Writer and professor Alan Jacobs recently returned from his Lenten break from online life. His first post back at Text Patterns concerned something Jacobs calls “Anthropocene theology.” This theology is nuanced because of the strange contemporary mindset that we live in a fully human and yet post-human framework. “Ours; not-ours,” he suggests. How should extending a world totally ours and yet beyond us affect the way we think and do theology?
To this claim there may be the immediate response, especially from orthodox Christians, that theology need not be different in this age than in any other, for human nature does not change: it remains true now as it has been since the angels with their flaming swords were posted at the gates of Eden that we are made in the image of God and yet have defaced that image, and that what theologians call “the Christ event” — the incarnation, preaching, healing, death, resurrection, ascension, and ultimate return of the second person of the Trinity — is the means by which that image will be restored and the wounds we have inflicted on the Creation healed. And indeed all that does, I believe, remain true. Yet it does not follow from such foundational salvation history that “theology need not be different in this age than any other.”
One does not need fancy anthropological words to ask this question, of course. A few weeks ago I spent a little bit of time thinking about coining the phrase “student theology,” the idea being that working with high school students calls for a certain kind of approach to theological truth. And yet “theology need not be different” for a senior in high school or for a senior adult. True? Jacobs continues:
We may indeed believe in some universal human nature and nevertheless believe that certain frequencies on the human spectrum of possibility become more audible at times; indeed, the dominance of certain frequencies in one era can render others unheard, and only when that era passes and a new one replaces it may we realize that there were all along transmissions that we couldn’t hear because they were drowned out, overwhelmed. The moral and spiritual soundscape of the world is in constant flux, and calls forth, if we have ears to hear and a willingness to respond, new theological reflections that do not erase the truthfulness or even significance of former theological articulations but have a responsibility to add to them. In this sense at least there must be “development of doctrine.”
I like his use of “frequencies” and “soundscape.” You get something like that in N. T. Wright’s How God Became King. In that book, Wright asserts that the Gospel is connected to four “sound speakers” that theologians have tended to adjust volumes for throughout the course of history. Turn two speakers up and two speakers down for too long and you lose things of significance for the expressed truths of the Gospel.
I do think that Jacobs is onto something. And for those with ears to hear, it is a message of good challenge. It is a challenge similar to those of Paul in his missionary journeys or of missionaries today attempting to articulate Christian truth to different (or indifferent) cultures. It doesn’t mean situational ethics. It does mean subtle thinking and clear communication.
You can read the rest of “Anthropocene Theology” here.
(image from level7.co)