What Is Modern Theology?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 February 2020
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What constitutes modern theology, and in fact, what constitutes theology in general, is often a topic of intense debate among theologians. In general terms, theology is the study of the divine and humanity's relationship with divinity, although Christianity is often the default religion studied. Modern theology, as a term, truly is subject to interpretation and context regarding the specific definition. Generally, it is understood to reference humanity's changing relationship with and acceptance of religious truths, regardless of religions denomination. Reformation, the era during the 16th century when many followers began to question religious doctrine, is often used as a reference point for the start of modern theology.

Context clues are an important factor when determining the precise meaning of modern theology. Many present-day theologians include current religious questions and crises of religion under the umbrella of modern theology. Others specifically divide recent changes in religious beliefs between modern and postmodern eras. Although not absolute, the Reformation is typically used as the starting point for modern theology, with the World Wars used as the starting point for postmodern theology. With so many uses of the term modern in regards to theology, it imperative to understand context to determine what is meant by its use.


Whether use of the term constitutes theological studies after the Reformation or after World War II, the basic premise of modern theology is fairly simple. As society has progressed, followers of various religious beliefs have begun to question the origins and validity of religious truths. This has necessitated changes in how religion is taught and studied, as well as the doctrines followed by specific religious groups. Introduction of scientific factors, changes in societal views or beliefs, and other evolutions of modern thought have necessitated changes in most religions. All of these changes have produced modern religion, and thus, modern theology.

When used in terms of theological education, modern theology typically refers to the evolution of religion after the Reformation. Since theology is the study of religion as it relates to humanity's religious beliefs, it is natural to assume that the term modern theology refers to current belief systems, conflicts, and how such thoughts came into being. Such changes might include the emergence of new religions or religious sects, the evolution of religious thought, or changes in the interpretation of religious texts. Rational study of religion is one of the core principles of a theological education, and as such, the current state of a religion is an integral part of theological studies.


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