The Catholic Church in Nigeria in contemporary society
A new existential approach to theology

A new existential approach to theology

Philosophy is regarded as the mother of all disciplines, but I argue that all disciplines, including philosophy, are connected to theology. How? Theology comes from the Greek words theos and logos meaning the study of God. God is the creator of the universe. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1). Therefore, every discipline either focuses on understanding the identity of God, an aspect of his creation, or how he wants us to live.

An expected question is the status of disciplines or studies that are directly against God. My response is that there is a difference between the purpose for which something is created (intended purpose) and what it is eventually used for (actual use). The intended purpose depends on the creator while the actual use depends on the user. For instance, a table is created to be used as a writing pad. A user can go to the market, buy a table, and dismantle it to make charcoal for a barbecue. It does not mean that the intended purpose of the table was to convert it to charcoal.

In the same way, God has created us and given us freedom. If it had not been so, we would have been automated, and if we were automated, then the whole concept of sin and punishment that stem from our choices would have been irrelevant – malfunction in a new car is always relative to the manufacturer. With this freedom God has given us, we are allowed to choose what we want to do in life even if it is against the will of God. The wrong use of something God created does not negate that God created that thing for good (Genesis 1:31).

Within the academic discipline of theology, there are various branches such as dogmatic, systematic, moral, biblical, pastoral, and spiritual theology.

Another branch less known is existential theology which is an existentialist orientation rather than a systemised body of doctrine. Theologians here seek to understand God in relation to concrete situations of human existence. Among the most prominent is Rudolph Bultmann who argued that to speak of God validly, one must necessarily speak of man. In other words, the faith must interpret itself, show itself, and speak for itself. Therefore, he attempted to express the meaning of the gospel in terms in existential philosophy .

In the light of the increase in religious disinterest, antagonism to some Christian values, backlash to the past crimes perpetrated by the Church, advancements in science and technology, and indeed a new global ethic rooted in postmodernist ideology, there is a need for a new approach to theology that seeks to explain doctrine in terms appreciable to the contemporary society.

For instance, using 2 Tim 3:16 to speak to an atheist about the bible is a fallacy of an argument from authority (argumentum ab auctoritate) since the atheist does not believe in the authority of the bible itself. The same happens when one cites the authority of Church documents to convince one who believes that the Church does not have the authority to define a doctrine.

Against this backdrop, I argue for a different existential approach to theology. Since every discipline is connected to theology, I define my approach as the adoption of elements of physical sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, law, and culture for the purpose of expounding Catholic doctrine in terms appreciable to contemporary society. Jesus Christ was the first person to adopt this approach to salvation because in his teachings, miracles, and other actions, he used verbal and non-verbal expressions appreciable to the society in which he lived.

Therefore, the goal of this approach is the continuation of the spiritual and temporal salvation wrought by Christ (John 10:10). Yes, Jesus while preaching repentance, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and defended the rights of the oppressed. With Catholic doctrine being the starting point, this approach self-regulates any attempt to deviate from Catholic teachings. While not limited to apologetics, this approach, in reflecting on the mission, teachings and actions of Christ, is redemptively honest as it cautiously engages the various disciplines that help to further expound Catholic doctrine.

“Ecclesiastical citizenship and the need for infant baptism” is a classic example of the new existential approach to theology

3: Ecclesiastical citizenship and the need for infant baptism (19 July 2021)

Fr. Chidiebere Obiodu

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