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The theological imperative of our day

Written by: on January 27, 2017

Models of Contextual Theology

 

This book deals with the three theological sources (loci theologici) of tradition, Scripture and culture and how these interact with each other in the formation of our theology. It offers us six models of contextual theology, each of which places different weight or emphasis on the three respective sources. It emphasises the essential importance of context in the formation of our theology.

 

Some basic reflections:

 

  • Is contextual theology not just another way of describing hermeneutics? What does Scripture mean, how do we interpret it and how do we apply it in our particular context?
  • If I have understood it correctly, I am very wary of the anthropological model. It sounds humanistic to me and appears to place far too much emphasis on culture and context at the expense of tradition and scripture.
  • I think some of the very great problems of the “emerging church” and rising and falling leadership superstars of this age has been their abandonment of tradition (the living faith of our dead fathers) and scriptural orthodoxy. This has resulted in a great big blancmange of vacuous nothingness.
  • One of the saddest things I have watched has been the likes of Rob Bell, turning away from the church and the pastorate and joining Oprah Winfrey in dispensing spiritual bromides and pop psychology. For me, he is the epitome of what happens when you get so in touch with culture and current trends and throw out orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
  • Theology is “words about God” who is immutable and unchanging. An anthropological approach pays far too much attention to the mores and wants and trends and faddishness of culture and context.
  • I am very wary of a theology that is so contextual – culturally sensitive – that it dismisses the idea of sound doctrine, handed down to us, the tradition of two thousand years of church history, the creeds, and the collective wisdom of the church fathers.
  • I totally agree on the need to contextualise our theology, to apply it, and to work out the cultural complications of the original text of scripture and to attempt to bridge the cultural gap between now and then. I don’t think this is easy work.
  • I do think that the church has been deeply compromised by the culture of our day. I would definitely subscribe more to the countercultural and translational models of theology than the others.
  • It is not easy to be countercultural. We are so acclimatised to our culture and our traditions. It remains essential therefore, in my view, that we maintain a very high view of scripture and tradition, and remain wary of the latest cultural trends and fads.
  • There is too much emphasis on what we want, what makes us happy, what is convenient, what is culturally acceptable, and not enough emphasis on discipleship, the cost of following Jesus, the opprobrium of the cross, and the cultural opposition that this inevitably brings.
  • The church needs to speak more prophetically to culture, rather than continue to accommodate it. For me, this is the theological imperative of our day.

About the Author

Geoff Lee

7 responses to “The theological imperative of our day”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Geoff, all of the things you said really resonate with me. I am old enough to have seen the ups and downs caused by shifts in feelings and fads. For me, there is only one thing that is certain that has stood the test of time and that is the Bible.
    I also lament a “doctrine only” position. At my Reformed church the people generally think that now that they have done their catechism, everything is ok. They’ve met God’s demands; their theology is perfect. The rest of the world has problems because they don’t have our theology.
    So, like you, the challenge for me is how to respond in a world that’s changing all of the time. But I need a sure footing; I need at least one thing that I can count on as steadfast. For me that’s God’s Word.
    I’m so glad you bring a balancing perspective!

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Geoff, excellent points. One in particular.

    “It is not easy to be countercultural. We are so acclimatised to our culture and our traditions. It remains essential therefore, in my view, that we maintain a very high view of scripture and tradition, and remain wary of the latest cultural trends and fads.”

    I know it’s just my missiological side speaking— if you maintain a high view of tradition and scripture and add to that exposure to as many cultures as possible, you have an advantage when it comes to theological contextualization. You are right; culture has impacted the church. The impact is much harder to notice when you are in the midst of the changes or have limited or no exposure to other cultures. I realized it most when, after being outside of the USA for five years, I returned remembering the USA and the church that was five years in the past. Just five years—a blip in the timeline of the history of the Church—and yet I remember sensing a great divide. I didn’t recognize either my home culture or the church culture. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me both spiritually and theologically. Great post Geoff!

  3. Geoff wow great reflections! I agree that sound theology must hold Scripture, tradition and context in tandem. Each of them is important to how we live out our faith daily. It is also provides an understanding of how we engage a culture and be used by God to bring transformation to our world.

    “The church needs to speak more prophetically to culture, rather than continue to accommodate it. ” This statement was powerful and hit me at my core! It is undeniably true however, I believe the issue is not understanding the “how” in speaking prophetically. The Church has struggled with having any real influence on the culture. We have become distracted by so many things that keep us divided and unable to bear witness to what is to come. Despite the shortcomings that we are facing, we are called to be a prophetic voice to the world!

  4. mm Katy Lines says:

    I would argue, Geoff, as Bevans does in the conclusion, that each of the six models is beneficial/preferred “within certain sets of circumstances.” There is much to be said for the anthropological model. Bevans notes that the practitioner “looks for God’s revelation and self-manifestation as it is hidden within the values, relational patterns, and concerns of a context” (56). In other words, how is God already at work in this context? How has God revealed godself in this place? That is the starting point for introducing good news found (ultimately) in Jesus. This model recognizes the goodness found in each context, without negating the need for a Savior (ie. no context is without sin).
    Yes, it seems as if every model has its potential drawbacks. And on this, I wholeheartedly agree with you: “The church needs to speak more prophetically to culture, rather than continue to accommodate it. For me, this is the theological imperative of our day.”

  5. Geoff, I hear your concerns coming through with the gospel influencing culture instead of culture influencing the gospel. Such a valid and pertinent concern. Yes, being a disciple of JC or a Christian means there is a cost and important to remember. I suppose you can put it in the context that sacrifice is demanded to build or develop anything great. Like an athlete in training for a big race, developing a strong spiritual life requires much spiritual training and discipline.
    Confession: Would you think differently of me if I told you I went to the live Oprah tour where I heard her AND Rob Bell too? It truly was inspiring. Jake and I went and we just loved it. Such an uplifting, spiritual experience where God/Jesus was exalted much more than I expected. Their voices were refreshing from all the oppressive theology I’ve heard. I believe they are meeting a different population group. Are we still friends? 🙂

  6. Geoff,
    I have to say that ‘great big blancmange of vacuous nothingness’ may be my favorite turn of phrase, ever. And more seriously, I truly appreciate that you are willing to ‘pump the brakes’ for some of us that might be tempted to take contextual theology to the extreme.
    And I do think you struck on a major weakness of many movements that place a lower value on tradition – the baby often gets thrown out with the bathwater.
    I have to say, that I am still intrigued by Rob Bell – I am not a big Oprah fan, mostly because I have a hard time with the treatment of her that borders on ‘worship’.
    However, no matter if it is Oprah or Rob Bell or Nicky Gumbel, when we begin to place anyone other that Jesus on too high of a pedestal, and we begin to look to them as a sort of ‘Cliff notes’ for God, they are going to disappoint us.

  7. Geoff,
    Your comment on the cost of discipleship is not what all churches address. For one, they may scare the people and two; we don’t at times do what is required for there to be a cost. People don’t believe our talk because our walk is wobbly (being looked at as a group of Christians). When on Christian leader falters we all are at fault.
    How many of us have a cost worth considering in our discipleship or are we disciples of convenience?

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