Characteristics of Evangelical Open and Relational Theology
In a previous blog entry, I noted many of the theological beliefs that open and relational theologians affirm. I now identify three characteristics of Evangelically-oriented open and relational thinkers.
I find these three tendencies among open and relational scholars in the Evangelical tradition:
Open theists appreciate and draw from reason, experience, and the Christian tradition. But open and relational theologians place primary importance on the Bible for things related to God, salvation, and the big questions of life. Scripture is principally authoritative.
Open and relational theists are typically not committed, however, to affirming everything the Bible says about science, history, or culture. Most open theologians are not biblical inerrantists, if biblical inerrancy is defined as the notion that the Bible is without any error whatsoever. This rejection of what I call “absolute inerrancy” distinguishes open and relational theology from Fundamentalism.
Yet the typical open and relational Evangelical theologian also rejects the label “liberal theologian” as a way to identify their views. The primacy of the Bible steers them away from more liberal theologian traditions
Evangelical Community Influence
While open and relational theologians may reside in just about any Christian denomination or subculture, a good number identify with the Evangelical Christian tradition. Virtually all of the major figures who adopt the label “Open theist” either teach at an Evangelically-oriented institution or attend a congregation whose members consider themselves Evangelicals.
The community with which we locate ourselves affects the way we do theology. Of course, the fact that Evangelical open and relational theists do theology in the broad Evangelical context does not also mean that they affirm all of the political and social issues normally associated with Evangelicals. In fact, Open theology sometimes draws advocates toward positions on political and social issues that do not fit either the typical conservative or liberal labels.
Most open and relational theologians want to talk about how things really are or might be. This not only includes talking about the world, it also means talking about God in a realistic way.
In terms of epistemology, open and relational theists tend to be realists or critical realists. They realize that language about God and the world has limitations. But they affirm that some language better identifies what is true about God and the world than other language.
These three factors, in themselves, position open and relational theology differently than other theological alternatives. They provide fruitful avenues for engaging the sciences, for instance. They provide ways of engaging Postmodernism in constructive ways that avoids extreme relativism. And they draw upon and support the Evangelical witness and passion to the good news revealed in Jesus Christ and lived out within the Church.
Of course, open and relational theologies have critics. But I believe the ideas and theological proposals in this way of thinking are potentially more helpful today than any of the alternatives.