Summarising Contextual Theology (for Indians)

For the last month I had been teaching Contextual Theology to a class of about 13 students. The following is a summary of what we did togehter. One could notice that many of the ideas are ‘traditional’ yet how they relate it to Contextual Theology in the Indian context may be something new to a few.

1. Theology is for everyone.

a. Our theology is not just a subject taught at Bible college, but it is a collection of our beliefs, as well as the system through which we order our beliefs. Importantly, theology is the believers reflection about God with the aim to know Him better (faith seeking understanding). As a result, while some aspects of theology are specialised, on a larger level anyone can do (all Christians must do) theology.

b. Our theology is naturally coloured (conditioned) not just by the Bible but by many factors which include culture, personalities, church traditions, secular thought, experience etc.

c. There are two consequences to the above

i) As Christians, our challenge is to give right priority to the Bible and also rightly relate our theology to our cultural/experiential conditioning.

ii) We understand that while our conditioning limits us, we also understand that we alone do not have complete/perfect truth. We are forced to be humble; to depend on others; hold on to adequate view of truth.

d. Finally, theology is needed. It is a pastoral concern and it is legitimate for the body of Christ. A Christian cannot do theology for another person, each person in community is expected to do theology (which means, to seek to know God through the scriptures and the Church). A missionary can do contextualisation (making the gospel clearer to understand). But only the believer can do his/her own theology. In so far as many theologies exist, we are equal in the body of Christ.

2. Everything has a range of meaning: no simple definitions possible in today’s world

Nothing has a single meaning, everything has a range of meaning.

For instance even to understand who Jesus is; one word is not enough, one idea is not enough… we see Jesus through many concepts and ideas.

How then can we hold on to truth? By not relying on our ‘rational’ faith, but by relying on God through faith. We understand that we can know enough (adequate truth)… but most importantly, it is not our knowledge about God that saves us, but God’s faithfulness in saving us, and making Himself known (through Jesus/through Holy Spirit).

3. Contextual Theology can be understood both as continuity and discontinuity

a. Continuity… contextual theology is like how all theology must be. It is the attempt to speak/think about God by being aware of the peculiar context in which we live. Hence, our study about God, our discovery of who He is, is not done in the abstract, but by being rooted in real life.

b. Discontinuity… Contextual Theology is a discipline that emerged in the mid-1900s, especially with the rise of Latin American theology. Its main goal was to challenge Dogmatic Theology which Contextual Theologians believed was too disconnected from the real world issues. At first, Contextual Theology was thought to be ‘corrective’. But eventually it developed into a separate discipline.

4. Because we are limited, we (Christians) need to listen to even Contextual Theologians

From them we learn many things, including…

a. Theology is not just thoughts about God, but includes our actions. Our actions reveal our beliefs and must be thought of together with belief (reflection-praxis-reflection)

b. Salvation is wholistic. There is no such thing as only a ‘soul’ to be saved. But God has come to redeem all creation; which includes us in totality. Of course there is death in the flesh… but God’s new creation is an event of being born again with new flesh/new spirit/new life… this is not just a ‘soul’ thing.

c. Being involved with the poor/oppressed is not an option; it is an important directive by God as seen in the Bible. Methods and motives vary… but if we were given a choice between siding with the rich oppressors (and succeed alongside them) or with the poor oppressed (and suffer with them), then we need to side with the poor.

d. Many of our Christian concepts are inherited by the West.

For instance, we tend to give more importance to the concept of the Church than to the concept of the Kingdom of God; when in fact, Jesus Himself talked more about the Kingdom of God. Why? Because this is inherited knowledge; we learned this from tradition. We Indians need ‘Indians’ to seek the scriptures constantly, in each age, to determine what exactly the Bible is saying about these and other issues.

5. There is no core of the gospel (if by core we mean central doctrine); only the living God is the core.

a. By this we mean that our gospel message cannot be summarised into four-points, eight points etc. The central message of Christianity is the living Jesus, the Trinitarian God, our experience and relationship with this Trinitarian God etc. Thus to be a Christian we cannot simply follow a few doctrines, or to communicate gospel we cannot just preach a few doctrines. Because, if we do, we limit the true and living God.

b. Similarly, we cannot limit God to a place; meaning a Church. We cannot limit God to a book; meaning the Bible. God is more than the Church, and not caught inside the Bible. The Church and the Bible both testify to the living Creator; the only true God who is saviour of all.

c. Instead, the best way to be a Christian is to be Christlike… to let the the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts. This is a living activity and cannot be summarised into a few points. The same applies when we communicate the gospel. We cannot adequately communicate the living Jesus without being transformed ourselves; people need to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ us… to get a fully picture of who God is.

6. …three things remain, faith, hope and love…

a. Faith… In the midst of imperfect knowledge, limited understanding of who the living God is, our inability to fully comprehend and communicate God… the only thing we can do is to rely on God, trust in Him, that He will make up for our inadequacies. Thus we understand Faith. We boldly proclaim Jesus, not because we fully understand Him, but because we believe (we have faith) that He is completely perfect and sufficient. We do not know the full outcome of this life/creation etc… the fate of non-believers etc… but we know that He who has spoken is true. He will be proved perfectly true. That is our faith. (and faith motivates action).

b. Hope… Jesus is coming soon. This means that we live lives not just with a desire to save the world, but to be mindful of our own house. Eschatology has missiological as well as ecclesiological implications. Which means… God is delaying his coming on earth not just to save as many people, but also so that the Church can be purified for Her groom. Of course it is God who purifies, as it is God who is the saviour of people, but our hope in His coming is also a challenge to be ‘holy and God is holy’ in all urgency. Jesus IS coming soon.

c. …and the greatest of these is Love. Simply put, there can be no greater love than the love God had for the world. Importantly, so must we love one another. If we do not love our brothers/sisters, then the love of God is not really in us. We must love as Christ loved. It is more than emotion… it has political, social consequences. Love our enemies (He was rejected/despised)… love outside our comfort zone (Jesus left heaven, became flesh)… We must love to the point of death. This love is not for non-believers alone, but for all people (including believers we are with). And we learn love by seeing God’s love. In so far as we do not correspond to God’s love, our love remains human and imperfect. When we love in the Spirit, that is true/pure love. When we love in the Spirit, we “act” in true/pure love.

7. Finally…

Contextual theology is simply our theological contribution to our local church context. This is best seen in any serious theological work we do for the people around us. Even if we forget what ‘contextual’ theology is… our attempt to think deeply about the issues that sincerely trouble us is contextual theology. We have the tendency to adopt the method or voice of ‘others’ to enlighten us (so we remain connected with the larger Church), but most importantly, we seek more and more to genuinely be informed/transformed by God’s word (be biblical) as we are reading it todya, so that we will see things (and do things) for our contexts more rightly/clearly. Our Indian contextual theology is therefore not an exercise in saying something unique for the sake of being unique, but rather, as God transforms us… we work together to transform our world.


1 Response to “Summarising Contextual Theology (for Indians)”

  1. 1 Christy February 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Its a good and inspiring article…

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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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