DMINLGP

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

Theology 101

Written by: on February 7, 2015

Models of Contextual Theology, by Stephen Bevans, resonated with me because it explains theology within the context of one’s culture and experience. This book explores the differences between traditional and contextual theology.

In the opening chapter of his book, Bevan states, “There is no such thing as “theology”; there is only contextual theology: feminist theology, black theology, liberation theology, Filipino theology, Asian-American theology, African theology, and so forth.” I have to admit that this did not set well with me, because I had been taught to study theology in a Western traditional context. I’ve always strived to study God’s attributes and to interpret Scripture by removing yourself and your bias. After reading Bevan’s book, I see the value in studying Scripture through a contextual theological lens. According to Bevan’s contextual theology considers tradition, culture, history, thoughts, etc. when exploring our theological reality.[1] He explains that theology comes from three sources: scripture, tradition, and present human experience.

From the Middle Ages, the study of traditional theology has been an emphasis in universities and seminaries, and by scholar’s and theologians. From my experience, this style of theological pursuit is still practiced in many Western Christian educational intuitions. The problem with this is that it is limited to individuals who are called into full time Christian work or academia.  Traditional theology isn’t easily translated in current ministry applications. While there is a need for Traditional theological training, there is also a need for all Christians to understand and study theology. Contextual theology allows the average person to explore their faith more deeply as they apply it within their day-to-day life. Bevan states that, “a number of contextual theologians insist that theology is not really done by experts and then “tricked down” to the people for the consumption.” [2] What really happens is that many people don’t understand or they don’t know how to apply the theology to their everyday life. As a pastor, if I cannot convert my formal theological training into a real world context, then all my training is worthless. Likewise untrained Christians who are not guided or trained in solid theology have a high chance of developing theology that is unbiblical.

Dialogue between the people and the pastor would seem to be the best way to build a solid biblical theology. Contextual theology can help merge the life of the individual and the formal training of the pastor. These understandings will allow for the incorporation of Biblical principles into ones daily life. In my experience, I have witnessed two scenarios: 1) watered down Biblical talk, or 2) theology delivered in a traditional sense, in a way that people can’t relate to. As church leaders, we have to bring the two together, giving solid theological training by unpacking it in an actionable way that can be applied immediately within the world that people are living and operating in. However, the only way that pastors can do this is to get out of the church and understand people’s world. The walls need to come down, and pastors need to walk in the place as their parishioners.

 

 

 

 

[1] Bevans, Stephan B. (2013-11-20). Models of Contextual Theology (Faith and Culture) (Kindle Locations 178). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid 541

About the Author

Richard Volzke

13 responses to “Theology 101”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Richard, you did a masterful job of encapsulating a complicated book into a clear and insightful post. I found myself applying these ideas to missionary work, but your points I think tie in very well. There is truly a danger of people running wild with particular interpretations of the Bible (and we’ve seen the results of this over the centuries). Which I think brings up just how vital having “experts” available to help give at least some guidance to those who are venturing into Scripture with little background or knowledge. What I like about Bevans is that he seems to no so much argue for the free interpretation of the Bible, but rather that what is emphasized and what becomes the central focus is the context of those receiving the message. In other wards, it isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach, but each person or context will probably highlight something different from Scripture that will resonate with their situation. We in the Christian West are notorious for finding something that works for one group and think it should work everywhere. No wonderful so much of our evangelistic efforts all flat! Thanks for your insightful post!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      John,
      I agree with you that the Western church seems to latch onto one style of “doing church” and thinks it will work everywhere. I find this is a big issue within the mega church culture. When I was a missionary, it was a struggle to get good support from some of the bigger churches. The attitude was, “if we give you money, you must do things our way, because we know how things should be done.”
      Richard

  2. Richard,

    Way to rip here!

    Two particular pieces of your post really fought my eye:

    “As a pastor, if I cannot convert my formal theological training into a real world context, then all my training is worthless.” and “…the only way that pastors can do this is to get out of the church and understand people’s world. The walls need to come down, and pastors need to walk in the place as their parishioners.”

    Amen to both of those thoughts!

    I work in an institution of higher education where most people live in a world that is not real, especially many of the professors. I, on the other hand, am a practitioner, not as much as a theorist. There are those who don’t get me at all and think that I am not intelligent as they are. That might be true, but one thing I know for sure, if I do not connect with those I am called to touch, my students, then what is the point? The same is true in ministry. If pastors keep shooting over the heads of their parishioners, then what is the point? What is wrong with being practical? What is wrong with being understood? What is wrong with being real?

    I have a theory that all pastors should be forced to take a sabbatical every few years and work at a MacDonald’s where nobody knows them. Just imagine what that could do to their minds? Perhaps they would come back to their pulpits with a better understanding of what the real world is like and what real people actually need. I know it would, at the very least, contribute to a larger amount of humility in the pulpit. And that would be a very good thing indeed. What do you think?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Bill,
      Maybe not McDonald’s, but a great idea! The sad thing is that I’m not sure how many pastors would be willing to do it. Churches would argue about how to pay them and who would pastor their church while they were gone. We need to truly open the doors of the church to everyone, and get rid of the “we don’t want these types of people in our church” attitude. What would church be like if we accepted everyone, no matter where they were at with there walk with Christ? What would church be like if we took our faith to the street?
      Richard

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Richard, Great point on the limitation of traditional theology and on the significance of contextualization as a method of doing theology. I share your view that doing theology is the responsibility not only of trained theologians, but also of all believers. Can you think of any limitation on contextual theology method?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Telile,
      One danger of contextual theology is that social issues can become intertwined into theology. There are many social opinions that are against Christ, and should not be allowed to take root in the church. Contextual theology is an avenue that someone could use to bring sin or false theology into the church.
      Richard

  4. mm Deve Persad says:

    Great challenge here Richard. In particular you mention: “Dialogue between the people and the pastor would seem to be the best way to build a solid biblical theology.” There is definitely value to this idea. Therefore, I wonder how would you recommend this dialogue to take place? Too often there is still practical distance between the minister and the congregant, you’re call for more exposure in the community for the minister is on target. From a leadership/board perspective it may even be an important role to have that community involvement as part of the job description for the pastor. What do you think about that?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Deve,
      One way you could foster dialogue is by having a round table meeting with others in the community. We have these types of meetings in business, and they bring together people from different backgrounds and allow them to interact and share. A pastor’s job description should include community involvement. However, I think that it should be specific to address the community that the church ministers to. For example, I served at a church that would go all of the time to the homeless shelters to volunteer. Yet, their congregation was older with many suffering elderly. The pastoral team had no clue how to relate to this group of people, and therefore was not ministering effectively to them. The community surrounding the church was full of older people that needed Christ. Christ calls us to be in the world, with people who need salvation and help. We tend to define who needs Christ, and forget that there are many segments of our population that the church must serve.
      Richard

      • mm Deve Persad says:

        Absolutely agree with you on that, Richard…our ministry should be shaped by the needs/dynamics of the community around us…

  5. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Richard, this is fantastic and very much hits home! I really engaged in Bevans’ book, simply from a cross-cultural standpoint, but you brought it full-circle for me to include domestic leadership.

    Here are my favorite quotes:

    “Contextual theology can help merge the life of the individual and the formal training of the pastor.” <– Yes! I sometimes think that many of our pastors are highly intelligent and can quote Scripture and academia, but have no idea how to put it into "lay man's" terms. They can stand in a pulpit and preach a sermon, but can they do a small group discipleship study and pare down the Word to practicality and action for each person?

    Then you wrote this, "The only way that pastors can do this is to get out of the church and understand people’s world. The walls need to come down, and pastors need to walk in the place as their parishioners." How many pastors like to live in their offices at the church and never connect with anyone on the outside? Who are in the offices next door? What is the demographic of the surrounding community? How can yo minister to someone (or a community of faith) you do not know?

    Richard, great thoughts on this book! You hit the nail on the head! 🙂

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Ashley,
      In seminary, I had an instructor teach us that pastors need to keep their distance from the people they serve and that you should not become close to anyone except other pastors. This did not set very well with me, because we are human just like everyone else. God made pastors for relationships. In the business word, we recognize the need for relationships. Being able to build relationships and to understand the world around you is crucial to being in a leadership role. Pastors need to be in the community to understand the needs of the people. We are called to serve the people that Christ has brought into our sphere of influence.
      Richard

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Richard, your passion for Pastoral training and the relationship between pastors and their congregations has been consistent and I appreciate it. This is because Pastoral work has got to be one of the demanding vocations in ministry. I sometimes wonder how certain can stay relevant to their contexts. Of course the need to remain faithful and relevant to Christ is priority; however if church leaders limited theologically, the congregations might suffer. As you write, ” … if I cannot convert my formal theological training into a real world context, then all my training is worthless. Likewise untrained Christians who are not guided or trained in solid theology have a high chance of developing theology that is unbiblical.”

    I found that thought provoking. Thank you.

    Michael

    Dialogue between the people and the pastor would seem to be the best way to build a solid biblical theology. Contextual theology can help merge the life of the individual and the formal training of the pastor.

  7. Richard, great understanding of having to get out of the “study” and get on the “streets.” If the pastor cannot translate his knowledge into useful application to his people then that theology simply becomes “shelf theology.” (I describe this in my post.) The theology is no good to the issues at hand and the pastor has simply pontificated and become a clanging cymbal. Amen brother!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *