The new task for theologians today

In The Anglican Spirit, Michael Ramsey (1961-1974) quotes former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (1942–44), whose prophetic words, uttered during the Second World War, acknowledge that “the world [is] so dark that only a theology of redemption [makes] sense anymore.” Temple writes:

A theology of the Incarnation tends to be Christo-centric metaphysic. . . . A theology of Redemption (though, of course, Redemption has its great place in the former) tends to sound the prophetic note; it is more ready to admit that much in this evil world is irrational and strictly unintelligible; and it looks to the coming of the Kingdom as a necessary preliminary to the full comprehension of much that now is.

* * *

When the older theologians offer to men fashioned by such influences a Christian map of the world, these rightly refuse to listen. The world of today is one of which no Christian map is possible. It must be changed by Christ into something very unlike itself before a Christian map of it is possible. We used to believe in the sovereignty of the God of love a great deal too lightheartedly.

* * *

There is a new task for theologians today. We cannot come to the men of today saying, “You will find that all your experience fits together in a harmonious system if you will only look at it in the illumination of the Gospel.” . . . Our task with this world is not to explain it but to convert it. Its need can be met, not by the discovery of its own immanent principle in signal manifestation through Jesus Christ, but only by the shattering impact upon its self-sufficiency and arrogance of the Son of God, crucified, risen and ascended, pouring forth that explosive and disruptive energy which is the Holy Ghost. He is the source of fellowship, and all true fellowship comes from him. But in order to fashion true fellowship in such a world as this, and out of such men and women as we are, He must first break up those fellowships with which we have been deluding ourselves. Christ said that the effect of His coming would be to set much at variance. We must expect the movement of His spirit among us to produce sharper divisions as well as deeper unity

* * *

One day theology will take up again its larger and serener task, and offer to a new Christendom its Christian map of life, its Christo-centric metaphysics. But that day can barely dawn while any who are now already concerned with theology are still alive.


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