– This was good to read because it reminded me that the Holy Spirit is at work to convict people of practices and attitudes that, although accepted and normative within that culture, are not in line with the new identity and vocation in the Messiah. It’s good to be reminded of this because others from another culture can gauge and judge what might be syncretistic and what might not be.
Contextual Theology – Part I
– This was good to read because it was challenging for me. I would say that I’m agnostic about the question posed in this part (can a person who does not have the Hebrew or Christian Bible have a relationship with the God of the Bible). I’m agnostic about this question because I don’t know (or am not convinced of) the answer, either yes or no. I think it needs to be fleshed out a bit more:
– What does it mean to have a “relationship” with God? Is it just knowledge or tradition passed down from generation to generation?
– How do we know that these anecdotes and proofs are not a product of one of the many possible cognitive biases? For example, with confirmation bias that looks for evidence to support an existing belief and not looking at information contrary to those beliefs, how might we show that these proofs aren’t just information that we’re looking for?
– What is the endgoal of needing to “know” the answer to this question? Can we live with the ambiguity of this situation, especially in something that we cannot judge either way? For example, in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael. While it is recorded that YHWH himself blessed them and that Ishmael will become the father of many nations, and while it is recorded that Ishmael somewhat reconciled with Isaac at the burial of their father, Abraham, we don’t know much more than that about what type of relationship Hagar and Ishmael had with YHWH after that, and we can only conjecture at this point. But what would be the motivation to make these conjectures? Is it to prove that as Ishmael’s nations grew, they became antagonistic towards Isaac’s line, and thus, showing the animosity between two groups? Or is it to show that somehow, what Abraham taught Ishmael continued along his line, if indeed Abraham was faithful to his vocation to “teach his descendants the way of YHWH by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19).
– Also, in the examples, I tend to get lost. What are these cultures? How have their cultures developed throughout history? What part of their history did they receive these divine revelations?
Interesting thoughts, Joze. In my opinion, I think having a relationship with God cannot be knowledge or tradition. The relationship, it seems to me, is supernatural. Anyone could have a supernatural relationship with God, but if what they have is knowledge and/or tradition, it makes a great launching point for offering an invitation to a relationship with a God they already know.
I like your question about the ambiguity, Can we live with it? I think my answer would be yes, because we have to be. I believe every situation involving mankind is ambiguous. We are complex creatures, in our thinking, in our moods, in our commitments. And this ambiguity spills over into “knowing” God, “following” Jesus, “hearing” from the Holy Spirit, and “are we worshiping the true God or not when we dance like this…” I think most Christians, particularly western thinkers, are really uncomfortable with anything but black/white. Eastern thinkers are less linear and more comfortable with the shifting sands of Tao and ying/yang and Ayurveda, as well as learning from parables. As Daniel mentioned one night, the evil one tends to make things dirty, so that while the vision God gave every culture may have been initially clear, inevitably it has become dirty over time, I guess our job is to clean it off, offer people to re-encounter the original clean vision, and then invite them to learn about (and be supernaturally changed by) the Son.
The paper on syncretism was a great example of disecting on “Are you asking for help from another spirit?” If so, you’ve likely crossed over into syncretism.
yes! One of the most helpful sermons I ever listened to was helping us to identify “indicators of functional gods”
-What/who do you live for?
-what/who can’t you live without?
-What/who do you turn to when in need?
-what/who causes you the greatest joy and deepest sorrow?
-What/who is the center of your life?
Indicators of idols:
What practical saviours do we have to save us from our personal hells? (What would be a personal hell to you? Poverty, physically overweight and out of shape, being thought less of? And so what do you look to and lean on to protect you from that hell?)
I have found these really helpful!
I loved the comment on giving a cup of water to drink in their cup, not a foreign cup. I believe this is what I needed during the 50 years of my anti-Christian war with God. I wrote about this in The Tea Room Scrolls Vol 1.
LOVE IT! Yes. such powerful imagery/analogies! Being a visual person, they really help me to grasp cross-cultural contextualization!
I feel like the golden nugget of this paper is in this bit:
“Then I thought, “When I get to the market I will do tamboon at the Chinese temple there. It is a very highly regarded temple and tamboon there would be very good.” Then I heard a clear voice in my heart say, “You do not need to go anywhere or do anything, your father in Heaven will take care of all your needs.” This made me very excited for a moment. But then I thought that it might just be wishful thinking. Maybe I did not really hear God speak. So I went to the market and went to the very entrance of the temple, and I heard the voice again. I chose to believe God and did not seek the “good luck” of tamboon.”
I think that all of us – missionary or mission field people – are highly susceptible to syncretism EVEN WHEN WE ARE AWARE OF AND TRYING TO AVOID IT. And so as time goes on I am thinking that the most important thing that we can do is to introduce people to the Holy Spirit and disciple them in how to listen to and hear and identify the Holy Spirit. We ALL need the Lord to speak to us and guide us for what is honoring to him and when our heart is straying!
How do we address this listening to the Holy Spirit and following his leading for believers who are very conservative and don’t recognize the reality of the Holy Spirit being manifest in tangible ways? Many don’t recognize the holy spirit as a real, interactive entity, but instead put their main focus on the written Word of the Bible. I guess we just have to be encouraging studying the Bible to learn the personal and heart of God and measure syncretism by what we find of God there…?