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In 1208, an Icelandic poet named Kolbeinn Tumason wrote Heyr Himna Smiður, which would become a stalwart piece of Icelandic Christian tradition. Its imagery is dynamic to these northern peoples, using the terms “Smith of the Heavens” to convey the craftsmanship and attention that God shows to creation; “mild one” which is a play on the word that means the generous tribal leader, or king; and “King of the suns”, capturing the spiritual significance of solar seasonality to the island just south of the Arctic Circle.
Listen to the poem sung in it’s original language with an English translation, performed by Ellen Kristjánsdóttir. (more…)
There is a specific book that started me down the path of discovering World Christianity and has led me to engage with global perspectives of theology and contextualization. I bought it for a friend who was also finishing an undergraduate Biblical Studies program. When it arrived from the bookseller, I flipped through the pages and before I knew it, had read the entire first chapter. And the second. And the third.
Theology in the Context of World Christianity , by Timothy Tennent, is the book that I have recommended to several people who have asked me where to start start in bridging their (Western) theological training and emerging non-Western perspectives.
The premise of the book is that (more…)
The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.
Juan Luis Segundo (1925-1996) was a Jesuit priest and scholar who was instrumental with the introduction of liberation theology in Latin America and the application of the hermeneutic circle. His initial work, Liberation of Theology, raises issues of the Latin American context and its perspective, although he does so within the style of traditional Western theologians.
In many Western contexts, the term “ideology” has a negative connotation, which bleeds into the consideration of liberation theology, to which Segundo defines the relationship of ideology and faith, writing in Liberation of Theology,
“a system of goals and means that serve as a necessary backdrop for any human option or line of action”, yet “Faith…is the total process to which [the human being] submits, a process of learning in and through ideologies how to create the ideologies necessary to handle new and unforeseen situations in history.” As such, ideologies are derived from the particular context of a community and contribute to faith. But at no point can ideology supersede the role of faith, which encompasses a diverse range of idealized theories of life.
His writing on hermeneutics emphasized the role of the community in interpretation, rather than assuming that an individual is the driver of the interpretive process. This stood as a critique and addition to Schleiermacher’s conception of the hermeneutic circle which would become a standard interpretive principle within liberation theology.
For more information about Segundo’s writing, see the entry in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.
Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.
One of the strengths of many theological perspectives outside of the Western tradition is attentiveness to the revelation the comes from creation. This is especially evident in the viewpoint of North American indigenous peoples (also called, generally, First Nation or Native American; or by their specific lineage association) who are Christian.
Prism Magazine, an online publication of Evangelicals for Social Action, published an article with Randy Woodley, founder of Eagle’s Wings Ministry, Inc., a largely Native American community in Newberg, OR, USA, in which he expands on how he finds the value in the revelation of creation. (more…)
I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to come across an online journal called Christ and Cascadia, which “explores the cultural challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for Christianity in Cascadia. The journal is committed to cultivating thoughtful conversations that are contextually aware, theologically rich, and culturally creative”. It is the online journal of the Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture, who also hosts conferences and creates courses designed to raise the dialogue for engaging with these communities.
“Cascadia” is the name of the bioregion shared by Oregon and Washington (sometimes Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana), USA and British Columbia, Canada. At times a political movement, the name has come to refer more generally to the culture of the peoples that live in the Pacific Northwest of North America. You can read more about that culture here- Cascadian Culture: Grasping a Slippery Salmon.
DJ Chuang was asked recently about how best to access Asian American influenced preaching available in podcasts. His page links to a “list of Asian American pastors that regularly preach and teach at their churches and particularly contextualize the Gospel for all peoples, those who are bicultural, interracial, and multiethnic (in contrast to some who may speak from a generic Gospel perspective, not that there’s anything wrong with that… //…to be listed, there needs to be podcast feeds that can be subscribed in iTunes and Android, as well as contextualizing Gospel to cultures.”
I have followed DJ Chuang online and admired his gift for networking, especially among multicultural strands of the North American church. I encourage you to click through and listen to some of those podcasts (I only know one of of the pastors personally, but I am acquainted with several and have grown personally through my interaction with their writing and speaking.)
For more from DJ Chuang about the North American church and Asian American influences, find his website here.
How do you find the hope for freedom after centuries of oppression from four different world powers? What spark is there to transform the pain that you feel within and the emptiness of the world around you? Minjung theology is borne out of these questions and finds a response in a unique understanding of Christ and how to follow him faithfully.
Minjung (민중) is a word derived from the Korean pronunciation of two Chinese characters: “min” (the people) and “jung” (the masses). The combination of the two creates an image of the majority of people, the poor, the oppressed. The term originated as a descriptor in contrast to the Yangban, or ruling elite class.
Although it is similar in some respects to liberation theological movements, it is an oversimplification of the Korean context to lump in with Latin American, African, or other movements. There is less of an emphasis upon economic injustice and more attention to institutional oppression from colonial and hierarchical structures. These forms of injustice are partly due to geography, as the Korean peninsula is situated between China and Japan, and also (much more recently) politically between the former Soviet Union and the United States.
Minjung theology derives from the experience of the minjung– the people who are exploited by the elite. Initially conceived as an interpretive source by leaders of the Urban Industrial Mission who volunteered for labor camps in the early 1960s, the term has taken on added significance in successive generations. A similarity to the minjung can be found in the gospels’ use of the term ὄχλος (ochlos) to refer to the crowds (of commoners, outcasts) following Jesus.
There are two distinct features of minjung theology: 한 (han) and 단 (dan).
How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?
In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1991, 302).
Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.
Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance. The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship. For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.
What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?
This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.