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:
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.
This is a must read for anyone who seriously wants to learn about culture: Readers’ tipping nightmares and fairytales
1. Kenneth McLeod, Xiamen, China: I live and work in China; last year at a trade conference we were invited to a banquet by our Chinese hosts. The waitress was giving top class service and an American tried to give the waitress a tip, which she refused. However he still forced the tip into her pocket; at this juncture the waitresses manager saw the money go into the waitress’ pocket, the manager came across to the waitress and sacked her on the spot. She took the money out of the waitress’ pocket and tried to give it back to the American, who refused to take it back and an altercation started, much to our Chinese hosts’ embarrassment. I had to take him aside and explain to him that he was insulting our hosts and Chinese people in general. He couldn’t understand that it was insulting to tip in China, that the employer paid staff a wage set by the government. All I could get from him was: “Oh we do that in in America all the time.” He seemed mystified that customs in countries other than America are different. The waitress didn’t get her job back, because the manageress would have “lost face” with the rest of her staff, if she admitted that she had made a mistake.
…4. Ian H.Thain, Banbury, UK: I found that giving tips to hotel staff in the Philippines was met with embarrassment. But equally, I didn’t want to be seen as tight-fisted when I know how little they earn compared with us, and I felt embarrassed if I didn’t tip. One restaurant in the USA had a large notice by the cash desk: “We pay our staff well. Please do not insult them by leaving tips.” However, beside the till itself was a jar labelled “Insults”.
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.
- New units grow faster than established churches.
- Aging within a church almost inevitably ushers in a “come-oriented” ministry in contrast to a “go-centered” ministry.
- Older churches do not start as many new churches as do younger churches.
- Churches and church planting drift upward on the economic scale.
- The longer a church is in a community, the less like that community the church becomes.
- Existing, established churches have normal plateau and ministry limits.
- Only as a church effectively expands its discipleship base will it sustain infinitely reproducible church growth and church planting.
- More baptisms and greater membership growth occurs in zones or areas that are farther from the existing church and its come-oriented activities.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Training in most theological programs has become more academic than functional.
- 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.
I cannot help but share this. Also do note how many times Wright refers to some sort of contextualisation in this video:
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:
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) or of twenty-somethings (ages 19–29). Two works helpfully draw out the implications of this research for the spiritual formation of high schoolers and of twenty-somethings, 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.
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.
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).’
From my MA Dissertation:
Inculturation is centred on culture. This marks the primary difference between inculturation and contextualisation. Most Protestants consider inculturation as a subset of contextualisation. Bosch for example, placed inculturation under contextualisation together with liberation theology; with inculturation the primary concern is the relationship between faith and culture, while liberation theology includes the larger context, namely the socio-political situation. So although there remains close ties between culture and the socio-political context, when inculturation is in question, the focus should always be ‘culture’.
Cultural Anthropology is now a necessity for mission studies. Surely no student of inculturation would want to miss out course material on cultural anthropology, especially if is in good quality and produced by a top university. The good news is MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has just a course like this. Under its Open Courseware, MIT has since make the undergraduate (and some graduate) level Anthropology Courses available online. The emphasis of some of these courses are on Cultural Anthropology. The Introduction to Anthropology, for example, gives students a good basic grasp of Anthropology from the cultural perspectives.
Amongst the courses made available are Anthropological Theory, Seminar in Ethnography and Fieldwork, Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism, Identity and Difference, Gender, Sexuality, and Society, Ethnic and National Identity, Rethinking the Family, Sex, and Gender, Power: Interpersonal, Organizational and Global Dimensions, Culture, Embodiment and the Senses, Food and Culture, Anthropology Through Speculative Fiction, Marketing, Microchips and McDonalds: Debating Globalization, Documenting Culture, Technology and Culture, Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies, Cross-Cultural Investigations: Technology and Development, Social Theory and Analysis (Graduate level), and The Anthropology of Cybercultures (Graduate level).
The course syllabus, structure/calendar, reading list, lecture notes, assignments, and study materials are all free for download online.
By the way, there are of course resources which deals with the relationship between missiology and anthropology. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Hiebert is one of them.