Tuesday, May 19, 1998
In the past two centuries, Christian theologians have confronted radical challenges to the intelligibility of traditional ideas about the nature of God. The rise of "historical consciousness" in Western scholarship and culture has challenged the idea that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God of the Nicene Creed as well as the God of contemporary faith. Each idea of God has come to be seen as historically and culturally situated. At the same time, modern science has largely displaced other methods of explanation, leading to radically changed and more limited ideas about God's providential activity, miraculous intervention, and necessity as a "first principle." Growing awareness of the sophistication and variety of the world's religions has challenged confidence in the finality of Christianity over other religious and secular beliefs. While the rise of the modern world has provoked criticism of traditional religious ideas, however, it has also provoked innovative theological attempts to understand God's significance for our time.
How "real" is God when one recognizes the historicity and cultural specificity of ideas about God? Does God make any difference in a world governed by scientific laws? Has the modern world eliminated the need for belief in God? Modern theologians have responded to these challenges in a variety of ways.1 One of the most important theological responses to the challenges of the modern world appears in the work of theologians like Paul Tillich and Gordon Kaufman, who acknowledge the historical and partial nature of every claim about God, but who nevertheless attempt to demonstrate the significance of God for the modern world. God is in fact a symbol, according to these theologians, and like all symbols, the symbol "God" changes over time. God is not merely a symbol, however. As a symbol, God is also real, with the power to transform human life.
Posted by Philocrites, May 19, 1998, at 05:00 PM