What does it mean to walk with Jesus in Latin America?
Theologians and missionaries agree that the Gospel is best communicated in people's "heart language", in their native tongue. This is why countless missionaries from Europe and North America have diligently studied Spanish and Portuguese before proclaiming the Gospel in Latin America. What missionaries have done less diligently is study the local history and culture.
What is contextual theology?
Contextual theology is theology done with a certain context in mind. For instance, I am reading the book of Acts with Latin American Christians in mind. Or I am looking for applications for faith and life in rural Peru while reading the Gospel of Luke. Sometimes we search for meaning without a specific context in mind.
In reality, what many people fail to realize is that all theology is contextual. We are not able to think about the interpretation of faith and practice without envisioning some kind of cultural context. If we think we can generalize a Biblical principle and its application for every context we are most likely reasoning through the Scriptures blinded by our own context.
What is at stake in doing contextual theology?
Let's suppose that I minister in a shantytown in La Paz, Bolivia. I read the story of the Annunciation and later Mary's Song in the Gospel of Luke (1:39-58). I am impressed and convicted by Mary's servant disposition. This coming Sunday I want to speak about Mary's sacrificial spirit and her humble obedience to a group of Christians, mostly women whose lives reflect the socioeconomic realities of Mary's life.
I spent a great deal of time on verses 46-50 telling about the Lord's lowly servant, Mary and her exemplary disposition. However, verses 51-55 that talk about "scattering the proud" or bringing down "the powerful from their thrones", lifting "up the lowly" and sending "the rich away empty" do not really fit the spirit of my lesson. Will I omit them from my exposition? Will I explain them away in a brief minute or will I see their relevance and robust theology for the women of my congregation?
As responsible interpreters of the Word of God, we must recognize and honor its multivocality, that is, its ability to speak to different people in different ways. Contrary to popular thought, there is not just one interpretation per text. Christianity will not look the same in every culture.
The gospel is like a seed and you have to sow it. When you sow the seed of the gospel in Palestine, a plant that can be called Palestinian Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the gospel is later brought to America and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now when missionaries come to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel. but their own plant of Christianity, flowerpot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.
-- Daniel Thambyrajah Niles
Quoted in Graham Hill, Global Church: Reshaping our Conversations, Renewing our Mission, Revitalizing our Churches. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016.
Through this blog, I hope to model contextual theology and to suggest resources for deepening an appreciation and understanding of Latin American theology in context.
-- Jonathan Hanegan
Here are a few resources about contextual theology:
Angie Pears, Doing Contextual Theology. New York: Routledge, 2010.
Clemens Sedmak, Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.
Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.
Here are a few resources for a globalizing theology:
Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, eds. Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
R.S. Sugirtharajah, Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. London: SPCK, 1991.