Recently, some friends in Asia theological circle (mostly biblical scholars) felt the call for Asian theology.  Contextual, intercultural, inculturation, indigenous theology have been the concern in Asia for several decades.  It is always a glad to thing to see more people plough the field and to have more fruitful harvest.

Teaching at Sabah Theological Seminary (STS) for four years, and being asked several times by colleagues in Edinburgh of how to use Mandarin (Chinese) to teach theology, I find that the challenge is not with the language, for even if one is teaching Barth, Calvin, Aquinas, etc in English to English speaking students, the difficulty in understanding still there, the problem is how to make them relevant to our students’ context, to our own cultural religious context.

I have used translated textbook for systematic theology, have also prepared my own compilation of different issues.  STS’s curriculum on systematic theology only counts for four credits which include introduction to theology.   Conventional curriculum for systematic theology would be eight to twelve credits.  Comparing two curriculum, STS looks deficient for having not enough time to cover all theological topics.  But its strength is that it takes out these credits and allows for a replacement course in Asian Theology (compulsive) to make up for the lost.  The emphasis of course is different.  Whether it is a gain or a lose will be depending on perspective.  

Colleagues in biblical complains about not enough classes for students, not enough biblical languages etc.  

In the coming years after I finish my PhD and start to teach again the seminary, I am now considering to use textbook of biblical theology to teach systematic theology.  The point is that Chinese churches still read the Bible and preach from it on a regular basis, but do not have to know in details of the theological construction of theologians in the West.  To root our faith in fuller understanding of biblical theology and to connect it to our historical, ethnical and religious context is of more crucial effort an Asian theologian has to do.  

The following is the “Consensus" reached among theologians in Conference 2002

Consensus of the Conference

Description of Contextual Theology (CT)

·         CT is not another/separate subject in the curriculum.

·         CT is a way of doing all theology that begins with the experience of a community.

·         CT is a way of discerning God’s presence in a people and in a concrete situation.

·         CT is not one particular theology or method but it is theology by its very nature.

·         CT is an ongoing and transforming process for teacher, student, church, society.

·         CT is a radical critique of theological suppositions and existing models.

·         CT is a challenge to the institution and to our way of being church in our own context.

Some Assumptions

·         All theology is culturally conditioned and contextual but some contexts are wrong.

·         The context has to be addressed consciously.

·         Context is both global and local; one has to be aware of the political and economic elements in a given culture.

·         Context decides the meaning of language.

·         The experience of a community is that of a community suffering, rejoicing, weeping, dancing, hoping.

·         CT does not begin in a mind filled with information but in a compassionate heart ready to listen.

·         To do CT is to take a faithful stance.

·        CT involves risk.

Towards a Methodology : A Task List

·         Use Asian resources and the “body of knowledge” as a resource.

·         Embrace the multi-religious context as our heritage.

·         Nourish the imagination. Put students in touch with beauty (poetry, art, symbols).

·         Link students with the struggle of a community.

·         Use a feminist perspective as integral to CT : from experience to analysis (the hermeneutic of suspicion and affirmation), deconstruct in order to reconstruct.

·         Train lay theologians.

·         Change faculty formation, faculty-student relations and the infrastructure. 



  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post, as well as the last one with the link to a doctor’s musing. May I ask:
    1. What conference this it that you are talking about? Please give source.
    2. In the conference consensus the you quote (?), under the section ‘some assumptions’, the first point reads: ‘All theology is culturally conditioned and contextual but some contexts are wrong.’ What does ‘some contexts are wrong’ mean?

  2. I also have the same question about this claim about a context being wrong. Personally, I have no problem with the validity of the contextual conditionality of all theologies / theological construction. But I’ve always been a bit suspicious about all these talks about contexts with scholars talking about contexts as if they were always ‘right’ and legitimate sources for theological construction, sources which did not require any critical reflection. This being said, however, I feel that some qualifers are needed when claiming a context to be ‘wrong’. For instance, I guess we could say that judging by this or that certain criterion, this or that context is this or that in terms of this or that certain aspect of a question.

  3. Sorry that my hand is too quick but yet too slow to cite critically.

    It’s worth pondering what that “some contexts are wrong" could mean. You are invited to join this game, those who got the answer do not have any price. My guess is that some people use “context" too casually and thus are not on the contrary critically enough of the context they are situated in. One should not use theology to suit the context.

    At this point, I tend to quickly think of Paul Tillich’s method of correlation: to find what the people, the context is asking, or to put it in Langdon Gilkey’s way, the modern existential question people are asking today in one’s context, into a mythological nutshell before one tries to answer to the question.

    And the source that I quote is a summary of a conference. For fuller summary of it see http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/eapr003/annette.htm

    I hope this helps.

  4. Thanks for the link. Interesting read (though I only have time to skim through very very quickly).

    I find the statement ‘some contexts are wrong’ very weird. Context, as it is, cannot be right or wrong. It is that which surrounds us, the encompassing environment in which we live, breath, think, and do everything (including doing theology, of course). How CAN it be right or wrong?

    A fish cannot say the water is ‘wrong’, a bird cannot say the sky is ‘wrong’. That’s what I meant when I said I didn’t understand what it means to say ‘some contexts are wrong’. I still cannot figure out what they mean. Is my understanding of the term ‘context’ too limited or twisted or distorted or corrupted or what?



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