Relational – a trendy word. Not just in theology, it seems to be everywhere. Rightly so. For far too long it has been neglected that everything is interconnected. Too long was theology dominated by abstract concepts of substance. Relational theology is important!1
But lately I have been thinking about that. Let me explain. Relational is an adjective and can be added to all kinds of things: Relational perspective, relational system, relational popcorn, relational whatever, relational theology. As such it says something about the main thing, which in this case is theology. It is a theology which is held together by a relational structure, which has an overall relational framework and therefore thinks interconnected. It does not have to be about relationship. It does not have to involve persons, it does not have to be personal.
And there lies its weakness – at least in my opinion. Relational theology can be (although does not have to be) more about a relational system and relational structures, than about the relational content: A personal God and the relationships he enables.2
Many a “relational theology” does not have a personal and relational God at its center, but mainly avoids substance theology with another concept. In focussing on this, this theology sometimes looses its substance: God as a person.3
My conclusion: Not every package with a relational label contains relationship.
This article is meant to be discussed. Post your thoughts below – I appreciate it!
- Relational theology is a very broad term. Thomas Oord gives some overview that is helpful in his book and blog post (http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/what-is-relational-theology), although this is just one view and one attempt to define it.
- Raphaela Meyer zu Hörste-Bührer makes a similar observation in Gott und Menschen in Beziehungen, 2015, 94-95.
- Colin Gunton points to this problem in a slightly different context in The one, the three and the many, 1993, 193-196.