Context and Theology
The current state of our nation has left us demanding leaders who can see an alternative future to the violence, inequality and prejudice that has plagued our land since it was first settled by Europeans, and who have the capacity to guide us toward more peaceful shores.
But what does it mean to be a leader in the present context and how should one lead? As Christians, what unique perspective and approach do we bring to the task?
Cities, home to over 70% of the US population, are compression tanks for the best and worst of human civilization. Those among us who wish to lead in America’s highly contested inner cities must find constructive means for facing our culture’s pathologies head on.
As I said in my first blog, it is significant for me to bear down with even greater specificity when considering these questions, agreeing with Henri Nouwen that “my life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human” (Reaching Out).
As a man from the dominant culture, the people group who has been (and is often still) a source of oppression to ‘outsiders’ at home and all over the world, ethical questions abound when considering myself in a role of power. What do the socially constructed implications of my whiteness mean for leadership in diverse urban settings?
Some commentators question the possibility that white leadership and justice are compatible concepts. Even when ostensibly on the side of justice, our record is spotted as James Cone points out. “From the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century to the recent civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s, whites demonstrated that they cannot follow but must always lead” (God of the Oppressed).
These are difficult questions that must not be pushed aside.
Our perspective of leadership at any level grows from the soil of each person’s worldview. As Christians, this is necessarily a theological task. Cultivating a worldview that creates a paradigm for Christlike action is the task of theology. And theology is at its best when it “arises from the missionary encounter between Scripture, the Christ of Scripture, and our particular setting” (check out Learning Theology from the Third World). I am convinced that our thoughts on leadership--and, subsequently, the actions which our thoughts produce--will achieve their greatest degree of clarity when developed within a dialogical relationship between culture and scripture. Scripture has critiques and affirmations for all cultures as it sifts through those elements that reflect the will of God and those that have deviated from him. Contextual theology, therefore, will both be shaped by the context and shape it in return.
Furthermore, this methodology of context based theological reflection is as much about arriving at appropriate ideas as it is about a process of discipleship for the theologian. “The truth of Scripture has to be worked down into the fabric of our lived worlds, and this takes place only through struggle and interaction with the actual problems of life.”
In the next few posts, I'll look at a few of my own contexts and note ways that I need to be transformed out of them in order to be an effective agent of God's shalom. These may not be the contexts most relevant for you, but I hope as I wrestle with them you will find a model for addressing your own backgrounds with a biblically critical eye.