DMINLGP

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

Christian Theology: An Ongoing Process

Written by: on October 20, 2015

Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister McGrath

Introduction

Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson in Who Needs Theology? make it clear that everyone needs theology and everyone engages in theologizing on some level. But, good Christian theology which is the theology that characterizes students in the dminlgp program entails critical thinking and reflection on core values and belief systems. Grenz and Olson’s book is a great springboard for engaging Alister McGrath’s introduction to the whole spectrum of Christian theological thought from the Patristic Period to considerations about the “Last Things.”

The book is designed for the beginner in theology and is set forth in a simple, clear and easy to understand format. It is purposely written so that it does not have to be read in a linear fashion or in totality to grasp key theological concepts. It provides a smorgasbord of theological material that the reader can choose to delve into or not. McGrath’s high regard for the study of Christian theology and his main purpose for writing the book are reflected in his statement, “Christian theology is one of the most fascinating subjects anyone can hope to study.” [1] He views Christian theology as an enriching voyage of discovery.

Summary

The book is a comprehensive account of the course Christian thought has taken from its inception to modern times. As a point of reference, it provides a historical background for major Christian theological dogmas, traditions, controversies, doctrinal issues and polemics as they emerged over the centuries. The author describes his book as, “descriptive, not prescriptive because it is theologically neutral; it does not advocate any denominational agenda.” [2]. I concur with the author that he has made an attempt to present the work objectively. He has reported the positions of various beliefs that have surfaced over time and has presented the many arguments for or against them, thus allowing readers to come to a decision through their own analysis.

Analysis

The portion of the book that discusses African Theology under the heading “Theologies of the Developing World” is of particular interest to me because of my fascination with matters pertaining to both theology and Africa. The topic McGrath ventures upon regarding sub-Saharan African theology is rarely discussed by prominent non-African theologians. Especially, the point he make about the influence of missionaries on African theology. He states, “As a result, African theology was simply European theology carried out in Africa, without any real interaction with the local culture.” [3]. McGrath notes that over the past few decades indigenous African Christian theologians have come on the scene, “who are concerned to develop authentically African theological paradigms rather than capitulate to western theological norms.” [4]. That appears to be an astronomical task.

It has me wondering. What would an “authentically African Christian theology” look like that is congruent with so many disparate religious and cultural norms and traditions in this region? What criteria would the church use for recognizing the orthodox Christianity that Christ espoused? Would it take on a form of liberation theology? How would the church deal with the tension between orthodox Christianity and syncretism? Would such a theology be beneficial and sustainable?

The treatment of this subject matter in the book is not directly related to my dminlgp research project per se, but my research does concern children who are the product of sub-Saharan African theologies. This book has heightened my awareness of the necessity to include the voices of the indigenous people, especially the scholars and theologians, in order to obtain a greater degree of objectivity in my research perspective.

Notes
[1]. Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, Fifth ed. (West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), xxii.
[2]. Ibid., xxvii.
[3]. Ibid., 95.
[4]. Ibid., 96.

Bibliography

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Fifth ed. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

About the Author

Claire Appiah

6 responses to “Christian Theology: An Ongoing Process”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Claire for a great blog this week!
    You mention the part that you liked the most, was about African theology. When we speak of African theology, it seems to refer to many types of theological study in Africa, which could mean different things in the contexts or field of study. The development of African theology has also been influenced greatly by Christianity, which is the second most popular religion on the continent. Africa was an important part of the world during the rise of early Christianity, and Christian missions originating from European nations helped further build Christianity in Africa.

    It seems that African theology has two major strands, which are inculturation and Liberation and each response is to different needs. For example, Gustavo Gutierrez, in his work A Theology of Liberation, highlights this context alongside social praxis as a first step for developing theological reflection. He writes of the growing awareness of humankind as “an active subject of history, ever more articulate in the face of social injustice” and human trauma (Gutierrez, 30}
    Do you think that we could say African Theology is Christian theology or black theology from the perspective of the African cultural context? Christian theology evolves out of questions that are asked in a particular situation about how the Bible speaks to that situation; therefore African Christian Theology addresses questions theological questions from the perspective of an African context.

    You are on to something here… what about black theology? Thanks Rose Maria

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Rose,
      I would say that African Christian theology is truly Christian theology influenced by its African cultural context. It is not Black Theology. African Christian theology may share some elements of liberation theology that are found in Black Theology, but it deviates sharply from Black Theology in many respects, especially in its more extreme ideologies. Black Theology is associated with a movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s that advocated Black Theology as a theology of black liberation from white theological dominance. The movement took root in the black Protestant communities in North America. (91).

  2. Great point Claire! I would love to read the Sub-Saharan version of McGrath. My hunch is, that whoever ends up writing one will focus on the trinity, especially the Holy Spirit. My experience has been in Uganda and culturally they seem to be open to spiritual things. This is really good news for Christians.
    Another idea I am wondering about is the western concept of the “servant leader.” It seems to me in Sub-Saharan Africa, this is a huge issue. It makes me wonder if theologically speaking, there is room for the stereotypical African “Big Man” to pastor and lead a church or must a pastor conform to a western idea of servant first?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Aaron P.,
      You probably have better insight about this than I do from your priestly leadership perspective. But, I have not personally observed that the concept of “servant leader” is a big issue in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, I know nothing about the “stereotypical African ‘Big Man’ to pastor and lead a church.” This is not true of the pastors with whom I have associated. By the way, I believe the concept of servant leader emanates from Christ as a role model, not from the West.

      • mm Marc Andresen says:

        Claire and Aaron

        Thanks for raising the question of servant leadership in Africa. I’m keenly interested in different cultures’ concept of leadership. This will be crucial as I study how ot offer leadership training to international students.

        I will relate that during my trips to Uganda I was treated very deferentially by church members in Kampala. There seemed to be more of “leaders on a pedestal” than we experience in the U. S.

  3. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Claire:
    I totally embrace your premise that theology is progressive. Truth is revealed as a building block on what you previously know and establish as foundational truth.

    Do you feel that books like McGrath’s help develop critical thinking? If truth is progressive, should we not continually keep researching from various aspects?

    Phil

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