Thursday, April 21, 2005

F. LeRon Shultz

Yesterday I attended a lecture at Garret Theological Seminary by F. LeRon Shultz a theologian out of Bethel. The title of the lecture was "Christology and Contemporary Science." Shultz wants to get Theology and Science talking to each other again without theology having to give up it's particular perspective, specifically its understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ. He wants to say that theology neither needs to retreat from science nor accommodate itself to science. Rather Shultz has the confidence that theology can stand its own, and not only that that the "Biblical Tradition" has enough vitality to meet science and scientists where they are. To begin with I must clarify when Shultz speaks of "science" he is not simply speaking of what most people mean when they speak about science and scientists, ie. The "hard sciences" with its "scientific method", he means all fields of knowledge. Science included philosophy, history, anthropology, psychology etc., as well as physics, and biology and geology.
So how do you get science and theology to speak to each other again, and what implications does this have for both theology and science was the gist of his lecture. So he began his lecture explaining how developments in science make room for theology to enter into the conversation without having to give up things specifically for this lecture Christology. The particularity of the claims about Jesus Christ seem to put theology at at disadvantage. He briefly outlined in terms of the turn in science to context and relationality. Science is not as concerned with detachment from context, nor is knowledge understood as simply isolating things and events. His examples came from the philosophy and physics.
He then went on to claim there is a science of Jesus Christ, which has always been affected by the philosophy of the time. The debates around the council of Chalcedon were given as an example of this. What is interesting to me on this point is that he doesn't take this in the relativism direction one might expect. Rather he shows that Chalcedon is a product of a rejection of subordinating Christology to sciences: The language of Chalcedon uses the language of the science of the time but shows the inadequacy of that language, specifically by rejecting "substance" as the beginning point for understanding God and Christ as both human and divine. He then appeals to the Gospels and the actions of Jesus as a means of getting a grasp on Jesus epistimology -Knowing as Wisdom-, and Jesus ethics - justice as the divine reign understood in trinitarian terms.
He then went on to describe what he called "Reconstructing Theology", which he had described earlier as conserving and liberating theology. In this part he was attempting to show ways that theology as he is understanding it (as a more wholistic discipline and less a systimatic compartmentalized discipline) can engage science through taking sciences insights and viewing them through the above Christological lens. What struck me as odd about this part of the lecture and the whole tenor of the lecture was this sense that he was "retrieving" or rediscovering something? When it seems to me that the Church has always worked along these lines. Theology that deserves the name simply always already functions as Shultz was describing and advocating.
I felt he was somewhat distanced from the tradition he was supposedly engaging and advocating for. This sense was increased by his failure to mention theologians and Christian philosophers such as John Zizioulos and Jean-Luc Marion, who in their works approach theology and science precisely in this way because that is the way the tradition so engages. So, I ended up asking him where his theological work met up with "mystical theology" or the apophatic way of theology. His answer was deeply so, and that he considered his work to be in that tradition. I had suspected that answer and yet then all this talk of recovery is puzzling, for I do not see that this theology ever ceased, since it seems to me to simply be what theology is when done by and for the Church, whether or not it is done by those who have doctorates.
It was a simulating lecture and I would recommend anyone picking up one of his books, I hope to do so myself. If for no other reason than this may be a sign that academic theology is returning to the Church. Such a move within the academy is to be celebrated. It serves no one for academy and church to be about differing things as if the life of the church can do without theologians and theologians can do without the life of the church. Such hogwash. Preach it brother Shultz, I'd recommend leaving behind all that rhetoric about retrieval and recovery and simply admit your own return to the Church and that you are calling all Christian and non-Christian academics to sit and listen to wisdom.