Preventing Theological Tribalism

Yesterday, I attended a theological seminar. I should do it more often. The main speaker was Dr. Federico Villanueva, a Filipino theologian of the Langham Partnership. He is an OT scholar with special focus on the Psalms of Lament. He presented a paper, but also made a strong appeal to the Filipino audience to develop not only localized theology, but localized theology in one’s own heart language.

After lunch, there was panel discussion with Dr. Villanueva, as well as Dr. Armand Canoy and Dr. Michael Janapin of Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. A lot of great questions were asked and answered. I will list two here.

  1. The first on was by me. I said something to the effect, “Catholic theologian Stephen Bevan’s says that one of the tests of good contextual theology is dialogue with the Universal Church— willing and able to both challenge or critique others as well as receive critique from outside. I believe heart language helps in developing localized theology, but it acts as a barrier to dialogue with the rest of the church. How do we find a healthy balance?” A shortened version of the answer given by Dr. Villanueva was “Yes balance is important. However, there is such a dearth of theology in Tagalog that it really needs to be encouraged to strengthen Filipino theology. Later, translations can be done for dialogue with the broader theological community.”
  2. Francis Samdao, a doctoral candidate at ABGTS had a follow-on question somewhat like mine but with a different focus. “How can one avoid theological tribalism, ignoring the broader globalistic community?” Dr. Villanueva (summarizing here again) said, “We always need to maintain connect to and learn from outside sources. I truly gained a greater understanding of my Filipino culture when I read theological works by Americans, British, Germans, and more. But before I did that, I first had to be well-immersed in my own culture and our history.”

I think these were good responses. Also, my wife and I are reading through a book the speaker wrote (in English) that we definitely would recommend.

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