Understanding theology as mediation?

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Currently most forms of direct communication are transformed into mediated communications: conversations, work, art, believe and even liturgy are forced to invent new forms of mediation. Do these radical changes call for a theological reflection? František Štěch writes about the theological meaning of mediation.

The British practical theologian, Pete Ward, writes: “Through the use of metaphor and analogy (…) theology tries to capture the subtle play of (divine) light on the texture of life,” and argues that Christian “theology is theology because it is a participation in the Trinitarian life of God. This participation is mediated in the expression of the Christian community. This means that rather than simply being a form of static definition, theology should perhaps be seen as communication. This communication is both lived in as a culture and at the same time it is indwelt by God. In communication theology is animated within the community.”[1] According to his expertise, theology should be understood and developed in terms of mediation. Ward sees mediation as an ongoing process grounded in social relationships and providing a possibility to construct identity in cultural as well as spiritual ways. One of the many social mediations is participation in liturgy as a communal practice mirroring the cultural and spiritual bases of the particular community. Communication of faith is a series of mediations operating as culture (human element), yet at the same time it is a participation in the life of the Trinity (Father is mediated in the Son through the Holy Spirit).

Starting to think theology as mediation, we cannot escape the traditional tension between transcendence and immanence.[2] Ward thinks that the theology of creation as well as emphasizing God´s omnipresence leads us to the impasse which needs to be surmounted. Theology of creation (as well as the notion of omnipresence) represent important aspects of theology. Yet theology as mediation could not be located in any of them, because they both “downplay the relational and personal presence of God in mediation.”[3] They both accentuate universality over particularity (God is everywhere in his creation). But theology as mediation needs to include both equally, because it is an oscillation (speaking with Hansen) between universality and particularity. It is a particularization of universality and a universalization of particularity. Therefore, Pete Ward suggests locating theology as mediation into the area of revelation (in his words: epiphany).[4] Revelation focuses our attention to the space in between the human and the divine. It includes God´s omnipresence, happens within a creation, but at the same time gives space for personal encounter and relationship. It reveals God as creator and also the nature of human being as God’s beloved creature.

In this respect we may perceive God as being the first theologian, who pronounces a word of truth about himself and all his creation. Through his only son Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life (the medium), God invites people to have a share in the process of mediation, the eternal movement of the Truth and Love. In Christian religion it is Jesus Christ who links the medium with the message (remember Marshal McLuhan, here) because he is both fully at the same time. It is a divine relationship to humanity that is emphasized here and thus we may see Jesus Christ as the embodied transduction of the medium and the message. Jesus Christ is incarnated and resurrected Theo-logy – the word of God. As such God can be experienced as the environment for the whole of life. Through him, in him and with him all creative creatures may participate in the process of (symbolic) mediation within Jesus Christ, the medium of life. In other words, Jesus Christ is the way to the full communion with the Father, because he is truth and life himself (John 14: 6), because he is the medium and the message at the same time; because he is the incarnated Word of God (John 1:14). If Christ becomes medium for Christian life, we may perceive such “life in the medium” as a process of mediation—the concrete actualization of living via exteriorization in an environment of medium. If theology should respond to the calls of life, it must become life itself. Theologians must recognize that they are not neutral observers within the mediated realities they study and interpret. Only when they unlearn what they think they already know, and open themselves up to new ways of understanding, presenting, and interpreting theology, will they be able to respond to challenges of contemporary mediatized existence in specific theological terms.[5]

 

František Štěch, Th.D. currently works at the Protestant Theological Faculty at Charles University within the framework of the Theology and Contemporary Culture research group. His professional interests include fundamental theology, ecclesiology, youth theology, religious and Christian identity, intercultural theology, public theology, and theology of religions.

[1] WARD, Pete. (2008). Participation and Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church. London: SCM Press: 106.

[2] Cf. BLONDHEIM, Menahem and ROSENBERG, Hananel. ‘Media Theology: New Communication Technologies as Religious Constructs, Metaphors, and Experiences.’ New Media and Society 19 (1), 2017: 45.

[3] WARD. (2008). Participation and Mediation: 112.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. ŠTĚCH, František. ‘Narrative Theology, Revelation, and the Road towards a Theological Media Theory,’ Theology Today 75:4 (2019), 433.

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