Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission
Most American evangelicals are familiar with the phenomenal growth of the church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Along with this numerical growth has come fresh theological reflection influenced by the cultural and social contexts in which non-Western theologians live and minister. What are these theologians saying, and how should evangelicals respond? The Wheaton Theology Conference of 2011 explored these questions; Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective shares the insights of this Conference as evangelical scholars from around the world interact with the theological issues being discussed in their regions of the world.
The editors are both faculty members at Wheaton College. Greenman is associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of Christian ethics, and Green is professor of New Testament. They have produced a readable introduction to contemporary theologizing being done from a non-Western perspective. The chapters are the right length and depth to give novice readers a satisfying taste from the enormous banquet of available material. As with any book written by multiple authors, the quality of the chapters varies, but most are well written and reflect a clear, accurate distillation of the theological reflection occurring in their part of the world.
The first three chapters are an introduction to the contemporary global theological scene. In chapter 1 Andrew Walls presents a historical introduction to recent global theologizing that is broad, comprehensive, and insightful. In chapter 2 Lamin Sanneh provides a bite-sized summary of his most well-known and significant insight: the translatability of the gospel into every language and culture in the world. Chapter 3 is Gene Green’s evangelical evaluation of the knotty problem of contextual hermeneutics. He calls for believers around the world to hear each other speak out of their own unique contexts while retaining the centrality and authority of the Scriptures. Readers who are new to the idea of contextual theologies that are distinct, but congruent and rooted in Scripture, will profit enormously from a careful reading of these three chapters.
Part 2 takes the reader on a global tour of the non-Western world. All the authors are from the part of the world about which they are writing, and all provide both a survey of the wider theological scene and an evangelical evaluation: Samuel Escobar and Ruth Padilla DeBorst on Latin American theology, Khio-Khng Teo on Chinese theology, Ken Gnanakan on Indian theology, James Kombo on African theology, and Martin Accad on Middle Eastern theology. Readers who are familiar only with traditional Western theology and theologizing will have their eyes opened to fresh theological questions, and at times will have their comfort zones disturbed. While respecting both the priority of the biblical text and theology that has emerged from centuries of Western church tradition, the authors challenge whether Western theological categories and conclusions are always adequate or normative for their own contexts.
Part 3 is a vivid reminder that even in North America many believers represent, live in, and minister in distinct cultural and social situations that demand unique theological reflection: Terry LeBlanc on Native American theology, Juan Martinez on Latino Protestant theology, Amos Yong on Asian American theology, and Vincent Bacote on African American theology. This is a welcome section of the book, as mainstream North American evangelicals often mistakenly assume that their reflection is adequate to meet the theological needs of everyone in the North American context. These writers discuss the strong, distinctive co-cultures within North America, which have their own specific questions and needs, and on which evangelicals need to contemplate and for which they need to provide contextually appropriate responses. Again readers new to the worldviews and contexts of the writers may be disturbed by some of the discussion (for example, that Native American sensitivity to nature may be in line with a biblical perspective and less animistic than suspected). But the authors are clearly committed to biblical authority within historic evangelicalism, all the while asking how the Bible speaks specifically to their contexts.
Part 4 explores “Next Steps” in evangelical responses to global theologizing. Mark Labberton asks, “Why should North American evangelicals care about the theologies of their brothers and sisters from other parts of the world?” He answers, “God wants us to pay attention to the things and people that matter to the heart of God, and often that means people and circumstances that are not my sociology” (p. 233). Jeffrey Greenman encourages Western readers to remember that “we should take seriously non-Western theologies in order to address our Western blind spots in biblical interpretation and theological formulation” (p. 245). He suggests next steps for further expanding readers’ awareness of non-Western theologies.
Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective is an excellent introduction for better understanding what is happening theologically outside the Western church. The discerning reader will not embrace everything suggested by every one of the authors. But the book’s overall evangelical orientation and absorbable units make it a top choice for exploring the realm of global theology.