Local Theology for the Global Church: Principles for an Evangelical Approach to Contextualization

by Matthew Cook, Rob Haskell, Ruth Julian, and Natee Tanchanpongs, eds.

 William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 256 pages, 2010, $17.99.

Reviewed by Herbert Hoefer, missions chair at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon; former missionary to India for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Local Theology for the Global Church is a pioneering effort by eleven evangelical theologians attempting to develop a contextual theology which is still faithful to scripture. They gathered as a think tank in Oxford in 2008 to present and discuss papers. In the necessity of developing a contextual theology, evangelicals face particular constraints from their tradition. First, they face questions of faithfulness that more liberal Protestants may not struggle with. But second, unlike Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, evangelicals don’t have a long history of dealing with these issues.

The contributors are from eleven different geographical contexts; four are from the Global South. They address peculiar assumptions of traditional evangelical theology, including scriptural authority, verbal inspiration, denominational traditions, objective truth, doctrinal consistency, normativeness of biblical imageries, avoidance of possible syncretism, universal applicability of scripture, and issues from the sixteenth-century European Reformation period. How does one develop a relevant theology with all these constraints?

These authors boldly address the fact that:

• “…all of theology and every theology is contextual” (p. 94).
• Any theology “frames the problem” and is “socially located” (p. 76).
• “No one approaches Scripture without preunderstandings” (p. 66).
• If we’re not “just quoting excerpts of Scripture verbatim,” we are contextualizing (p. 47).  

The question is if that theology is relevant, or if it arises from a different, locally irrelevant context. A map of evangelical wrestlings with these issues is provided by A. Scott Moreau (pp. 165-193). However, it comes as the next-to-last article, rather than at the beginning. I found the van den Toren article the best summary of the issues, so his might also have been better placed earlier in the volume.

Each article concludes with discussion questions. This raises the question of the intended audience. Typically, there are discussion questions if a volume is intended for congregational use. However, the theological presentations are far too weighty for that. Perhaps it is best used with the audiences mentioned by Christopher Wright in the commendations on the back cover: …for “a wide range of practitioners, from Bible translators to church planters and theological educators in all cultures.” Toward this end, a fine 16-page bibliography concludes the book.

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 245-246. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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