Meta-Paradigms in Theological Thought

"For now we see through a glass, darkly.... now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known". (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV)

1. Introduction

The era that we are now living in, at the beginning of the third millennium, is both exhilarating and exasperating. Exhilarating essentially because of the much greater and continuing variety of stimulating viewpoints and perspectives that are presented to the mind than ever before. Yet, at the same time the 'cost' of the information overload created by this proliferating variety of terminologies, concepts, models, theories, disciplines (and journals), namely: fragmented thinking and being, is also more starkly coming into focus.

Theology, the science of God, also reflects this trend toward greater intellectual divergence, especially in the post-Barth era. As Larry Rasmussen stated some time ago: "For better than two decades the consensus in theology and ethics has been that we have no consensus" (Rasmussen, 1988). In this respect theology presents a picture similar to that which obtains in the social sciences, including philosophy itself, which, as with all intellectual undertakings, undoubtedly also reflects its broader historical and social context.

From one perspective there is talk of a crisis in theology (for instance, Gilkey, 1965), much of it ascribed to a deepening of the secularisation process (and the concomitant desacralization of theology), and of theology being: "disconnected from the church" (Cobb, 1991). On the other hand, many voices across the theological spectrum can be heard acknowledging the need for theology to become more contemporaneous. Religious education is increasingly giving attention to the cultural contextualization of theology, and with bringing it into closer 'engagement' with the social and political issues of the time (Veling, 1999).

The present paper differs from the usual, 'intra-scientific' analysis of phenomena, by taking an approach known as 'meta-theory' or 'meta-science'; namely, a concern with identifying basic conceptual patterns, and with trying to pull together and juxtapose diverse views and strands of thought --- in this case within theology itself.

In view of the 'meta-theological' nature of the present inquiry, a number of qualifying remarks are deemed necessary. Firstly, the focus will throughout be on distinguishable approaches within the discipline of theology, not on the church or various religious movements as such. The sources consulted for this purpose are therefore specifically related to acknowledged pioneers and theological schools of thought.

Secondly, for reasons of parsimony the focus will be on mainstream theologies and theologians in the non-Islamic Western tradition of Christianity. This is broadly conceived to also include theologians who do not necessarily have either conventional Christian faith commitments or involvement with parish or community work, but who are undoubtedly influential as theological thinkers, theological scientists or philosophers of religion.

Thirdly, given its broad, meta-theoretical, scope the paper cannot hope to do justice to anything more than a selective treatment of the theological scholars and approaches chosen for analysis. In the main, what is surmised to be some of the key ideas, characteristics and suppositions of major theologies (past and present) will be selected to demonstrate the utility of the paradigmatic framework discussed below.

2. Archetypal forms of knowledge.

The history of philosophy, at various stages of European development over the past twenty six centuries, often shows radical divergence in ideas, theories and systems of thought; a phenomenon that the historian of philosophy, W.T. Jones (1970), somewhat euphemistically described as a 'parting of the ways'. The eminent scholar of ancient philosophy, W.K.C. Guthrie, even considered it necessary to start his survey of Greek philosophy by noting that Plato's 'form-philosophy' and Aristotle's 'matter-philosophy': "...belong to two everlastingly opposed philosophical types" (Guthrie, 1989/1950:20).

Philosophical divergence can be traced back to different base-line questions, underlying premises and suppositions in the thought of, especially, major philosophers. Following this line of investigation, an analysis of Plato's theory of knowledge (schematically presented in Figure 1) led to the development of a general framework of four 'archetypal' knowledge orientations (Pietersen, 2000), which seems to underpin all human intellectual endeavor.

Within this meta-suppositional framework (Figure 2), Plato and Aristotle appear as arch-exemplars of rationalist-objectivist philosophy; Plato with his preference for visionary theorizing (the turning toward a 'distant heaven of Forms'), and Aristotle the 'first scientist', who spent much of his life analyzing the 'substances' of nature (the turning toward 'earth').

Following Plato's distinction between episteme and doxa, the areas below the horizontal box-line in Figure 2 can be seen to fit the type of thought of the Greek Sophists (and, perhaps surprisingly, also of Plato as the first 'ideologist').

It has to be emphasized that the epistemological distinctions made here should not be reified as totally divisible and separate spheres of human thought. The typology simply indicates distinct orientations or predispositions in human thought which manifest itself in various unique combinations in various fields, whether philosophical, theological or otherwise.

In reality one would expect the work of each thinker or group of thinkers to always contain all the above (meta-paradigmatic) dimensions. However, although every philosophy or theology possesses objectivist (rationalist); subjectivist (humanistic); transcendent (idealist) and immanent (realist) characteristics, no two aspects ever manifest itself in the same way in the products of thought of different scholars.

Hence, also, the existence of ongoing debates between thinkers and movements of thought, especially between scholars holding more extreme epistemological positions.

Consider, for instance, the wide gulf separating biblical fundamentalists, on the one hand, and liberation theologians, on the other. What is believed to be the infallible Word of God by one group, is often considered by the other merely as a poetically inspired source (one among others) of ethical truths, to be used selectively as basis for the justification of socio-political 'struggles' to transform society.

An important rationale and interpretive 'key' to the meta-paradigmatic set is that the four knowledge types are quite intimately related to one another in three pronounced ways. The first level of distinction is between the four primary knowledge orientations (as indicated in Figure 2 and described further, below).

At the second level of analysis, secondary or 'adjunct' styles of thought can be identified. For instance, a type 1 philosophy (Plato, speculative, theoretical) is premised to be closely linked to, alternated by, or interwoven with either the type 2 ('scientist') or type 4 ('ideological') mode; whilst the more critical-poetical knowledge orientation of a type 3 philosophy, frequently favors or supports the 'activist' (social development; 'political') orientation of type 4; and so on.

At the third, tertiary, level of analysis the framework contains, for each knowledge type, its diagonally situated opposite or conflicting orientation. In other words, for each primary knowledge mode, in any philosophy or body of thought as 'intellectual product', there exists an under-emphasized, 'least preferred', oppositional 'way of understanding' of man and world. The current paper will be concerned with the identification of primary knowledge types in the theological endeavor.

Rationalist thought (types 1 and 2) essentially pursue the question: 'what is this'?, whilst subjectivist thought (types 3 and 4) in varying degrees revolves around the humanistic question of: 'how should we live'? At bottom, and despite the modern more flexible ('fallibilist') view of human knowledge, the rationalist quest is for firm, once-and-for-all laws ('regularities') of nature, including human nature and society. For Humanist thought, on the other hand, culturally embedded values, not Reason per se, are the central problem and purpose of human existence.

Theological conceptions and systems are therefore postulated as being `guided' or `directed' by four root approaches (meta-suppositional types), which enables one to distinguish between the different ways of understanding and making sense of God and Creation. These are:

The rationalist conception of God as omniscient and omnipotent Creator of the universe; or as the `Chief Designer' (Deists); 'that than which no greater can be thought' (Anselm).

The realist view of God as present in all of creation, from the microscopic to the macroscopic (Pantheism; Pan-en-theism).

The relativist, humanistic imaging of God as that which the individual, 'communities of interest', and cultural (linguistic) conventions of the time define and value `him/her' to be.

The idealist conception of God as that mysterious, ineffable Source, Whole, Ultimate Vision, or Neo-Platonist Logos, (Augustine's Christian God beyond the gods of the ancient philosophers and poets; the 'wholly Other' of Karl Barth; Albert Schweitzer's 'He who comes to us as One unknown, without a name').

Objectivist theologies characteristically treat man and creation as dependent objects of God's making and inscrutable will. It is the God that man often finds difficult to 'understand', especially in his/her hour of need: that impersonal and impenetrable Origin of the Universe, the Creator that 'allows' pain and suffering, death and destruction; the God that punishes any disobedience to His Word and commandments. This can be construed as presenting the 'one face' of a dualist God-image, namely, of God as the Imperious Ruler and Patriarch lording over all of His Creation. This is also the distant God (Deus absconditus) of scientists and of Reason: Einstein's pantheistic 'God of Nature', the 'Chief Physicist; the Chief Architect or Designer of the cosmos (Paley's 'Chief Watchmaker'), and of many of the British Deists up to the time of Hume's devastating critique, by which he placed religion even outside the sphere of Reason itself.

Subjectivist theologies, on the other hand and despite a variety of conceptualizations, essentially treat man as a 'God-conscious' (Schleiermacher), 'God-filled' persona and valued subject; the crown of His Creation. These theologies emphasize the other, 'human face' of God, as our personal Creator, Savior and Redeemer. This is the God of evangelism, the God who wants to bring us closer to Him; who will not let a single hair on our heads go unaccounted for. It is also the God of liberation theology: the Jesus Christ who is 'brought into' human history to help fight the cause of the poor and oppressed of this world. The subjectivist approach reflects an underlying inclination towards an earthly, pastoral envisioning of God and His Kingdom. The God (via Jesus Christ, our 'Shepherd') who infinitely cares, loves and protects us; who, through His crucified Son, Jesus Christ, also suffered (like the poor and disenfranchised) and who provides the ultimate 'home' for believers.

3. An ontological framework

Quite apart from basic epistemological distinctions, an analysis of human thought past and present also shows the existence of another, equally fundamental and recurring, pattern. This pattern, which is taken as indicative of basic ontological dimensions of human existence or 'being', shows itself in the shift in interest in Ancient Greece from an uncritical acceptance of Olympian myths, to a concern (starting with Thales) with Nature and the cosmos (pre-Socratics). This is followed by the rising (Socratic) interest in ethics and justice, many centuries thereafter culminating in the Neo-Platonic and Augustinian God of All.

The writings of thinkers in the history of thought consistently, but of course with varying formulations and with different ontological emphases, point to the primacy of three fundamental dimensions of "being", namely: the "Natural"; the "Social/ Cultural", and the "Spiritual"; or, in the terminology of ancient Greek philosophy: Physis ; Nomos and Logos.

The term 'logos' is adopted here for use in its Neo-Platonic, Christian and, therefore more properly, spiritual sense as the Word of God; although before that time, of course, it had naturalistic (Heraclitus' 'primal fire') and metaphysical (the Stoics' 'laws of the universe') interpretations.(Copleston, 1946, Volume I; Hussey, 1972).

The term 'nomos' is generally agreed, initially in contradistinction to natural laws, to refer to human laws (Guthrie, 1971) and human (socio-cultural) customs and conventions. The word 'physis' refers to nature, reality and 'that which is'(Marias, 1966). Figure 3 provides a schematic representation of what can be referred to as the 'ontological triad'.

Again, numerous instances can be found in the past of philosophers who recognized or made use of this threefold ontological distinction. Plato divided men into three basic types, according to whether their motive was knowledge (logos), success (nomos) or gain (physis) (Copleston, Vol. I,1946). For Aristotle the good consisted of enjoyment (physis), the political (nomos), and the contemplative (logos) (Barnes, 1976: 68).

Augustine's discussion, in de Trinitate (Book I), of what he considers to be the: "sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith...", shows an awareness (even if implicit) of the three ontological dimensions. As he formulates it: "Now one class of such men endeavour to transfer to things incorporeal and spiritual the ideas they have formed,...from things corporeal [physis]; so as to seek to measure and conceive of the former by the latter. Others, again, frame whatever sentiments they may have concerning God according to the nature or affections of the human mind; and... by distorted and fallacious rules [nomos]. While yet a third class strive indeed to transcend the whole creation, which doubtless is changeable, in order to raise their thought to the unchangeable substance, which is God [logos]; an over-bold affirmation of their own presumptuous judgments".

Aquinas acknowledged the existence of man's craving for 'sensible pleasures' (physis) and social standing (nomos), but for him these were only preliminary to the universal good, namely, God (logos). (Copleston, Vol. II, 1962).


LOGOS (Spirit)
  • God, Creator, the measure of all that are
  • Plato and Theistic philosophers
  • The Way of Heaven

NOMOS (Culture)

  • Man the measure of all things that are
  • Social philosophers (Protagoras)
  • The Way of Man

PHYSIS (Nature)

  • Nature the measure of all things that are
  • Naturalist philosophers (Aristotle)
  • The Way of Earth

In his discussion of the 'good' in human nature, Kant ("Religion within the bounds of reason alone",1794) distinguishes between the following characteristics of man, namely, his animality (concerned with physical needs); his humanity (concerned with the need to be recognized by others), and personality (the, Kantian, 'highest' inner need of man to fulfill the transcendent 'moral law'=duty).

The modern philosopher of religion, Alvin Plantinga (1994), approaches it as three fundamental perspectives or ways of thinking about the world, namely: 'Christian Theism'; 'Perennial Naturalism' and 'Creative Anti-Realism' (Enlightenment Humanism). Francis Bacon used the same basic distinction, namely: God (de Numine), Nature and Man".(Copleston, 1953, Vol. III: 292).

More recently, the prominent Dutch (Calvinist) philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (1960), takes these ontological foci as centerpiece for his own systematic Christian philosophy, conceiving it as three central relations of the human 'I', namely: man's whole 'temporary existence' (physis); his essential 'community' with others (nomos); and his central relationship to his 'Origin' (God), in whose image he was created (Logos).

These ontological dimensions of human existence, whether at the level of the individual or collectives, should, similar to the epistemological distinctions made above, not be viewed as isolated components but as interrelated, co-existing root elements of 'being'.

In the modern naturalistic and humanistic emphases on physis (Nature) and nomos (Man), the realm of Spirit (logos) itself has been subsumed or 're-channeled'. In varied ways the orthodox Spiritual dimension (of Christianity) is often regarded as: an antiquated superstition; the symbolic remnants of 'archetypal' and magical tribal faith (Jung); an illusionary (psychoanalytic) longing for an Oedipal father (Freud), or interpreted in a scientifically non-threatening way. One such instance is the physicist's 'anthropic principle', which, it seems, serves to give 'spiritual' expression, in non-religious terms, to the awe that is felt for the wonderfully balanced complexities of the cosmos.

If the postulate of the ongoing 'co-existence' of these ontological fundamentals is accepted, an important inference is that no one dimension can ever be wished away or simply discarded, without destroying the existential integrity of the triadic ontology.

This leads to the recognition of the existence of a secondary triadic ontological pattern, that can empirically be verified (even in theoretical thought), within each main ontological dimension itself. The principle is that: each primary ontological orientation always, but in de-emphasized manner, contains the other two dimensions. This can, for instance, be seen in the thoroughgoing physis (Nature) theology of 'process thought', where use is still made of a God-concept (Logos-dimension), and (although in rather limited sense) reference is made to human social relationships (nomos dimension.

4. Meta-paradigms in theology

By using a combined epistemological and ontological approach, the following sections will briefly indicate important and relevant characteristics of the thought of a number of well-known theological pioneers. As noted previously, the discussion will of necessity be very selective of the life and ideas of these path-breaking theologians. The main purpose is to demonstrate the applicability of the meta-paradigmatic framework to theological thought, not an in-depth treatment of any particular theology or theologian.

As an economizing measure a number of differentiating meta-paradigmatic characteristics and themes are provided in Table 1. Figure 4 consists of a schematic layout and classification of main theological exemplars.

The following theologians are regarded as main exemplars of what is identified as Logos theologies, namely: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin. As could be expected, logos theologians share a common grounding of their theological thought in Scripture as the Spiritual Source and inerrant Word of God (sola scriptura). These theologians, being the shapers of Western theology (and Christianity), not unsurprisingly, all centered their lives and works on the Word of God. Biblical, pietistic, puritan, conservative, orthodox, and fundamentalist religious ideas, theologies and movements, all belong to this category. This is theology in the early, traditional and conventional (Reformed) senses of the term.

When one considers humanistic or 'culture theology', any number of 20th Century theologians may be included for discussion. However, the following figures were chosen as exemplars of Nomos theologies, namely: Barth (who, arguably, can also be classified as a logos theologian), Harnack, Niebuhr and Gutierrez. Ockham's razor dictates the omission of influential and major theologians such as: Brunner, Bultmann, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Tillich, and McFague, to name but a few. Deeply embedded in the liberal tradition of 18th and 19th Century thought, Nomos theologies provided the main impetus to 20th Century theology (certainly in Western Europe and North America), and are perhaps better known by labels such as liberal, culture, linguistic and (more recently) liberation theology. Some of the basic premises of nomos theologies are that: Scripture is not regarded as inerrant; that it cannot in the light of post-Enlightenment development in human thought be took literally any more; and that much greater reliance should be placed on Reason (together with the use of other social sciences); and on interpretations of the meaning of God and the Word for man in this world. Nomos theologians will likely speak of 'God of the world', and not (as logos theologies would) of 'God of the Word'.

The following theologians were selected as representative of Physis theologies, namely: Spinoza, Hartshorne, Schleiermacher and, Paul Harrison; the latter more an example of a 'pantheistic-promotional' approach to religion. Although Aquinas' 'natural theology' can safely be regarded as having provided the starting point, physis theologies were given strong impetus in the 17th to 19th Centuries by, among others, Spinoza, the British Deists, and Kant's philosophical rejection of the classical theistic proofs for the existence of God. Schleiermacher's 'romantic-pantheistic' response to an impersonal, transcendent Kantian reason, as well as the influence of 19th Century Darwinism, and Whitehead's process philosophy, also needs to be mentioned. Physis theologians will likely speak of the 'God of Nature or Cosmos'. In recent times there has been an increase in efforts toward finding consonance between science and religion, by well-known theologians and scientists-turned-theologian, such as Peters (1996) and Polkinghorne (1996).

4.1 Logos theologians: Augustine (Objective-Transcendent)

Augustine's influence on Western theology and Christianity is immense, and still continues. In the history of theology he is undoubtedly the outstanding exemplar (the first) of an objectivist-transcendent theologian, in the orthodox tradition. As table 1 indicates, he is the great theological 'faith establisher', the first great 'speculative', Platonic theologian and macroscopic thinker (City of God), the theologian of: 'right belief', par excellence. His City of God was perhaps a conscious effort to write a Christian 'equivalent' of Plato's Republic.

A few selections of his thought will suffice to support the above. When asked about his desire for knowledge, he states: "two things only, God and the soul" (Soliloquies). He also shows the mind-set of a transcendent, rational thinker who revered: " a God who is remote, distant and mysterious..." (Britannica).

Armstrong (1966) indicates that the contrast between the: "immutability of God and the mutability of the creature is one of the great recurring themes in Augustine's thought". Augustine was a thoroughly teleological thinker for whom all of creation had to move toward the Logos, the eternal Word of God. But let Augustine speak for himself to show his strong preference for platonic thought. In the City of God (Book X, Chapter I) he tells us: "For we made selection of the Platonists, justly esteemed the noblest of the philosophers, because they had the wit to perceive that the human soul...cannot be happy except by partaking of the light of that God by whom both itself and the world were made; ...that one supreme good, the unchangeable God".

4.2 Logos theologians: Aquinas (Objective-Immanent)

As the great systematizer of medieval theology, Aquinas can rightly be described as Christianity's first 'scientific theologian', the founder of Scholasticism. His deliberate attempt to ground theology in Aristotelian thought, in opposition to the dominance of Augustinian transcendence and Averroes' separation of faith and reason; and his recognition of the 'self-sufficiency' of the natural world (Nature), renders Aquinas a prime exemplar as objectivist-immanence thinker. His Summa clearly shows the emphasis on detailed deductive analyses, in his integration of Aristotle's philosophy with Christian thought.

For Aquinas: "...theology is a 'science'; it is knowledge that is rationally derived from propositions that are accepted as certain because they are revealed by God" (Britannica). Whereas for Augustine 'right belief' concerning a transcendent God was uppermost; Aquinas, the great rationalist 'faith builder', would have stressed 'right thinking'. For Augustine reason always had to accommodate to God's Word; for Aquinas the Aristotelian synthesis of form and matter, required a faith reconcilable with reason.

Ever conscious of the need to accommodate both transcendence (form, soul) and immanence (substance, body), grace and nature in his theology, he accepted both a 'sovereign God'(logos) and the 'laws of a creative Providence' (Nature, physis). "To take something away from the perfection of the creature is to abstract from the perfection of the creative power itself"(Britannica).

4.3 Logos theologians: Luther (Subjective-Immanent)

Martin Luther, whose attack on the questionable practices of the Roman Catholic Church led to the Protestant Reformation, was altogether a different theologian than both Augustine and Aquinas. His overriding concern with a personal religious feeling and of 'justification by faith alone' (sola fide), coupled with a readiness to criticise and expose malpractices in the church, shows Luther to be a prime exemplar of the subjective-immanence theological paradigm; the 'critical theologian'.

As a subjectivist theologian who reacted with 'acid vehemence at the intrusion of philosophy' (therefore, against objectivist reason), Luther's aim was to emphasize and unrelentingly propagate the primacy of the individual believer and his/her personal faith relationship with God. For him it was of cardinal importance to have the 'right attitude' (values emphasis) toward God and His Word; not so much to analyse the Divine with 'cold' and abstract reason, or to blindly follow man-made church ordinances. At the same time he was very much a theologian in the orthodox, logos (biblical) tradition.

Typical of the much more passionate and critical style of the Type III thinker, Luther's life was soaked in one controversy after the other. It is suggested (Britannica) that the 'fight for faith' and the experiences surrounding it was 'meat and drink' to Luther. As a preacher he was also much more concerned with relating the Word to the practical context of people's lives (immanence).

As a theologian he took the lead in attempts to substitute a program of 'biblical humanism' for the scholastic (Aristotelian) theology of the time. In conformance to the typological characteristics of immanence theologians, he placed the emphasis on the revelation of Christ on the cross ('theology of the cross'), in contrast to 'God as the Divine Light' of transcendent theologies.

He insisted on a strict literalist interpretation of the bible, and the realist (immanence) epistemological orientation is clearly attested to by his preference for metaphors from nature. Whether it was his rejection of (metaphysical) thinking about God as 'like a stork in a nest'; or his admonition to Christians to consult the Gospel " as though it were the daily bread of the soul" (Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, translated by Thornton, 1972); or his view of sin as "unbelief in the depth of the heart" (Preface...); or his insistence that: "...we have to tame our body, kill its lusts, force its members to obey the spirit and not the lusts"(Preface...)

4.4 Logos theologians: Calvin (Subjectivist-Transcendent)

As biblical interpreter and reformer in the biblical humanist tradition of Erasmus, Calvin's primary concern was to build the church and church community (initially in Geneva, which he for a while ruled almost with an 'iron fist'), and to propagate a more proper biblical understanding of Christianity. He was not at all interested in (the type I) metaphysical truths about God (the God of scholastic reasoning).

His Academy in Geneva was a major centre for training people from different parts of the world for the ministry, which also reflects the strong 'educational/promotional' nature of his approach to theology. In the history of Christianity Calvin serves as prime exemplar of the type IV, subjectivist-transcendent approach to theology.

He was a more interested in interpreting the timeless truths of the bible for everybody, than in the particular personal religious needs of the individual believer (typical of the type III aim of Luther). The Bible was to him above all the Word of God spoken for the edification and teaching of the church.

Calvin is the outstanding historical example of the 'faith carrier and promoter' (as his immense influence on later Protestantism worldwide shows); a theologian who was much more concerned with bringing the power of God and his spirit to bear onto the church and the congregation.

He is therefore an excellent example of the evangelical theologian who was out to 'win hearts and influence people for God'. In contrast to the other three logos theologians discussed above, for Calvin 'right action', based on correct interpretation and ongoing attempts to get Christians to live according to Scripture, was of primary importance. Hence his repeated appeal to believers and Christian communities to repent their sins (to take action and turn away from sin).

For him the Bible was the vehicle of God's power, first and foremost. The essential reason for Calvin's preference for a 'promotional' type of theology he states himself in his Commentaries, namely: " This was why I published the Institutes -- to defend against unjust slander my brothers whose death was precious in the Lord's sight. A second reason was my desire to rouse the sympathy and concern of people outside, since the same punishment threatened many other poor people".

4.5 Nomos theologians: Barth (Objective-Transcendent)

Widely regarded as the pre-eminent theologian of the 20th Century, and favourably compared with the theological greats of the past, Karl Barth's theology is essentially a (metaphysical) 'theology of the Word of God'. His, so-called 'crisis' theology represents a radical return to a transcendent God; a God that man can never know, without God revealing himself to us through Jesus Christ. For Barth God is the 'wholly Other'.

Barth's theology, at root, attempts to 'save God for God', from the arid theological liberalism of 19th and early 20th Century rational-scientific theology, on the one hand, and from mystical, naturalist 'God-experiences' on the other.

What prevents Barth from being typified here as a logos theologian, is the fact that he insisted that the Bible is not the actual Word of God but only a record of His revelation to us, and then solely through Jesus Christ. For him the Bible was just another fallible human document, in which no single verse had come down to us that is not open to alternative interpretations. Here we have another major example of the objectivist-transcendent thinker who desires to bring modern Christianity into 'right belief again, this time however as a nomos theology (in contrast to Augustine's orthodox biblical, 'logos-centric', theology).

In his theological modus operandi, the dialectical method, he stressed the impossibility of achieving a final (Hegelian) solution. Man must continuously juxtapose, so to speak, the Yes and the No of God in relation to his/her own past, present and future.

Despite the fact that he was involved in the political arena, as chief protagonist of the Barmen Declaration against the Nazi-government in pre-WWWII Germany, he stated clearly during an interview much later in his life (Final Testimonies) that this was never a 'doctrinaire or ideological' involvement. In terms of the meta-paradigmatic theory described in this paper, Barth's secondary epistemological orientation (the activist position of the type IV theologian) was relatively short-lived, and is therefore not taken as a primary theological orientation.

Finally, his theological dialectic maintains an essential tension between both a revealed God (Deus revelatus) and the hidden God (Deus absconditus), an approach that created some perplexity among theologians, and the criticism that Barth's God was too far removed from ordinary Christian life on earth. Barth's later writings, however, became more Christological indicating a shift from a 'theology of the Word of God' to 'a theology of the Humanity of God'. 4.6 Nomos theologians: Harnack (Objective-Immanent)

Adolf von Harnack (one of Karl Barth's teachers) is an outstanding example of the type II (objectivist-realist) theologian who emphasized the full use of the scientific approach of historical criticism, in order to analyse what the Scripture and other source documents had to tell us about God's Word, in the cold light of reason and historical fact.

A leading liberal theologian and church historian of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, his work had wide influence. His main aim was: "... to demonstrate that the relevance of Christianity to a modern world lay not in theological dogmatism but in the understanding of religion as a historical development" (Britannica).

He sought to determine the essence of Christianity by using a scientific historical method that avoided the speculative theological approach of transcendent (logos) theology (Augustine), and that, instead, depended on critical study of original sources and a detailed and systematic historical analysis of cultural factors and of historical institutions. Here, again, is a good example of the priority being placed on Reason ('right thinking' of type II).

4.7 Nomos theologians: Niebuhr (Subjective-Immanent)

Reinhold Niebuhr had widespread influence, especially in the American pragmatic environment, as a realistic, down-to-earth theologian with a strong practical social orientation. It is said that he thought of himself more as a preacher and social activist, but the influence of his theological thought, much of it in an aphoristic and poetic style, made him an attractive theologian (in the subjective-immanence category).

For Niebuhr, the Christian Realist (his own term) as social ethicist, is also a political, moral and theological realist (Imsong, MWT II, 1999). Like a Luther before him he was very much concerned with the role of sin (egoism and greed) in the Christian faith life and in its impact on man's moral resolve.

In true realist (immanence) fashion, Niebuhr conceives of Jesus Christ as the 'second Adam', but as the perfection of Adam of the pre-fall. He rejected both orthodoxy (logos theology) and liberalism (scientific theology) because in the former 'morality is still expressed in dogmatic and authoritarian moral codes'; and of the latter because of its 'naïve rationalization of the ethic of Jesus', and cleaving to the 'culture of modernity' (see Imsong, MWT, 1999).

As far as theological method goes Niebuhr was convinced of the appropriateness of the hermeneutical method in performing analyses of Scripture as source of mythical and symbolical (not literal) truth. As a result of his view that human nature was paradoxical he was convinced that: "...access into the ultimate truth may necessarily come from poetry or religious myth" (Imsong, MWT II, 1999).

In summary, Niebuhr can be described as the (type III) poetical-critical theologian, who did not hesitate to also become politically active (as theologian) to point to social injustices, guided by a strong sense of morality.

4.8 Nomos theologians: Gutierrez (Subjective-Transcendent)

Whilst any number of figures in either the evangelical or liberation theological tradition qualify as exemplars of the subjective-transcendent paradigm, it was decided to briefly focus on Gustavo Gutierriez as, so-called 'father of liberation theology'.

As Rhodes (1999) points out, liberation theology ['theology for the oppressed'] should, strictly speaking:"be understood as a family of theologies - including the Latin American, Black, and feminist varieties. All three respond to some form of oppression: Latin American liberation theologians say their poverty-stricken people have been oppressed and exploited by rich, capitalist nations. Black liberation theologians argue that their people have suffered oppression at the hands of racist whites. Feminist liberation theologians lay heavy emphasis upon the status and liberation of women in a male-dominated society".

Gutierrez places strong emphasis in his theology on the need for concerted action in order to alleviate the situation of the poor. This is clear from an interview conducted with him (first published in: Neue Luzerner Zeitung, Nov 27, 1998 ) where he shows his strong commitment to 'grass-roots' theological issues, such as: 'the perspective of the other as the methodological way of pursuing theology', and 'solidarity as the way of concretising the discipleship of Jesus'.

His contextualised theological approach of 'resistance' speaks clearly (in a 1995 homily to the slain Archbishop Romero of San Salvador) in words such as: "Nor did Jesus want to be killed, but he was convinced that his announcement of the Kingdom, of the universal love expressed preferentially for the poor, challenged those who heard it"; "They can silence our voices, but they cannot silence -- and here I am thinking of other words of Monseñor Romero - 'they cannot silence the voice of hope and joy,' this paschal joy which overcomes death".

Here, indeed is a theology of liberation, of action in this world (type IV theology), not of salvation in a fundamentalist 'after-world' of God's own choosing.

4.9 Physis theologians: Spinoza (Objectivist-Transcendent)

Although not a trained theologian, Spinoza's own influential (see Schleiermacher) metaphysical philosophy developed as a reaction to Descartes' dualistic metaphysics of: mind and body, and the existence of human free will; which he (Spinoza) rejected as ideas that logically make the world unintelligible. He held a strictly pantheistic view of God, and deterministic conception of human nature, which he put forth in a long series of deductive propositions (reasoning from self-evident premises), utilizing the so-called 'geometrical' (mathematical) method of exposition.

Spinoza's very strong emphasis on a logical-metaphysical (objective-transcendent) approach to the Bible, led him to argue that although Scripture serves as source of morals and ethics, it had nothing "to support the views that God had no body, that angels really exist, or that the soul is immortal" (International Encyclopedia of Philosophy, IEP). In other words, for him it had no use as a 'text of truths' about physical nature (physis).

In his view "the inspiration of the prophets of the Old Testament extended only to their moral and practical doctrines ...their factual beliefs were merely those appropriate to their time and are not philosophically significant"(IEP). This interpretation gave Spinoza the basis for adopting the approach that freedom of metaphysical speculation is therefore consistent with all that is important in the Bible: "Miracles can now be explained as natural events misinterpreted and stressed for their moral effect" (IEP).

Spinoza's core argument for pantheism in his Ethica (IEP), is as follows:

(a) There cannot exist in the universe two or more substances having the same nature or attribute. (prop 5)
(b) God (defined as a substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each express eternal and infinite essentiality) necessarily exists. (prop 11).
(c) Therefore, besides God, no substance can be granted or conceived. (prop 14).

God is equated with the universe as a whole, hence the term 'pantheism (God in all).

For Spinoza, 'belief in final causes compromises God's perfection since it implies that he desires something which he lacks. Therefore, the theologian's contention that God willfully directs all natural events amounts to a reduction to ignorance'. Any conventional, creedal conceptions of God by worshippers are, in according to Spinoza, pure figments of the human imagination. Because it has no basis in strict logical-mathematical reasoning, it amounts to nothing more than mere 'religious superstition'.

In conclusion, one would find few clearer examples of the impersonal, rational-transcendent thinker (Type I), than in Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza.

4.10 Physis theologians: Hartshorne (Objective-Immanent)

As chief 20th Century theological exponent of Whitehead's dynamic process philosophy, Charles Hartshorne established the foundations of 'process theology'. A basic concept in this type of theology is: 'panentheism' ('all in God and God in all'), reputedly formulated by Hartshorne himself.

Process theology is a theological school of thought that, following Whitehead's distinction between 'eternal (transcendent) objects' and His 'consequent (immanent) nature', holds that God is creatively involved in the 'endless process of the world'. The method of process theology is more philosophical than Scriptural; it also emphasizes the inductive-empirical approach of the sciences (objective-realist orientation of Type II), and clearly reflects its roots in natural theology.

With some variation on Whitehead (mainly giving it a more 'personalizing' slant) Hartshorne adopted and developed his dipolar view of God in which he referred to the mental pole of God as the "abstract nature" of God. "This is simply the character through all the stretches of time.

The consequent nature Hartshorne called God's 'concrete nature', which is God in his actual existence in any given concrete state...The attributes of God's abstract nature are those divine qualities that are eternally, necessarily true of God regardless of the circumstances; whereas the qualities of God's concrete nature are those particulars of God's being which he has gained by his interaction with the world in accordance with the circumstances. God in his concrete actuality is a "living person," in process; his life consists of an everlasting succession of divine events or occasions" (Diehl).

4.11 Physis theologians: Schleiermacher (Subjective-Immanent)

For Schleiermacher religion is 'a matter of the heart, not reason'; the experience of 'being-in-God'. It is above all a matter of 'God-conscious feeling, of dependency on the infinite God'.

Strongly influenced by Spinoza's pantheism, but in a more romantic-poetical (Type III) fashion, Schleiermacher's theology can be seen as a reaction against the excesses of an impersonal Kantian metaphysic, which left little room for individual religious feeling. As Copleston phrases it: "He shared the general romantic concern with the totality, and he had a profound sympathy with Spinoza....[whose]... Nature was conceived by him as the reality which reveals itself in the phenomenal world." (1965, 150).

Regarded as the 'Father' of modern Protestant theology, Schleiermacher's influence continues today, more clearly among liberal evangelical movements; a fact which is lamented by some (conservative commentators), such as Devine (1996), who, rather scathingly portrays the great theologian's work as an: "... apologetic betrayal of the gospel (which) involved a decisive turn to the subject, to the Christian believer".

He was also the creator of the method of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) that provided a general foundation for all later forms of interpretive or hermeneutical analysis outside religion itself.

4.12 Physis Theologians: Harrison (Subjective-Transcendent)

Although not much is known about Paul Harrison, his recent internet 'sermon' on all the advantages and benefits of becoming a "scientific pantheist", conveniently serves as an example of 'promotional theology', for purposes of the present discussion.

Here are some extracts from his paper (an extended pantheist credo, vision and mission statement) that provides a clear picture of what can be called a 'pantheist evangelical'.

  • When our era was young, we believed as children believe. Now we are adults, it is time to put away childish things. It is time to adopt a religion that embraces the space age, and that supports our love of nature and our efforts to preserve the earth. That religion is pantheism
  • The cosmos is divine. The earth is sacred.
  • We are part of the universe. Our earth was created from the universe and will one day be reabsorbed into the universe. We are made of the same matter as the universe. We are not in exile here: we are at home. It is here and nowhere else that we can see the divine face to face
  • The dominant religions describe their gods in many ways: mysterious, awesome, all-powerful, omnipresent, transcendent, infinite, eternal. These descriptions are not simply projections of human characteristics. The traditional attributes of God are based on the real properties of the universe
  • The principal good in human life is to connect with the cosmos, with nature, and with other humans, through knowledge, love and loving action. Everything that furthers that connection, in oneself and in others, is good. Everything that hinders it, is bad.
  • In scientific pantheism science and religion are one. Science is inherently materialist. It always seeks material explanations. In the same way scientific pantheism believes that everything that exists is matter or energy in one form or another.
  • In scientific pantheism, science becomes a part of the religious quest: the pursuit of deeper understanding of the Reality of which we are all part, deeper knowledge about the awe-inspiring cosmos in which we live, deeper knowledge of nature and the environment, so that we can better preserve the earth's wealth of natural diversity.

5. Concluding remarks

It is hoped that the ontological triad of logos, nomos and physis; as well as fundamental ways of understanding (knowing), jointly introduced in this paper, provide an integrative perspective on theological thought, if useful only for comparative purposes. The meta-analysis suggests some points that may deserve further reflection, namely, that:

1. Logos theologians in the third millennium have to consider the thought that the price of inflexible biblical interpretation; of an overly abstracted and 'scientifically determined', or metaphysically remote 'God of the theologians', is a God that to a substantial degree loses meaning and impact in effectively addressing the anxieties, uncertainties and spiritual needs of the times.

2. Nomos theologians, in their turn, may have to reflect hard on the very real possibility that a thoroughly 'humanized' and 'this-worldly' God, subject to man's own idiosyncratic personal interpretations, desires and social 'requirements', will sooner or later render incoherent and 'impotent' the very idea of God, the Supreme Power and Creator of the Universe.

3. Physis theologians need to consider the implication, that a God that is fully assimilated (in however sophisticated 'natural scientific' terms) to Nature, stand to become a 'faceless' God of mere natural process; a God that has no real personal value or significance for human beings concerned about matters such as the future of their souls and a world hereafter.

4. Objectivist theologians need to bear in mind that a theology that tries to explain God and Creation solely through an impersonal, calculating intellect, is a theology that is incomplete. Other, equally important and non-rational (subjectivist) pathways of understanding illuminate the mystery of God with great insight, feeling and expression; something that the 'cold corridors' of Reason cannot really accommodate.

5. As far as the realist-idealist polarity is concerned; transcendent theologians may need 'to come down to a more earthly appreciation' of man's spiritual life. Similarly, immanence theologians may need to more explicitly address the 'Heavenly God' in their thought, if only to remind themselves that they are theologians first (and not, primarily, philosophers or religious 'soothsayers').

Finally, and in reference to I Corinthians 13:12; theology is the science of God -- yet we shall forever know in part only, as Scripture reminds us. In the mean time vigilance is required to avoid the abyss of both scepticism and dogmatism.

Life, also the Christian life, is paradox (an "and", not an "or"). It is a constant but essential and dynamic tension between different ways of knowing and being; between past, present and future; a contest between: Word idolatry (dogmatism) and world idolatry (scepticism), if you will.


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