Friday, February 24, 2012

Manifesto on Post-Dogs Dogmatics


A brief manifesto on what might follow the venerable  Christian Dogmatics, [eds. Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Fortress) in two volumes], focusing on its strengths and weaknesses and how such an enterprise would serve the present-day ELCA.  I refer to the "Dogs" (as they are affectionately known to many) as the last sort of standard theological textbooks used in most settings in the teaching of pastors in the ELCA.

I suppose this is also a manifesto on writing theology.

1.     The P-DD (Post-Dogs Dogmatics) should be multi-authored by Lutherans in a team.  Lots of them.

One of the strengths of the Dogs was its multiple authorship.   This permitted a variety of approaches and angles.

Many single-authored systematic theologies exist and anyone can go ahead and attempt that genre.  A multi-authored P-DD would have more traction in more places and be more nimble.

The authors of the Dogs were professors at ELCA seminaries.  Any P-DD has to have authors from non-seminary contexts to broaden perspectives and tasks, as well as to encompass more authors than just those who hold the post of a systematic theologian.  A P-DD might even include non-authors and non-academics in its authorship.

Many multi-authored ecumenical or Reformed-dominated systematic theology texts exist.  The few multi-authored works that do exist that are Lutheran represent important parts of a larger conversation that need more conversation partners.  None of these multi-authored texts really get at the need for diverse and vibrant communicative theology.

2.  The P-DD should employ diverse genres.

Systematic theology usually involves historical and constructive theology.  The constructive theological essay or book has largely replaced the systematic one that relies on the union of historical and constructive theology, usually organized by a loci approach.  The P-DD has to take the best of these genres and add new ones to be more reflective of what the constructive essay has one (greater attention to context, specific theological problems, use of ethnography, literature, or other disciplinary approaches commonly not a part of the systematic theology genre).  Perhaps the P-DD would include some mp3 music files.  Or an old-timey LP for theo-audio-philes.

3.  The P-DD should be in dialogue with itself; it cannot represent the silo-approach to theology engendered by the “heroic” and “solo” theologian.

The Dogs, for all their multiple authors, seem to be a single-authored text since they rarely refer to other sections except in a cursory way.  It is very hard to write collaboratively outside of the natural sciences, so this may be more of a regulative idea or leading idea than an actual accomplishment.  Theology must be communicative and collaborative in a sense it does not always achieve.  Books have single authors.  The P-DD has to shatter that heroic model.  Leaving the heroic theologian behind should not relieve anyone of the responsibility to history, to rigorous thought, and to the public. 

4.  The P-DD should not be a massive multi-volume hardcover.  It should not look impressive.  Lots of slim paperbacks might suffice.  Or free e-copies distributed on a website.

No one wants to give their work away for free; and no professional theologian wants to miss accruing the honor and recognition that comes with publication.  But that kind of stuff is not what the ELCA needs – it needs intellectual contributions and leadership from its theologians that are directed toward ordinary Lutherans and the education of its rostered leaders.  And the best way to disseminate and start wider conversations is to use new media.  And to give it away for (almost) free.  Hardly any theologian gets her or his livelihood from publications; rather they usually do so from their teaching position.

5.  The P-DD should be oriented to everyday life, to practice and ethics.  It should attend to the liturgical, educational, and practical dimensions of theology.

Disciplines have been created by the bushel since the beginning of modern theology and the various constellations developed through the university systems of Europe and the specializations of the North American seminary and divinity school.  Liturgical theologians have written systematic theologies and systematic theologians have written on worship, for instance.  A nimble, communicative, and multi-authored P-DD needs to involve a variety of workers who may not normally talk much.

6.  There will not be a P-DD.  Though there should be one.

The effort involved in a P-DD requires too much coordination and cross-context work to be realized.  It requires a willingness to collaborate and avoid the heroic model of the theologian.  The P-DD will likely be realized only in part by authors who can cooperate and are similar enough to be able to produce a text with the right incentives for themselves in a short period of time.  After all, I wrote this; I'm just one theologian in one place.  I composed this text with a minimum of dialogue.

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