I sometimes like calling myself a “contextual theologian.” Whether I have the knowledge and competence to call myself a “theologian” is debatable. But if I can so designate myself, then certainly my sub-specialty would be in contextualization of theology.
The problem is that “contextual theology” gets a bit of a bad rap. Often people connect it with heretical beliefs… or at least beliefs and teachings of a highly weird nature. Often those who embrace contextual theology are “Anti-Western” in their theological viewpoint and embrace that which is far away from the Western traditions in theology.
So how can one embrace contextual theology while avoiding the clear excesses found within the movement. I would suggest the following images to give some ideas in this area:
I. ALL Good Theology is Contextual
In the above sketch, God and Man are separated by a chasm. This is not a salvific chasm used in the “Bridge Illustration” of evangelism. Consider this a chasm of communication. God seeks to communicate with Man. One can describe theology form of the message. Theology can be thought of as a bridge… but one having two supports. One of the supports is God’s Revelation. The revelation includes Special Revelation (Scripture and Jesus), and General Revelation (Creation and History). God communicates to us through such revelation. The second support is culture. Culture is the symbolic network of meanings through which Man interprets the world. As such, any message from God must come through culture.
My wife, Celia, noted that since God’s revelation is fairly static, while culture is quite dynamic, it might be more appropriate to think of a bridge like in the movie Avatar where vine “bridges” connect between the planet surface (God’s unchanging truth) and the floating mountains (Man’s variability). I think there is considerable merit in this, but I will try to play with that another time.
2. Bad Contextualization of Theology
Bad contextualization is when one ignores the culture one is connecting with. That can occur when one doesn’t focus on culture in general… or when one utilizes theology for one culture to a different culture. The result is that the theology… God’s communication… is incomprehensible or poorly communicated.
3. Bad Grounding of Theology
Good contextual theology takes seriously God’s message and local cultures… all local cultures (Western, Eastern, Caste, Class, or Other)