Modern Theology


I am interested in Scripture and at a lecture some time ago it was stated that those interested in the Bible know little theology and vice versa. Arising out of lecture I started to read modern theology. But I was very disappointed.

To me theology, the Science of God, is about the reality God and is deductive.

Modern theology seems to be about experience and is inductive. “What do I feel about God?”

Thus traditional theology is objective, while modern theology is subjective.

What do you think?

What modern theologian is faithful to the tradition of Catholicism and is also open to our current concerns?


Hmm, I don’t get “that warm and fuzzy” feeling trusting in a theologian immersed in the full experience of his own sin to be able to project any kind of reliable theology to me. It all just sounds like a case of the blind trying to read the hot coals by braille to me. :stuck_out_tongue:



I am not really sure how well your contrast between “modern” and “traditional” holds up. I mean, you just made Thomas into a modernist since all concepts have their origins in experience in Aquinas. And one can take a quick look at the so-called 5-ways (proofs for the existence of God) and see that they all start in experience. Even what we have by way of revelation is only known analogically.

As far as theologians proceeding deductively go, Anselm is about as hard-core deductive as you get. And even he draws up at the actuality of the Incarnation. He believes he can deduce the necessity for the Incarnation, but not that Jesus was in fact the person who is God nor that God must have been Incarnate at a certain time and place. In other words, the particularities of history still elude even Anselm.

In the modern period Rosmini would probably be your best example for someone who thinks that knowledge of God is completely apriori: i.e., there is innate knowledge of God.

From there, the two great giants of 20th c. Roman Catholicism are Rahner and Balthasar. Though Rahner is usually thought of as being a great champion of experience, he does try to determine certain a prioris that are mediated in and through experience and are the conditions of certain experiences. But he is Thomist enough that he doesn’t think anything is known except through experience. And I don’t know how to describe Balthasar’s “method”, but a priori and deductive certainly are not at the top of the list of adjectives. :wink:



Badaliyyah and Central FLJames,

Thank you for your thoughtful replies.

I have a lot of study and thinking to do.

Rahner and Balthasar seem to be the ones to study, even though they disagreed fundamentally.

Rosmini was condemned by the Church, and only recently is being rehabilitated.

Would you like to recomment books, not too heavy, to introduce one to acceptable modern theology?


Rosmini is not only being rehabilitated. He is being canonized.

The disagreements between Rahner and Balthasar are real, but should not be exaggerated. They in fact cooperate on a number of projects.

I would start with Balthasar’s Love Alone is Credible and Engagement with God.

It is hard to know where to point someone with Rahner. If you have a decent background in philosophy, then Hearer of the Word and Foundations of Christian of Faith are good “introductions”.

So I would start with Balthasar and then move to Rahner as you get more comfortable.



Hi Noel,

You are correct that theology can be deductive study of the reality of God, but it is also much more.

Theology is an entire field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe. As God is spirit,

That said, I agree that there seem to be many modern theologians who seem to delve into subjective, “experience-based” reasoning, but this may in part be due to the fact that 2,000 years of study has brought us closer to the limit of human understanding about God, so the focus may have changed.

However, the fact that many objective truths about God may have been discovered does not mean that we do not still need to learn them. For example, how many people have even a tenuous grasp on the doctrine of the Trinity?

Regarding your request for theologians, I would recommend starting with two people:

Peter Kreeft is not a theologian, but more of a philosopher. Nonetheless, he is quite objective, faithful to Catholicism, & considers/discusses many current issues in this framework.

You can obtain many of his writings as well as lectures he has given at his website:

Additionally, Frank Sheed wrote a very good and complete book on theology called “Theology for Beginners” in the 1950’s. this is a very readable book that outlines many of the fundamentals of theology & can provide a great foundation in preparation for reading Rahner and Balthasar.

God Bless,




Thank you so much for your reply.

I am so glad you recommend Peter Kreeft. I do not consider him a theologian, but he is a brilliant Catholic writer. My spiritual director/guide/friend recommended his “Prayer for Beginners” to me. It is a wonderful book, deceptively simple, but deep. I have been pleased to recommend him in another forum (Catholic Exchange).

I am sufficiently old (now retired) to remember Frank Sheed’s name from years ago.

I have considered Rahner and Balthasar. I am thinking of trying to tackle Balthasar, or possibly Bernard Lonergan (at this stage I do not know much of any of them).



I appreciate your second reply to me.

I note:
Pope Benedict XVI praised the life and example of a 19th-century Italian philosopher and religious-order founder whose writings had been condemned by the church until six years ago (

I do not have a great background in philosophy, so I will take your advice and start with Balthasar (or possibly Lonergan, Inshallah.


It seems you would reject the ancient Christian monk, Evagrius’ saying, He who prays truely is a theologian and he who is a theologian prays truely. Theology is all about the experience of the action of God in your life. You can know nothing of God except if it is revealed to you. As Christ said, no one knows the Father accept if the Son reveals Him to them(Matt.11). Knowledge of God can only be gained through revelation, not through logic. The five proofs of Aquinas and etc. are not theology and they do not present knowledge of God.


This idea that theology is purely deductive seems to change our very relationship with God. Atleast from my perspective it turns sins into simply a violation of a law. Our sins are violations of the natural law which is written on every man’s heart. Whereas with the idea of theology as coming through the experience of the divine energies, or the divine actions, you get more of an understanding that sin is a violation of the will of God or a violation of our relationship to God. God acts in our lives in accordance with our wills. And therefore, for us to sin, is to use our wills contrary to the action of Grace.


I am grateful to all the answers I received.

I have ordered the two books by Balthasar recommended.

However I am still a bit unhappy with modern theology.

Particularly since I did as course given by a man who is considered one of the most eminent Catholic theologians in Ireland.

He does not believe in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ or the virgin birth. He believes that all will go to heaven. His key point is that Greek philosophers destroyed the simple gospel message of Christ and introduced new dogmas.

His writings sound OK, but they are so vague they lack real content.

His views are respected and quoted by other Irish theologian. For example he defines theology as a loving reflection on the wisdom of the believing community.

I would like more opinions on modern theology.

Is it all vague subjective waffle?


This “eminent Catholic theologian” sounds like a heretic even by my loose Anglican standards!

There are many Protestant, not to mention Catholic theologians who are far more orthodox.

Here are a few recent (i.e., active after WWII) theologians I consider worth reading:

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict!)
Hans Urs von Balthasar
Jean Danielou
Yves Congar
Henri de Lubac
Louis Bouyer
Avery Dulles
Aidan Nichols

I also like James Allison, who is less orthodox and in fact is now an Episcopalian, but who in my opinion has a lot of interesting ideas

Alexander Schmemann
George Florovsky
Vladimir Lossky
Olivier Clement
Timothy (Kallistos) Ware
John Zizioulas

Rowan Williams (Anglican)
N. T. Wright (Anglican–primarily a Biblical scholar but also worth reading as a theologian IMHO)
Ephraim Radner (Anglican)
Robert Jenson (Lutheran)
Wolfhart Pannenberg (Lutheran)
Jurgen Moltmann (Reformed, I think)
J. I. Packer (Anglican but coming from the Calvinist wing of Anglicanism)
John Piper (Calvinistic Baptist)
Stanley Hauerwas (Methodist)
William Abraham (Methodist)
Jerry Walls (Methodist–primarily a philosopher but writes about theological subjects)
John Howard Yoder (Mennonite–putting him next to Walls is a mean joke on my part–Hauerwas is over there yelling “put him next to me,” but I figure it’s good for Walls and Yoder to be next to each other)
Miroslav Wolf (Pentecostal originally, but I think he may be Anglican now)
Telford Work (Pentecostal–a friend of mine from grad school)
Beth Felker Jones (Methodist–another friend of mine from grad school, hence her placing here)
Jana Bennett (Catholic convert from Methodism–another friend from grad school–I think her book is out so I’ll put her here as well!)

These are just some of the names that come to mind when I think of recent or contemporary theologians who are writing with respect for historic Christian orthodoxy (broadly defined). They’re a very eclectic bunch. I threw in a few friends from grad school because I think they are smart folks and worth watching. Others are very famous. Some are folks I just happen to like. Some I know primarily by reputation. So take this list for what it’s worth–a bunch of names you might or might not want to look into sometime! But all of them are considerably more orthodox on the central Christian doctrines than the “eminent Catholic theologian” you describe.



Read Pope Benedict and you will see where modern Catholic theology stands on the issue of the Trinity or on the issue of the traditions of the Church. He is one of the greatest of modern theologians yet he supports the teachings of tradition.


I agree that BXVI and JPII have been among the greatest popes in recent years.

At the presemt time the Church needs scholarly popes.

In the past popes were either Roman diplomats or aristocrats, but now the Holy Spirit has given scholars to the Church, since they are neede


I akm grateful for all thre replies.

If I were to read all the theologians recommended I would need more time and brain-power.

Really my principal interest is the Bible. So should I stick with it or go on tro study theology?


our list was very comprehensive.

You have stidied theology at graduate level. Would you like to tell us about your studies and interests?

Is modern theology really worth the effort?


If you are going to study theology you should study modern theologians like Pope Benedict. His theology is very good. The bible is the most important part of our study though. You should focus on that.



Many thanks.

I do study the Bible. But at a recent conference on The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth in Nottingham University a speaker, Fr Fergus Kerrr, claimed that those interested in the Bible do not know theology. Arising from this observation I decided to consider modern theology.

Is it worth the effort? Should I stick with the Bible?

I have bought and ordered a number of theology books. Should I try to read them even though I will not understand much.

Problems, problems, problems.

Please advise me.


If anyone tells you those who are interested in the Bible do not know theology ignore them. As Pope Benedict has said, scripture is the soul of theology. Read the Vatican II document Dei Verbum. It will show you how essential scripture is to Christianity. Right now just read and focus on the scriptures. If you would like to study theology maybe read some patristics. Maybe someone like St. John Chrysostom or St. Ephrem would be a good place to start. These two are very good with scripture. St. John Chrysostom wrote homilies on all the scriptures so he can be good to understand the scriptures. St. Ephrem wrote hundreds of hymns on the faith which incorporate the scriptures very well. Neither one is very difficult to understand. Ephrem has a very simple, mystical/spiritual type of approach in which he uses imagery and paradox rather than definitions. Ephrem uses typology extensively. In addition you can read a lot of their writings right off the internet at

Then maybe if you want to get into it, read Pope Benedict and Pope JPII. And then maybe get into authors like Cardinal de Lubac or Fr. Yves Congar. What these authors attempted to do is to reapproach the sources of the faith in their ways of thinking. This included the scriptures and the fathers. They made the scriptures and the fathers the foundation of all theology. Someone like von Balthasar might be difficult to follow if you do not have a background in philosophy.

What authors have you bought? Maybe I could make some reccomendations on which ones are good to read.



Many thanks. I do appreciate the thought you and others have put into replies to me.

You wrote:

Read the Vatican II document Dei Verbum. It will show you how essential scripture is to Christianity. Right now just read and focus on the scriptures

These things I do.

You also wrote:

If you would like to study theology maybe read some patristics.

This I also do. I have recently presented some of my patristic studies in Universities in Ireland (Dublin University and Maynooth University) and also abroad (Oxford University). I have also presented my work in Wales (Annual Seminar on the Use of the OT in the NT, March 2008).

I have read some of JPII, BXVI, Congar and de Lubac. But the latter two are now not very modern.

I read Ott to find out what the Church teaches.

I am now reading *Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians *by Fergus Kerr OP.

Other books I am reading are Irish by Dermot Lane, Declan Marmion etc.

As I am retired now I have time, but perhaps not enough to start modern theology. Its emphasis on experience does not atttract me.


So you have a background in theology. I wasn’t quite sure how knowledgable of the subjects you were. De Lubac and Congar and Danalou are still pretty modern. Their studies of patristics are pretty foundational for Catholic theology since then.

I really don’t think it is necessary to go too deep into theology. If you are just interested in the bible then focus on that. After all, that is what animates theology.

Theology is experience not in the sense that you will see apparitions and see things or feel things. It is experience in the sense that God is acting now. You gain knowledge of God by putting your faith into action and learning to control the passions and through prayer and etc. When we seek God by faith in our lives He will reveal Himself to us.

Considering what you said you heard Fergus Kerr say, I don’t think he is a great theologian. That said, I have never read what he has written.



I may have given the wrong impression.

I have not really studied de Lubac or Congar in depth.

Fr Fergus Kerr may be more well known this side of the Atlantic.

I get discouraged at times, because I really do not understand much of what I read and at my age I cannot remember very well.

I am grateful for your encouragement. I will try to continue slogging along.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit