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

Contextual Theology

Written by: on February 7, 2015

In Ethiopia, most non-believers associate Protestant Christianity with foreign aid, Americans or Israel, to segregate believers and disqualify the authenticity of Protestant Christianity. In my Arsi Oromo culture, becoming a believer is equal to denying the values and unity of the clan, because religion is more than just an individual affair. Religion is a shared practice that affirms an individual’s solidarity with her or his community. However, the biggest challenge is the Christian church’s failure to preach the gospel in the culture and language of the people. They teach believers to abandon their culture since they are part of a new community whose identity is in Christ. This rejection has been a stumbling block for Oromos to hear the gospel. It is only in recent years that some Oromo Christians began to realize the need to plant Oromo speaking churches. Now we have several Oromo churches planted, both the cities and in rural areas. Thus, as someone deeply passionate about indigenizing the Good News to my own people, I thoroughly enjoyed Models of Contextual Theology, by Stephen B. Bevans.

The author persuasively writes about the significance of a contextual approach to Christian theology. Bevans explains contextual theology as radical new ways “realizes that culture, history, contemporary thought forms, and so forth are to be considered, along with scripture and tradition, as valid sources for theological expression”(p.4). “We can certainly learn from others…but the theology of others can never be our own” (p.5). This has been the insight and wisdom hidden from most churches in my country. They fear that preaching the gospel in every language creates division among churches, loss of jobs for ministers who don’t know the language, and affects the church’s revenue. These kinds of fears emanate from their own selfish interests and have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. The question for our churches is how can you invite others to the loving God if you reject their language and culture?

Another enlightening learning about Christian contributions to maters of public life comes from “Parables as Paradigms for Public Theology,” by Christopher D. Marshall. He points out a certain resemblance between the nature of parabolic communication and the task of public theology. Marshall is convinced that certain key parables, “could serve as helpful paradigms for understanding public theology, that is, as tools for helping the church conceptualize its vocation in society as the bearer of a message—the ‘gospel of the kingdom’—that is both intelligible and unintelligible to the world, both ethically feasible and eschatological radical, both relevant to secular society and yet particular and distinctive to the community of faith” (p.24). The author is very careful not to encourage or discourage the use of parables “as a communication device or as a source of specialist information,” instead as a paradigm for the “articulation or encapsulation of a particular perspective on reality, parables as a way of conceiving how God’s redemptive initiative in the person and proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth comes to bear on present reality, including on the systems and institutions of public life”(24). Thus, the implications of parables go significantly beyond the community of faith to include the “the commons’—the natural, cultural and political resources of life we share in common in society”(p.24). Attempting to address public matters in light of Christian convictions is not easy by any means, thus Marshal suggests holding “in tension the ethically achievable and the eschatological radical dimensions of the gospel” (42). This particular concern is also evident in my church who tends to focus mainly on “the eschatological ‘with God all things are possible’ dimension and overlook the question of how our faith can bring practical implication for wider, unbelieving society”(p.42). As Stephen Garner highlighted, there is a need to educate the community of faith as to “the dimensions and features of their own theology”(p.178). Thus, the task at hand is helping our community of faith understand “compassion and justice are central to Jesus’ teaching and hence an integral part of the good news” (p.179).


About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha