Strategy, culture and theological imagination

Several months ago, in my final video message as UCA President, I mentioned  that I’d decided to “fast” from western theology and focus on theology from the thriving, suffering church of the global south – so that my imagination could be reshaped by what God is doing in the world today.

I had an enquiry on Face Book about how that’s going for me. Did I have anything to share yet? I replied:

I’m reading (Singaporean) Simon Chan’s “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up” at the moment and finding it helpful. I really enjoyed (Korean-American) Soong-Chan Rah’s “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity”. It opened up some things for me about the UCA. A couple of the resources I got at the Christian Conference of Asia’s 14th General Assembly in May were helpful too: Mathews George Chunakara (India) “Living Together in the Household of God: Challenges to Pilgrimage of peace with Justice in Asia”, and the Reader edited by Henriette Hutabarat Lebang (Indonesian), “Living Together in the Household of God: Asian Reflections”. Once I started on this change of diet I remembered that I have in fact read and learned a lot from non-western theologians over the decades I’ve been studying theology – particularly Kosuke Koyama and C.S. Song from Asia, Gustavo Gutierrez, Jose Miguez Bonino, Elsa Tamez, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, and Leonardo Boff from Central and South America, not to mention the huge amount I’ve learnt from Aboriginal theologians like Djiniyini Gondarra (who contributed a chapter to a book I edited in 1988 – and a lot more to me personally in the decades afterwards), the brilliant Anne Pattel-gray (with whom I’ve collaborated on a number of projects since the early 90s) and my wonderful colleague Denise Champion. I’m collecting some material from the Pacific and Asia at the moment. But, again, I’m finding that I’m actually remembering materials that I had forgotten to stay familiar with. 

And this is what is impressing itself upon me at the moment. I’ve read, understood, appreciated and shared a lot of theological resources from the global south over more than three decades. I’ve known and worked with several outstanding theologians from the flourishing non-western, non-white majority church, and yet…

And yet western theology has remained intractably normative for my theological imagination.

The extraordinary experience of being the President of the UCA intensified, personalized and deepened that awareness of being part of the global church of God. It led me to adopt a strategy of deliberately fasting from western theology in order to allow my imagination to be re-formed by the theological insight of the majority church of the global south.  The strategy is working to the extent that I’m discovering how deeply resistant to change my imagination has actually been since my first encounter with the theological insights of the global south in 1979 or 1980 (if memory serves) when I participated in an immersion experience as a theological student with the Aboriginal community in Brisbane under the guidance of Charles Harris and Bernie Clarke.

So at this point in the process what I really need to report is that I’m being personally reminded of the change leadership axiom: Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning!

I’m sticking with the strategy anyway, but being much more conscious of the cultural resistance within me.







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