Paradigm Change in Theology

As it became increasingly more apparent that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were transforming society on multiple fronts from the inside out, polemics within the realm of architecture (and therefore within society itself) concerning a new style crystallized.

The new developments began in bridge construction, but gradually lead to the prominence of the structural engineer within society and to the ubiquity of iron construction across Europe. The acceleration of science placed unequivocal demands on the arts. Architects, however, feared the disappearance of beauty (especially in Paris) and merely harnessed the new possibilities of iron construction to produce old effects.

A sort of cultural indigestion set in around the middle of the 19th century, with building facades and spatial conceptions often at odds with interior structures and material aptitudes.

The impetus for a modern style coherent with the spirit of the age came with the ideas of space and time in cubist and futurist paintings. These new arts paralleled the scientific pioneering of Hermann Minkowski and Albert Einstein with the idea of a four-dimensional space-time continuum.

Paradigm Shift

The space-time conception of architecture displaced the long standing tradition of Renaissance perspective, of viewing the external in three dimensions from a fixed vantage. This was a paradigm shift par excellence. The basic tenet of this new conception embodies the very essence of modern life- simultaneity and movement.

Paradigm: an entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community.

–Thomas Kuhn

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the process of paradigm shifts. Two books I recently acquired are to blame- Paradigm Change in Theology by Hans Küng and Transforming Mission by David J Bosch.

Both books deal extensively with the concept of paradigm shift, although from different perspectives. Küng applies Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm change to the entire history of Christian thought and theology. Bosch then takes Küng’s analysis and adapts it to the changing understanding of Christian mission.

Küng divides the entire history of Christianity into six major paradigms:

1) The apocalyptic paradigm of primitive Christianity
2) The Hellenistic paradigm of the patristic period
3) The medieval Roman Catholic paradigm
4) The Protestant (Reformation) paradigm
5) The modern Enlightenment paradigm
6) The emerging ecumenical paradigm

Each of theses epochs, Küng suggests, reflects a theological paradigm profoundly different from any of its predecessors. In each era the Christians of that period understood and experienced their faith in ways only partially commensurable with the understanding and experience of believers of other eras.

Every paradigm shift has its trailblazers. Their works are masterful because they make a quantum leap in understanding, not by fine tuning the cumulative knowledge of centuries, but by jumping out of the box. They are at the same train station, but they simply change platforms. This new angle produces a revolution in perception, and the picture of two faces becomes a candlestick.

It is more difficult to smash prejudices than atoms.

–Albert Einstein

I’ll be reading through parts of these books soon, ready to write some smashing blog posts along the way.

6 thoughts on “Paradigm Change in Theology

  1. Pingback: Paradigm Changes in Missiology « life and building

  2. Pingback: The Greek Theological Paradigm « life and building

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  4. Pingback: The Meaning of the Mustard Seed Parable | conversant faith

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