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What is radical theology?

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Radical theology, to be distinguished from radical orthodoxy, was a skepticism that developed in some churches in the 1960s and posits that a person cannot truly know the nature of God or speak of the divine in any meaningful manner. Radical theology advocated a religion of secular involvement rather than preoccupation with otherworldly salvation. In other words, what matters is the here-and-now, not some pie-in-the-sky hope for eternal life down the road.

Radical theology capitulated to secular society. “Modern man” no longer accepts the traditional view of the Christian God, so radical theologians acquiesced and said faith in God is no longer possible. In this view, theology is basically dead, since we can’t truly know God. People in the church have a responsibility to leave the church’s form and structure behind, jettison their antiquated ideas about God, and engage contemporary society. Rather than preach about the salvation of one’s soul, we need to uphold universal human values. Speaking of God is meaningless, but we can still follow “Christ”—who, according to radical theology, is purely human and non-divine but who remains an inspiring example to us.

Radical theology represented a deconstruction and a reinvention of traditional theology. The movement sought to “de-church” Christianity to form a “new and improved” religion more acceptable to the spirit of the age. The resulting non-ecclesiastical faith had to redefine who Jesus was and reprioritize all that had been important in the church. It could be said that radical theology viewed faith through the lens of the secular.

Leaders of the movement included William Hamilton, Paul Van Buren, and Thomas J. J. Altizer. Radical theology never coalesced into a singular school of thought due to widely disparate theological viewpoints. However, common threads within the movement were the irrelevance of the transcendent God, the meaninglessness of traditional Christianity to contemporary man, the rejection of the organized church, a denial of Christ’s divinity, and the need for secular involvement and activism.

Radical theology largely fizzled out after the civil rights movements of the 1960s, but it had far-reaching consequences, influencing “death of God” theology, modern liberal theology, and social justice movements. Radical theology deviates from biblical orthodoxy in a number of ways, but perhaps most notably in the idea of a purely human Christ, rather than the divine incarnate, fully God and fully man, presented in Scripture (see John 1:1–4; 10:30; Titus 2:13; Psalm 102:12; Hebrews 1:11–12; Revelation 1:8). Radical theology is not expression of Christian thought; rather, it adheres more closely to postmodernism and represents an attempt by religious people to accommodate secular humanism.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022