Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How do we do theology?

A book published 1974 by JMB was published in the USA as Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation and in the UK with the rather patronising title, Revolutionary Theology Comes of Age. Míguez dislike both of these titles so when he translated in back into Spanish, he called is Fe en Busca de Eficacia; Faith Seeking Effectiveness. This is, of course, a play on Anselm of Canterbury's famous axiom fides quaerens intellectum; faith seeking understanding. Míguez' definition is mediated by Marx when he stated in, The Holy Family, that "Philosophers have only tried to interpret the world, in various ways; the point is to change it". It maybe controversial to say this, but, as Evangelicals, we can learn from this. Theology we do at allnations our theology in unashamedly pragmatic. We do theology to better carry out our mission in the world. Others' thoughts on this are welcome.

Monday, December 9, 2013

10 Missiologists in a Minibus

This one is just for fun. This is a story I wrote back in 1999 after the Iguazu conference. You may have read Jerome K. Jerome's hilarious book "Three men in a Boat", the story of the adventures and misadventures of Harris, George, J and Montmormancy the dog on the Thames. Well let me tell you, they have nothing on our "ten missiologists in a minibus".

We were going from Foz do Iguazú in Brazil to Asunción in Paraguay, from one missiological consultation to another. How do you get ten missiologists from one consultation to another? One way would be to fly them but no that’s too boring and not half as much fun as cramming them and their belongings into a small bus and driving for six and a half hours in the searing heat and dust.

We agreed to meet at 8.00am to start our journey but knew we'd never make it when most were still eating breakfast at 8.15! At 8.45am we loaded up our suit and brief cases on top of the minibus which groaned, complained and gave us meaningful looks. Having seen how the luggage would be traveling we decided that maybe the laptops should travel laptop and not bustop! (That’s bus top not bus-stop!)

Our pastoral studies teacher always told us that missionaries should deal with their baggage before going abroad. Well I say, if they do decide to bring it, at least they should have enough string to tie it down with! Looking at ours we realized that we had broken that golden rule. After much consideration and missiological reflection we decided that we would, like Nehemiah, pray hard and post a watchman, i.e. somebody to see if anything dropped off the top!

Off we went. We were a mixture of shapes and sizes, some being overlong. We rejected the idea of cutting them off at the knees and duly folded them up and hoped that their legs would simply drop off through lack of blood. And so, not sitting comfortably, we began.

After ten minutes or so of the journey we noticed that the friendly people of the city of Foz were waving at us. We figured that because some of us had written books and were famous they wanted our autographs, but the appearance of one of our suitcases making a break for freedom from the roof-rack made us reassess that theory. We stopped and had another think (this gives a new meaning to the phrase "theology on the road"!). Two things were evident, one we DID need more string and two we needed a new watchman, the first one having failed miserably in his task, not raising his voice...not joyfully nor any other way for that matter.

So after some readjustment we went off to negotiate the boarder crossing. Unless one has crossed the boarder from Brazil to Paraguay at the Foz/Punta del Este frontier, it is difficult to imagine the joy of looking out of the back window of the bus and seeing the sign "welcome to Brazil" fade into the distance.

We stopped at the first supermarket in Paraguay that we saw and four of our number disappeared in search of string and cold drinks, and Wilma in her unending quest for chocolate. We stood around in the pleasant sunshine chatting and having our shoes shined by some young boys who said, yes they did accept both Argentina Pesos and Dollars but preferred local currency. They calculated their exchange rate and fleeced us nicely!

The string and cold drinks duly arrived. Much tying, untying, retying and puffing and panting went on. Some off us sat around reflecting that if this was what it was like traveling and doing mission no wonder Paul and Barnabas had such a stinking row after their first journey!

We pumped more air into the tyres knowing that dealing with ten missiologists, after 11 days of hotel meals was a weighty matter. We were off again. Our bus was much taller now than before and cornering became quite an adventure as from the inside it fell like a schooner on the high seas. The pitch was nothing but the roll took your breath away! Blessedly, after leaving the city the road was as straight as if it had ambitions of leading us to Rome.

What can one say about the rest of the journey? It was hot, boring and, as with the making of books and study, there was no end to it and it was wearying to the flesh (especially the nether regions!). Two incidents however do merit a mention. Firstly we were stopped by the police and army six times. Road blocks seem to cover that highway like a rash. The soldiers peered into the bus, seemingly our of pure curiosity to see what kind of person traveled in such a way. We were quite a spectacle, the minibus loaded as it was and all ten of us crammed inside, looking like an out of control game of twister. We smiled back at them, they frowned and let go feeling that they been educated a little more about foreigners. Surprisingly none of us were arrested and we never had to get out, although I must say it may have been a relief.

The second incident was lunch. No exactly the stuff of Hollywood action movies you say, but heh let me tell you after 4 hours of the journey it’s worth a mention! As the door of the minibus opened we sprang forth with joy. Well, actually we fell out groaning and searching to see if all our limbs were still there because they certainly had ceased to answer to the helm some hours before. The idea of unloading all the belongings from the top of the bus didn’t appeal so we found a seat in the restaurant where we could see it. This was a good ploy until some dirty great pickup-truck parked, blocking our view. We figured that it’d probably take a thief most of his life to untie the luggage and anyway if he did he deserved it and could have all he wanted. The meal cost us $1.50 each for an all you could eat...we became even weightier issues.

We finally arrived at the conference centre 2½ hours late (the first meeting was to start at 3.00pm). The main speaker for the first session of the conference had left from Brazil in a car just behind us but had not turned up so the folk in the meeting were still singing choruses and just about to learn how to chant Psalm 119 in Arabic! Anyway we’d arrived.

How do you get 10 missiologists in a minibus? The answer, don’t even try!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Theology: Contextual and Contextualised

Even though it is generally accepted that all theology is contextual, it is still common to talk about contextualized theology. This is acceptable if the terms are clarified. Theology, being a human activity is worked out within a context that greatly affects the way it is done, the theological themes it deems important and the conclusions that it draws. For example, it is not surprising that prosperity theology arose within a context that generally rewards hard work, and that the theologies of liberation arose within a context of oppression and injustice where no matter how hard you work you will still be exploited. This holds both for an individual theologian or a school of theology. For example Barth and Bonhoeffer worked out their theologies within a context of the rise of Hitler and the oppression of the Jews. The Swastika casts a long shadow over Bonhoeffer's most famous works as it does in much of Barth's early work. One can perceive that Barth's theology was affected after 1960 by the rise of the liberation movements in Africa and Latin America. This can be illustrated in how Barth allowed a greater correlation between God and his activity within history after the WFCS conference in Strasbourg (1960) The illustration from Barth shows that this goes for systematic theology as much as biblical and applied theology. For me, “Contextualized Theology” on the other hand is that theology which consciously and constructively responds to the issues within a given context. It is not so concerned with developing a theological system, as it is to faithfully and coherently respond theologically to the issues of the day. This is theology on the road. We can conclude therefore that although all theology is contextual not all theology is contextualized.