and this has been a trend since the Enlightenment. It used to be that one could be a theologian, a medical doctor, and a scientist. Now, it is virtually impossible. Everything has a speciality and a speciality within a speciality and theology is no different. The historical theologian, as Erickson points out, may specialize in the Reformation, but he may more specifically specialize in Martin Luther and the German Reformation. This certainly makes things more difficult for theology, but I'm not sure it is the main reason why such giants appear to be missing. What the main reason is I do not know, but one must admit that a generation ago, there were a lot of specialties and yet Barth still wrote his tome and dominated the theological scene. He was aware of the Document Hypothesis of the Pentateuch, higher and lower criticism, modern liberalism, and debates within philosophy, science, and theology and yet still managed to do what Erickson says is missing today.

So where are the giants? I don't know, but we can certainly affirm that we are not without influential and powerful voices all around us. As a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I sat under what I consider to be theological giants in their own right. Seminarians throughout the country can say the same thing. Theology continues to progress and God is still raising up competent and wise men to serve His church to guard the faith, and to carry on the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
logizomai - We Are All Theologians:  The Root of Everything We Are and Do
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
Blogizomai - The Meaning & Implications of the Resurrection
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
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