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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Question of Relevance

Written by: on February 5, 2015

As I try to synthesize the readings from the books Models of Contextual Theology, Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape, and The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology, the word that keeps coming to mind is “relevance”.

Spirit in the Cities paints a landscape of urban life that is often missed by those who pass through without interacting. The view from the train or bus allows a perspective that a commuter in a car may never see.[1] Not only is the history of the city revealed through the landmarks, but the ethnic demographics become strikingly obvious. Chapter 5 expounds on this as Isasi-Diáz relates that, even though she is an American citizen, first and foremost she is Cuban because that is where she came from.[2] Is the Gospel relevant in an urban setting with racial and ethnic diversity? If not, what is missing? Does the gospel speak the same message to the suburban commuter alone in her car on the way to an office job as it does to the person waiting at the bus stop to go from one inner-city neighborhood to the other?

Pondering these questions, I delved into Models of Contextual Theology. I was immediately confronted with the concept that “there is no such thing as ‘theology’; there is only contextual theology.”[3] “Theology that is contextual realizes that culture, contemporary thought forms, and so forth are to be considered, along with scripture, tradition, and present human experience—or context.”[4] A person’s theology affects the way they live and think. Can a relevant theological expression take place outside of the context in which a person lives?

While looking at the praxis model, Bevan’s say, “While for more traditional ways of doing theology, theology might be described as a process of ‘faith seeking understanding,’ the praxis model would say that theology is a process of ‘faith seeking intelligent action.’”[5] How do we move from a gospel message that is disconnected from those around us toward one which is relevant to those around us? “Faith seeking intelligent action” seems to be a good place to start. Too often we expect the eloquent, yet simple Bible story to be accepted by those around us simply because it is “the Bible story”. The problem is that “the Bible is no longer recognized as a source of authority in Western public consciousness.”[6] If the Bible is no longer a source of authority, what relevance does it have to public life?

The amazing truth is that the gospel message is still relevant. The contextual limitations are not a result of a disconnected scriptural truth but rather the result of a disconnected church. Regarding a public theology that is relevant and contextual, the question is, “how to communicate in a credible and intelligible manner the riches and insight of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the variety of publics found with the contexts of church, state, civil society, the market place and the academy.”[7]

The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology reminds us of the way in which Jesus used parables to teach deep theological truths. These truths were never intended to be simply theological information but rather practical truths integrated into a transformed life. How does the gospel become relevant? It becomes relevant when it is lived out before others. How do others begin to see scripture as authoritative? By seeing us submit to its authority. Jesus used parables to teach truth. Wouldn’t it be great if we allowed him to use our lives as living parables that communicate the relevant truth of his love within the context of our lives and the lives of those around us?

 

[1] Kathryn Tanner, Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2004), 7.

[2] Ibid., 99-100.

[3] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, rev. and expanded ed., Faith and Cultures Series (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, ©2002), 3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 73.

[6] The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology, ed. David Neville, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2014), 8-9.

[7] Ibid., 177

About the Author

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Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

7 responses to “A Question of Relevance”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, The 90’s church growth buzz word “cultural relevancy” came to my mind frequently as a read our texts for this week. While definitely addressed at a deeper and more academic level, ultimately seeking to interface the gospel with real lives in our new real world is the goal. I see the problem as you put it, “The contextual limitations are not a result of a disconnected scriptural truth but rather the result of a disconnected church.” The church, I believe, is lacking the perceptivity of culture and a real handle on the gospel and the kingdom it ushers in. Great post. Great thinking.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      You guys have all seen the story of the Choluteca bridge right? (Google it for a million hits and images if not…) The bridge stood firm and strong through Hurricane Mitch she every other bridge in the country was destroyed. The problem was that the Hurricane moved the river so the bridge became a worthless monument to engineering greatness instead of a structure of any value… I feel like the church has become this in many ways, a disconnected church. The culture has moved and we stand strong!

  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Brian…

    “The contextual limitations are not a result of a disconnected scriptural truth but rather the result of a disconnected church.” This is true and sad but it seems that Christian culture is as aware as ever about this (or maybe it’s just the circles I’m a part of) but they just don’t know how to move forward. We need less “church growth strategies” and more how to “communicate the relevant truth of his love within the context of our lives and the lives of those around us…” So how do we do that? What does it ultimately look like?

  3. mm Brian Yost says:

    Simple yet profound Sunday School answer–JESUS!
    When people see Jesus, it is always relevant. When they see us and our religious systems, they seldom actually see Jesus.

  4. mm Dave Young says:

    Brian,
    I read Phil’s post, then yours. Your post really should speak into Phil’s story. He’e in that place between ‘faith seeking understanding’ (orthodoxy) based on his theological convictions and ‘faith seeking intelligent action’, an opportunity to minister. Should his orthodoxy keep him from action, an action that might be in keeping with the gospel’s message? Well, your last sentence really addresses the tension between orthodoxy and ortho-praxy. “Wouldn’t it be great if we allowed him to use our lives as living parables that communicate the relevant truth of his love within the context of our lives and the lives of those around us?” Yes we should be living parables and I trust that is exactly what Phil will be in this circumstance.

  5. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    Thinking of what Jon said about “what did the disciples REALLY hear?,” I’m realizing how your words of being living parables reside in that same space – what do others REALLY see? As Len mentioned about the couple to be married, we don’t know what is going on. Somehow in all of the practical/public/contextual theology, we are called to trust that God will work out what He wants, regardless of what others may hear or see. So when I think of relevance, I find myself wanting to trust that God will take whatever is relevant or not relevant, asking of me to be obedient in communicating His love.
    Underlying all your questions, Brian, I hear a humility of asking God to continue to transform your own life. Thank you for your questions.

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