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Public Theology: Query: Who is Doing Theological Interpretation of Current History?
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Query: Who is Doing Theological Interpretation of Current History?
Please help us identify theologians who are interpreting current history. We need a modern Agabus. Jared Diamond writes about why societies decline.

By Ed Knudson

One of the most important theological projects these days is, I believe, interpreting current history. Too often theology is intersected with philosophy, with an abstract and universal ontology which does not detail meanings of actual social-political-economic events. I would like very much if readers would help identify those people or groups who are developing such interpretations.

Think about Agabus in Acts 11:27-30 who predicted a famine in the first century: "While [Paul and Barnabas] were [in Antioch] some prophets came down to Antioch from Jerusalem, and one of them whose name was Agabus, seized by the Spirit, stood up and predicted that a severe and universal famine was going to happen. This in fact happened while Claudius was emperor. The disciples decided to send relief, each to contribute what he could afford, to the brothers living in Judea. They did this and delivered their contributions to the elders through the agency of Barnabas and Saul." (JB)

Notice that this economic prediction produced specific action consequences, in this case a contribution to believers in Judea. That's what historical interpretations do, they help define appropriate action, they help define what is good and right to do in the present.

One of the most widely read books by a non-theologian which gives an over-arching interpretation of the growth of western society is by Jared Diamond, who won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. He is the author of the forthcoming Collapse: How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed and has written a summary article on January 1, 2005, in the New York Times entitled "The Ends of the World as We Know Them.

What we need is some contemporary prophets like Agabus who are able to see into the present so clearly in the "power of the Spirit" as to be able to provide a basis for ethics, provide motivation and reason and imagination for action.

After describing other societies which quickly ended due to changes in climate or environment or war, Diamond ends his article with these words:

"But how long can we keep this up? Though we are the richest nation on earth, there's simply no way we can afford (or muster the troops) to intervene in the dozens of countries where emerging threats lurk - particularly when each intervention these days can cost more than $100 billion and require more than 100,000 troops.

A genuine reappraisal would require us to recognize that it will be far less expensive and far more effective to address the underlying problems of public health, population and environment that ultimately cause threats to us to emerge in poor countries. In the past, we have regarded foreign aid as either charity or as buying support; now, it's an act of self-interest to preserve our own economy and protect American lives.

Do we have cause for hope? Many of my friends are pessimistic when they contemplate the world's growing population and human demands colliding with shrinking resources. But I draw hope from the knowledge that humanity's biggest problems today are ones entirely of our own making. Asteroids hurtling at us beyond our control don't figure high on our list of imminent dangers. To save ourselves, we don't need new technology: we just need the political will to face up to our problems of population and the environment.

I also draw hope from a unique advantage that we enjoy. Unlike any previous society in history, our global society today is the first with the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of societies remote from us in space and in time. When the Maya and Mangarevans were cutting down their trees, there were no historians or archaeologists, no newspapers or television, to warn them of the consequences of their actions. We, on the other hand, have a detailed chronicle of human successes and failures at our disposal. Will we choose to use it?"

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Date Added: 1/1/2005 Date Revised: 1/1/2005 6:28:43 PM

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