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Missionalia

versión On-line ISSN 2312-878X
versión impresa ISSN 0256-9507

Missionalia (Online) vol.42 no.1-2 Pretoria abr./ago. 2014

http://dx.doi.org/10.7832/42-1-2-45 

ARTICLES

 

Artisanal cheeses or artisanal Jesus - loving your postal code enough to reflect it in the life and theology of the church

 

 

CJP (Nelus) Niemandt1

 

 


ABSTRACT

In this reflection on a creative and critical dialogue on the future of missiology as a theological discipline, the theological imperative of contextualisation was emphasised. The point of departure was that the contextual nature of theology, and thus missiology, must be at the forefront of the theological process. The relationship between Christianity and diverse cultures, and especially the relationship between faith and globalisation, were noted as some of the complex and challenging concerns of contemporary missiology that necessitate the development of alternative approaches to the witnessing and development of Christianity. It argued that the very fact of the incarnation, as well as the theological necessity of contextualisation and inculturation, provides the raison d'être for the future of missiology as a theological discipline. The research proposed attention to the following as part of missiology grounded in particular cultural contexts with the ultimate purpose of directing the practice of the Christian mission in its specific settings: discernment, a focus on ordinary life, emerging mission-shaped churches, and missional spirituality.


 

 

Introduction

On a visit to South Africa in May 2013 Prof. Leonard Sweet, the well-known theologian and author from the USA, made the point that people are rediscovering their neighbourhoods. Food is turning towards "locavore" (local foods) and the world towards a celebration of particularity (Sweet 2010:192). Paradoxically, the world is also going "glocal" - signifying the dynamic interrelatedness of the global and local (see also Van Engen 2006:157). Sweet said that the church must love its local postal code enough to reflect it in the life and theology of the church. To illustrate his remark, he referred to the resurgence of interest in artisanal cheeses. In reply, a theological student tweeted on Twitter "Did Leonard Sweet make a point for artisanal cheeses or artisanal Jesus?"

I want to take up the point of an "artisanal Jesus". In more formal theological terminology, it raises the issue of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as well as the importance of contextualisation and inculturation. In terms of a creative and critical dialogue on the future of missiology as a theological discipline, I argue that the very fact of the incarnation, as well as the theological necessity of contextualisation and inculturation, provides the raison d'être for the future of missiology as a theological discipline. Faith is contextual (Bosch 1991:421). Pears (2009:1) states that Christian theology is and has always been contextual. Bevans (2002:3) argues that doing theology contextually is not an option. As long as theology engages with the gospel and context, and as long as the interrelatedness of Gospel and context continue, theology will not be able to escape the issue of contextualisation, and consequently an acknowledgement of the contribution of missiology. Missiology provides, par excellence, the framework, insight, knowledge and reflection on contextualisation. Bosch (1991: 497) argued that missiology's concern will always be a "contextual eludication of the relationship between God, God's world, and God's church". It navigates the dynamic tension between text and context. Missiology is particularly well suited to assist the church and theology in this process; in the art of crossing borders. The theological imperative of contextualisation means that the life of the church, theology and thus theological training cannot do without missiology. This is relevant in terms of both aspects of the (paradoxical) glocal or "bifocal" (Shenk 2006:11) context - the church of the 21st century is indeed glocal in its essence and in its theologising (Van Engen 2006:163,172). In terms of the ever increasing impetus of globalisation, missiology will practise a "globalising theology" that takes into account the fact that we live with an intensified awareness of the global. It will utilise the insights of missiology, and the understanding of mission as contextualisation, to prepare a truly diverse menu to feast on the diverse perspectives of Christian communities throughout the world, with a view to a greater holiness in living and faithfulness in fulfilling God's mission in all the world (Netland 2006:30). In terms of the ever intensifying focus on the local, missiology will, again, utilise its insights into contextualisation to prepare a truly artisanal feast that will invite locals to share in the "bread of life".

If Christian theology and Christian churches understand the need to show respect to the surrounding context; if it is important to communicate God to the context; if the imperative to bring context into the kingdom is understood; then missiology, with its particular emphasis on incarnation, contextualisation and inculturation and will come into play. As Roxburgh (2011:26) puts it:

When we are truly seeking to know what it means to be God's people, we will want to know what God is up to in our neighbourhoods and communities and what it means for the gospel to be lived out and proclaimed in this time and place. The matter of getting someone to church is utterly secondary to these insights. Now we are in a place where ecclesiology isn't the issue. Missiology is.

Missiology is the issue because of the impact of change on society, the church and theology. As Diane Butler Bass (2012:31) puts it: "We live in a time of momentous historical change that is both exhilarating and frightening. Christianity itself is becoming something different from what it was." As long as contexts change and as long as the ever-changing rhythms of different times2 beat over the world, missiology, with its particular sensitivity towards contextualisation, and with its ability to facilitate the crossing of borders, will be needed to guide the church and theology in crossing barriers and imagining God's future.

The aim of this research is to take up the challenge posed by Pears (2009:1,9) to put the contextual nature of theology at the forefront of the theological process, and thus to reiterate the indispensible role of contextualisation, to affirm the connection between missiology and contextualisation, to ground the enterprise of contextualisation in the incarnation, and to emphasise the importance of contextualisation and inculturation in changing contexts. The research will map ideas for the way forward and propose attention to discernment, greater focus on context, attention to ordinary life, emerging missional churches and missional spirituality, as important themes for missiology. Pears (2009:2) states that contextual theology is still in its relative infacy, and this research endeavours to articulate some of the contextual factors that motivate and shape missiology.

To return to the metaphor of artisanal food - as long as people eat food, and as long as menus change, missiology will be on the menu of theology. Food, hence also eating, represents one of the primal aspects of life itself. The sharing of food is the sharing of life. I agree with the World Council of Churches (2013:75) when it says: "We affirm that dialogue and cooperation for life are integral to mission and evangelism", and therefore also affirm the close connection between food and theology. Wirzba (2011:loc 102) says "Created life is God's love made tastable and given for the good of another. The mundane act of eating is thus a daily invitation to move responsibly and gratefully within this given life. It is a summons to commune with the divine Life that is presupposed and made manifest in every bite." Food and eating are an expression of life and thus culture. Modern culture's fascination with food, as can be seen in the abundance of TV shows about food and cooking (Masterchef, Kokkedoor, Nataniël tafel), reminds us of the close connection between food and faith, theology and eating, and mission as "eating and drinking whatever they give you" (Luke 10:7).

Eating is an invitation to enter into communion and be reconciled with each other, to give and receive, a tangible practice of peace and unity, and it reminds us of the incarnation.

 

Incarnation

Making a point for the artisanal Jesus means that one must be serious about the missio dei, and thus the incarnation of Christ (Niemandt 2011:73). Doing theology means becoming engaged in the missio dei - the missio dei is focused on this world, and it makes sense to understand what is happening in the world because Christians are to be its light; Christians are to be salt in this world (Hendriks 2013:825-826). The incarnation informs this engagement and the way we interact with the complex, ever-changing, glocal world around us.

The concept of the incarnation reminds us of the self-giving of the Triune God. Volf (2006:4) says that the nature of God fundamentally determines the character of the Christian life. If self-giving typifies the life of the Trinity, it is not surprising that self-giving is at the heart of the divine missions to the world. Trinity is the ground, means and goal of mission (So 2013:137). God's decision to be for humanity is reflected in the creation of the natural and human orders. God retains his utter separateness. At the same time, creation is an act of divine self-giving. "God puts some of himself into creation, just as we might say of musicians, 'They put themselves into that piece.' They left traces of themselves in the music they played. Likewise, God leaves traces of himself in creation, not least in humanity" (Moynagh, 2012: loc 3641). As Wirzba (2011:163) says: "By being the incarnation of God the Father, Jesus is showing humanity how to receive and love everything in this world with a divine point of view." Bergmann (2003:15) and Pears (2009:118) argue that the incarnation of God in Christ is at the centre of the Christian faith. For Bergmann (2003:17) this means that creation is the very centre of Christian theology, and contextual theology means that different communities have the task to reflect theologically on the meaning of creation in their particulars contexts.

The missionary message of the Christian church incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it (Bosch 1991:421). Moynagh and Harold (2012:loc 1002) describe the important role of Paul in formulating missional strategies and says Paul adopted an "incarnational" strategy based on being attentive to context, loving and serving, building community, allowing individuals to come to faith at different paces, in the midst of life. His churches were culture specific with indigenous forms of leadership. I appreciate Hirsch's (2006:37) description of "proximity space" - the missional space where culture could be engaged on its own turf. It is the space where the church is taken to the people.

The incarnation is thus a key paradigm for contextualising the church. Jesus was thoroughly immersed in his Jewish culture, speaking Aramaic with a Galilean accent and taking part in his society's celebrations and traditions. His parables drew upon the Jewish thought categories and rhetorical traditions of his day (Flemming 2005:21). The Bible is, by its very nature, contextual. It is an incarnational analogy in its union of the human and divine. In taking different shapes according to the context, the church is following a well known pattern in adapting itself to the setting.

The life of the church as life in the Trinity, and the fundamental importance of the incarnation as a movement towards where people are, necessitates precisely what missiology brings to the table. We need to regain a missional-incarnational ethos with a heart for healing and restoration of a world caught up in brokenness and loss of life (Kok and Niemandt 2009:3). To be incarnational, we have to cross boundaries, break down social constructionist symbolic fences and barriers, build bridges that create the possibility of open communication and interaction. Kok and Niemandt (2009:6) argue that the church needs to be incarnational instead of attractional: Jesus's incarnational ethos results in the bringing of the presence of God into marginalised places or spaces where such presence is usually believed not to be found. Crossing boundaries means to focus on being church in the world, mostly in marginalised, liminal spaces. Such a church is missional by intent where daily life is seen as an expression of the sent-ness by God into this world (Frost 2006:151). To adapt Sweet -missiology is awakening each other to the God who is already there - "The doctrine of the incarnation requires a high doctrine of the everyday, the ordinary" (Sweet 2010:103).

 

Contextualisation and Inculturation

Mission is "eating and drinking whatever they give you" (Luke 10:7). Theology must serve context (West 2013:920), and context informs theology.

David Bosch famously described elements of an emerging ecumenical missionary paradigm and referred to "Mission as contextualization" (Bosch 1991:420-432) and "Mission as inculturation" (inculturation being a second important model of contextualisation) (Bosch 1991:447-456). Bevans and Schroeder argue that Christian mission needs to be radically contextual (2004:31) and describe inculturation3 (including both the ideas of contextualisation and inculturation) as a component of mission (see also Kritzinger 2011:45). "Inculturation is acknowledged today as an integral part of communicating the gospel, if the gospel, indeed, is truly to be communicated" (Bevans and Schroeder 2011:69).

Contextualising the church is the attempt to be church in ways that are both faithful to Jesus and appropriate to the people the church serves. It assumes that the shape of church can change according to the situation. Churches will look different because they are engaging with different people (Moynagh 2012:loc 4278). If the church is to serve its context, it must connect to it. This happens through contextualisation. Andrew Walls referred to this as the indigenising principle. "The impossibility of separating an individual from his social relationships and thus from his society leads to one unvarying feature in Christian history: the desire to 'indigenize,' to live as a Christian and yet as a member of one's own society" (Walls 1996:7). In terms of Walls's argument, the New Testament witness is predisposed towards any particular cultural captivity of the gospel, precisely because of the possibility of salvation in Christ for those outside the first Jewish communities. For him, indigenisation is not only a possibility, but an important requirement for followers across different cultures to be authentic disciples of Jesus. One can say that, in terms of Walls's understanding, Christianity shares common ground across cultures, but it also diversifies and accommodates itself to local patterns of thought and practice. The essential catholicity of the church prevents cultural and other differences from developing into division, and contextualisation creates the safe space to affirm the particulars of any culture and group within the broader Christian story and community. Elsewhere, Walls states that the theological agenda is culturally induced; culture necessarily sets new tasks for theology (Walls 2009:49). One cannot engage with the gospel independently of culture (Shenk 2006:9).

Theology mediates the meaning and role of religion to a culture (Bevans 2002:11). The point made by Bosch in his description of contextualisation is still as relevant as ever - mission as contextualisation is an affirmation that God has turned toward the world. Mission as contextualisation involves the construction of a variety of "local theologies" (Bosch 1991:427).

Inculturation is closely related to contextualisation4. According to Bosch (1991:447), "inculturation is one of the patterns in which the pluriform character of contemporary Christianity manifests itself." The changing nature of the context in which Christian faith and Christian theology finds itself means that Christian faith and theology ought to rethink and reformulate its relationship with each human culture: "and this must be done in a vital way, in depth and right to the cultures' roots" (Bosch 1991:452; see also Niemandt 2011:73). Inculturation is the creative and bold response to the contexts in which the church finds itself (Bevans and Schroeder 2004:1). Tennent's definition of inculturation is very helpful: "formulating, presenting and practising the Christian faith in such a way that is relevant to the cultural context of the target group in terms of conceptualization, expression and application; yet maintaining theological coherence, biblical integrity and theoretical consistency" (Tennent 2010:loc 3898-3900). Inculturation is a two-way process of interaction between Christian faith and a culture that effects transformation of the culture and a re-interpretation of faith (Ukpong 2013:531).

The renewed appreciation of inculturation can be seen in the World Council of Churches' (2013) report on mission and evangelism, Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. Respect for people and their cultural and symbolic life-worlds is necessary for the gospel to have a better reception. The WCC (2013:72) states the indispensable nature of inculturation: "the embodiment which the Word assumes in a particular community or culture." Its source and inspiration are in the mystery of the incarnation. The context of the recipients and agents of missional activity influences their scope and character; therefore mission must be understood as contextual, thus referring to the social location of all those who are engaged in mission work (World Council of Churches 2013:59). Wherever the gospel is expressed - east, west, north or south - it is the story of God's dealings with a particular people and creation, in a particular context and coming to us in the historical person of Jesus Christ (World Council of Churches 2013:72):

It is imperative to address the contextual realities which have shaped and which continue to shape and/or impede people's