What African Theologians can teach the Emerging Church

Below are some of the preliminary notes that I’ve been preparing for a workshop I’m co-leading at this years Ekklesia Project Gathering with Scott Bader-Saye. They are still rough. Please help me think through the issues. This will also deepens my previous “Post-Constantinian Cultural Studies” post.

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What African Theologians can teach the Emerging Church

(in 3 parts: Part 1 is an introduction to the Problem. Part 2 will will examine the question of Identity as Bediako sees it through the lense of Patristic and African theologies. Part 3 will look at an appropriation of this method for our postmodern, Wester context.)

Part One

1. Intro: The question of relevance and identity.

Relevance- The tyranny of the new- that which is always coming is our Fate. Our future is always just ahead of us, never arriving, but toward which we long to be relevant. This is Modernity, always making something new to free us from custom/tradition/culture. As Stephen Long says, “Modernity is the endless repetition of sameness under the illusion of difference.” We think we have moved on, yet all is sameness. In our modern era the search for relevance is seen in evidentiary apologetics, seeker-sensitive churches, Contemporary Christian Music and the Broader Christian subculture. And the quest for relevance is also seen in the missionary impulse to reach emerging generations, to reach skaters/surfer/ravers/hipsters and urbanites. If they are post-rational, post-literate, post-individualistic, intuitive, aesthetic, and image-drive, then let’s be and do that. Unfortunately, while seeking to reform and transform the modern Church, the Emerging Church movement many time continues to fall prey to the perpetually new and the drive toward relevance undergirded by a missionary theology of contectualization which in a Western setting ends up creating more and more niche market Christian consumers rather than a subversive unified church.

-As we will see, the ancient church fathers and current African thinkers were/are not seeking to be relevant to their surrounding culture, but are seeking a definition and expression of their own particular Christian identity. So, I want to explore the significance of replacing the project of relevance with the project of identity. Let us not seek to be relevant but to express our identity as follows of Christ, as Christians within the particular cultures that we are in.

2. Problem of Identity posed by Kwame Bediako.

The Problem of Identity:

p. xi “I have felt the need to seek a clarification for myself of how the abiding Gospel of Jesus Christ relates to the inescapable issues and questions which arise from the Christian’s cultural existence in the world, and how this relationship is achieved without injury to the integrity of the Gospel.”

– This is a question of the gospel and cultural existence, not of gospel and culture as some whole or reified object. Culture is not a thing to be related to. Rather we should speak of cultural agents.

p. xv “The basic argument which underlies the various chapters is that the development of theological concern and the formulation of theological questions are closely linked as an inevitable by-product of a process of Christian self-definition.” (p. 7) The more enduring problem is not the question of orthodoxy, but “the Christian’s response to the religious past as well as to the cultural tradition generally in which one stands, and the significance of that response for the development of theological answers to the culturally-rooted questions of the context.”

Identity/Self-Definity=Religious past and cultural/tradition present.

Who are we (past) and where are we (present) intersect in the question of identity. Where we are culturally effects how we perceive ourselves, and who we are effects how we stand where we are. For the Fathers it was who are we as Christians uniting the OT and NT in Christ, and where are we in the Graeco-Roman world. For African Theology it is who are we as African Christians in relationship to Mission/Wester Christianity (religious past) and Traditional African religions (cultural present).

The question then at the end of part 1 is, What is the religious past and cultural present of Western Christians?

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