God images, ethical effects and the responsibility of systematic theology

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Abstract:

English: This article registers an important shift that is occurring in contemporary theistic reflection: greater sensitivity to the function of God images, and the consequent ethical impacts. Three texts by Gunton, Johnson and McFague are discussed that exemplify this focus in an emphatic way. From this treatment the implications for Systematic Theology crystallise clearly. The rest of the article entails an exploration of the dynamics of the causal relationship between a specific God image and its corresponding effect. The ramifications for the task and responsibility of Systematic Theology are identified and in conclusion some normative guidelines are suggested. The diversity of images of God people entertain is no neutral given, but is of profound significance for behaviour. The close connection between image of God and the corresponding ethical effect form the focus of this article. For too long this relation has surfaced in theological reflection as an undeniable reality without, to a large extent, the underlying dynamics and implications thereof receiving closer scrutiny. This article is an attempt not only to call attention to the importance of the link, but also to identify the concomitant dynamics. To develop the argument, a crucial shift that took place during the twentieth century will be pointed out briefly. This will be followed by a discussion of the work of three theologians which epitomises the identified phenomenon in an exemplary way. The final and major section of the article will address in a more systematic way the questions raised by this relation. The aim of the article is not to suggest spe cific God images, or their effects, but to investigate the importance and implications of the link between God image and ethical effect for a specific discipline — Systematic Theology.