Herman J. Pietersen, "Meta-paradigms in Theological Thought," Journal for Christian Theological Research [http://apu.edu/~CTRF/articles/2001_articles/pieter.html] 6:5 (2001).

Meta-paradigms in Theological Thought

Herman J. Pietersen
South Africa


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. 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 price that increasingly has to be paid for this proliferating variety of terminologies, concepts, models, theories, disciplines (and journals), namely: fragmented thinking and being, is undeniably also part of the equation.

2. Theology, the science of God, also reflects this trend toward greater intellectual divergence and a lack of consensus (c.f. Rasmussen). 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.

3. From one perspective there is talk of a crisis in theology (for instance, Gilkey), much of it ascribed to a deepening of the secularisation process (and the concomitant desacralization of theology), and of theology losing touch with the church (Cobb). 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 and socio-political contextualization of theology (Veling).

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 are surmised to be some of the key ideas, characteristics and suppositions of major theologies (past and present) will be selected to briefly demonstrate the utility of the paradigmatic framework discussed below.


Archetypal forms of knowledge

8. The history of philosophy, at various stages of European development over the past twenty six centuries, shows substantial divergence in ideas, theories and systems of thought; a phenomenon that the historian of philosophy, W.T. Jones describes as a �parting of the ways�(Jones: 349). The eminent scholar of ancient philosophy, W.K.C. Guthrie, even considered it necessary to start his survey of Greek philosophy by describing that Plato�s �form-philosophy� and Aristotle�s �matter-philosophy� as belonging to ��two everlastingly opposed philosophical types� (Guthrie, 1989: 20).

9. 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), which seems to underpin all human intellectual endeavor.



������� Knowledge (Episteme)


��������������� A�������������������������� B


������� Pure thought�������������� Reason

���������� (gnosis)���� �����������(dianoia)


Intelligible Realm (Forms)


��������������������� ONE

Immutable Truth and Reality





����������� Opinion (Doxa)


��������� C������������������������������ D


������� Belief������������������ ����Illusion

������ (pistis)��������������������� (eikasia)



Visible Realm(Substance)


�������������������� MANY

��� Mutable Truth and Reality


















�������������������������������������������������������������������������������� �����������������������������������������������










10. Within the 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 world of Forms; and Aristotle the first scientist, who spent much of his life analyzing the substances of nature.



����������������������������������������� RATIONALIST (OBJECTIVE)

����������������������������������������������������������� (episteme)�

��� WHAT��� IS

����� (Aristotle)

������������������������������������� TYPE II




����� (Protagoras)


����� TYPE III



��� THIS?

��� (Plato)






��� (Plato)








���������� (IMMANENT)���������������������������������������������������������������� (TRANSCENDENT)

�������������� REALIST������������������������������������������������������������������������ IDEALIST

���� ����������������������������



��������������������������������������� RELATIVIST (SUBJECTIVE)

�������������������������������������������������������������� (doxa)

11. 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).

12. 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.

13. In reality one would expect the work of each thinker or group of thinkers to always contain all the 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.

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

15. 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).

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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 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.

19. 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; as the Chief Designer

(Deists); or that about which no greater or higher can be conceived (Anselm).



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



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 the mysterious, ineffable Source, Whole, Ultimate Vision, or Neo-Platonist Logos. Ezamples are: Augustine�s Christian God beyond the gods of the ancient philosophers and poets; the well-known �wholly Other� of Karl Barth; and Albert Schweitzer�s �He who comes to us as One unknown, without a name� (401).

20. Objectivist theologies characteristically treat humans and creation as dependent objects of God�s making and inscrutable will. It is the God that humans often find difficult to understand, especially in their 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.

21. Subjectivist theologies, on the other hand and despite a variety of conceptualizations, essentially treat the human as a God-conscious (Schleiermacher) 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.


An ontological framework

22. 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 with Nature and the cosmos by the 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.

23. 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.

24. The term logos is adopted here for use in its Neo-Platonic, Christian and, therefore more properly, spiritual sense as the Word of God. Before that time, of course, it had naturalistic and metaphysical interpretations (Copleston, 1946; Hussey).

25. 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 physical reality, or �the nature of the outside world�(Marias: 35). Figure 3 provides a schematic representation of what can be referred to as the �ontological triad�.


�������������������������� FIGURE 3: ROOT DIMENSIONS OF BEING

���������������������������������������������������������� LOGOS(Spirit)

                    God, Creator, the measure of all that is

                    Plato and Theistic philosophers

                    The Way of Heaven

���������������������������������������������������������� NOMOS (Culture)

                    Humans the measure of all things that are

                    Social philosophers (Protagoras)

                    The Way of the Human

���������������������������������������������������������� PHYSIS (Nature)

                    Nature the measure of all things that are

                    Naturalist philosophers (Aristotle)

                    The Way of Earth


26. Again, numerous instances can be found in the past of philosophers who recognized or made use of this threefold ontological distinction. Plato, in the well-known allegory of the charioteer, divided the soul into three basic types, according to the elements of reason (logos), honor (nomos) and the appetitive (physis) (Copleston, 1946: 210). For Aristotle, the good consisted of enjoyment (physis), the political (nomos), and the contemplative (logos) (Barnes: 68).

27. Augustine�s discussion, in de Trinitate (Book I, first paragraph), of what he considers to be the: �sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith�� shows the presence (even if implicit) of the three ontological dimensions. As he formulates it:

Now one class of such men endeavor 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]; �by an over-bold affirmation of their own presumptuous judgments.

28. Aquinas acknowledged the existence of the human craving for sensible pleasures (physis) and the social prestige of riches (nomos), but for him these (including contemplative truth) were only preliminary to the universal good, namely, God (logos) (Copleston, 1962: 399).

29. In his discussion of the good in human nature, Kant, in his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, distinguishes between the following characteristics of the human, namely, animality (concerned with physical needs); humanity (concerned with the need to be recognized by others), and personality (the, Kantian, �highest� inner need of the human to fulfill the transcendent moral law, or duty).

30. The modern philosopher of religion, Alvin Plantinga, uses a similar distinction but, in stead of an ontology, characterizes 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: 292).

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. 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.

34. This leads to the recognition of the existence of a secondary triadic ontological pattern that can be empirically 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).


Meta-paradigms in theology

35. 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.�

36. 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.







        Emphasize reason (rationality)



        Microscopic focus

        Detailed explanation

        Concerned with verifiable ideas

        Faith Builders

        Right thinking

        To systematically analyse, order, predict and control life/world. (in the context of God and Christian way of life)






        Emphasize reason (rationality)



        Macroscopic focus

        Comprehensive understanding

        Concerned with possible ideas

        Faith Establishers

        Right belief

        To penetrate the deepest essentials and mysteries of life/world.(in the context of God and Christian way of life)




        Emphasize values (humanism)




        �Feeling with� (solidarity)

        Concerned with individuals (the particularized other)

        Faith Singers/Protesters

        Right attitude

        To praise, eulogize, tell inspiring stories OR To unmask, debunk, criticize and tell �sad� stories (in the context of God and Christian way of life)






        Emphasize values (humanism)




        �Feeling for� (development)

        Concerned with society (the generalized other)

        Faith Carriers/Promoters

        Right doing

        To win hearts and influence people for God; to change, renew and re-engineer life/world/society according to valued ideals (in the context of God and Christian way of life)



�������������������������������������� LOGOS THEOLOGIES


������������������������������������������������� Objectivist

�������������������� �������������������Aquinas����������� Augustine

������������������ Immanent ------------------------------------ Transcendent

��������������������������������������� Luther�������������� Calvin

������������������������������������������������� Subjectivist


��������������������������������������� NOMOS THEOLOGIES


������������������������������������������������� Objectivist

������������������������������������� Harnack���������� Barth

���������������� Immanent------------------------------------ Transcendent

������������������������������������� Niebuhr����������� Gutierrez

������������������������������������������������� Subjectivist

�������������������������������������������� PHYSIS THEOLOGIES


�������������������������������������������� ������Objectivist

������������������������������������ Hartshorne���������� Spinoza

��������������� Immanent --------------------------------------- Transcendent

�������������������������������� Schleiermacher�������� Eco-theology���

������������������ ��������������������������������Subjectivist


37. 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.

38. 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 Guti�rrez. 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.

39. 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 taken 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 humans in this world. Nomos theologians will likely speak of: God of the world, and not (as logos theologies would) of God of the Word.

40. The following theologians were selected as representative of Physis theologies, namely: Spinoza, Hartshorne and Schleiermacher. Whilst no acknowledged pantheistic-promotional (type IV) theologian similar in stature to other exemplars discussed in this paper can readily be identified, examples of eco-conscious approaches (for instance, the new field of eco-theology) do exist (see # 90). Aquinas� natural theology can safely be regarded as having provided the starting point, but 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 and Polkinghorne.


Logos theologians: Augustine (Objective-Transcendent)

41. 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. The City of God was perhaps a conscious effort to write a Christian equivalent of Plato�s Republic.

42. He shows the mind-set of a transcendent, rational thinker strongly concerned with understanding the nature of God and the soul. He is a theologian quite enamored with the remote, mysterious and unchangeable God, which he contrasts with the mutability of creation itself (Armstrong).

43. Augustine was a thoroughly teleological thinker for whom all of creation had to move toward the Logos, the eternal Word of God. His preference for Plato�s approach to thought is also clearly expressed. In the City of God (Book X, Chapter I), he states: �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.�


Logos theologians: Aquinas (Objective-Immanent)

44. 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 more or less self-sufficient order of the natural world (Nature), renders Aquinas a prime exemplar as objectivist-immanence thinker in the realist tradition. His Summa clearly shows the emphasis on detailed deductive analyses, in his integration of Aristotle�s philosophy with Christian thought.

45. Whereas for Augustine right belief concerning a transcendent God was uppermost, Aquinas, the 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.

46. Ever conscious of the need to accommodate the spheres of transcendence (form, soul) and immanence (substance, body), grace and nature in his theology, he accepted both the sovereignty of God and the laws of a creative Providence in nature


Logos theologians: Luther (Subjective-Immanent)

47. 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 concern with a personal religious feeling and of justification by faith alone (sola fide), coupled with a readiness to criticize and expose malpractices in the church, shows Luther to be a prime exemplar of the subjective-immanence theological paradigm � also the province of the critical theologian.

48. As a subjectivist theologian who reacted against objectivist reason, Luther�s aim was to emphasize and propagate the primacy of the individual believer and his/her personal faith relationship with God. For him it was of major importance to have the right attitude toward God and His Word; not so much to analyze the Divine with a cold and abstract reason, or to blindly follow human-made church ordinances. At the same time he was very much a theologian in the orthodox, logos (biblical) tradition.

49. 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. In his role as preacher he was also much concerned with relating the Word to the practical context (immanence) of people�s lives.

50. As a theologian, Luther 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, in contrast to God as the Divine Light of transcendent theologies.

51. 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 in his rejection of metaphysical thinking about God or his admonition to Christians to consult the Gospel as though it were the daily bread of the soul (Luther, 1972/1545).


Logos theologians: Calvin (Subjectivist-Transcendent)

52. 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 period ruled almost with an iron fist) and to propagate a biblical understanding of Christianity. He was not interested in (the type I) metaphysical truths about God, the God of scholastic reasoning.

53. Calvin�s Academy in Geneva was a major center 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.

54. 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.

55. Calvin is an outstanding historical example of the evangelical theologian or faith carrier and promoter, as his immense influence on later Protestantism worldwide shows; the theologian who was much more concerned with bringing the power of God and God�s spirit to bear onto the church and the congregation.

56. 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).

57. 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 clearly indicates in his autobiographical sketch in the introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms, 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�(Calvin, �Commentaries�).


Nomos theologians: Barth (Objective-Transcendent)

58. Widely regarded as the pre-eminent theologian of the 20th Century, and favorably compared with the great theologians 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 we humans can never know, without God revealing himself to us through Jesus Christ. For Barth God is the �wholly Other�.

59. 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.

60. 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).

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

62. 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.

Nomos theologians: Harnack (Objective-Immanent)

63. 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 analyze what the Scripture and other source documents had to tell us about God�s Word in the light of reason and historical fact.

64. A leading liberal theologian and church historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Harnack�s work had wide influence. His aim was to understand and show the relevance of religion within its historical context, in order to get to the core of Christian truths beyond creedal and institutional dogma.

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


Nomos theologians: Niebuhr (Subjective-Immanent)

66. 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 (Moon, 1998), 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).

67. For Niebuhr, the Christian Realist (his own term) is also a political, moral and theological realist (Imsong, 1999). Like 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 human moral resolve.

68. 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, for orthodoxy, �morality is still expressed in dogmatic and authoritarian moral codes� and because liberalism represents a �na�ve rationalization of the ethic of Jesus,� and cleaving to the �culture of modernity� (Imsong, mwt_themes, 1999).

69. As far as theological method goes, Niebuhr was convinced of the appropriateness of the hermeneutical method and even poetry in performing analyses of Scripture as source of mythical and symbolical (not literal) truth.

70. 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.


Nomos theologians: Gutierrez (Subjective-Transcendent)

71. 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 focus briefly on Gustavo Guti�rrez as the so-called father of liberation theology.

72. Guti�rrez 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 (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 concretizing the discipleship of Jesus.�

73. 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.� (Gutierrez, epica.org).

74. Here, indeed is a theology of liberation, of action in this world (type IV theology), not primarily of salvation in a fundamentalist world-to-come of God�s own choosing.


Physis theologians: Spinoza (Objectivist-Transcendent)

75. Although not a trained theologian, Spinoza�s own influential metaphysical philosophy developed as a reaction to Descartes� dualistic metaphysics of mind and body and the existence of human free will. Spinoza held a strictly pantheistic view of God and deterministic conception of human nature, which he put forth in a long series of deductive propositions.

76. His strong emphasis on an objectivist-transcendent or logical-metaphysical approach to the Bible, led him to argue that although Scripture serves as source of morals and ethics, it had no use as a text of truths about physical nature (physis), or of rational philosophical truths.

77. This interpretation gave Spinoza the basis for adopting the view that freedom of metaphysical speculation is therefore consistent with all that is important in the Bible, in the sense that what previously were, for instance, explained as miraculous events with a decidedly moral content could now be taken as natural phenomena with a possible rational explanation.

78. For Spinoza conventional, creedal conceptions of God by worshippers are figments of the human imagination. Because it has no basis in strict logical-mathematical reasoning, it amounts to nothing more than mere religious superstition.

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


Physis theologians: Hartshorne (Objective-Immanent)

80. 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.

81. Process theology is a theological school of thought that, following Whitehead�s distinction between eternal objects and God�s consequent nature, holds that God is creatively and endlessly involved in the 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.

82. With some variation on Whitehead, Hartshorne developed his own dipolar view of God in which he distinguishes between God�s abstract or immutable nature and His concrete nature. The last-mentioned refers to those particulars of God in His ongoing interaction with all aspects of the natural world process.


Physis theologians: Schleiermacher (Subjective-Immanent)

83. 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 and of dependency on the infinite God.

84. 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).

85. Regarded as the father of modern Protestant theology, Schleiermacher�s influence continues today, more clearly among liberal evangelical movements with an emphasis on the individual Christian believer.

86. Schleiermacher was also the creator of biblical hermeneutics, which provided a general foundation for all later forms of interpretive or hermeneutical analysis outside religion itself.


Physis Theologians: (Subjective-Transcendent)

87 As pointed out in # 40, no examples of prominent theological exemplars adopting what can be referred to as a pantheistic-promotional approach (type IV) can be identified in mainstream theology. However, over the past decade there has been an increasing interest in issues of environmental protection and the health of the planet from a religious perspective, leading to the establishment of the field of Eco-theology and religious movements with a more earthly agenda.

88. Although currently still on the periphery of mainstream theology, eco-theology reflects a rising and socially active involvement of various religion-minded groups (including a wide range of non-theistic movements), whose common purpose is to promote greater ecological sensitivity and care for the planet from a more clearly spiritual foundation.

89. In this regard, one instance of a Christian political theology is Scharper�s discussion of the implications of the Gaia-hypothesis for promoting a world: � �more in harmony with a gospel vision of a just, peaceful, and sustainable society�� (Scharper, 1994: 207).


Concluding remarks

90 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.

91 The meta-analysis suggests some points that may deserve further reflection, namely, that:

Logos theologians in the third millennium have to consider the thought that the price of inflexible biblical interpretation � of an overly abstracted, 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.

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 human 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.

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.

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.

As far as the realist-idealist polarity is concerned; transcendent theologians may need to come down to a more earthly appreciation of human 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.

92. 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.

93. 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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