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Reflections on Hans Kung ’s Theology For The Third Millennium- Lambert

Reflections on Hans Kung ’s Theology For The Third Millennium- Lambert

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Although I don't agree with the author's viewpoint...one needs to hear the varying voices.....
Although I don't agree with the author's viewpoint...one needs to hear the varying voices.....

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Published by: woodstockwoody on Jun 20, 2010
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05/12/2014

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Reflections on
Hans
Kiing
s
Theology
for
the Third Millennium
For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and forwhom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom
all
thingscame and through whom we live.
-1
Corinthians
8:6
IF
ERASMUS
ETURNED
to the earth todaywould
he
be a Catholic or a Protestant?There is one who believes he would be aKungian.Hans Kung, Catholic theologian atGermany’s University of Tubingen, whosebooks,
On Being a Christian
and
Does GodExist?,
provoked broad discussion in theseventies among both Catholics and Prot-estants, has brought his thinking of thepast thirty years into focus with anotherbook,
Theology for the Third Millennium:An Ecumenical View.
Kung believes theChurch is drifting into the postmodern agewithout any sense of where it is going and
so
offers a proposal to set it on a truecourse, one which will not only guaranteethe Church’s survival but also help it findcommon ground with other great worldreligions.Kung’s program calls for more thancasual review, since he is regarded bymany Protestants to be the Catholic
of
thefuture and a prophet of Christian restora-tion and unity.2
He
is certainly not unrep-resentative of certain Catholic thinking
I
have run into despite his conflict with theCuria, and
so
is
not ignorable by Catholicseither.
I
do not know what the EasternOrthodox think of him, but he includesthem too in his wide-sweeping trimillen-nial vision.Kung’s project is complex.
1
proposeto examine only his notion of managingtheology in the postmodern age, what hemeans by the Gospel and truth, and wherehe thinks Christianity is going in the nextmillenni~m.~
The Postmodern Paradigm
KUNG
HOLDS
the division of Christendomin the sixteenth century was a disasterfrom which the Church has never re-covered. What was needed at the timewas an Erasmus without the historicalErasmus’s flight from commitment, aweakness which allowed the Church to betorn between Luther’s fanatical excessesand Rome’s blind intran~igence.~ung,perhaps, thinks of himself as the Erasmusof today, as he calls for a revival of biblicalthinking without biblicism, a renewal oftradition without traditionalism, and arestoration of Christian authority withoutauthoritariani~m.~Kung puts it simply: the Church haslost the world. The modern age
is
dead;the new age, the “postmodern,”
is
here;and the Church has no credible relation toeither.
He
does not want Christians to giveup the triumphs
of
the Enlightenment-scientific method and the democraticprocess, but does want them to movebeyond “the superstitious faith in reasonand progress.”
A
new religiousness hastaken off on its own outside the Church,he maintains, and its energies must be
Modern
Age
157
 
engaged in reconstructing the Christianity
of
the future.6Kung finds Thomas
S.
Kuhn’s TheStructure
of
Scientific Revolutions sugges-tive for what
he
would like to see done inChristian theology.’ Kuhn, in that nowfamous book, argues that new hypothesesin science arise through what he calls“paradigm changes” in scientific thought,those global shifts in theory,
like
Newton’sand Einstein’s physics, which turn sciencein fundamentally new directions.
Al-
though the new theoretical models buildon the methodology accepted in theirtime, they push those systems into break-down by creating questions beyond theirpower to answer. The result
is
that, partlythrough rational and partly through irra-tional gropings, a novel scientific insight,adequate
to
the questions, arises. Meetingresistance at first, it weaves a pattern ofcredible data around itself and becomesthe only thing thinkable. Kuhn holds thatno old model can be replaced until a newone is ready; and that the new model caneven get shelved briefly, while the neces-sary psychological and institutionalchanges necessary to receive it get movedinto place. Witness the resistance to thework of Galileo. Kuhn believes that sci-ence is now entering a new “third” phase,in which the positivist falsification methodwill yield to a more holistic inductiveapproach.8Kung says the theological epochsthrough which Christian thinking haspassed can be understood in terms ofKuhns paradigm analy~is.~Macro-para-digms” in theology can be illustrated bythe Augustinian and Thomistic revolu-tions; “meso-paradigms’’ by the intermedi-
ate
shifts in thinking
like
those surround-ing the idea of grace or those in sacra-mental theology; and “micro-paradigms’’by the debates over the hypostatic unionin Christology.’O Kung acknowledges thatKuhn’s theory constitutes
a
problem fortheology, for while science can treat everyparadigm as “provisory,” theology musthold to a continuing truth that doesn’t
so
much need discovering as recovering.Distinguishing between theologicaland scientific paradigm upheavals, Kungstates that Christian theology is “essential-ly defined by its relation to history,”especially to its origins. The primal testi-mony, the New Testament, remains “itscontinual reflexive point.”
All
the historiccreeds and theologies take as a presuppo-sition that the Gospel as presented inScripture
is
the norm of Christianthought.” Changes
in
theology take placeon the basis of the Gospel, but neveragainst the Gospel, he asserts. The “norm-ing norm” (norma normans) of the livingWord always corrects
all
historic “normednorms” (norma normata), those creedalstandards by which the Church has metthe challenges to its teaching. Changes intheological history, however, in contrastto shifts in scientific history, tend to comeabout regrettably through defiance andcondemnation, shelving new ideas by sup-pressing their discussion, then transform-ing accepted new models into irondogma.l2What theological model is right for thepostmodern era? Kung answers that
it
must be “true” (neither conformist noropportunistic), “free” (non-authoritarian),“critical” (non-traditionalistic), and “ecu-menical” (non-denominational). The twoconstants for this theology are
(1)
theever-changing world and
(2)
the never-changing Go~pel.’~In
1983,
an International EcumenicalSymposium took place in Tubingen, inwhich Kung was
a
participant along withtheological notables
like
Langdon Gilkey(Chicago), Jurgen Moltmann (Tubingen),J.
B.
Metz (Munster), Jean-Pierre Jossua(Paris), Edward Shillebeeckx (Nijmegen),Mariasussi Dhavamony (Rome),
to
name afew. The symposium took up the para-digm approach as a means of pilotingChristian theology through the post-modern crisis. Kuhn was invited, but couldnot be present; Stephen Toulmin, ofChicago, a student of developing scientificconcepts and critic of Kuhn, was presentand helped shape the discussions.’4 It wasconcluded by all present that while no onetheologian or theology can create a para-digm change, every theologian must face
158
Summer
1990
 
the question of whether his thinking meetsthe paradigm expectations of his time.I5The symposium believed there were somematters that “we don’t have to argueabout anymore”: the polycentrism of thepolitical world, the ambiguous powers oftechnology for good or ill, persisting socialantagonisms, the weakening of the beliefin progress, the threat to the universityworld and “book” culture by the spread ofspecialization, the jolt to Christianity asthe one, true religion, and the awakeningof suffering minorities, especiallywomen.I6 From the distance of just
six
years one can
see
the costive leftward tiltof such ecumenism.Further illustrative of the quite un-Erasmus-like extremes to which the con-ferees gave utterance was the outline ofthe four dimensions which are to be trans-lated into theological reality:
(1)
the
bib-lical,
in which theology must remain trueto the “one constant” of the Gospel whilesubjecting Scripture to historico-criticalexegesis and de-masculinizing biblical ter-minology;
(2)
the
historical,
in which theuniversal relativism of liberal humanism
is
replaced with “the relativism of a univer-sal network of connections” (time recon-ceived as a “web” instead of a “line”) andin which there will be created a viablesymbiosis
(!)
between history and theenvironment with a view to world peace;
(3)
the
ecumenical,
in which Christianthought moves from a denominational-controversial style to an inclusive, “rela-tively absolute”
(!)
style, reading the Scrip-ture in the “Indian” (Far Eastern) mannerand paving the way through an “innerChristian ecumene” for a future ecumeneof all religions;
(4)
the
political,
in which isborn a new whole-world political con-sciousness. The symposium couldn’tdecide whether European or Latin Ameri-can liberation theology would prevail inthe struggle against fringe colonialism, butagreed that there had to be theologicaldiversity in the postmodern paradigm.Kung summarizes the ethos of this new“critical ecumenical” theology as
60th
Catholic and Protestant, traditional andcontemporary, Christocentric and ecu-menical, scholarly and practical.”
No
Christian point of view, whatever its ori-
gin,
is
to be left out
of
the communalprocess.
Managing the Paradigm Shifts
PUTTING
SIDE
KUNGS
summary of theethos of critical ecumenical theology,from which it would be difficult todemure, given its limitless inclusiveness,
if
one takes up the “no longer debatable”assumptions that the lnternational Ecu-menical Symposium accepted as operativefor postmodernism and the four dimen-sions which the conferees said must betranslated into theological reality, one
is
puzzled about the shape of the paradigmunder discussion.
Is
there a clue as towhich of the postmodern leitmotifs is fun-damental to the rest? Most models ofunderstanding which alter history seem,in retrospect, to have been determinedby seminal work in a single arena ofthought, or even by a single figure: theapostolic age, the work of Augustine, orAquinas’s recovery of Aristotelianism. Wedeal here with what Jacob Burckhardt apt-
ly
called “the theory of storms.”18 Para-digm changes are immensely complex,this the symposium confessed.
9
Yet in thetabulation
of
“musts” the symposium askspostmodern theology to take up someissues which seem less than paradigmatic;in fact one might ask whether the wholeset together constitute a credible para-digm. What mysterious mustering
of
onticshocks does “the relationism of a universalnetwork of connections” point to? Whatepistemic metamorphosis is a “relativelyabsolute” style of ecumenical conversa-tion coming to grips with? Does the advo-cacy of an “Indian” way of reading theBible or de-masculinizing biblical ter-minology amount to anything more thansurrender
to
current politico-expositoryrages? How permanent
is
the concussionof specialization on the
life
of high cul-ture? Isn’t the damage to intellectual
life
more in the way of a “capitulation
of
theclerks”? Isn’t what Kung and the sym-posium ask theology to do, despite their
Modern
Age
159

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