Revisionist Theology

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In the broadest sense, "revisionist theology" refers to such recent theological movements as process theism and various forms of political and liberation theology (i.e., feminist, black and Third World as well as the work of other individual theologians. What is characteristic of and common to such diverse forms of theological reflection is their attempt to reformulate from various critical perspectives the meaning and truth-claims of the Christian tradition's central theological and Christological affirmations.

In the narrowest sense, revisionist theology refers to a specific formal model of the method of fundamental theology. The term itself was first put forward by David Tracy in Blessed Rage For Order and this text remains the primary source for the most refined and detailed exposition of the model. For Tracy, a revisionist fundamental Christian theology is best described as philosophical reflection on the meanings present in common human experience and those present in the Christian tradition. The broad and the narrow senses of the term are not unrelated. Revisionist theology as a formal model of theological method is characterized by a specific understanding of the web of commitments which define the standpoint of the individual theologian's approach to the Christian faith. This methodological commitment at the level of fundamental theology finds its embodiment in the sphere of systematic theology, and to a greater or lesser extent, in the theological movements noted above.

For revisionist theology the primary commitment of the Christian theologian as theologian is to the community of scholarly inquiry and its respective canons of inquiry (i.e., philosophical, historical, literary-critical, ideological-critical, etc.) and the morality of critical inquiry: a resolve to defend methodological canons in a public manner, to assert only that for which warrants are provided, and a willingness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead in the spirit of open inquiry. The theologian's primary loyalty to the tradition as Christian theologian lies in a commitment to the investigation of the present meaning and defensibility of the truth-claims of that tradition.

Critical Corrective. This understanding of the task of the theologian is aptly called revisionist because it represents a critical corrective to the dominant neoorthodox understanding of the task of theology described by Paul Tillich through the "method of correlation." According to Tillich, the task of the theologian is to show that the Christian message contains answers to the questions implied in the human situation. The revisionist maintains that such a correlation is insufficiently criticalindeed, it is simply a juxtapositionas it derives the questions for theology from one source (the human situation) and its answers from another (the Christian message) and does not allow for a correlation and interplay of the principal questions and answers of each source.

In this criticism revisionist theology reaffirms the commitment to the principal values, cognitive claims, and existential faiths of classic liberal theologies. Yet revisionist theology affirms these through the correctives of post-liberal neo-orthodox and radical theologies. Revisionist theology self-consciously acknowledges first, the naiveté and optimism of liberal theology regarding the reconciliation of Christian faith and modern culture. Second, it accepts the description of the cognitive, ethical, and social ambiguity of the contemporary world as articulated by both neoorthodoxy and post-Enlightemnent schools of secular thought. Third, given the criticism of the method of correlation, revisionist theology remains disenchanted with the final neoorthodox defense of theism through a retrieval of God as the "Wholly Other." The revisionist therefore accepts the criticismswhich is not to say the conclusionsof a radical theology which rejects orthodox, liberal and neoorthodox defenses of theism as incompatible with the affirmation of an authentic, illusionless secularity. Fourth, it seeks to preserve within theological reflection the polyvalent nature of the dominant symbols of Christian faith along with an acknowledgement of the hermeneutical and social conditions of all human understanding. Revisionist theology is thus defined by its commitment to the articulation and critical correlation of both a reinterpreted post-modern consciousness which recognizes the antinomies of the Enlightenment and a reinterpreted Christianity which recognizes the crisis of the meaningfulness of Christian faith today.

In the execution of this task, revisionist theologians have especially relied upon the resources of the process thought of Whitehead and Hartshorne, hermeneutical theory, deconstructive structuralism and various schools of ideologycritique in an attempt to formulate a reconciliation and critical correction of both modernity and the Christian tradition.

See Also: deconstructionism.

Bibliography: d. tracy, Blessed Rage For Order (New York 1975); The Analogical Imagination (New York 1981); Plurality and Ambiguity (San Francisco 1987). s. ogden, The Reality of God (New York 1966). v. a. harvey, The Historian and the Believer (New York 1966). g. kaufman, God the Problem (Cambridge 1972). j. l. segundo, The Liberation of Theology (New York 1976). l. gilkey, Reaping the Whirlwind (New York 1976). j. b. cobb and d. r. griffity, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia 1976). j. metz, Faith in History and Society (New York 1980). r. r. reuther, Sexism and GodTalk (Boston 1983). e. s. fiorenza, Bread Not Stone (Boston 1984). c. boff, Theology and Praxis (New York 1987).

[j. a. colombo]

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Revisionist Theology

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