(Reprinted with permission from Theology Today, written by Jeffrey Gros.)
In the postmodern era, theology has pursued a number of diverse options in its quest to be both global and responsive to the increased diversity of cultures in which the gospel finds itself. With the passing of the Cold War and the rise of information-age communication, new forms of global thinking and reflection are emerging. The author, in the tradition of H. Richard Niebuhr’s and Paul Tillich’s theologies of culture, attempts a critical review of the emerging new theological perspectives.
Robert J. Schreiter’s The New Catholicity: Theology between the Global and the Local begins by addressing globalization broadly from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. The context of the shift from a bipolar to a multipolar world, the emergence of a single economic system, and new communication technology are analyzed and various perspectives clarified. The theological responses surveyed cover a series of currents the author characterizes as global theological flows—ideas connect and interact, but are characterized more by their particularity than their systematic coherence. Among these flows he enumerates feminist, liberation, ecological, human rights, and contextual theologies. He also enumerates counter trends in religious thinking (e.g., antiglobalism, ethnification, and primitivism) that are influenced by the logic of globalization, rejecting aspects of it while building defensive strategies dependent on global technologies and resources. The most graphic of the antiglobalization trends, for example, are the varieties of fundamentalisms in all of the world’s great religions.
The five central chapters synthesize a mass of interdisciplinary reflection and theological response on several major themes: intercultural hermeneutics and their relationship to epistemology, culture and intercultural theology, religious identity, syncretism, and synthesis.
The fifth chapter looks at the context of Europe and its theological and cultural challenges in a welcome contribution to the discussion of contextual theologies and integrates well with the global set of concerns central to the book’s analysis of culture. Not only secularism and post-Christian society are of significance for the future of Europe and Christians within it, but so also is the new and only gradually acknowledged multicultural reality there.
With the changes of horizon caused by the fall of apartheid, the move toward civilian governments in Latin America, and the demise of socialism as a viable institutional economic alternative, numerous questions are placed before liberation theologies. The new task for theologies of liberation in this new context are outlined and commented upon.
The final chapter summarizes the author’s own synthesis and perspective, focusing on the dialectic and interdependence of the local and the global. His view is grounded in the classical marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The catholicity of the church is the dimension that protects and promotes the diversity of culture, worship, and theological formulation, while seeing the interdependence of the global Christian system in the context of an interconnected world. Much of his analysis is informed by post-colonial writing from within cultures that are now proceeding toward full partnership with the older Atlantic Christian dominant cultures.
For the author, the new interpretive lens that will enable seeing the world from within a Christian catholicity entails a sense of a new wholeness that is possible with the globalization of consciousness and new appreciation of the diversity of human cultures, the fullness of faith entailed in a variety of inculturated Christian forms, and the potential for a rich exchange and communication.