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Searchlights on Contemporary Theology by Nels F. S. Ferré


Dr. Ferré was for many years Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Copyright 1961 by Nels F.S. Ferré. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. All rights reserved by Harper & Brothers. This material has been prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Preface and Acknowledgments
Most of this book is concerned about contemporary theology. One of the main reasons for confusion and consequent dissipation of strength in the Church and in theological education is the lack of a constructive Christian approach to the Bible that is thoroughly open both to scholarship and to full faith.

Chapter 1: Myth and Symbol
A symbol is legitimately used only when there is common understanding regarding the nature and reality of that which is symbolized; otherwise, the symbol is vague or misleading. A myth stands for a historic event which is fictitious. On the level of knowledge alone, the question cannot be settled as to the nature and reality of what is symbolized or involved in the true use of religious symbols or myths. But neither a denial of the dimension of transcendence nor the existentialist avoidance of it can satisfy an open, searching, and competent faith.

Chapter 2: Paradox and Analogy in Theological Language
Paradox and analogy belong together in some tension necessary for human knowledge and communication. Without the use of analogy, paradox inclines overwhelmingly to our not knowing.

Chapter 3: Linguistic Analysis and Transcendence
The question addressed is: how classical Christian transcendence can still be accepted by competently informed and honest modern man. The fact of transcendence becomes clear in the light of the history of creation. The facts of science, as far as the history of "evolution" goes, constitute a series of fulfillment where emergent novelties are seen not only to be organically related to the previous process but fulfillingly related. That such a series has come to be without cause and without purpose is a faith-judgment not only incredible but preposterous

Chapter 4: God and Freedom
Our age can accept or deny the effective living of faith and freedom, but it cannot do so except in relation to God, for God is the ground and goal of both faith and freedom.

Chapter 5: The Individual-- His Faith and Freedom
This is a presentation of man’s personal freedom within the presupposition of the Christian faith. Three basic levels of freedom are dealt with: the physical, the moral, and the spiritual. The aim is to interpret facts aright within their proper context.

Chapter 6: Society and Freedom

Faith secures our social freedoms. Correct analysis aids action. Trouble from analysis comes mostly when it takes the place of action or when the analysis is wrong. Three different forms of social freedom are considered: those connected with our physical, with our mental, and with our social life.

Chapter 7: Can Classical Christianity Be Defended?
Christ is the creative, revolutionary answer to man’s need for life and truth. The fundamentalists, the neoCalvinist, the demythologizers, the liberals and the extreme left all need to return to this center.

Chapter 8: Contemporary Theology in the Light of One Hundred Years
The theology of transcendence arose as a pent-up reaction against liberalism. Beyond the historic problems of the theology of the last one hundred years lies the eternal truth of the Christian Gospel: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."

Chapter 9: The Rise and Role of Neo-Orthodoxy
An analysis of the thoughts of Reinhold Niebuhr, Kierkegaard and Barth concerning neo-orthodoxy, and a critique of their positions: Neo-orthodoxy has sold man short and has belittled his efforts under God to achieve a more than tolerable environment.

Chapter 10: The Meaning and Power of Neonaturalism and Existentialism
An elaboration of the theology of autonomy and two leading representatives: Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich: Our existentialist neonaturalists, by whatever name, have helped us with a magnificent analysis of our human predicament and by their insistence that we face the problems of the mind of the modern postcritical age.

Chapter 11: Three Critical Issues in Tillich’s Philosophical Theology
Ferré raises three critical issues in Tillich’s thought: 1. A personal God; 2. Supernaturalism; 3. Theological method. Tillich presupposes that Being itself is a transcendental power. That God is the ground of being and does not exist as an eminent, transcendent person or realm, lies at the heart of his system and determines his method.

Chapter 12: Where Do We Go from Here in Theology?
We need a Christ-centered, evangelical supernaturalism based on revelation, which can be found only by faith; generating and sustaining freedom, open to reason and using it fully; energized by the Holy Spirit of truth and a concern for the individual and for society; made conclusive in Christian community, which lives to the glory of God and finds fulfillment only within his will.

Chapter 13: Natural Theology and the Christian Faith
We need to rethink natural theology within the context of incarnational theology. The Incarnation is Christ as the Event-meaning of agape; it is the revelation, for the world’s redemption and fulfillment, of the personal Spirit who is holy love. Both revelation and reason then center in Christ at the start, branching out afterwards into the supernatural and the natural realms.

Chapter 14: Notes by a Theologian on Biblical Hermeneutics
The main contribution of the theologian to the total work of biblical interpretation can be his seeing that the selection of Christ, the revelation of God as universal love, creative, redemptive, and fulfilling, although a stance of faith, is not arbitrary, but instead meets strikingly man’s common need for the fulfillment of experience, for meaning in history, and for the interpretation of nature with reference to both experience and history.

Chapter 15: The Bible as Authority
The Bible describes the Christian experience and how we can acquire it. The Bible shows us God and all his work on our behalf. The Bible shows us the conditions that must be met if we are to receive and live such an experience, but the Bible also feeds such an experience.

Chapter 16: A Definition of God in the Light of Twentieth-Century Knowledge
In the light of twentieth-century knowledge, since we must have some faith, since we must accept some God, the choice is God as love, made known and to be made known in concerned, creative, and co-operative community. Non-Christians and Christians can learn together what such a God means in the face of an avalanche of new knowledge and a prospective united world.

Chapter 17: The Nature and Power of Christian Experience
Christian experience is, in fact, the presence and power of God in Christ, of God made flesh; only as Christ becomes incarnate in us as the hope of glory, therefore, can the nature and the power of Christian experience become real for us and through us. When it does, we shall turn away the more readily from mere theory.

Chapter18: Contemporary Theology and Christian Higher Education

A new age of constructive leadership for civilization can come if we appropriate the universal truth of the Christian revelation in Christ and apply this with both experimental caution and bold creative courage to the ever expanding and deepening problems of higher education.

Chapter 19: Higher Education and Values

Higher education today confronts, at the center of its task of reconstruction, the nature and place of value. The crises of both civilization and of higher education converge here. If our analysis is right, the solution for both areas can come only as we learn to trust the truth, to find the freedom of fulfillment, and to release the creation of community.

Chapter 20: The Church-Related College and a Mature Faith

The Church-related college stands at the center of the world’s decision. It represents indigenously both education and religion. To dedicate ourselves not only anew, but within a far deeper seriousness and effectiveness, to the work of the Church-related college is to serve God and man where creation meets redemption.

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