Sedmak writes,

“There is a growing awareness that theology is not an instant product that we take from the shelf and put some (local) water in it in order to have an enjoyable drink. Theology is a specifically local adventure if it wants to be relevant for a particular culture. As Michael Amaladoss says ‘The flowering of local theology is a sign of the rootedness and maturity of a particular church.’ And also a sign of the rootedness and maturity of theologians.

“Whenever we do theology, we do theology from somewhere. We are somewhere, and we take positions. We are embedded in a form of life, here and now. This is our human situation…

“Doing (universal) theology locally is not the same as doing local theology. We know that Filipino theology, Ghanaian theology, Thai theology, Polish theology and North American theology taste different. We know that the context within which theology takes place shapes the form and influences the contents of theology… When we write a letter we think of the addressee first. This is a matter not only of politeness but of mere common sense… Whenever we do theology, we do theology ‘from somewhere.'” (Sedmak, 3-4)

All theology is local. It’s just that it’s taken us a while to admit it. The trialogue diagram above is the classical shape of the conversation. But I wonder if that was an honest appraisal of the way we do theology. Has culture been an equal partner in the conversation? Frankly, I doubt it. Until recently culture has been too transparent. We have resisted admitting that we had the problem of fish in the ocean: the water was transparent. Or we believed the myth of objectivity. Moreover, we privileged some voices while marginalizing others. All real theology was done in North America – or maybe Germany. So we need a new diagram.

image2Maybe our theological imagination needs to look more like this. The role of the particular setting where the church is in dialogue with the gospel has become larger than ever. This is because we are giving ear to marginalized voices; we are opening a wider ground for conversation, and listening to voices that are far away. We are recognizing that conditions have changed and culture has shifted — we have to listen anew in order to wrestle with questions that are new.

So I propose a larger role for culture in this trialogue. The end result will be recognition of Sedmak’s point above: all theology is local theology.

Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity. New York: Orbis Books, 2002. 182 pages.

2 Comments on gospel and culture

  1. Paul F says:

    Hi Len. Great post. Should the diagrams be the same? Perhaps its just me, but they look the same, and reading the text I suspect there should be a difference 🙂

  2. len says:

    Thanks paul, fixed!