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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Book Review: God, Freedom & Human Dignity Embracing A God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture

Author: Highfield, Ron
Publication details: Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 2013

Summary: Ron Highfield believes that many people fear God as a threat to their freedom and dignity. If God “fills all space and time, knows everything and exercises all power,” (p12) – i.e., is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent – as we have been told to believe, then how can there be any space, privacy or freedom for us? Defiance, subservience, and indifference are our attempts to protect ourselves from such an overbearing God.

But is God really like this? Highfield claims that the God made known to us in Jesus Christ does not rob us of freedom but grants it; He does not deprive us of our human dignity but affirms it: “God’s almighty power, omnipresence and comprehensive knowledge, which seem so menacing when understood as attributes of a superhuman being, appear very different in the light of the cross. God’s power gives life and freedom, God’s omnipresence opens a place for us and touches us with infinite love, and God’s knowledge of us roots our identity in God’s eternal life. We cannot think of God as a threat when we understand that God’s very being is love and God’s every act is giving” (p13).

In the first section of his book, Highfield draws on a wide range of moral philosophers, secular poets, novelists, and religious thinkers to provide an informative and intriguing story of the development of the modern human self with its aspirations for freedom, dignity, and happiness. In this scenario, God is seen as a competitive threat to the full realization of human potential. But the real problem, as Highfield presents it, is that we have come to think of God in terms much too like ourselves – a “sort of superhuman being who is everything we would like to be” (p13)!

For me, the real delight of Highfield’s book is its second half. Here he discusses the real truth about God and the human self. Turning to the biblical witness, and the rich theological tradition, he first writes of the “self-giving God of the gospel.” This God is not jealous of us – for he is the very ground of our existence – he made us to love us! He is Trinitarian, and therefore he is not self-centred: “When we think of divinity as an enviable superhuman God, we cannot be thinking of the Trinity we meet in the Bible. The superhuman God does one thing: he wills himself. He seeks to dominate and absorb everything…The God of Christian faith does nothing for God! …The members of the divine Trinity love themselves only in their love for each other” (p125). In Highfield’s discussion we discover that the omnipotent God “does not overpower but empowers us for our own free action” (p140); his presence does not displace us but awakens and acknowledges us; and his knowledge of us is really a very personal and profound love for us, which allays our fears and invites our trust.

Understanding who God really is, and what he is like, brings about “a new way of being human” (p151). It is to this truth that Highfield now turns: “God’s relationship to us is the most fundamental fact about us” (p 148); our first act of genuine freedom is “accepting God’s love for us” (p 179). Entrusting ourselves to the Father of Jesus, we discover ourselves as his adopted children. All defiance, subservience and indifference dissipate. God’s love for us becomes “the ground and measure” of our dignity (p191); “God’s love makes us lovable” (p117). “The Christian picture of humanity empowers us for true selfhood, perfect freedom and the highest dignity conceivable. In Christ we find an identity rooted not in others’ changing thoughts about us, but in God’s eternal knowledge of us. The Spirit leads us toward perfect freedom of life in harmony with our truest self” (p 113).

Evaluation:

This is an excellent book – both informative and inspiring. I especially enjoyed the way the author draws on a wide range of sources in our culture (moral philosophers, poets, novelists and so on); together with the rich Christian tradition (especially the extensive referencing of Kierkegaard, but also many others); and of course from the biblical witness to the gospel of the Trinitarian God. This book rings with the exhilarating truth that the God made known to us in Jesus Christ is far more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

Reviewed by: David McGregor

 

Book Review: Re-describing Reality: What we do when we read the Bible

Author: Walter Brueggemann

Publication: London: SCM Press, 2009.

Summary:  In this book, leading Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the methodological approach he uses for interpreting Scripture and provides a number of extended examples from the Old Testament. He argues that the biblical text creates a world where YHWH is the key character, a world that is not as others say it to be, and that reframes all our understandings in its light. Interpreting the text therefore involves the imagination, as we seek to bring this text into contact with the world as we have previously accepted it. He deals with some of the dangers inherent in biblical interpretation including the temptations to reduce the text to a “closed package of settled truth,” or to privatise it as a resource for personal life and overlook its communal dimensions.

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Theology of Work Project

Theology

 

Our intercultural studies lecturer, David Turnbull, came across this resource. I thought it was an interesting attempt to address an important need in the church. You can click on the picture to go to the website.

Dr Aaron Chalmers- Head of School, Ministry, Theology and Culture. Tabor Adelaide

 

A wind in the house of Islam: how God is drawing Muslims around the world to faith in Jesus Christ

22586927Author: V. David Garrison

Publication: Monument, Colo.: WIGTake Resources, 2014

Summary:   David Garrison’s book is based on interviews he conducted over a two year period of 1,000 Muslim background believers drawn from at least 17 of the 49 countries which are dominated by Islam. The respondents come from 45 of the 60 plus Christian “movements” in the past 30 years (a movement is defined as either having at least 1,000 baptised believers in a region or having at least 100 new worshipping fellowships formed in 20 years).  This research is unprecedented. The structure of the book is built around the nine Islamic “rooms” (or regions) as he attempts to investigate similarities and differences in the faith journeys of these Muslim converts from across the world. Ten “bridges of God” (ways God is working among Muslims today) are identified, and he addresses a number of barriers to seeing movements like these flourish, along with practical steps to see them grow. Some common threads are identified like the word of God and the encounter with the living Christ.

Evaluation: Not surprisingly, this book has attracted much attention. The comprehensive data and maps give a unique insight into the Muslim faith and a basis from which to respond. As Ramadan draws to a close it is a fitting time to reflect. The events of the past 12 months can provoke fear and concern but this book demonstrates that God is reminding us of His power, work and control, which some would think has been lost. Integral to this is the rise of prayer movements focusing on the Muslim World. (It needs to be recognised, however, these prayer movements cover up to only about 1.5% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.) The challenge for us is to support such prayer movements, in whatever form we can, while continuing to educate the Christian community through this narrative about how God is at work, and thus, how we might be at work win the world today as well.

Reviewed by: David TurnbullAvailable at Koorong: http://www.koorong.com/search/product/wind-in-the-house-of-islam-a-david/9781939124036.jhtml

How I think Research is like the Spiritual Life.

By Dr Stuart Devenish, Postgraduate Coordinator (MTC)- Tabor Adelaide

In this article I want to explore some of the ways in which I think research and spirituality intersect with and overlap each other. As I do so, I invite the reader to look for ways in which your own spiritual lives can connect with and grow your understanding of research. I appeal to the work of Richard Rohr – the well-known Franciscan priest and specialist in the spiritual life – to identify congruencies between the inner task of spiritual growth, and the outer task of research in whatever capacity this is undertaken. Read More