A Missional Method for Constructive Theology (Part 1)
Constructive theology inevitably involves a method. Even theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, who said of his own method, “The road emerged only as I walked it,” operate with an “implicit method.”[1. Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), xv.] In reduced terms, theological reflection just does entail decisions that are inherently methodological, whether explicit or implicit, prolegomenal or postlegomenal. In the postmodern context, it has become necessary to point out the inevitability of method because of its association with modern epistemology. For many, method reeks of foundationalism and objectivism. The modern prolegomena was seemingly a mechanistic device meant to ensure theological certainty and uniformity, and in this light “theological method” is necessarily compromised. Still, the theologian makes decisions about which sources to privilege, how to construct arguments, and which criteria justify conclusions—among many others.
Method is neither avoidable nor synonymous with universal, mechanistic, or totalizing tendencies. Dan Stiver is right: “A need still exists for prolegomena. In a time of transition in philosophy and in a time of flux in theology, being clear about one’s epistemological commitments and presuppositions continue[sic] to be desirable. The point is that methodology should be seen in this clarifying role, not as a foundation or as a proof.”[2. Dan R. Stiver, “Theological Method,” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, Cambridge Companions to Religion, Kindle ed., ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 172.] Is there, then, a method that might play this clarifying role for the theologies loosely identified as missional?
Subsequent posts in the series will sketch my reflections on this question. What do you think?