Theological Ducks, Part #2


Part #1 looked at perspective regarding culture. Instead of rehashing… please READ IT.

Now let’s apply this to Theology. Theology is a system of symbols and concepts shared (typically) by a group. So while theology may not constitute a culture, it certainly constitutes a major aspect of a culture (or sub-culture).

Like culture, theology is commonly distorted from an external (cat or etic) perspective.

Like culture, theology loses perspective when it only has an internal (fish or emic) perspective.

Theology is best understood by bringing together etic and emic perspectives (the “duck”).

Of course, the fish and cat views go together. One sees one’s own theology as very sound  while the other as clearly messed up. That is not abnormal… but when this view is based on limited cross-theological exposure (or a monotheological perspective) the viewpoint is not particularly trustworthy.

What might some evidences be of a Monotheological viewpoint… that is, hampered by a fish/cat perspective rather than a duck perspective.

1.  Those who describe their theological viewpoint as the “Biblical Viewpoint.” I recall reading the writing of a Calvinistic writer who said that another term for Calvinistic is “Biblical.” It really doesn’t take a lot of reading of the Bible to discover that God’s revelation on the process of salvation is “muddy”… like a river. Anyone who says their view is “Biblical” suggesting that the other views are “Unbiblical” simply has not really dealt with the whole Bible fairly. I would argue that an Arminian who described their view as the “Biblical” one has also fallen into the same trap. The issue of God’s sovereignty versus freedom of creation is also muddy.

I recall listening to a Prosperity Gospel guy here in the Philippines say, “I know some of you won’t like this,” (the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel), “but it is simply what the Bible teaches.” I might argue that he was correct if my Bible only had the books of Deuteronomy and Proverbs. But once you start bringing in other books, this confidence rapidly becomes questionable.  Admittedly, Liberation Theology can also be guilty of the same myopia. One really needs to bring these views together to grow from the perspectives.

The fact is that most Christian Theology could be described as Biblical… at least in some sense. Buddhist theology can’t really be described as Biblical, since the Bible is not used as revelatory material for its theology. Islamic and Mormon theology should really not be described as Biblical theology either. Although they “respect” the Bible as Holy, they don’t really utilize it as primary source material for their respective theologies. When a person says their theology is “Biblical,” they are usually saying that “people who interpret the Bible in a similar manner to myself tend to agree with me.” Of course, that tends to be a tautology.

2.  When one describes “contextual theologies” or “third world theologies” as being qualitatively different from “real theology.” This is, in fact, the essence of monoculturalism. When one is unable to see the cultural biases inherent in one’s theological perspective, that is monocultural, monotheoloical. Some give special praise to “systematic” theology. But systematizing one’s theology into formal topics and propositional statements may not be superior to metaphors and narratives valued in a different culture.

Some are bothered that “contextual theology” is heterodox. Of course, they can be, but ALL THEOLOGY IS CONTEXTUAL.  All theology bridges divine revelation (for example, special revelations of the Holy Bible and Jesus Christ and the general revelations of creation and history) with a cultural group. Good theology is contextualized to that culture… it is contextual. But presumably not all theology is heterodox.

3.  When one is excessively involved with apologetics. This sounds counterintuitive. To do apologetics or debate, one needs to understand the other side… to be prepared to argue with them. The problem is that in debate, there is a tendency for “BIAS CONFIRMATION.” (See THIS ARTICLE.) The two people on opposite sides tend to move further apart in their beliefs than closer together. In fact, there is a tendency to stereotype or create caricatures of other beliefs… much the same as a monocultural or monotheological view. This is not universal. Some apologists make a genuine attempt to understand and interact with other viewpoints. But those who are simply focused on WINNING will tend to miss out on the most.

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For myself… I hold to an essentially evangelical theology. I am not suggesting some odd syncretization of beliefs, or suggesting that all interpretations are equally valid. But I am suggesting that one must be open to learning through different perspectives. For example, the insights from SHAME/HONOR or COLLECTIVIST societies really add in understanding God’s Word. I am not suggesting that they negate GUILT/FORGIVENESS or INDIVIDUALIST perspectives. Rather the two support each other. The Triumphalistic theologies that have come out of Europe and especially the United States (including some Evangelical theologies) REALLY need the added perspective of the disempowered and persecuted Christians in some other parts of the world.

Missions (and the church in general) needs theological ducks.

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