Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of  Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church, is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology, and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. This post is part of an ongoing series.

Today, I am reviewing the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches. I am first presenting the thought of Sigurd Bergmann who provides a view of the Spirit that is deeply integrative with Nature, expressed in classical categories of trinity and incarnation and informed by Liberation Theology.

Another methodology Bergmann uses in his theology is the apophatic principle. The idea simply assumes that human thought has no access to the unfathomable essence of the divine, but can only know, understand, and speak of God through the experience of God’s economy. It is through the experience of the divine by the individual, community, and tradition that human persons are informed about God, not through any ontological methodology or Gnostic-style speculation. What is allowed is an analogy of economy through which “the ecology of the world allows us to say something about God’s work, while experiences and interpretations of the trinitarian economy allow us to say something about the economy of the world.”

The apophatic principle does not deny that theologians can say something positive about God, even the essence of God, but they can only arrive there through observation of God’s work in the world rather than by ontological speculation.

For Bergmann the apophatic principle allows ecological theology to free itself “from having to view the being of nature in terms of the divine being,” from “identifying nature’s self-transcendence with God’s activity,” and from identifying the processes of Nature as Nature’s being. Instead of natural theology’s claim that the being of Nature reveals God’s being, ecological theology can speak only about the possibility of “transparency” in the interplay between organisms and their environment and about transparency regarding God’s liberating activity. For Bergmann, apophatism provides a corrective to and a dismissal of all forms of natural theology.

Where do you think Bergmann ends up with the dismissal of natural theology; what then is the source of his and the tradition’s thought? Why do you think Bergmann wants to avoid metaphysical and ontological methodologies? Within these considerations is one of the biggest issues of late-modern theology: can we say anything about the essence or being of God in a modern and postmodern world?

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