What Is Secular Theology?

by Max Roman Dilthey

Secular theology is a slightly counterintuitive branch of theology that developed mainly from the modernist movement of the 1960s, which, due to the ubiquity of industrialization and capitalism, viewed traditional thought through a critical lens. This revisitation of tradition restructured theology with a focus on modern thought, which culminated in the new field of secular theology.

Theology Prior to Secularism

Theology is the broad study of religion. The purpose of theology stems from the application of religious teachings, ideals and texts to daily life. Theology is vast in its applications and influences. Christian theology in particular seeks to use the Bible to draw conclusions about everything from the nature of man to the origins of life. Theological study is often critiqued for ignoring the role of science and logic in understanding the features of the human environment, but nonetheless has long existed as a standard for higher thought.

Secularism

Secularism is, in many ways, at odds with theology. The term was first used in 1846 by George Jacob Holyoake, and its main tenets deal with the separation of religion from governing bodies, law and political decisions, as well as the equality across religious practices under the law. For example, in the United States, secularism is practiced in the separation of church and state, with freedom of religion being one of the founding principle of the government.

Rise of Secular Theology

The modern disruption of theology and Christianity accompanied the rise of theories like evolution, astronomical history and atomic theory, which drew principles of Christianity into question. This postindustrial period is referred to as modernity, and it brought a number of long-standing belief systems under a close examination. Secular theology sought to redefine Christianity so that the core concepts of belief, faith and the holy might be preserved in the face of what secularists believed to be overwhelming evidence contrary to God's existence.

Founding Principles

The modernist approach to theism started with the Bible. Rather than interpret the Bible literally, secular theologists sought to connect with the Bible's message as Christian mythology. This new approach discarded the concept of "Christology," or the figure of Jesus Christ as historical fact. This new interpretation allowed secular theologists to pursue the values and ideals of Christianity without conflicting with the modern worldview.

Influence

Secular theology rejected the church as an authority for religious teachings, embracing instead a personal awareness of God and the virtues of Christianity. Secular theology also brought about a general shift towards science and logic as authorities over questions outside of the human condition. While similar to atheism in these principles, the relevance of God as a moral guide separates secular theology from atheism as a doctrine that holds the abstract concepts of religion concomitantly with modern thought.

About the Author

Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.

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