Theologies of Retrieval: An Exploration and Appraisal

dr darren sarisky

I recently edited a book called Theologies of Retrieval: An Exploration and Appraisal, and I appreciate the invitation to say a little bit about the book here on this blog.  At the Faculty of Theology and Religion, students study a number of religious traditions: for instance, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Christianity is the area where I teach.  In the modules on Christianity, the tradition is studied in a couple of different ways.  All modules on Christianity involve studying it in order to understand what sort of claims theologians were making in past situations as they tried to say something about God that would engage their audience and its concerns.  Some modules also call upon students to critically assess the doctrines that theologians have formulated and to consider questions of truth with respect to them.  Students in these modules have the opportunity to think with rather than mainly about the ideas they are studying.  The edited volume I have published is about one way of doing the latter sort of theological reflection, that is, in the mode of retrieval.  Let me try and say more about what I mean by theologies of retrieval. 

It is possible to characterize theologies of retrieval as one of two main ways in which a Christian theologian might respond to the conditions of the present.  The first option is to commit to correlate elements of the Christian tradition with aspects of modern culture or to foster an open conversation between the theological tradition and a range of other fields, thus connecting the tradition to the present and providing a bridge to ensure that Christian proclamation is intelligible to contemporary minds.  Of course, all theologies are marked in some way by the intellectual, social, and cultural contexts in which they originate and develop: theologies of retrieval are no exception to general rule.  Yet theologies of retrieval, the second option, are less concerned to secure the plausibility of Christian theology by means of establishing similarities to presently influential ideas, and more focused simply on attending to, indwelling, and commending what they take to be the most compelling articulations of the Christian gospel.  Theologies of retrieval are less taken up with the conditions of the possibility of Christian theology in the present than they are absorbed by the material content of theology, which is taken to have the requisite internal resources to respond to the challenges that face it.  Theologies of retrieval are works in what Rowan Williams calls “creative archaeology,” attempts to dig into a past era in order to open up new vistas for today. 

Theologies of retrieval certainly get some attention in a module I teach for the Faculty, “Key Themes in Systematic Theology,” and they are the way that many of today’s most notable theologians operate.  Interested readers of this blog are invited to have a look at the book itself to see how these ideas work themselves out in Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox thinking across a whole range of theological ideas, from God to creation to Scripture and its interpretation.