Harvie Conn wrote the book. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue back in 1984, based on lectures he gave at Fuller Theological Seminary. It has been noted by multiple people, that Conn was limited by a tendency to use rather unclear language. That is one reason I have tended to like the work of Paul Hiebert. He often did much better in making complicated concepts… well… less complicated.
However, one strength of this book is that although written in 1984, it does appear a bit prescient in identifying some trends that have continued to develop over the last 30 years.
Conn chose terms Consciouness One, Consciousness Two, and Consciousness Three. Frankly, I did not feel they were explained well, but they seemed to point to generally valuable insights in the rlationship between theology and anthropology (as well as mission).
Below is how I tried to explain these three concepts to my students. If someone says “Bob, you got that completely wrong,” I would welcome correction, as long as you can make it clear…
Consciousness 1. Ethnocentric Mindset. A non-Western culture is seen as a “Disease to be Cured.” Non-Western arts were commonly seen as devilish. Missionary work is seen both as an attempt to Share the Gospel, and to “Civilize” (bring in line with Western culture). In fact, it was difficult for many to separate the Christian faith from Western culture. Three reasons for this difficulty:
Western culture was assumed to be the highest culture, and the “most Christian.”
Other cultures were seen as lower cultures, and bringing them in line with Western culture was seen as aligning them with the Christian faith.
Commonly those of other cultures were also deemed to be lower– both intellectually and morally.
Mission work was seen as sharing the gospel in non-Western lands, because the Western world had “already been reached.” Because of this Americans and Europeans are active missionaries, and other peoples are to be passive receivers of the message.
Christianity will always look foreign to people from non-Western cultures.
Consciousness 2. Indigenization Mindset. There is now no necessary presumption that the West has all of the answers. Rather different cultures are legitimate. Christianity may exist in a different culture through appropriate TRANSLATION of the message and theology from the West.
Religion is seen more positively in a culture (Consciousness 1 tends to see religion as a problem… both by secularists and even by Christian missionaries). However, there is a tendency to see culture as made of of individual institutions… including religion. Therefore, to transform culture means to replace (indigenize) those things that need changing, and leaving alone those things that don’t.
Greater focus is placed on plurality of cultures (rather than “cultured” versus “uncultured.”) Also greater recognition that cultures and languages are fluid… changing.
There is a recognition of “Contextual Theologies,” but often see them as existing in local competition of sorts to “Real Theology,” based on the presumption that the theological formulations of Europe and America are in some sense supra-cultural.
While cultures are more respected in Consciousness 2, the agenda still is primarily driven by the West, in terms of theology and missions.
Consciousness 3. Contextual Mindset. Harvie Conn never really defined this one well. He focused on problems in the early 1980s and what he hoped would change.
Not only are there many cultures, and they exist dynamically, but each exist holistically. That is, one can’t just break the culture apart into different components or institutions. Religion is an integrated with the culture, not a separate part.
All theology is contextual. There is no such thing as supracultural theology, only well-contextualized theology and poorly-contextualized theology.
The translation model of of theologizing and ministry is inadequate because it is uni-directional. Rather, there needs to be dialogue between cultures, as well as tri-logue between theology, anthropology, and mission.
Different contextual theologies (and expressions of faith) are challenged by the canon of Scripture. But different contextual theologies need to be in dialogue– challenging each other and allowing the possibility of learning from each other.
Missions is now a whole world task to the whole world.