Doing Theology within the Global Church

The centre of Christianity is shifting. It is moving south and, to be precise, is nearing Timbuktu in Mali. (David Blair, Centre of Christianity Moves to Africa, 2005 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafrica/1484450/Centre-of-Christianity-moves-to-Africa.html). Approximately 63% of the 2.2 billion believers come from the majority world. Europe and North America are being left behind (http://www.operationworld.org/regions).

Through immigration Australia is a recipient and a beneficiary of this demographic change. In the last census over 50% of the overseas born believers came from the majority world rather than Europe and New Zealand, a real change from similar data in 1986. As a result, our churches are becoming increasingly multiethnic. This, in turn, raises questions about the nature of Christian life and the Christian community, and what it means to be authentically multicultural.

One area where this needs to be explored is theological development and expression. True inclusion means doing theology together through mutual invitation and dialogue. We should be aware that significant theological developments have been taking place in the majority world, especially in the past 40 years or so, leading to the development of distinctive voices which can contribute to our global theological and biblical discussions.

The presentation of theology in Australia will evolve and change through the influence of majority world believers as they continue to develop their identity and own theology and adjust this to fit their new contexts. A key question, therefore, is how willing are we to sit at the table, to engage with and listen to the diasporic communities which are present in our congregations and Christian communities, and to participate in the resultant theological conversations?

In terms of my own journey (including times spent in Africa and Asia and participating in Christian international conferences) I have seen that there is much we hold in common around “non-negotiables” in the areas of theology, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology, soleriology and missiology. But there are benefits and blessings, not least of which is the possibility of growth, that can be gained from listening to the differences and the distinctives.

For example, after teaching at a theological college in Nigeria for a year my eyes were opened to the realities and dynamic of the spirit world, something which Paul discusses frequently but which is often overlooked in our western, modern, “scientific” theologies. Likewise, my understanding of God, particularly his might and power, has been enriched by students who came from tribal and African Traditional religious background.

In recent years, a number of books have been published which can help westerners engage with and learn from the richness and diversity of contemporary global theology. Particularly significant are Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the Context of World Christianity, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s many books on theological themes from a contextual and ecumenical perspective, and Jeffrey Greenman and Gene Green’s Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission. A number of these texts will be utilised in a new subject which Tabor Adelaide is launching in second semester entitled “Doing Theology within the Global Church”. I will be co-teaching this subject with David McGregor and we are looking forward to seeing where reading and engaging with theological material from outside our comfort zone might take us!

[1] Phillip Hughes, “The Impact of Recent Immigration on Religious Groups in Australia,” Pointers 22, no. 4 (2012), 6.; Cultural Diversity in Australia: Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/ abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features902012-2013

David Turnbull- Coordinator Intercultural Studies and senior lecturer, Tabor Adelaide

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