Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Lived Theology

Written by: on May 8, 2015

Simon Chan’s book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, draws the reader into a discovery of authentic faith in relation to cultural expression. While Chan’s book focuses on Asian theology, we can observe religion within this cultural context to better understand the dynamics in the relationships between people and theology. In the past century, Christianity has experience a sizable shift in its geographic, ethnic and linguistic compositions. In 1910, over 80% of all Christians lived in Europe and North America. [1] By 2025, it is estimated that 70 percent of all Christians will likely be living in the Global South.[2] China has grown from less than 1 million to over 90 million believers is the past 35 years. [3] Obviously, there is a connection happening here between people and theology that is gaining traction. Chan’s observation of this helps to paint a picture of what is working and what isn’t. Despite best intentions, we often fail to make real impact.

When I teach students new concepts, I know they must be able to connect the concept and life experience in order to effectively engage in the learning process. Chan speaks of the fact that theologians often fail at the task of making theology relevant within communities and real people’s lives. “The task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God. Elitist theologians who fail to recognize what God is doing among his people by his Spirit are no better (and are perhaps worse) at recognizing what God is doing in the world.” He goes on to further state, “The contextualizer of the gospel must have “a metacultural framework that enables him or her to translate the biblical message into the cognitive, affective, and evaluative dimensions of another culture.”[4] Chan explains that theologians tend to focus on factors within culture, rather than simply living out faith and meeting people’s needs. Most people understand their own situation. They don’t necessarily need to hear the same message about sin and salvation over and over. Instead, they need to see how religion can work within their own lives and communities. Some argue that the growth of Pentecostalism can be attributed to the fact that it doesn’t present hope in a way that seems unreachable. Theologians must start listening to a broader set of voices, so that they can best apply theology in a relevant manner that is meaningful, not trendy.

Although Chan’s book had a lot of great insights, I was captured by the way in which he eloquently articulated that an elitist approach cripples the church’s ability to make the Gospel message applicable within an authentic community. We spend countless hours reading and studying how to be culturally relevant, yet we are missing the point of living out theology in diverse situations. Theology should be a lived experience vs. a taught set of ideas.

[1] Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, “Ongoing Exodus: Tracking the Emigration of Christians from the Middle East,” Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy III (2013-2014): 39-49, accessed November 5, 2014, http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/JMEPP-JohnsonaandZurlo.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Status of World Evangelism,” The Joshua Project, accessed November 28, 2014, http://joshuaproject.net/assets/js/ppt/StatusOfWorldEvangelization/StatusOfWorldEvangelization.html.

[4] Chan, Simon (2014-05-02). Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Kindle Locations 423-425). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

6 responses to “A Lived Theology”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Great post! I loved the statistics. Your line, “Although Chan’s book had a lot of great insights, I was captured by the way in which he eloquently articulated that an elitist approach cripples the church’s ability to make the Gospel message applicable within an authentic community.” made me cringe to think of how many of our North American mission efforts were imperialistic pushes of, at best, an experience with God for an American/Euro experience and actually did so much damage as we spread “that Gospel” to other peoples and cultures. I love the value of incarnational ministry that helps to correct this missiological error by going to not just live, but become the culture you are praying to see God move with in. Again, thanks for the great post.

  2. Dave Young says:

    Dawnel, I wonder if we might gain an insight into the relevance of the gospel to other cultures by looking not just at the success of Pentecostalism but the success of Pentecost. Certainly it was primarily because the outpouring of the Spirit, but secondarily it was about a very simple, might I say essential gospel: Jesus God’s Son, died, buried and resurrected. Partially the gospel spread like a movement into many non Hebraic cultures because there was an irreducible core. The elitist theologians will come up with anything but such a core universal. The grassroots theologian can use such a core as starting point of faith and then build on it in culturally relevant ways. Thanks for such thought-provoking posts. 🙂

  3. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Thanks Phil and Dave,
    Reading this book, I began to think about the many people who have most influenced my own theological views and Christian experience. It isn’t the preaching or evangelism efforts that have most influenced, rather it has been people who have invited me into their lives and place. They modeled the practice of their theology through their day-to-day living. There is a certain presence of Christ that becomes evident in the aura around those whose approach is to live out their faith vs. preach their faith. Sometimes we need to simplify instead of complicating theology. We need to walk in the Spirit, not just talk in the Spirit.

  4. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel, great work! I’m thinking of the correlations between “grassroots” theology and “public” theology a la Neville.

    Neville regards public theology as “the attempt to address matters of common or public concern in society in light of the special-truth claims, insights and moral convictions of Christian faith, in the pursuit of peace and justice for all.”

    I just wonder if the grassroots is really the best locus for public theology? Makes sense to me.

    What do you think?

  5. Travis Biglow says:


    You are right we have to live out our theology. One of the things my instructor at APU used to say was theory and pracitce. Some times our theory dont meet up with our practive and vise versa!

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