Monday, July 21, 2008

Being reminded of my conviction

While reading Alister McGrath's The Science of God yesterday, I came across the paragraph which describes his vision behind his formulation of a scientific theology, which reminded me of my conviction. This is what McGrath says:
This leads to one of the major themes of the vision that lies behind a scientific theology — my deep longing to develop a public theology, capable of interacting with other disciplines on its own terms. A public theology is able to stand its own ground, while engaging in dialogue with others. I have intense misgivings concerning the insular approaches to theology that I discern in some theological quarters, which prevents theology from dialoguing, debating and learning.... The approach I set out, having placed the theological enterprise on a secure footing, encourages public debate and dialogue.

The roots of a scientific theology are thoroughly evangelical, resting on a deep and passionate conviction that 'theology must be nourished and governed at all points by Holy Scripture, and that it seeks to offer a faithful and coherent account of what it finds there.' This task of rendering Scripture faithfully is, in my view, best carried out in dialogue with the 'great tradition' of Christian theology and in response to the challenges to the Christian faith which are raised by other disciplines... (Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology, London: T&T Clark International, 2004, pp. 13-14)

Coincidentally, I also came across a similar line by Pee-Seng Kang two years ago. His article (Theology is dialogue/神学就是对谈) conveys my conviction so strongly that I brought the whole book with the article from Singapore to Boston with me. It is written in Chinese, so I will attempt to provide an English translation for my non-Chinese readers.

如果基督教确实相信一位 “全能的父,创造天地与一切可见、不可见之物的主宰”,以及认识那位“出自上帝的上帝,出自真光的真光,... ... 万有藉着祂而造”的耶稣基督,那么对所有事物的探讨就不应该在基督教信仰的范畴之外了。信仰的思考就必须包括神学与自然科学、社会科学或人文科学等的积极对谈。

神学对谈范畴应包括一切的意识形态及价值观,因为这才能反映当代神学的多元文化与多元价值的处境。也只有在这样一个积极而全面的对谈基础上,正确的神学(宗教)对谈理论才可以确立。更重要的是,基督教的信仰本质与神学使命才可以清晰地表露出来。(江丕盛,“神学就是对谈:兼论神学的身份与使命”。在信仰之思的途中:一群年轻神学人的神学告白,鄧绍光主编, 香港: 基道出版社, 2000, pp. 220)

My translation:
If Christianity truly believes in "Almighty Father, who creates heaven, earth, and all those that are visible and invisible", and truly knows "God who is begotten of God, true light of true light, ... ... through whom all things are made" i.e. the Christ, then critical investigation of any matter should not be outside the sphere of Christianity. Critical reflection of Christian faith should encompass active dialogue with natural science, sociology and humanities.

Theological dialogue should include partners such as all forms of ideologies and the construction of values, because this will more accurately reflect the challenges of contemporary theologian in a multicultural and pluralistic environment. It is only through this form of active and comprehensive dialogue that the foundation is laid for the development of authentic theological (religious) dialogue. More importantly, this spells out the essence of Christianity and the mission of theology. (Pee-Seng Kang, “Theology is dialogue: On the identity and mission of theology.” Taken from On the Way of Faith Thinking: Theological Confession of a group of young theologians, edited by Andres S K Tang. Hong Kong: LOGOS Publishers, 2000, pp. 220)

I don't think I have translated well, but I hope it conveys the essence of the multi-dimensional facets of Christian faith. If we do acknowledge God as our Father, our Creator, and our Savior, there is no sphere of knowledge that is outside the influence of Christian faith. Christian faith has a relationship with every form of academic discipline that contributes to the betterment of human society.

I brought the above mentioned Chinese book (在信仰之思的途中) with me, so that I can remind myself regularly of my own conviction. It is my conviction that brought me here to Boston U Sch of Theo, and it is the same conviction that urges me to switch from Master of Theological Studies to Master of Divinity.

I think the enterprise of theological education is first of all, to explore the relationship of oneself with God. In that process, one knows oneself better, and how one is relating to God. This involves an understanding of how the Holy Scripture has been interpreted in the past, critical examination of one's faith tradition, a regular application of exegesis in one's context, and acquiring knowledge of other disciplines. Beyond that framework comes a larger picture of how to build a theological base that is faithful to one's tradition, to the community one is ministering to, and the academia one has to answer to. These elementary foundations together with suitable methodology should develop an appropriate framework to dialogue with other disciplines. The lifelong process of dialoguing should continue to enrich one's relationship with God; deepen understanding of herself; enlarge one's wisdom in applying exegesis in context; live in more fruitful relationships in one's community; and to further a more robust framework for constructive dialogue with other disciplines.

Hans Küng's On Being a Christian provides a strong argument for me to believe in Christian humanist as the most adequate form of humanist among secular humanist, Marxist, other faiths and ideologies. Rev Stephen Tong's sermon on the cross-intersection of Christian faith, Confucius, other philosophers and politics, opened the world where I could see how God's sovereignty should extend into other disciplines. Pee-Seng Kang's articulation of the sovereignty of God in all forms of knowledge convinced me of the need to study theology in relation with other academic disciplines. Alister McGrath's vision reminded me once again of my rationale and purpose of studying here. To echo Kang's article, theology is dialogue indeed.

1 comment:

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Arthur,

I'm most impressed with McGrath's drawing on Roy Bhaskar's stratification of reality in this project.

Many has talk about 'critical realism', yet it seems like McGrath's application is the most explicit that I've seen.

Praying for you and Vivian well-being there :)