Today I will continue my discussions of a book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians; Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I’m sure if there are any pastors or theologians who accidentally come across the blog post their first reaction is to adamantly disagree with the title that all theology is local. Here is what Tony Jones says about that:
theology is not universal, nor is it transcendent. The God about whom we theologize is transcendent, but our human musings about God are not. To think that our theology is not local and specific is a falsity that has been foisted on the church. Professional theologians, those men and women who sit on seminary faculties, are sometimes tempted to write and speak with the confidence that their theology is somehow clean or sterile or untainted-that they come to their task without any presuppositions, prejudices, or context. But of course, they’re just as local as the rest of us. They live in a certain place, speak a certain language, talk with certain people, read a certain newspaper, and are held accountable for what they write and say by other theologians in their guild. This localness of theology is a hallmark of emergent thinking and sensibility.
When we recognize that what we think about God is mostly a matter of our life’s circumstances then we understand how to approach the theology of the church both past , present and future. Theology is nothing more than how we humans perceive the nature of God. As mentioned further in the book when we understand that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology was shaped by Nazi Germany, that Augustine’s was formed by his neo-Platonic area of Northern Africa, and Martin Luther’s was fashioned by the Roman Catholic monastery we come to realize that all theology is local. That is not necessarily a bad thing but something we must realize in order to understand it.
Being a human endeavor theology is naturally local. It is shaped by our circumstances. God is indeed transcendent, but our human understanding of him is not. Christian theology has a two thousand-year record that contains some very inspiring writings that all Christians should study and learn from but we must always understand the circumstance around those writings in order to put them in the proper context.
Understanding that all theology is local helps to even explain some of the writing of Paul. We must understand that Paul had no personal exposure to Jesus other than that fateful afternoon on the road to Damascus. So, you could also call his writing theology. When we understand this then we understand why there is almost no cross reference between the teachings of Jesus and the words of Paul. When Paul told women to be quiet in church he was relating his local circumstances. When he said it was better to be a bachelor than to be married he was relaying his condition.
All theology is local and that includes theology throughout church history. When we study the words of the great theologians we must understand the conditions which surrounded the words. Many say the Bible is a very simple document to understand, all we have to do is to read it. Tony Jones says, and I believe, that it is really the opposite. It is a very complicated document and for that very reason it has remained pertinent throughout the ages.