3 - Testing, testing: theology in concrete conversation  pp. 43-54

Testing, testing: theology in concrete conversation

By Alistair McFadyen

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The business of theology is to talk about God. An underlying theme of previous chapters was the temptation facing modern theology of collapsing the transcendent into secular frames of reference – into ways of speaking about the world which pragmatically exclude God. This, in fact, mirrors the other main temptation of modern theology: to sustain reference to the transcendent in a secular culture by withdrawing theology from the empirical and material. So theology withdraws from those domains wherein secular discourses are presumed to have competence into the spheres of personal morality and spirituality. The existential situation of modern theology is to be suspended between these two extremes, which easily appear to be the only alternatives to a fundamentalist refusal to let go of a pre-scientific, metaphysical cosmology. Hence, modern theology is constantly poised between the danger, at one extreme, of collapsing talk of God into secular frames of reference without remainder (appending God as little more than rhetorical flourish) and, at the other, of withdrawing God to the margins of secular competence (a God of the gaps and a God only related to the non-material). In the end, both strategies permit talk of at least some features of mundane, empirical reality to go on without any functioning reference to God. Theology thereby ceases to be discernment of God's presence and activity in and relation to the world. Both therefore let go of the one possibility by which modern theology may live: to draw the secular into dialogue, to live in a critical and dialectical relationship with secular disciplines.