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

The past, present and “theology”

Written by: on February 6, 2015

BevansIn Bevans’ introduction to his book Contextual theology, the author starts with a story about his time in Roman as a theology student in the late 1960. Consistent with his discussion of contextualization, Bevans shares about a past experience which involved the preparations for the liturgy of the Advent.  Bevans writes:

The central idea of the liturgy was based on the song by the Beatles’ George Harrison, Here Comes the Sun” (these were the days of “theme liturgies)… Christ was the sum, bringing light to our darkness and warmth to our cold, God-less world-… it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter…[1]

Advent liturgy and the Beatles? How fitting that Bevans chose such a comparison to capture the “… the experience of the past and the experience of the present …” so beautifully! With the idea of contextual theology in mind, I thought about the religious ethos today. How is the “experience of the past” engaging “… the experience of the present?” [2] Such a question echoed through my mind because I was impact by Bevan’s ideas which caused inquiries about ‘theology’ and its relationship with history and current affairs. I am was also captivated by the author’s claim, “there is no such thing as “theology”; there is only contextual theology…”[3]

What a shift! How then is a believer supposed to understand the current events of the measles outbreak in the United States, wars in the news from around the world? What is the proper role of theologizing? As I listened to President Obama’s speech at today’s National Prayer Breakfast, I was reminded that contextual theology is always playing itself out, perhaps unbeknownst to some Christians. Religions and their various theologies seem to be intermingling  the experiences of the past and presents. For example the President’s speech highlighted religious violence and how it is not unique to one religion. According the President Obama:

We’ve seen faith driving us to do right, but we’ve also seen faith being twisted and distorted or worse, sometimes being used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets in Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand for faith, their faith. Profess to stand for Islam but are in fact betraying it. We see ISIS, a brutal vicious, death cult that in the name of religion carries out unspeakable acts of barbarianism against religious minorities…, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, claiming a mantle of religious authority for such religious actions. We see sectarian wars in Syrian, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe so often perpetrated in the name of religion. So how do we as people of faith reconcile these realities? The profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion, the love that can flow from all our faiths; operating alongside those who seek to hijack religion for their own murders sense. Human has been grappling with questions throughout human history. Least we get on our high horse and think and think this is unique to some other place, remember that the crusade and inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our own country, all too often Jim Crow and slavery was justified in the name of Christ.

The above example is yet another glimpse of the interaction between, faith, religion, public theologizing and politics from the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. It was timely that I was reading Bevan and the Neville’s book material this week because I also found myself intersecting with discussions about theology and global perspectives about justice. In fact, while teaching a class on “Conflict, Refugee and justice”, I applied some the material to demonstrate the importance of contextual theology and a possible understanding of biblical justice as “relational reality”[4] in our different contexts.

[1] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), 1.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] David J. Neville, ed. The Bible, Justice and Public Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 8.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

12 responses to “The past, present and “theology””

  1. Michael,

    Thanks for sharing here.

    It is nice to see theology come out of the shadows once in a while and into the light of the real world. I was glad to read Obama’s statements. True religion is not supposed to be about some hateful ideology; rather, it is supposed to be about God’s love for humankind, something that true faith knows and cherishes. We must take our theology out of the shadows and bring it into the sunshine of the real world, the world of hurting people who need to know of God’s love and grace. It is too bad that religion has the reputation it does since many people think that Christianity too is a pointless, selfish, and loveless religion. I wonder what God thinks about all of these matters?

    Thanks again for your post.

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Michael
    Thank you for posting President Obama’s speech. Very interesting and appropriate for our discussion on Public Theology for sure. There is so much one could discuss on this whole subject, but I suppose for us as individuals, it calls come down to being faithful to whatever context or city, God has called us to. Theology without love is nothing as Paul reminds us.

  3. Julie Dodge says:

    Michael –
    That speech! That prayer breakfast speech! How the right has screamed out, holding only to the piece that Obama compared Christian “violence” (not even wanting to claim our atrocities as our own, trying to minimize it and distance us) to ISIS. The opportunity of the privileged – to protest, to say not true, to say we are different now. Which does take me back to the work of contextual theology. I wonder how we might help more people to step back and consider the context? To consider the multiple realities other than our own? This seems to be where we get stuck – and I remain perplexed. I’m going to have to give this more thought and more prayer.

  4. Hey Michael, though I agree with the basic outline that religion should not be hijacked by those who desire to oppress other people in the name of that said religion, I have to disagree with Obama that the same terror that is being afflicted upon us now, in the name of the Islamic religion, is the same as that of the Crusades. The Christian religion has the good of all people at the heart of it. It is therefore, a betrayal of the Christian religion and the twisting of the teachings of Christ that would ever lead anyone to do evil and the name of Christ. However, many of the teachings of Islam are for the betterment of their own people and not for the betterment of those considered to be infidels in the eyes of their religion. Too often Christianity has been held up as a comparison to Islam and that the crusades somehow justify the terrible actions being committed now by the Islamic people. It seemed, in the words of Obama’s speech, that his statement, “least we get on our high horse and think this is unique,” and then recalls to us to Crusades somehow excuses, or either implies that there is a desire to excuse, the actions of Islam against our world.

    A great sight for comparison is this one….


  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Michael, I like how you look at contextualization in a global context. We are impacted by what we see on media happening around the world, so we need a global perspective for our local context. Thanks for your insight!

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Amen Telile. Your post was refreshing for me as well and I appreciated your testimony about the challenges of foreign theologies in among your community.

  6. Michael…
    I am grateful for your words… I along with Julie had several friends on FB quite upset with the soundbites broadcast by several different groups. Yet in these words and within our reading this week is the opportunity for consideration. Christians have not always been loving, that has not always been at our heart, nor is it right to suppose that followers of Islam are inclined to violence. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary for both vantage points. Our readings over the past couple weeks have given us the opportunity to more clearly read our contexts. The challenge might be for us in how we read our contexts. Thinking about President Obama’s speech (for instance) my perspective and my belief based upon my experience, my orientation politically, as well as my Christian experience will all come to bear on how I respond to this speech and its content. What I affirm and understand may not be something another does. There are underlying opportunities within these — one certainly has to do with our national perspective and privilege. So I wonder if the challenge is always love — drawing our earlier reading in ethics forward, we would pause and seek to understand the context of the other. If I disagree with Obama I would seek to understand why and what was behind his remarks before I would disagree. If I agree with Obama I would (should 🙂 seek to understand why another might disagree with his words. Perhaps in that vein public theology may have something to say ….

    Thanks Michael for our good work. Blessings…

  7. Michael Badriaki says:

    Carol, you are right. Perhaps, critics of Obama’s speech might consider the tutelage of that “vein public theology” as you put and I would add “contextual theology”. I wonder which aspects of Obama’s speech are most offensive to Christian.

    “We see sectarian wars in Syrian,”? “the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria,”? “a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe so often perpetrated in the name of religion.”? “Least we get on our high horse”? “…the crusade and inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”? “In our own country, all too often Jim Crow and slavery was justified in the name of Christ.”

    All the above are very unfortunate and sad event in the history of religion and Christians ” … should to understand …” the experience of the past in relation to experience of present.

    President Obama, also complemented “The profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion, the love that can flow from all our faiths”, I think Christians should be join the President in such complements.

    Great point of view as always Carol!!!

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