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20th century theologians square up for theology world cup final

Germany and Switzerland may have been knocked out of the world’s top soccer tournament, but on 9 July the two nations are facing off in the finals of the Systematic Theology World Cup to find the greatest theologian – living or dead – of the 20th century.

German Protestant Juergen Moltmann will face Swiss Roman Catholic Hans Urs von Balthasar in an online poll on the Web site of Finnish theologian Patrik Hagman, http://shrinkinguni.blogspot.com/ The contenders are judged by Internet surfers who decide on the winner.

"During this event, we will see who is the greatest systematic theologian of the 20th century," Hagman says on his Web site. "Each theologian will battle their way towards the number one spot, in a series of one-on-one battles."

The online poll matches have followed the timetable of the FIFA tournament taking place in Germany. The winners in each match have been decided by the votes of visitors to the Web site, who are asked to mark the theologians for influence, consistency and creativity.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, made it to the quarter finals, where he lost out to Moltmann, who went on to reach the final after beating Catholic Karl Rahner.

"Moltmann’s ‘Theology of Hope’ is one of the most important new ideas to come around in 20th century theology," a supporter of the 80-year-old German theologian commented on the Web site. "Ratzinger is an accomplished theologian but I disagree completely with his view of doctrinal truth."

But a fan of Ratzinger countered, "Moltmann is fun and imaginative, but I honestly do not see him as a serious, substantive theologian. He is popular, yes – popular, I suspect, because of the novelty of his thinking and because his writings are accessible – but he lacks depth."

Von Balthasar, who died in 1988, beat Protestant Wolfhart Pannenberg in the quarter finals and faced US Lutheran Robert W. Jenson in the semi-finals. "Von Balthasar beat Robert W. Jenson very clearly regarding influence and creativity, but Jenson managed to take home the consistency award," the referee noted.

Thirty-two theologians were put down for the qualifying groups. Of the 16 theologians who went through to the heats, there were 6 Germans, 4 Americans, 2 Frenchmen, and 4 of other nationalities. Nine were Protestants, 6 were Catholics, and one was Orthodox.

Still, Karl Barth, who some consider to be the greatest-ever Protestant theologian, got a red card when he was disqualified from taking part in the contest for what the Web site said was his improper use of research assistants.

All 16 in the final heats were male, Hagman noted on his Web site. "That’s just a disgrace. Let’s see in 50 or 100 years time … I’m sure the feminist theology movement will be seen as one of the most important trends in theology in the 20th century."

(c) Ecumenical News International