Category Archives: Intercultural Theology

Vincent Donovan on Intercultural Theology

Vincent Donovan highlights the important shift from missiology to intercultural theology in his preface to the second edition of Christianity Rediscovered: “Mission is not a one-way street moving away from the home church to the foreign mission field. The new, the young, and the particular churches of the Third World, spoken of by Vatican II, have something to say, in turn, to the church at large.”[1] Yet, in Donovan’s view, it is clear that missiology is not simply to be replaced by intercultural theology (as is the case in much liberal Protestant thought). On the contrary, “The premise of this book is that every theology or theory must be based on previous missionary experience, and that any theory or theology which is not based on previous experience is empty words, of use to no one.”[2]

Nevertheless, as a deeply contextual theologian, Donovan is cautious about the possibility of intercultural theological dialogue: “[My] experience, lived out in the lonely pastoral setting of the Masai steppes of East Africa, is far removed from the spreading urban-technological society in which we live. Can the experience of one world be of any value to the other? I do not know. I can only say that the cry of hopelessness I heard then in that desert setting is not much different from the cry I hear today in the wasteland of our cities.”[3]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), xvii.

[2] Ibid., xx.

[3] Ibid.

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Filed under Contextual Theology, Intercultural Theology, Missiology

Augustine, Rosenstock-Huessy and Intercultural Theology

In a recent post Peter Leithart draws attention to Rosenstock-Huessy’s analysis of Augustine’s De Magistro. As Leithart writes, “One of the key moves in Augustine’s dialogue, Rosenstock-Huessy says, is the challenge it poses to dialogue itself, for Augustine insists that the true dialogue cannot be merely dual, but must include a third, the Divine Teacher, who takes dialogue out of our hands.”

Augustine’s move is similar to the idea of triangulation in intercultural theological dialogue: “What happens in such an intercultural theological conversation can be understood with Kevin Vanhoozer and with reference to the analytic philosopher Donald Davidson as a process of ‘triangulation’. An intercultural theological conversation is not just an exchange in which we pay attention to each other. This is a conversation that aims — in the language of cognitive psychology — at ‘joint attention’, joint attention to a third reality, to God in Christ as we have come to know Him in the canonical Scriptures. Intercultural theological dialogue is therefore in principle a trialogue, a three-way conversation between representatives of the global church in which the third or rather the first voice is the voice of God who Himself in the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit addresses His church.”[1]

Intercultural theology could benefit from exploring the implications of Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of teaching as a paradigmatic social relationship. Perhaps a deeper understanding of this relationship can help to deal with the problem of Western dominance in theological conversation. Western theologians need to be prepared to become students in the conversation rather than always being teachers.

On the other hand, Rosenstock-Huessy’s treatment of the social construction of time in relation to teaching could be further enriched by a consideration of the social construction of space. To paraphrase Leithart’s summary, the problem is that we can’t examine space because our thinking about space involves being in a certain space. There is no way to step aside and examine space in an non-spatial way. Further, teaching requires space, and the teaching space is a particular kind of space. Teaching requires a coordination of the locations of students and teachers; they have to show up in the same space. But they don’t show up as “locals” but “travellers.” The teacher is always “more well-travelled,” if not in the actual journeys he’s made at least in his exposure to the material; the student is always “less well-travelled” because he has never been exposed to the material or because he has not been exposed to it so deeply as the teacher. (May I suggestively comment that “more” and “less well-travelled” are not physical but social facts?)

[1] Benno van den Toren, “Intercultural Theology as a Three-Way Conversation: Beyond the Western Dominance of Intercultural Theology,” Exchange 44 (2015): 141-2.

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Redemption: Cross-generational and Cross-cultural

Given that salvation is a historical process, Andrew Walls argues that Christians need to recapture the sense that the redemptive purpose of God is cross-generational. “It is not completed in one generation, only in the totality of the generations. It was not completed in the generation of the incarnate Lord nor in that of his apostles. We should be wary, then, of using some later epoch–the Protestant Reformation, for instance, or the evangelical revival–as the defining description of the process. The redemptive process will not even be complete in the last generation of all, taking that generation in and of itself.”[1]

Hebrews 11 makes it clear: “Neither Abraham nor any of the other heroes of faith has actually yet received what God promised them, because God  has decided on a better plan–not for them but for us. Abraham, the writer argues, and all the other Christian ancestors, will not be made perfect, that is, complete, until the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews is addressed are gathered into their succession. Extending it further, Abraham is waiting for us so that he can enter into his inheritance. The full significance of the great archetype of saving faith will be clear only when all the faithful are gathered in.”[2]

Christians also need to recapture the sense that salvation is cross-cultural. “The Epistle to the Ephesians reflects two ethnic and cultural communities in the church. Each had its own converted lifestyle, one utterly Jewish and Torah based, the other reflecting the conditions of the Hellenistic world of the Eastern Mediterranean but in converted form. There must have been many abrasive patches in churches made up of both groups, but the epistle make sit clear that the two communities belong together. They are each building blocks in the construction of the new temple; both are organs equally necessary to the functioning of the body of which Christ is the head. Indeed, as the epistle proceeds, we find that neither group can on its own realize the full stature of that body. We all come together, the apostle assures us, to the full stature of Christ.”[3]

The message of Ephesians is just as relevant to the many cultural communities in the global church. “Each is to have, like Jew and Greek in the early church, its own converted lifestyle as the distinctive features of each culture are turned toward Christ. The representation of Christ by any one group can at best be only partial. At best it reflects the conversion of a small segment of reality and it needs to be complemented and perhaps corrected by others. The fullness of humanity lies in Christ; the aggregate of converted lifestyles points toward his full stature.”[4]

[1] Andrew F. Walls, “Globalization and the Study of Christian History,” in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, ed. Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 71.

[2] Ibid., 72.

[3] Ibid., 73.

[4] Ibid., 73-4.

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Filed under Historical Theology, Intercultural Theology, Soteriology