Yesterday I wrote about our need to remind ourselves that our systems of Christian thought were not done in a vacuum (see here). As much as I respect Athanasius of Alexandria, or Augustine of Hippo, or Thomas Aquinas, or Martin Luther, it would be a mistake to say that any one of these people captured pure, uncontaminated truth. We all have our lens through which we see the world.
I was reminded of this in a short post written by Jon Jordan (here) whose RTS professor recently remarked: “…most of the good stuff will be coming from Africa and Asia.” I’d add South America as well. We Europeans and North Americans have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters in these lands as regards our doctrine of God, Christology, Pneumatology, soteriology, healing, poverty, suffering, the demonic, the charismata, church-state/church-culture relations, and a wide array of other important subjects. Christianity is not limited to the western hemisphere. The Holy Spirit has been doing a global work.
Jordan mentioned the Africa Bible Commentary. Celucien Joseph has begun collecting resources on intercultural theology. There are more and more books being published on global Christian theology all the time. This is something that is coming and we should be prepared to embrace it!
While it is wonderful to look at the past to ask what Basil the Great or John Calvin thought, it is just as valuable to look at the emerging present to see what other voices have to say.
Other: See this video from the recent Luasanne Conference in South Africa that discusses how missions and evangelism used to be from the west to the world and now it is from the world for the world.
I am extremely saddened if and when we don’t believe we can learn from anything outside of the western church. And, even if we have our t’s crossed and i’s dotted with our theology in the west, the church in the rest of the world (which is now the larger section of the church) challenges us about what it means to live out the gospel of the kingdom far better. Massive moves of God taking place across the Asiatics, Africa, South America, Central America, and even in underground places like the middle-east and China.
Btw, we should note that both Augustine and Tertullian were African!
Very good point! Africa has contributed greatly to Christian theology. We should add Athanasius as well, correct?
Yes, if we are too proud to hear them we will miss edification that the Spirit is sending our direction.
Yes, there were so many from area of the Christian world then. The great Roman Empire, and also the Byzantium. But later because of Islamic political order and control, Byzantium was seen as un-European.
Just to play devil’s advocate, what do you think we have to learn from Christians in other non-American/European (I suppose we should add antipodean as well, right?)
nations regarding “God, Christology, Pneumatology, soteriology, healing, poverty, suffering, the demonic, the charismata*”? And do you think we have something to learn from them about these things by virtue of the fact that they’re non-Amerian/European? In other words, do you think that we have so much to learn from them about these things simply because they’re different than us culturally? Or do you think that is there some other reason that we should be learning from them?
*I left out state/church-culture relations on purpose.
@Nick: I think in areas like poverty and suffering there is a lot that seems a bit obvious. The degree to which they suffer, the framework in which they deal with theodicy, their interpretation of how events come to pass (e.g. is it a sort of Stoic view, do they see evil forces as being involved more than we do). It will be interesting to see the diversity of responses to things like the “health-and-wealth” gospel which has bled from an American context into their own.
How ancestral spirits are thought about in relation to the gospel and whether or not that becomes something they try to Christenize or demonize will be interesting. The need for charismata in the face of spiritually evil forces will likely be more prominent. The need to charismata rather than “techniques” like we consumer-culture church obsess over will be interesting as well.
What it means to be “saved” could be an interesting discussion. Biblical models of atonement vary, but will there be an aspect of being “saved” that we haven’t considered (e.g. back to ancestral spirits, or the demonic, will deliverance be more prominent in their message than many of our own?).
It will be interesting to see how the Trinity is explained to Buddhist (like the Fathers had the learn to speak of Father-Son-Spirit in a Platonic/Aristotelian culture) and Hindus and if that provides worthwhile insight.
I think we can learn from them for at least one important reason is that many of us share the same presuppositions, jargon, and blind spots that they could help us see. While in Europe and N. America Pentecostal/Charismatic types have made Christians rethink Pneumatology, spiritual warfare, and the demonic, so I think theologians from Africa or Asia, who don’t feel the need to work within Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment structures, will also contribute.
That is some things that come off the top of my head.
That’s why I’m doing my PhD out of South Africa . . . your post 😉 hehe.
That is great! It will be interesting to hear what angles you see that you would not have otherwise. What school?
It’s called South African Theological Seminary. They let my friend,he’s Kiwi,contract with them to be my primary supervisor (he’s a Torrance expert 😉 ), and then my other supervisor is an African guy named Dr Sam Kunhiyop, he got his PhD from TEDS in Chicago. He is also a contributor to the African Bible Commentary which I haven’t checked out yet. I have more to say but I’m typing from my phone . . . I’ll be back!
Just to be clear, Brian, you’re not saying that you think that the church councils and such — the grammar they’ve provided for articulating things like the Trinity hypostatic union perichoresis etc. — need to be dumped and done over; instead you’re saying that the truth of the Gospel, that these councils provisionally have helped to articulate, can be communicated per particular cultural conditioned expressions — am I reading you right?
Btw, I do look forward to getting feedback from a different perspective, I think it will be fruitful. Of course no matter what culture is engaging the Scripture, it’s truths are always conditioned by who God is Jesus Christ.
Of course not, I believe the Spirit guided the church during the formulation of the ecumenical creeds. That being said, since the Spirit did this in the midst of a particular culture and worldview, we know we must “translate” these concepts. We do this in the United States all the time where people don’t understand things like homoousia or homoiousia because their worldview doesn’t work from a framework of “substances” and so forth. I imagine there are some concepts in Buddhism or Hinduism that would be helpful when it comes to communicating what the Spirit said through the councils and others that are not, but we should allow our brothers and sisters to wrestle with that.
By the way, I think that is going to be a great experience at South Africa Theological Seminary. It is always interesting to see how different worldviews and language games provide various angles on Christian truth that we may have missed if we communicated only with those in our own comfort zone.
I think it is better to seek to see the Ecumenical Creeds in their own history and time. The eternal value of truth is always best seen in it own historical framework. Note here Peter Leithart’s new book: Defending Constantine, The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, (IVP Academic, 2010).
We must understand the creed in their own time but I know you know as one who pastors that we cannot expect everyone to be historians. We must be willing to “translate” history into the present.
That approach can be a slippery slope, to my mind. I again prefer to try to help people to see God’s Salvation History & Covenant. It is quite amazing how historically inaccurate the Church has become (Emergent, etc. And sadly here I would place some Pentecostals too) That book by Leithart on Constantine is a must read in my opinion, he takes to task both John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, concerning.
We’ll see how SATS works out, I just found out the funding I was kind of counting on fell through . . . we’ll see what the Lord has in mind.
I think we want to translate, as you say, but at the same time realize that even though there is cultural conditioning that that does not relativize the ‘truth’ under consideration. IN other words, there is a particularity to truth (like the fact that Jesus will always be the “Man from Nazareth”); but a universality applicability sense in fact “the truth” is what is determinative, and w/o the particularity (in relation to the Incarnation for example) we wouldn’t have the universal aspect either. I would say either something is true or its false, despite its conditioning or because of it. This is where Kant was dead wrong!
Amen to Bobby! Note the Christian mythology of socialism, as an example! And remember I have seen this in the UK! It seems you Americans are on that road now with Obama!
Bobby, even Hegel or Hegelian thought is better than Kant, yes?
No doubt, I am not appealing to relativization, but to translation.
I suppose both Kant and Hegel have some strengths, but more weaknesses. It is clear that Barth was deeply influenced by both (Kant more, as I read him). Hegelian dialectics provide a way to think about a history and such (w/o apparently, metaphysics); but of course, this is also his weakness since he gives history its own concrete and immanent determination — again, we can see how Barth works within these parameters (and at the same time seeks to undercut them, what a “paradox” 😉 ). I can see how this is getting off topic, so we better stop!
Yes (last word), that’s one of the nice things about Barth, he covers much of the European and German ground, but seeks still a biblical authority & theology. Though he falls short, and badly at times. But what a ride! 🙂
I am glad we got to explore some global theology in our second part of church history. A year-and-a-half ago, I read an article by Samuel Rayan who is an Indian Catholic theologian. The majority of our church history class criticized him for being “pantheistic.” I, however, didn’t see him as being pantheistic, but rather panentheistic, which I think is compatible with what the Scriptures state. Rayan’s theology was holistic, taking into consideration the environment (he had a strong theology of creation), but was also quite Christo-centric. I found Rayan to be a nice blend of both eastern and western thought in Christian theology. I’ll have to read over his article again to see where I agree or disagree now.
I also read an article by Sun Ai Lee Park. I thought a great deal of what she said was good, but I felt her distinction between the missio Dei (mission of God) and missio Christi (mission of Christ) was somewhat flawed, but her Korean context makes the distinction understandable. If I recall correctly, for Park, the mission of God is the broader mission to the world, while the mission of Christ is the mission to evangelize and bring people into the church. Because of her experiences with missionaries in Korea, who have tended to neglect the marginalized, the missio Dei is more important for her because it tends to care for those on the fringes of society versus the missio Christi which seems to care more for filling up the church. Like with Rayan’s article, I’ll need to read Park’s again.
In one of my email conversations with Dale Irvin, president of NYTS, he alerted me to the Jesus Sutras. These were composed about 640 CE. Irvin wrote: “These are texts written before the last of the great ecumenical councils, written during the same decade the Anglo-Saxons were being converted. You can see what the Trinity looks like when it is being offered through Buddhist conceptual framework – these are beautiful texts” (personal communication, November 15, 2008).
I would be interested to see some of the most recent Christian theological developments in the East, perhaps in the last decade if there has been anything new.
Those sound like very interesting reads and are a great example of how theology around the globe could really help us think about things from a different angle.
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