Theologians discover God beyond this world.
What a difference! The idea of a transcendent God appeared to be all but gone 20 years ago. It was either nonsense, myth, untrue, or irrelevant to postmodern man—depending on which theologian you were reading. In 1963 Paul Van Buren’s The Secular Meaning of the Gospel was published. It was followed by a spate of other works that elbowed God out of heaven, leaving man alone to fend for himself.
But in 1964, Herbert Marcuse argued in One-Dimensional Man that the loss of a transcendent point of reference would be humanity’s undoing. In 1969, H. W. Richardson and D. R. Cutler edited Transcendence, a book that challenged this dissolving sense in our technological culture. Also in 1969 Langdon Gilkey sought to reopen the question of God language in Naming the Whirlwind. Then Peter Berger heard a Rumor of Angels (1970). More recently Van Buren has himself come to realize that unless we relate to God in his transcendence, little else is of value. In Discerning the Way (1980) is a section titled “In the End, God.” There Van Buren writes, “That God reign, that all acknowledge Him, that His will be done on earth as well as in heaven—that is the goal [of history]. This makes our walking a matter of cosmic theological importance of the highest sort.”
It is significant that these theologians are returning to the idea of a transcendent God. It is also ironic. A generation ago C. E. M. Joad said in a highly original treatise that decadence does not set in when a particular evil thing is done, but it comes with “the dropping of the object,” the loss of a transcendent point of reference. When transcendence goes, decadence comes. One would have thought that theologians, of all people, would realize ...1
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