Last Friday I looked at Vinoth Ramachandra’s account of multicentred world history and postcolonial criticism, and pointed out his emphasis on the need to specify and honour context. This is part of what inspires his diverse series of theological reflections.
Many of these are about renovating how we as (Western) Christians see the world.
‘The “we” in Christian speech always arises out of local contexts,’ says Ramachandra, ‘but it is disciplined by our belonging to the global body of Christ’ (loc 4506).
The explosion of majority world Christianities may largely have been ignored in postcolonial discussion, but we need to take it seriously. To characterise ‘Christian’ as European/foreign/English-speaking is exactly the sort of polarised thinking we should be overcoming.
That means we must acknowledge context. ‘Our social location shapes our speech.’ Prejudices and bias can and must be recognised, although not escaped. Theology isn’t just about what’s being said but who’s saying it and how others are hearing it.
And that means all theologies are contextual — including those of our European heritage. David Bosch has called missiology ‘the theological institution’s “department of foreign affairs”, dealing with the exotic but at the same time peripheral’. But instead of only trying to reform missiology, we must consider what it would mean to give majority world Christianities a genuine place at the table. Are we prepared to have their voices as conversation partners in every theology classroom?
The way we become truly global Christians is by seriously engaging with our local contexts as members of a global community that has redefined our identities and interests. (loc 4742)
This will not be an easy task, partly just because majority world theologies are typically a far cry from the elite, English-speaking academic world. We must account for orality/oralature and, as this recent book review highlights, the grassroots.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.