Location, Location, Location…

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This is the mantra, so we are told, that drives the intrinsic value of our homes. Whilst, we could debate the appropriateness of this, such an idea could be applied to theology too.

Recent decades have seen the rapid development of contextual theology(ies), thanks largely to the emergence of thinking from the Global South. This has attempted to root theological and missiological discussion in the local context, providing a helpful challenge to more theoretical expressions of classical Western theology. The tendency for objective ‘one-size fits all’ logic influenced by rational scientific thought since the Enlightenment has been gradually eroded as forms of Liberation theology (Peru/Brazil), Koyama’s water-buffalo theology (Japan) and Mbiti’s African theology have emerged, to name just a few. These new theologies have challenged not only the assumed supremacy of Western (European/North American) thinking, but sought to ‘earth’ understanding into the ‘here and now’ of the local context.

The MA programme at ForMission College gives credence to these developments through emphasis in studying local contexts and ‘reading’ the local before rushing to apply biblical principles. This bottom-up approach is a welcome antidote to the loftier, and, at times, unhelpful top-down construction that elements of classical theology have encouraged.

And what might some of these local issues be?

Contemporary immigration in the UK gives the church opportunity to show loving acceptance and warm welcome, as well as delegitimise cold and oppressive attitudes so often fostered by the media. Secondly, economic inequality in the UK’s cities is rampant and a recipe for social dislocation and conflict, so promoting simple and creative life-affirming lifestyles becomes part of the churches’ prophetic function. Thirdly, the Gospel of love and truth needs new forms of expression within the plethora of ideologies and worldviews we encounter today. Secularism, consumerism, pluralism and multiculturalism make for a lively context in which to live and breathe – our voice is one of many, but our actions can be unique.

As we consider a city such as Birmingham in April 2016, observation will demonstrate that effective missional engagement stimulated by contextually-aware expressions of black/Asian theology and regenerative ecologically—sustainable urban theology can reap positive rewards in helping connect the church with the communities around it.

So much like our own homes…missional theology today is very much about location, location, location!

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This post is the first in a series briefly highlighting three key dimensions as to how the church might be better equipped to engage effectively in reaching 21st Century Britain. These three dimensions touch on, where we are (the contextual dimension), discussed above, who we are (the empathic dimension) to be explored next month, and where we are going (the hope dimension), to follow in June.

These dimensions are best understood within an overarching framework which is the biblical vision of shalom – or in other words, being sign-bearers of God’s reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

This post was first published on ForMission’s website blog here

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