Theological Paridigm


The Structure of Theological Revolution

Based in part on the work of Thomas S. Kuhn.

A Theologian cannot practice its trade without some set of common beliefs .

These beliefs form the foundation of the educational initiation that prepares the student for professional practice.

Because the student largely learns from and is mentored by professors who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models, there is seldom disagreement over fundamentals. The nature of this rigorous and rigid preparation helps ensure that the received beliefs exert a "deep hold" on the student's mind.

Theology,  is predicated on the assumption that the community knows what God is like,  and takes great pains to defend that assumption. To this end, normal theology often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments.

Bible Research is generally a strenuous and devoted attempt to force God into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education.

A shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly, subverts the existing tradition of theological practice.

 These shifts are  theological  revolutions, the tradition-shattering complements to the tradition-bound activity of normal theology.

New assumptions (paradigms/theories) require the reconstruction of prior assumptions and the reevaluation of prior understandings. This is difficult and time consuming. It is also strongly resisted by the established community.

When a shift takes place, a theologians world is qualitatively transformed and quantitatively enriched by fundamental novelties of either fact or understanding.


How are paradigms created, and how do theological revolutions take place?

Inquiry begins with a collection of information (although, often, a body of beliefs is already implicit in the collection).

During these early stages of inquiry, different researchers confronting the same information, describe and interpret them in different ways . In time, these descriptions and interpretations tend to disappear. There is little or no effort to discover anomalies, and when anomalies pop up, they are usually discarded or ignored.

Anomalies are usually not even noticed (tunnel vision/one track mind), And there is no effort to seek new theories (and no tolerance for those who try).

Normal-theological research is directed to the articulation of those theories that the paradigm already supplies.


Doing research is essentially like solving a puzzle. Puzzles have rules, and puzzles generally have predetermined solutions.

A striking feature of doing research is that the aim is to discover what is known in advance. This in spite of the fact that the range of anticipated results is small compared to the possible results.

When the outcome of a research project does not fall into this anticipated result range, it is generally considered a failure, i.e., when "significance" is not obtained. Studies that fail to find the expected, are usually not published. The proliferation of studies that find the expected helps ensure that the paradigm/theory will flourish.

"The man who is striving to solve a problem defined by existing knowledge and technique is not just looking around. He knows what he wants to achieve, and he directs his thoughts accordingly".

The problems that students encounter from freshman year through doctoral program, as well as those they will tackle during their careers, are always closely modeled on presidents.

Theologians who share a paradigm generally accept without question the particular problem-solutions already achieved.

Anomaly and the Emergence of Theological Change.

If normal theology is so rigid and if theological communities are so close-knit, how can a paradigm change take place? This traces paradigm changes that result from discovery brought about by encounters with anomaly.

Normal theology does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none. Fundamental novelties of fact and theory bring about paradigm change.

So how does paradigm change come about?


Discovery begins with the awareness of anomaly. Something that violates paradigm expectations of the investigator. Perceiving an anomaly is essential for perceiving novelty (although the first does not always lead to the second, i.e., anomalies can be ignored, denied, or unacknowledged). The area of the anomaly is then explored. Unanticipated outcomes derived from theoretical studies can lead to the perception of an anomaly and the awareness of novelty.

The paradigm change is complete when the paradigm/theory has been adjusted so that the anomalous become the expected. The result is that the theologian is able to see in a different way.

Philosophers of theology have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can be placed upon a given collection of information .

In early stages of a paradigm, such theoretical alternatives are easily invented. Once a paradigm is entrenched (and the tools of the paradigm prove useful to solve the problems the paradigm defines), theoretical alternatives are strongly resisted.

Normal theology does and must continually strive to bring theory and fact into closer agreement.

The recognition and acknowledgment of anomalies result in crises that are a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories and for paradigm change.

Crisis is the essential tension implicit in research. There is no such thing as research without, anomaly.

In responding to these crises, theologians generally do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis. They may lose faith and consider alternatives, but they generally do not treat anomalies as counter instances of expected outcomes.

They devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict.

To evoke a crisis, an anomaly must usually be more than just an anomaly. An anomaly can call into question fundamental generalizations of the paradigm. An anomaly without apparent fundamental import may also evoke crisis if the applications that it inhibits have a particular practical importance. .

All crises begin with the blurring of a paradigm and the consequent loosening of the rules for normal research. As this process develops, the anomaly comes to be more generally recognized as such. More attention is devoted to it by more of the field's eminent authorities. And the field begins to look quite different. Competing articulations of the paradigm proliferate.

Transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is not a cumulative process. It is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals. This reconstruction changes some of the field's foundational theoretical generalizations and alters the rules.

How do new paradigms finally emerge?

Some emerge all at once, sometimes in the middle of the night, in the mind of a man deeply immersed in crisis.

Those who achieve fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have generally been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they changed.

Much of this process is inscrutable and may be permanently so.


Last modified: 12/24/13