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Theology in the 21st Century


There is a postmodern theology. Although the term ‘postmodern’ might be overused, it still mean something. Modernity has passed. Not all elements of modernism has left us, just as not all of Medieval left Enlightenment Europe, or tribal/traditional culture left the developed Asian countries of today. Yet, postmodernity has arrived. Whenever the overarching, over-confident meta-narrative of the Enlightenment project is in doubt, modernism fades and postmodernity arises. It is in politics, society and arts. There is a certain ‘postmodern’ culture which defines its own meanings and symbols. The very reactions towards the failed Enlightenment confidence, coupled with a world dominated by free-market capitalism, allows an ultra utilitarianistic and narcissistic culture to emerge. This culture only sees individuals. Blinded to the need to submit to governments and authorities, partly due to market forces and self-interest, this generation of postmoderns are also pragmatic – ”meaning’ means very little to them apart from what meant to be of their own interest. There is no need for a universal truth or value.

How does this affect theology in the 21st century? It is certain that systematic theology will suffer (it has) as it is suited more for a modernist mindset than a postmodern one. Yet the more crucial question is how can we theologise if the modern category is faulty? This is not new. The discovery of various cultures worldwide and the missionary encounter with them have confirmed that the Western categories or methods of theologising is limited. Western Christianity, it was discovered, was modernist, especially when compared to the various contextual theologies in the Third World.

Mission theology, informed by the Liberation Theology and other contextual theologies, should take prominent role in theologising in the 21st century. If the modern project was Western, postmoderns represent a multitude of cultures and peoples. If theology was at a time (from Enlightenment to the 20th century), a Western and systematic exercise, today it shall be a ‘postmodern’ exercise for Global Christianity. Thus, mission theologians equipped with the skills of contextualisation and training in classical theology, history, biblical studies and practical ministries, must set the pace for this age. To the postmodern, a proper exegesis of a biblical text means very little unless it means something to him or her. An all encompassing, structural, and theoretical, and authoritative tone suited to the big meta-narrative claim has given way to the cry for meaning of the particulars and individuals. It will take a missionary of the 21st century whom can decipher cultures to communicate with them. Just as the residues of modernity still linger around, and their values not to be undermined, a postmodern way of doing theology does not deny the classical and modern ways of doing theology. Yet it takes the bull by its horns by asking relevant questions about this age, while reinventing and evolving itself to be relevant to the present era.

p.s. There is no denial of a core – or a constant in context of Christianity. Just how this core can be discovered and discerned is a continuous debate. Suggested readings:

Mission Responses to Postmodernism by John Corrie

MISSION AND CONTEXTUALIZATION by John Corrie

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Inculturation Explained (con’t)


I have posted some pieces about inculturation earlier and the posts have been receiving on average 3 views per day ever since.  I am currently writing a paper on ‘redefining inculturation’, attempting to propose a more comprehensive definition for inculturation. My previous posts were mainly a combination of thoughts and theology from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. They were basically not critical work and has very little academic value.

In my present research, I have managed to review a whole range of definitions of inculturation and the ways in which those definitions have come into being. All that I would like to say here is this: inculturation is a huge subject.

Currently I am still working on the definition of ‘culture’ – that is after months of studies.

East Meets West: An Infographic Portrait by Yang Liu


East Meets West: An Infographic Portrait by Yang Liu

West meets East – Life of elderly.

Click to find a series of infographics designed by Yang LIU, a Chinese living in Germany. Question to ponder: If these are cultural outlook what would be the underlying worldview, beliefs and values which cause these?

What is the Gospel?


Tom Wirght talks about the gospel.

I have doing some research on inculturation.  One of the main confusions people have – be they Roman Catholics or Protestants – is whether the ‘gospel’ interacts with ‘culture’ or actually the church, the Christian faith or Christ Himself does so.

Of course I have my own conclusion after some massive revamp of my own previous dissertation. Anyway, one of the key issues in the study is the definition of ‘gospel’. So after listening to N.T. Wirght’s short definition of the gospel, do you think that the gospel interacts and dialogues with culture(s)?

 

Proclamation is necessary!


In my further research into the subject of ‘inculturation’, I have found that ‘proclamation’ plays a key role in the whole process. I have also found the following, which I think is useful for Protestants (especially Evangelicals) in their attempt to re-examine their attitude towards evangelism.

20. The Church in Asia is all the more eager for the task of proclamation knowing that “through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death”. This insistence on proclamation is prompted not by sectarian impulse nor the spirit of proselytism nor any sense of superiority. The Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ’s command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ. To bear witness to Jesus Christ is the supreme service which the Church can offer to the peoples of Asia, for it responds to their profound longing for the Absolute, and it unveils the truths and values which will ensure their integral human development.

Deeply aware of the complexity of so many different situations in Asia, and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), the Church proclaims the Good News with loving respect and esteem for her listeners. Proclamation which respects the rights of consciences does not violate freedom, since faith always demands a free response on the part of the individual. Respect, however, does not eliminate the need for the explicit proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness. Especially in the context of the rich array of cultures and religions in Asia it must be pointed out that “neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised are an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ”.

Redemptoris Missio

Phan wrote a very good summary of the above, combining also the thoughts of John Paul II from the Ecclesia in Asia:

Proclamation

Among the many activities of the church‘s mission there must no doubt be proclamation. There was a rumor that at the Asian Synod, which met in Rome 19 April-14 May 1998, there was a fear that in Asia “dialogue” had replaced or at least overshadowed “proclamation,” Perhaps for this reason, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, the pope reaffirms not only the necessity but also the “primacy” of proclamation: “There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The Second Vatican Council and the magisterium since then, responding to a certain confusion about the true nature of the church’s mission, have repeatedly stressed the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EA, no. 19).

What is meant by “proclamation” here? If past missionary practices are any guide, we tend to take it to mean verbal announcement of the good news. written and/or oral, Protestants mostly by means of the Bible. and Catholics mostly by means of the catechism, The emphasis is laid on the verbal communication of a message or a doctrine, and the preferred if not exclusive means are words. The main content of the proclamation is the truth that Jesus is “the only Savior,” “the one mediator between God and mankind” (RM, no. 5).

Though this is admittedly the common meaning of proclamation, it is most interesting that John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Asia, where he reaffirms both the necessity and primacy of proclamation. nowhere emphasizes the exclusive use of words or doctrinal formulas to convey the message that Jesus is the only savior for all humankind. On the contrary, he says that “the presentation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior needs to follow a pedagogy that will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery. Clearly, the initial evangelization of non-Christians and the continuing proclamation of Jesus to believers will have to be different in their approach” (EA, no. 20). As examples of these approaches. the pope mentions stories. parables, symbols, personal contact. and inculturation (see EA, nos. 20»22). More important. he also mentions “Christian life as proclamation.” a life marked by “prayer, fasting and various forms of asceticism . . . renunciation, detachment, humility, simplicity and silence” (EA, no. 23). No less important is John Paul lI‘s remark that in Asia “people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument” (EA, no. 42). Furthermore, the pope notes that in many places in Asia where explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted, “the silent witness of life still remains the only way of proclaiming God‘s kingdom” (EA, no. 23). In sum, the pope recognizes that there is a “legitimate variety of approaches to the proclamation of Jesus, provided that the faith itself is respected in all its integrity” (EA, no. 23).

Excerpt from: ,

 

I am a product of early Chinese education, Malay high school and British tertiary education. A Malaysian. Read theology, philosophy and a little history. Loves the Bible. Interested in how China would become had Ricci’s effort survived the Rite Controversy, and how today’s churches can learn from this particular relationship between faith and culture. This brings me to another interest – the Emerging Church movement. As a computer science graduate I am also an analyst and a generalist. So I like to relate, consolidate and integrate ideas.

Lin Khee Vun

kheevun@transformingmission.com

 

How does a Church Grow?


Dr. Howard Culbertson posted the following in his website:

Here are 14 lessons which John Slack learned in his church growth research with congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an example of what can be learned from demographics, spreadsheets, surveys, interviews, and historical studies by analyzing the information secured from various sources.

  1. New units grow faster than established churches.
  2. Aging within a church almost inevitably ushers in a “come-oriented” ministry in contrast to a “go-centered” ministry.
  3. Older churches do not start as many new churches as do younger churches.
  4. Churches and church planting drift upward on the economic scale.
  5. The longer a church is in a community, the less like that community the church becomes.
  6. Existing, established churches have normal plateau and ministry limits.
  7. Only as a church effectively expands its discipleship base will it sustain infinitely reproducible church growth and church planting.
  8. More baptisms and greater membership growth occurs in zones or areas that are farther from the existing church and its come-oriented activities.
  9. The difference between so-called “responsive” and “non-responsive” peoples is not in the average number of baptisms per church but in the number of new units — churches — that are started.
  10. Churches in resistant cultures tend to begin as or soon become cosmopolitan rather than community. In resistant cultures, community churches have far greater influence on the culture than do cosmopolitan churches.
  11. As beginning models of church planting, training, and materials are repeated and age, they become hallowed — and almost “unchangeable” — patterns even when and if they are no longer relevant.
  12. If a lost person or people group is illiterate and poor, the chance of their being evangelized decreases proportionately to the heights of their illiteracy and the depths of their poverty.
  13. Training in most theological programs has become more academic than functional.
  14. Bible teaching, including the Sunday School and other forms of discipleship, to be effective, must be done in the context of evangelism.

Slack, James B. (1998). “Strategies for Church Planting.” Missiology. Edited by John Mark Terry, Ebbie Smith and Justin Anderson. Nashville, TN.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

I hope he doesn’t mind me reposting it here. I discovered the list two years ago when I did a research and still find it intriguing. Now if you are a student of missiology – try reading the list with contextualisation or inculturation in mind and you will discover something interesting.

 

N. T. Wright explores the question, “What is the gospel?”


I cannot help but share this. Also do note how many times Wright refers to some sort of contextualisation in this video:

Church – quit admonishing the world and start engaging!


One of my favourite authors and renowned historian, John Dickson, was interviewed by Marshall Shelley and Drew Dyck recently. The interview, which is titled, ‘The Church in Secular Culture – Moving from a stance of admonition to mission’ is available in the Leadership Journal. Below is the excerpt of a section of interview which I think speaks for itself:

What advice do you have for church leaders in America about how to engage the broader culture effectively?

I think the very first thing is to do is adopt a stance of mission instead of admonition toward the world. Here’s an example. In the Australian context, there are church leaders who remember the glory days when about 20 percent of the nation went to church. They look at how Australia is secularized today, and their stance toward the world is basically admonition, the way you would talk to a backsliding Christian. How dare you slide away? How dare you legislate against Christian morality? I call that the admonition paradigm.

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What’s wrong with this approach?

I reckon that’s how you kill your mission, because if you speak with a sense of entitlement, you won’t be flexible, you won’t be humble, and you won’t take hits and just bear it. You’ll want to strike back. And people will think you’re arrogant. Quite rightly, probably.

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What do you recommend instead?

When you move out of admonition into mission, you realize Australia is no longer Jerusalem; it’s Athens. Then you instantly adopt a humbler approach to non-Christians. You don’t expect them to live Christian lives if they don’t confess Christ. You don’t expect Parliament to pass Christian-specific laws. But as a leader, you try to persuade the nation with winsomeness, with gentleness and respect, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15.

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What does this mean for Christians who want to influence legislation?

Don’t say, “This is our right” or “You ought to live this way.” We can say we think God’s way is best for all of us and invite others to follow God’s path. But then we just live as an alternative community that embodies the things we claim to be true. And don’t worry about the loss of power.
I’ve often said to my Christian friends here in America, please do not confuse loss of legislative power with loss of gospel opportunity. The early church, of course, had no legislative power and they did amazing things. In China today, they have no legislative power, and a third of all Bibles are sold in China. This is not to say don’t go into politics, don’t speak up. But do it in mission mode, not admonition.
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For full interview see: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/january-online-only/secularculture.html

Useful Resources for Mission at the International Bulletin of Missionary Research


The April version of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research has a number of interesting articles. Articles are available for free at the website after your subscribe to its email newsletter. Among articles which are relevant to faith, culture and mission in the postmodern context are:

1. Emerging Adults and the Future of Missions by Rick Richardson

In his introduction:

Several recent studies have focused on emerging adults in the United States, considering the spiritual and religious lives of high school teens (ages 14–18)[1] or of twenty-somethings (ages 19–29).[2] Two works helpfully draw out the implications of this research for the spiritual formation of high schoolers and of twenty-somethings,[3] but so far little attention has been given to the implications this research holds for mission. It is evident that shifts in the emerging generation (especially twenty-somethings) will have profound consequences for the recruitment, formation, training, deployment, and retention of the next generation of missionaries and thus for the shape and sustainability of mission itself, as this generation will practice it. What do we know about emerging adults, and what are the implications for the future of global mission?

I start by exploring two broad interpretive ideas that enlarge our understanding of the spiritual lives of today’s emerging adults. Then I examine more closely the cultural and social forces that have shaped the spiritual and religious trajectories of teens and twenty-somethings. Finally, I draw out implications for cross-cultural mission in the twenty-first century.

Read the full article

2. “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct”: Thinking Back and Looking Ahead by Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K.

Though it may not be the chief purpose of the author, this article depicts the typical postmodern phenomenon of the increase of sub-cultural groupings manifested in the form of various religious entities struggling to find an identity in the postmodern multi-religious and pluralist context. The author highlights the need for proper Christian witness in the midst of religious tension.

Read the full article

3. Evangelization and the Tenor of Vatican II: A Review Essay by Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder

This is a book review for Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin

Excerpt of the review:

‘The focus of this book is an investigation as to why contemporary Catholics, despite encouragement from Vatican II and from Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, evidence a certain hesitation or lack of enthusiasm for evangelization and ad gentes missionary work. Martin argues that such evangelical lethargy is due to two causes. The first is a lack of attention to the teaching of the Council on the urgent necessity of mission, despite its teaching “about the possibility of salvation outside the visible bounds of the Church, or of Christianity” (6). The second is a “culture of universalism” or “practical universalism” in Catholicism that presumes the salvation of all humanity (196).’

Read the full review

The Pope who Stunned the World


There is a post at the Read the Spirit site entitled ‘Rediscover John XXIII, a Pope who stunned the world!‘  Many have thought that the new pope, Francis I, brings a refreshing aura with him into the office. So it would be natural for one to look back curiously for past popes with similar ‘aura of change’. John XXIII was one of them. He was the pope whom brought the Roman Catholic Church and the world a revolutionary change through the initiative of Vatican II.

Excerpt from the above post:

MORE THAN 1 BILLION CATHOLICSaround the world are wondering: Can a new pope revive our deeply troubled Church? Millions of those Catholics also wonder: Is it possible that another pope could “throw open the windows of the Church”? That’s a reference to Pope John XXIII, the pope who stunned the world by opening the Second Vatican Council in 1962—the historic global gathering of Catholic leaders that finally set the Mass in common languages, moved altars forward to make parishioners feel that they were a part of the Mass, changed countless other church structures and, most importantly, ushered in the modern era of interfaith relations.

Also, a book on John XXIII is also introduced in the post. The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church–The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II (Kindle version) costs only $3.99.

Students of mission studies will no doubt remember documents which are the results of the Council. For example, Lumen Gentium and Ad Gentes. Through these documents and other efforts, the council set the pace for inculturation of worship to happen in the global church and contextualisation to take place for evangelisation.

And, in his own words,

In these days, which mark the beginning of this Second Vatican Council, it is more obvious than ever before that the Lord’s truth is indeed eternal. Human ideologies change. Successive generations give rise to varying errors, and these often vanish as quickly as they came, like mist before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.  Pope John XXIII: Opening Speech at the Council, October 11, 1962

Engaging yet not compromising. A mission-minded pope indeed.


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