If the following from my previous post in this series is true, then an acknowledgment must be made about how we construct theology:
What we ¢â‚¬Å“see¢â‚¬ in the world, then, is really a function of our brain, an image that integrates past experiences, memory, cultural learning and other multi-sensory information. What a person perceives or sees is not the world. It is actually a prediction of what should be in the world based on what a person has experienced. This prediction is constantly tested by action. (1)
We must understand that our theology is culturally constructed. Culture provides framing, which in sociological and communication terms is a schema for determining interpretation and how we make meaning out of life. For instance, among those in the LDS sect recently raided in Texas, many were born into that sect. Marriage, for them, is framed in a specific way and it has meaning outside of what the rest of the country would have for marriage. Church for a neo-landmark Baptist from rural Kentucky or Texas has a different meaning than for most Baptists.
From a theological perspective, if in a particular culture a woman who is divorced is seen as a victim because only the husband can initiate it, then the story in John 4 has a different meaning and is thus interpreted differently. “Well they are not following proper interpretive processes” some might say. Maybe. But what if they have never been to seminary? Are we, as Christians, willing to trust a person with the Bible and the Spirit alone? Are we really willing to trust the Spirit to impart the message that draws people deeper into a relationship with the Father? Are we really willing to let the Spirit fulfill His role, that of teaching people all things? Your answer to that question determines your own theological construct.
We would have to conclude that our theology is culturally constructed. And people will interpret the Scriptures differently based on the frames of reference, which inform their interpretive processes. And we have to trust the Spirit to keep them from believing and teaching heresy. And in that, we must be willing to accept that the interpretation which comes from that may truly enhance our own understanding of God. We cannot be too quick to label a view different from ours simply because it is taught from a different frame of reference. Our theology must be a humble orthodoxy.
Taking the Gospel into different cultures thus implies we have at least two options in the inculturation of the Gospel. One would be to reframe the message. The other would be to attempt to change the frame of the entire culture. Colonialism in Africa coerced a change in culture. Lottie Moon adopted the Chinese culture and reframed the message through it. Do we change a culture’s entire framework for everything so that it works like ours, or do we seek to allow them to preserve their culture and reframing the Gospel within it?
Is it realistic to attempt to reframe what may be thousands of years of culture?
Contextualization and inculturation, then, must take place for us to do our part in sharing the Gospel. We must learn and apply their cultural frames and use those frames to share the glorious message of Jesus. Will it sound like what we might share in Alabama? No. But sharing the Gospel in Delaware will be different than in Alabama. If we are going to effectively communicate the Gospel we have to do it in a way they understand. Southern U.S. language is not how the rest of the world speaks or thinks.
So, how will they hear if there is no one to preach in a way they can understand?
(1) Christopher D. Frith, Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates Our Mental World (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007), 132
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