At the turn of the 20th century, the Scottish minister and church historian James Orr famously proffered a theory about doctrinal development. God, he suggested, has given to each age of the church a concern for a particular doctrine. According to Orr, the second century was an age of theological prolegomena and apologetics. The third and fourth centuries were concerned with the Trinity, and the fifth through seventh centuries tackled the many nuances of Christology. Reflection on soteriology began in earnest in the Middle Ages with Anselm on the atonement, but was furthered in the 16th century through the reformers’ thought on justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Orr believed the modern era had been reserved for eschatology.
As the 20th century wore on, however, anthropology increasingly took center stage.
Whatever one might think of Orr’s particular historical schema, he intuits something about divine providence that seems apparent: God gives his people certain challenges and opportunities in theological reflection that reflect their age.
Whether it’s our infatuation with the concept of identity, or the increasing ethical questions surrounding AI (artificial intelligence), many in and outside the church will agree that our own age presents myriad questions about what it means to be human. This offers the church a significant opportunity to engage in theological anthropology of wide-ranging depth heretofore not seen in the history of theology.