today cms says goodbye to steve bevans who has been our missiologist in residence for 3 months. it's been absolutely wonderful to have steve round the place. i have leanrned so much from him. this is partly through his teaching and reading his books, but it's as much because of the way he is and who he is - full of faith, wise, curious, but incredibly humble and down to earth.
i've still not got round to reviewing his latest book theology in global perspective. perhaps i never will if i keep thinking it deserves something weighty so here goes - a few comments before breakfast...
steve's gift to the world is contextual theology - you may know his book on models of contextual theology. this is the insight that all theology is done through experience out of a context - socially, culturally embedded. so whilst we speak about god (do theology) we do it through that lens as opposed to a pure objective universal view of truth (that sat nicely with modernity but how did we ever think such a view was available?!). so to quote steve
there is no such thing as theology as such - there can only be contextual theologies: feminist, African, North American, Roman, Asian, theology of first nations and so on. A theology that might claim to be univesal is really one that is universalising - one that wants to impose a particular contextual theology on other ways of doing theology.
the move in his latest book is to say that because of this we need one another's takes down the ages and across the world - an intercontextual theology, a global conversation. it's only then that we will see our own blindness and discover insights about jesus christ and faith that we have never seen before.
there is a masterful laying out of theology as faith seeking understanding. that seeking is done globally and that is done in community. using the idea of variations on a theme steve busks several variations of his own - that theology is about activity not knowledge, that it is not located in the academy, that it is communal, that it is missional, that it is contextual... i loved these.
he then shows his genius by taking on the subject of tradition and the magisterium (sounds like something out of harry potter!). he is roman catholic so some of this is specific to that tradition but the moves he makes apply anywhere with his appeal to a depth and faithfulness to the tradition but to one that is living and moving forward. and that faithfulness at times will call for subversion for making a play that is not traditional but that calls the tradition back to faithfulness. it's a very rich piece. creative fidelity is the term he uses.
if you've not read models of contextual theology he has one chapter in this book that summarises that work pretty neatly. essentially this lays out a grid of relationships between theology and culture that contextual theologies take. what interested me the most about this summary is that many of the influences in evangelical mission theology seem to sit in the countercultural model. and on his grid that is the most negative posture towards culture. herein lies the reasons for so much of the evangelical legacy that is problematic in my view - it's basic theological instincts around culture are fearful and suspicious. i'd love to see this picked up and debated further. the following chapter is steve's summary of catholic method - on reading this i went and put my head round steve's door to tell him i was catholic (which of course i am, just not roman catholic). this is the second book this year that i have done that with. a sacramental view of all life, creation and culture, an opneness to all (catholicity) and an incarnational view of god's presence in the world are all compelling as is his critique of fundamentalisms.
the last section is a sweep of theology history which i confess i skimmed and need to come back to though ht to cathy ross who makes it into the line of the good and the great in theology!
if you want to read an inspirational book on theology look no further. if you prefer to read lectures or hear mp3s of talks then steve's cms talks are on the cms web site - have a search through the crowther pages.
steve peace for the journey and thanks for the inspiration!