Karl Barth on Intercultural Theology

In a forthcoming article, “The Christus Victor Motif in Karl Barth and African Theology,” Benno van den Toren mentions an interesting passage from Barth’s later work on the value of intercultural theology. In a discussion of “The Lordless Powers” in lecture fragments on the Christian life, intended to become part of vol. IV, 4 of his Church Dogmatics, Barth writes:

“In this matter we have one of the not infrequent cases in which it has to be said that not all people, but some to whom a so‐called magical view of the world is now ascribed, have in fact, apart from occasional hocuspocus, seen more, seen more clearly, and come much closer to the reality in their thought and speech, than those of us who are happy possessors of a rational and scientific view of things, for whom the resultant clear (but perhaps not wholly clear) distinction between truth and illusion has become almost unconsciously the criterion of all that is possible and real….

“Might it be that our fellow Christians from the younger churches of Asia and Africa, who come with a fresher outlook in this regard, can help us here? We hope at least that they will not be too impressed by our view of the world and thus be afflicted by the eye disease from which we ourselves suffer in this matter.”[1]

[1] Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV, 4 Lecture Fragments, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 216, 219.

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The Ephesian Moment

Great stuff from Andrew Walls on ‘the Ephesian moment’ and its implications for the church today: “The Ephesian moment – the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ—was quite brief….But in our own day the Ephesian moment has come again, and come in a richer mode than has ever happened since the first century.”[1]

“There are two dangers. One lies in the desire to protect our own version of the Christian faith, or even seek to establish it as the standard normative one. The other, and perhaps the more seductive in the present condition of Western Christianity, is the postmodern option: to decide that each of the expressions and versions is equally valid and authentic, and that we are therefore each at liberty to enjoy our own in isolation from all the others.”[2]

“The Ephesian metaphors of the temple and of the body show each of the culture-specific segments as necessary to the body but as incomplete in itself. Only in Christ does completion, fullness, dwell. And Christ’s completion, as we have seen, comes from all humanity, from the translation of the life of Jesus into the lifeways of all the world’s cultures and subcultures through history. None of us can reach Christ’s completeness on our own. We need each other’s vision to correct, enlarge, and focus our own; only together are we complete in Christ.”[3]

[1] Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 78.

[2] Ibid., 78–79.

[3] Ibid., 79.

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A New Thing in the Global South

God delights in doing new things. In the words of Isaiah, “Remember not the former things, / nor consider the things of old. / Behold, I am doing a new thing; / now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? / I will make a way in the wilderness / and rivers in the desert.” (43:18-19 ESV)

According to Andrew Walls, a new thing is happening in the Global South: “Today, the signs suggest that what the Christianity of the twenty-first century will be like, in its theology, its worship, its effect on society, its penetration of new areas, whether geographically or culturally, will depend on what happens in Africa, in Latin America, and in some parts of Asia.”[1] In particular, he describes sub-Saharan Africa as “the most remarkable theatre of Christian accession in the modern world.”[2]

Are you watching closely?

[1] Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 32.

[2] Ibid., 45.

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In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety-Two…

Why is A.D. 1792 an important date in Christian history? Some might recognise it as the year that William Carey’s world changing Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathens was published. Andrew Walls notes another reason for its significance: “That same year saw the arrival in Sierra Leone of some 1,100 people of African birth or descent, bringing with them from North America their own churches and preachers, to form the first church in tropical Africa in modern times….The first church in tropical Africa in modern times was not a Western missionary creation, but an African one, an African creation marked by the experiences of America.”[1]

After A.D. 1792, West Africa would never be the same again.

[1] Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004), 28.

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Christianity Rediscovered, an Epilogue

In an endnote to Doing Theology with the Maasai, Doug Priest gives a succinct summary and something of an epilogue to Christianity Rediscovered: “Vincent Donovan’s book (1978) provides some of the first evidence of this new openness of the traditional Maasai to the Gospel. His work was located in northern Tanzania. Donovan wished to approach the Maasai in their homesteads without resorting to the more common approach followed by most missions. That approach was identified in the minds of the Maasai with primary schools, clinics and mission stations. Donovan went to the homesteads where he presented the Gospel over a year’s time. He then asked for a verdict, baptized those who wished to become Christian and then moved on to different homesteads. While his approach was commendable, in personal visits in the area several years after he left, I was saddened to learn that most all of the new believers had not continued in relation to the church due to lack of continued teaching.”[1]

[1] Doug Priest Jr., Doing Theology with the Maasai (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1990), 13n.

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Christian, What Do You Believe? An African Creed

At the very end of Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan records the following creed, presumably an English translation: “We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on earth. We have known this High God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

“We believe that God, made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

“We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen”[1]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), 163.

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Vincent Donovan on Mission

After starting from scratch in his attempt to bring the gospel to the Masai, Vincent Donovan arrived at the following understanding of what it means to be a missionary: “A missionary is a social martyr, cut off from his roots, his stock, his blood, his land, his background, his culture. He is destined to walk forever a stranger in a strange land. He must be stripped as naked as a human being can be, down to the texture of his being. St. Paul said Christ did not think being God was something to be clung to, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave. He was stripped to the fiber of his being, to the innermost part of his spirit. That is the truest meaning of poverty of spirit. This poverty of spirit is what is called for in a missionary, demanding that he divest himself of his very culture, so that he can be a naked instrument of the gospel to the cultures of the world.”[1]

Being a missionary would seem to be a rather lonely task of continuous self-emptying, yet for Donovan it is primarily the task of a community: “I believe that missionary work is that work undertaken by a gospel oriented community, of transcultural vision, with a special mandate, charism, and responsibility for spreading and carrying that gospel to the nations of the world, with a view of establishing the church of Christ.”[2]

[1] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai, 3rd ed (London: SMC Press, 2001), 158.

[2] Ibid.

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