Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Theology and Culture

This issue would forever boggle my simple mind. Why do some cross-cultural workers have taken for granted the importance of studying theology? And why would they think that the words from the Bible taken at face value supersede all the traditional practices of the local for hundred of years in a particular culture? I am not talking about formal training and academic pursuits of theology; I am referring to a continuous personal pursuit of knowledge about and of God. Every time I would open the idea of teaching historical theology to our students, my fellow cross-cultural workers would retort that it is not necessary.

In my conversation to them, however, I found out that they know about theology. But their concept is the less you know about theology, the better. What are important are the things you do practically. Theology should be minimal. They just follow the theology of their teachers or of a theologian whom they agree and took his theological ideas as their own. I know because when they are teaching or talking about particular belief they would quote their favorite theologian. For them theology is something finished and fixed to its final form by the professionals. It is something that does not need reformulation and rethinking. This kind of thinking does not recognize the importance of culture as source of theology. Preaching and biblical teaching that makes use of cultural elements are appreciated more by the people.

When theology is deeply rooted in the world-view of the people, it becomes more meaningful. Theology or biblical teaching that uses the language and symbols within the culture are better understood and thus easily affects lives. Theology is a living area of knowledge. It grows and develops. It should invite learners to think. Whatever we are teaching, when we do it with a total disregard of the local culture, we will never be listened to. Thus I believe that in teaching the Bible, it will be a big help if we do it with the working knowledge and an appreciation of the local culture.

*The picture is an water color painting by Major-General Henry Strachan Elton.

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