Friday, 9 June 2006

For the love of God (12): Why I love Hans Küng

A guest-post by Chris Tilling

Somewhere Hans Küng has said something like this: “I want to be worldly enough that I can be of worldly use.”

Not the most convincing start to this post, admittedly, and the fact that I couldn’t find the exact quote has been driving me nuts. Alas, had I found it, I may even have sounded as smart as Kim and Cynthia, et al. But now, you know, I’m just a grumpy New Testament man masquerading as a theologian.

There is much that I could love about Küng: that he has engaged with an astonishingly broad spectrum of subjects; that his ecclesiology rings very well with my inner evangelical (with a focus on a proper appreciation of the New Testament heritage); or that his ecumenism strives laudably to approach years of religiously motivated bad feeling in open dialogue.

However, it is the opening words (mutters again at not finding the reference) that sum up, for me, why Küng is such a likeable theologian: he is a thinker for theological borderlands, for the questions that aren’t simply about the inner logic of Christian doctrine, for questions that don’t presuppose an already-in-place Christian faith.

He made this clear in his opening words in On Being a Christian (1974), but this is also seen in his open an honest engagement with questions of science, the existence of God, and how one can develop a reasonable faith in the “modern world.”

Moreover, highly significant is Küng’s engagement with the historical-critical method. The historical-critical method is so often overlooked or pushed aside in systematic theologies, as if it didn’t exist, as if its results were of no significance. But Küng has always had a feel for its importance. “Responsible faith today,” he argued back in the 70s, “presupposes—directly or indirectly—historical research.” The New Testament researcher in me punches the air!

However, Küng wants to engage in such open questions to serve the church and to inform its praxis. Naïve faith, he knows, can mean a life not lived in accord with the kingdom of God.

Of course, Küng is not perfect, and my words of praise might sound rather naïve in the ears of my Catholic friends. Also, his appreciation of the “modern frame of mind” may well be past its sell-by date. But what I love about Küng remains of vital importance to me and my personal development as a Christian—as I too want to be worldly enough to be of worldly use.

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