Supra-cultural Theology and Feelings of Alienation

Many believe that there is a universal Christian theology… or a theological interpretation of the Bible that is unaffected by culture. Western theology (I am here thinking of Reformed Theology, but other Western Theologies can apply as well) typically seems to be viewed as a supra-cultural theology. Those who embrace Reformed Theology tend to think of “Contextual Theology” as the theological view of some other groups, but don’t see their own theology as contextual (particularly in terms of culture). I read an article before suggesting that Pentecostal Theology (although the theology described seemed to be more in line with Charismatic Theology than classic Pentecostal) could be a universal (read supra-cultural) theology.

The problem is that each theology seeks to meet a need that is contextual. That also means that each theology has the tendency to “itch where it does not scratch” for certain people. Guilt-focused cultures struggle with the issue of judgment and forgiveness. For them, Reformed Theology addresses that issue. For Fear-focused cultures, helplessness and power are of prime concern and Charismatic Theology addresses that.

To be honest, guilt and power have never really resonated with me. For me, I am concerned probably most with the issues of alienation and community. This, I suppose, puts me into the category of many of the post-moderns, as well as more traditional shame-based societies.

Sadly, the theological structures for alienation and community are not established to the same level that Reformed and Charismatic theologies have been. Hopefully that will change since neither of these existing theological structures appear to be well-placed to meet the needs of a growing segment of the world population.

Of course, a charge could be made that the Bible has one interpretation and lends itself to only one theology (orthodoxy). Any other theology is, by definition, heterodoxy. Conversely, there is a counter view that relativizes all theologies into a sort of theological pragmatism… if it works (in the culture) it is good theology.

For me, I see a balance, culturally, in I Corinthians 1:22-24:

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The passage suggests two opposite things simultaneously. The message of God will challenge cultures. The message is a stumblingblock to Jews who are seeking powerful signs, and foolishnesss to Greeks seeking divine wisdom. On the other hand in Christ, Jews experience the power of God and Greeks experience the wisdom of God. God’s working is contextual and meets contextual needs.

If God’s message is supra-cultural but applied contextually, any theology that addresses a specific (cultural) context may meet that contextual need, but also challenge that specific context.

  • For those who feel guilt and seek forgiveness, God’s mercy provides hope of ultimate forgiveness. That forgiveness is not based on what we do. Yet God’s message also challenges because it rejects an intellectualized faith but calls for a working faith, and following Christ calls us to a radical responsibility to serve.
  • For those who feel fear and seek power, God’s power provides hope and ultimate freedom. Such power is not based on our own strength but God’s. Yet God’s message also challenges because His power is perfected in weakness, and following Christ calls for us to a radical readiness to suffer.

What about for shame-focused cultures and for post-moderns? Not sure, but something like this.

  • For those who feel alienated and seek communiion in God, God’s love provides hope of ultimate reconciliation and community. That reconciliation with God and others overcomes our own tendency to self-alienate, Yet God’s message also challenges because this reconciliation is often perfected in loneliness, often pitting brother against brother and sister against sister.

In other words, contextual theology is not about “telling people what they want to hear.” Rather it is addressing God’s message to the needs and concerns of a specific context. God’s message, if it is accurately contextualized, should both comfort and challenge the hearer.

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