We can surmise that theology have two directions, downward and upward. Or we can use the conventional terms, theology from above and theology from below. In simple words, theology from above placed more emphasis on the Scripture. It considers the Word is the main source of theological thinking. Theology from below, on the other hand, starts from experience of the people by using specific agenda and uses the Scripture for support to address a specific situation or agenda.
Just like any dichotomous issues in theology this tension between these two seemingly contradictory perspectives in doing theology can be resolved. Using both approaches is the present challenge in doing theology and this is also true in mission. Theology from above focuses on God—his purpose, plan and ways of making known his will to the people. Here I would like to present how these tension works in real situation.
Unknowingly, most Christians tend to view theology or thinking about God this way. They see the Bible as the only basis of studying about God and his activities. The Bible should remain to be the only rule of faith and practice and allow it to question, direct, deepen one’s understanding of God and his will. They believe that the Bible is always relevant and it message can never be antiquated. Here no efforts are made to know the needs of the audience. The main concern is to exegete the Scripture and hope for the best that it speaks to the people. But most of the time, the hearers leave the church and have the impression that God is not interested in them.
On the other hand, theology from below is the recognition that situation has changed and believes that in order for theology to be relevant; it should meet the needs of people. It is not about making the Scripture appealing but it is a way of the touching the people in their present predicament. For example, how we can make the message of the Bible relevant to the oppressed poor migrant workers. Effort should be made so that the message of the Bible could touch the concern of the people and feels that God is really concern with their lives. However, the pitfall here is the tendency to focus on needs to the exclusion of other important truths.
I believe that it is possible that these directions should meet at the middle. Each directions should be given equal importance. The truth about God should not be compromised in order to meet the people’s needs. Nonetheless, human needs should be considered in order for the Bible message to be relevant to the listeners. Theology from above and below should complement one another.
How can it be done? This is the question that missionary should think about. Here theology from below is considered first. There are issues that must be considered in doing theology from below.
First, we should consider the Geist of culture—the spirit of the age or of the particular period in time. Second, we should consider where to begin. Thinking about God is more meaningful when it begins with the common ground that all people acknowledge. Doing theology is a bridge-building task. We should make an effort to connect the Judeo-Christian worldview of the biblical times and the worldview of the people you are ministering. It is in understanding of the worldview of biblical writers that we can make connections of the message of God in the present.
In considering the Geist of the culture, the biggest challenge today is pluralism where debates about converting other religions to Christianity are going on. Converting people to another religion has never been more difficult. Many consider this as a thing of the past. For missionary, the present challenge is dialogue. We should learn the art of listening to what other religions are saying. It is only through dialogue that we will be able to grasp common concepts that can be related to Christianity. From these similarities and interrelatedness that the gospel can be presented and shared acceptably. When the gate of communication is opened, we can share the gospel that would appeal and challenge their ways of thinking and understanding of life’s questions and how they will know Jesus Christ more than what they already know.