Dr Marty Folsom Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics begins with its task stated at the very beginning, “As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God.”1. This gives an overarching vision of the community of the Church paying attention to what it is saying about God. Subsequently, we carefully pursue that which resonates with the person of Jesus Christ and all that is revealed in him, by him, and through him. This task calls us to be honest and joyful witnesses.
In that spirit, I would say that, as a scientific discipline, Relational Theology is a critical and constructive study of the church’s language and activities, reflecting on what God has revealed regarding our participation in the Triune God’s life, our consequential sharing of life together, and our humble joining in God’s mission to the world.
“Scientific” may seem strange for a relational quest, but refers to a knowing engagement with an object (who is a subject) as a community, employing tools appropriate to the task, and allowing our personal knowing to be shaped by the investigation of the phenomenon within the divine-human relationship.
It is “critical” in that it must be corrective of past methods that lost the relational character of God made evident in the incarnational nature of God’s encounter with the world. It is “constructive” in that it attempts to ask what it means to live with integrity, collaborating with the life of God in our daily relating in fresh and freeing ways.
We engage both our language and activities to integrate our thinking and acting as a whole, living within the Grace offered to us. Having been rooted in the completeness of God’s loving acts towards us, we follow the Spirit in the freedom of a life attuned to God’s heart.
The Life of God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, not as an end, but as an invitation to share a life of friendship as family, having found our heart’s true home with the Father, Son, and Spirit. This orientation informs our participation in the worshiping life of God, the formation of persons in freeing community, and it liberates us to be neighbors who manifest irresistible and unconditional love as extensions of God’s Grace.
This is a working definition to mark out a trail in the wilderness and stimulate conversation as to the refreshing of theology’s task in the world.
1. Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, vol. 1 (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 3.