In our crazy world it is possible to live a life in which every day is a good day but the world as a whole is sliding into dark chaos. In that darkness, Christians remain obligated by Christ to shine as lights. Our disadvantage compared to recent past is that Christendom has long gone. There is no lighthouse shining powerfully into the darkness. Just us, little candles flickering in the night breeze, sometimes blown out by the gales winds of militant Islamism, strident secularism, or even the gusts of indifference.
But the light we shine is a sign and the crucial challenge of the 21st century for Christians everywhere and of all kinds is how the sign is understood. In terms of language we have a message to speak. But what language will we use so the message is heard? We know what we want to say. We need to find the translation that connects with our hearers. Aramaic was translated to Greek. Nearly two hundred years ago in Aotearoa NZ, English was translated into Maori. Today, especially in a Western world prone to hear the gospel as yesterday's news, we need to find the language that speaks new good news. It is not good enough for us to shine the light of Christ. The world can see something else. We have all heard stories about lights in the sky which are misinterpreted as alien spacecraft. (As it happens, for many, Christians are seen as aliens!)
One particular light shining in the darkness is Walter Kasper. Office wise he is a cardinal of the Catholic church and once was prefect of a congregation, i.e. right at the top of the Roman hierarchy. But for our purposes today his importance is as a theologian. During Benedict XVI's papacy I sensed that Walter was being pushed ever so slightly to the outer. He represented commitment to fostering and furthering the impact of Vatican II while his boss seemed intent on constraining, even undoing that impact. But the wheel has turned again. Francis seems comfortable with Rome re-finding its bearings in the 21st century with Vatican II as its compass. Has Walter Kasper succeeded and Benedict failed? In the back room of Roman politics, the back room where ideas drive policy rather than the back room of wheeling and dealing, is the real pope called Walter?
Thus when the Living Church publishes an article on Walter Kasper, we Anglicans might profit from paying attention. Here is Kasper's single quest(ion) set out (re a recent conference celebrating his theology) by the article's author, Michael Cover:
"In her opening remarks, conference organizer Kristin Colberg (St. John’s, Collegeville) noted that, by his own admission, Kasper’s theological work has proceeded from a single question: How do we translate Christian tradition in the modern context and the modern context through the Christian tradition? In setting these questions at the forefront of his inquiry, Kasper clearly stands in line with the theological concerns of the Second Vatican Council. But Colberg was quick to point out that Kasper’s quest for relevance never led him to reduce the Church to another social-transformative institution. Rather, the Church achieves its relevance solely by insisting on and preserving its distinctive identity. As such, at the heart of Kasper’s translational theology is what Colberg calls the “identity-relevance dilemma.”"
Kasper writes theology but always connects it to the gospel in the world, as this next citation notes:
"Kasper’s theology represents a turn away from the intramural concerns of neo-Thomism to a dialectical theology, rooted in human experience and aimed at “rendering an account of the Christian hope to every human being” (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)."
Therein lies an interesting measure of the work of all would be theologians: have we rendered an account of Christian hope, accessible for all human beings? (!!)
But the quest to communicate the gospel is the quest not of individual disciples but of the body of Christ, the church, so a related question arises whether the church in continuity with its own tradition can develop new forms of ministry for a new world.In essence, this is the significance of Vatican II:
"For Kasper, Vatican II is very much still in its initial stages of reception. As Kasper noted: “If the documents of the Second Vatican Council represent a faithful compass for the Church, the needle of that compass is still wavering wildly.” Hailed as too liberal by some and too conservative by others, Kasper represents a unique middle voice in the translation of the council, calling for “new forms of ministry” that stand in striking continuity with the tradition. For Kasper, Pope Francis serves as an icon of the kinds of changes the council intended."
Now the article goes on to say some other things (about the Anglican Covenant, about the guidance of the Spirit). We may come back to those another day. For this post, let's sit with the question of the task of theology, taking care not to become "intramural" but world facing, developing a 'translational theology', and the shape of the church as bearer of the gospel, developing new forms of ministry (mission?) for a new century.