It has been said: that God reveals Himself in two books Scripture and Nature they are both ‘true’ but our understanding of either one or both of these books (Theology & Science) may be faulty and result in a conflict between them. Going further God seeks to reveal Himself to all cultures and all faiths contain some truth but given the fallen state of mankind we need to consider the vast variety of spiritual and religious experience carefully and assess it by the touchstone of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and records of His eye witnesses.
Comparing the OT and NT understanding of God it is obvious that the scriptures were produced in given cultural contexts and that the revelation was developmental – culminating in the incarnation.
Scripture claims to contain a revelation of God; there is that ‘incomplete revelation’ and therefore ‘imperfect revelation’ of the OT which comes to us in a certain cultural context, and here we must particularly be aware of the need of contextual understanding. I do not mean to say that contextualization is un-required in the NT but rather to illustrate that the vast advancement in knowledge of God through and in Christ demonstrates the need of it. Christ said there were many things He needed to teach but they were not ready and that later the Holy Spirit would lead them (the apostles) into ALL truth. This seems like Jesus used ‘theological contextualization’.
However it’s possible for our ‘theological contextualization’ to run amok as it functions on the ‘reason’ leg of our three legged ‘theological stool’ – scripture, tradition and reason. We may contextualize our theology but it is vital that we do not compromise the revelation given. We must not make use of ‘Contextual Theology’ to force scripture to fit comfortably with our own context. The processes of exegesis and hermeneutics must be applied to sort out what ‘truly has been revealed of God in the context of the original revelation. We may then interpret it into our own context or the one we work into, without loss of ‘revealed truth’. Truth is not ‘relative’ we must not bend it to our own or any other context or fashion.
God actually chose Abraham and Israel, their history and experience as the particular vehicle of His self revelation. We therefore give particular attention to this culture and context in theology and in positioning ourselves to interpret the revelation for our own time and culture. The history and experience provides us with a guideline to interpret our own spiritual experience.
Genuine experience of God is the origin of all theological understanding (spiritual experience = revelation = scripture historically understood = theology). On the experience level we have to sort the genuine from the false, in this respect those pre the incarnation and post ascension are in the same boat in that all their experience is subjective. This is why the writings of the apostolic age are unique in their authority as they record the objective’ experience of those who ‘knew the incarnate God’ intimately and those writings of others that were available to be confirmed by them. This eyewitnesses testimony is ‘a more sure word of prophecy’ 1 Pt. 1:19
The task of ‘Contextual Theology’ and transmission of this revelation can be broken down into three stages’:
a) Distinguish between which elements of scripture are unalterable revelation of God and the ways he requires us to respond and which simply represent the cultural setting. With the OT identify which parts represent an incomplete/imperfect revelation. We will not all agree on the finer details or on what the non essentials are.
b) Distinguish between which parts of the new host culture are compatible with the gospel and which parts are incompatible.
c) Distinguish between which parts of our own practice is cultural baggage not to be impose on the new host culture.
If we have thought through our faith and are thoroughly conversant with the NT we will already have distinguished in our own minds between revelation and cultural baggage.
Scripture and tradition requires contextual analysis but ‘revelation’ is the unalterable truth of God.
True knowledge of God is ‘experiential knowledge’ i.e. ‘that we might know Him’, here the ‘Anthropological Model’ assists. We do not come to such knowledge of God by reason or philosophy but may employ these tools to assess the validity of our knowledge in order to confirm, amend or reject it.
We must understand that reason and contextualization of theology as a function of reason, will not itself bring us or anyone else to a knowledge of God. The first three chapters of 1 Corinthians warn of the limitations of any accumulated cultural/contextual wisdom:
“God made foolish the wisdom of the world”
Paul categorically states that the world through its philosophy did not come to know God and that it was in God’s wisdom that they should not do so by that means.” 1 Cor. 1:19-22.
Nevertheless “we can speak philosophy among the perfect; but not a philosophy of this age, nor of the useless leaders of this time. We speak instead, a divine philosophy in the hidden mystery which God ordained before the ages for our rectification, which none of the leaders of this age recognized; for if they had recognize, they would not have crucified the master of that rectification” 1 Cor. 2:6-8 F. Fenton
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God; He is the wisdom of God to us. Contextualization must never detract from the person, work, character, mission or authority of The Christ already revealed. The essential question and our appropriate response remains – “Who do you say that I am” and “follow me”. If we get these two right we are Christian if we don’t we are not.
I consider the purpose of ‘Contextual Theology’ is best restricted to considering how we may uncover the revealed of Christ so that it becomes implement in a meaningful manner in the target culture, rather for determining what the revelation actually is. The application of exegesis to the text and its cultural setting will clarify the actual revelation.
We could think of the six models as transparent overlays through which we view the task of uncovering revelation. In this way we benefit from the strengths and hopefully avoid the weaknesses.
Greeks search for (contextual) philosophy we preach Christ crucified as God’s self revelation.