Readers of theology know that much of its best work today can be categorized as “contextual,” meaning that it explicitly references a theme or location or correlative: examples (illustrative, by no means exhaustive) include “political theology,” or “Asian theology,” or “theology and/of disability.” The variety of this specificity of reference also indexes a shared felt pressure that has obdurate yet conflicting sources. On the one hand, it is clear that what has anchored theology in the past—its basis in a version of the Christian tradition of thought and practice—is no longer tenable. Theologians who do their work contextually have the intellectual humility to recognize this and seek appropriate ways to circumscribe their talk about God. On the other, a significant subset of scholars in other fields, whether associated with the study of religion (philosophers of religion such as Paul Griffiths or Jean-Luc Marion, ethicists such as Jeffrey Stout or Stanley Hauerwas, biblical scholars such as N.T. Wright) or in the humanities and social sciences (literary critics such as Harold Bloom, historians such as Mark Noll or George Marsden, sociologists such as Christian Smith) do not hesitate to offer comparatively general, supra-contextual theological claims.
David Tracy anticipated all of this, indeed has been working with both considerable care and ever-increasing precision to address it. Tracy’s first major statement, Blessed Rage for Order, established an extraordinary compass of reference for the theologian. Taken together its pages and its notes afforded a primer not only in the major theological debates of the moment, but in cognate conversations in philosophy, historiography, and literary criticism. Nothing in the world of meaning-making, Tracy there taught us, is foreign to the theologian. His second major work, The Analogical Imagination, worked from this resolve—impressive for both its capaciousness and its sympathy—toward the claim that a fully engaged theology must cultivate a mutually critical correlation. Tracy’s argument in this book was and remains in broad sympathy with the impulse of his contextualist successors: namely, that it is the case at once that theology can change the world, and that the world can change theology. To engage the world theologically is to make theology worldly. As Diana Ross and the Supremes sang, “it’s a game of give and take.”
— Sightings: Religion in Public Life (@DivSightings) November 21, 2019