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What Is Contemporary Theology?

By Jan Fletcher
Updated May 23, 2024
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Contemporary theology generally refers to the theological views of Christianity that first arose at the beginning of the 20th century. There is no one theological viewpoint that fulfills the definition of contemporary theology, as there are many variations in beliefs. With the advent of rapidly increasing technological advancements in the early to mid-20th century, sacred texts such as the Bible were viewed with a critical eye. Some theologians questioned whether events depicted in these texts actually occurred, or were intended to be viewed as symbolic. Even though contemporary theology is frequently associated with the Christian religion, it also a term used to describe other modern theologies.

In the early 20th century, several religious movements, which arose both spontaneously and separately among various adherents in the U.S., called for a return to conservative theology. According to the views of these adherents, the Christian Bible was often seen as a literal account of man's history and his future destination. This theological development, generally, is viewed as having been a response to neo-orthodox theology that had spread earlier through the teachings of European Christian theologians. They were religious leaders who spread the belief that the Christian Bible was allegorical in nature. In response, conservative theologians called a return to orthodoxy.

Contemporary theologians attempt to understand accounts in sacred texts in light of knowledge acquired over the course of the past century. Faced with the difficulty of reconciling scientific information with the creation story and other miraculous events recounted in the Bible, many theologians began to reject a literal interpretation. In the early 20th century, rapid technological advances had led to scientific discoveries appearing to be in conflict with the Bible's accounts of creation and other natural events.

These advances led to many Christians rejecting the Bible as a factual record of the history of mankind. To many theologians, it was subsequently viewed as a collection of spiritual allegories written by an ancient people that was to be interpreted within the context of those ancient societal mores. Such a change in beliefs set the stage for the development and acceptance of contemporary theology.

Variations of contemporary theology are many, but virtually all contemporary theologians have rejected ancient stories recorded in the Bible, such as the creation of Adam and Eve, as literal events that occurred in a miraculous fashion. Some have also rejected beliefs long held sacred by many religions, such as the existence of a literal heaven and hell. Contemporary theology, as a term, may also be used to describe the many variations of modern-day religious beliefs, such as contemporary Judaism, or contemporary religious beliefs among adherents to Islam.

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