Monday, August 30, 2010

All theology is contextual theology

All true theology is contextual theology.
When we attempt to speak of God in the abstract, in a way that doesn't address the situation in front of us, that pretends to come from nowhere, whatever the content of our speech might be, we present a God who has nothing to say to these particular people, this particular situation. We pretend that our knowledge of him is divorced from our reception of him in the narrative of our lives and communities.
That aint the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This isn't to say that our theology must be driven by the questions and concerns of a particular culture. We may have a word of judgment, that says 'Look what you have missed, the real question which is most important!'. But even when we do that, we speak from a particular place and to a particular place.
We sell ourselves way short if all we focus on is what God has said, and not how it is God's word for today . This is an incredibly important thing to do. It is what we generally call 'Biblical Theology'. In our circles however 'Biblical Theology' isn't theology at all, but 'How do read the Bible well'. Incredibly important. But if that is all we do, then we haven't done theology.
For example, you may notice that part of God's promise to Abraham is that he would have a land, you may notice the connection back to the garden in Genesis 1, you may see that promise being played out in the Exodus and conquest, thwarted in the exile, even fulfilled and expanded in Jesus' ascension as Lord of all. But until you can go out into the backyard, pick up the dirt and say, this is God's earth, Jesus is Lord over it and will renew it in the new creation, well you haven't done theology. All you have done is an interesting literary study.
The point of theology is not that we would read the Bible better, but rather, having read the Bible better, we would learn to read the world and our place in it biblically. To do that we will need to pay attention to the world around us. We will need to pay attention to the other ways the world may be spoken of, that are presented as 'obvious' or 'inevitable' ( not least our obsession with economic growth). And then we will need to speak to that situation of our triune God.
I've been reading Augustine's 'City of God' recently. It is an amazing biblical theology. Yet the first half of the book is a detailed evaluation, history and critique of the situation Augustines current culture is in. It seems this is often ignored as people mine it for theological quotes.
If we are to address the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures of our own time and place, it will not be good enough simply to regurgitate Augustines theology, or Calvins, or anyone elses for that matter, but having learnt from them to search the scriptures and pay close attention to the world, we might speak God's word of life to it.


byron smith said...

Yes, yes and yes. This is why a Christian minister has a Bible in one hand and a newspaper (or blog, perhaps?) in the other.

Mike Bull said...

Exodus always follows Genesis. All true theology brings mission. The Word of the Father to His sons always brings a humbling and an Advent.