Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Normative Pictures: The History of Christianity from a Theological Perspective

Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Henk van den Belt [+-]
VU University, Amsterdam
Henk van den Belt  (PhD 2006, Leiden University) is Professor of Systematic Theology at the VU University, Amsterdam and director of the Herman Bavinck Center for Reformed and Evangelical Theology. He is currently working on a Research project concerning the development of the doctrine of divine providence in Reformed theology. He is the author of The Authority of Scripture in Reformed Theology: Truth and Trust (Brill, 2008) and of several articles on Reformed Orthodoxy and on neocalvinism; he edited Restoration through Redemption: John Calvin Revisited (Brill, 2013) and the second volume of the Synopsis of Purer Theology (Brill, 2016).


For theologians, as Henk van den Belt explains in Chapter 4, it is not enough to experience and believe in divine transcendence without rationally thinking it through (the strand within modern philosophy discussed by Vanden Auweele according to which no rational concepts should be superimposed on religious experiences): theologians continue where other religious studies scholars leave off, by aiming to arrive at a more satisfactory approximation of the ultimate knowledge of existence that they believe rests with God. In his chapter, Van den Belt reflects on the nature of a theological perspective in religious studies by drawing on his own study of the woodcut illustrations in Martin Luther’s catechisms. He argues that although the research question concerning the meaning of the woodcuts as such is not necessarily theological, several specific characteristics of a theological approach can be identified in his research project. Van den Belt distinguishes three levels of analysis of the woodcuts in which specific theological issues play a role. The first concerns the object of research: theological expertise in the history of Christian doctrines and practices is important for understanding the message of the pictures. On a second, methodological level, Van den Belt observes a tension between the perspectives of theology and religious studies: a theological interpretation assesses the sources from the perspective of a shared belief. This means that the research question concerning the woodcuts is no longer confined to an analysis of the pictures, but is subsequently related to the theological presuppositions of Christianity, or in this case of (Lutheran) Protestantism. Finally, on an epistemological level, theologians are critically aware of and acknowledge the worldview in which they connect all knowledge to their basic convictions and beliefs regarding God’s relationship to the world. Van den Belt concludes his contribution by arguing that although this third epistemological and confessional level should not influence the results of the academic study, it should not be denied or excluded either. Assuming a position that resembles the argument concerning “positionality” above, Van den Belt instead holds that theologians and other researchers alike should reflect on and account for their own presuppositions.

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van den Belt, Henk . Normative Pictures: The History of Christianity from a Theological Perspective. Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 94-112 Oct 2021. ISBN 9781800500709. Date accessed: 02 Dec 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42553. Oct 2021

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