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Contextual Theology

A preliminary guide to the study of global and contextual theologies.

Luther, the Contextual Theologian

Luther sparked the Reformation, but he was also a contextual theologian! His theology was located in a specific time (16th century), a specific place (Germany), a specific language and culture (German).

This illustration (from Luther's 1541 Die Propheten alle Deudsch) is set in a specific context. The Spirit descends on individuals dressed in 16th century German clothing in a town with 16th century architecture.

Illustration from the Prophet Joel in Luther's translation of the prophets

What's happened since Luther?

Note the trends of Africa, Asia, and South America compared with Europe and North America.

In the last century Christianity has exponentially grown in the Global South. It makes sense to study theology with our our sisters and brothers world-wide.

500 Years of Protestantism (CSGC)

The Status of Christianity in 2018

1970 - 43% of Christians world-wide were in the Global South

2018 - 66% of Christians world-wide are in the Global South

Africa 631 million
Latin America 601 million
Europe 571 million
Asia 388 million
North America   277 million
Oceania 29 million

Global Christianity in 2018

Where are we headed?

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

Crowd of Raised Hands

Approaching Research

All theology is contextual...

...in that it addresses a specific culture and/or location. (For purposes of this guide, "contextual theology" is shorthand for perspectives outside of the dominant American/European contexts.)

Approaches

There are multiple ways to approach your exploration of contextual theology:

  • Start with a particular context and then look for relevant topics.
  • Start with a relevant topic and look for contexts where the topic is addressed.
  • Start with geographical location and look for theological topics that are pertinent.
  • Start with other religions/philosophies / worldviews (Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc.) and look for theological connections.

Language ≈ context / culture

Theologies written in a specific language are not necessarily contextual theologies. The text could be a translation of a 'traditional' Western theology.

 

Research Tips

  • Go from the known (keyword search) to the unknown (subject headings, authors, titles, etc.).
  • Keep a “research log” where you note fruitful searches, subject headings, authors, titles, etc.
  • Avoid the full-text only trap! “Limiting” a search to full-text will limit the quality of your work.
  • Use filters to limit by language or type of publication (book, journal article, etc.).
  • Use Scripture index in ATLASerials for articles on pertinent biblical texts.
  • Use the Thesaurus to explore related subject headings in ATLASerials.
  • Let us know what we are missing in the collection! jdarlack@gordonconwell.edu 

Key Terms

(Continent / country / people group) + theology (e.g., Asian, African, Latin American, etc.)

  • Asian theology
  • Asian-American theology
  • Black theology
  • Chipko movement
  • Contextual theology
  • Dalit theology
  • Decolonialization 
  • Feminist theology
  • Hybridity
  • Hispanic theology
  • Latino / Latina / Latinx theology
  • Liberation theology
  • Majority world theology
  • Mestizo theology
  • Minjun theology
  • Mujerista theology
  • Mulatto theology
  • Palestinian liberation theology
  • Postcolonial theology
  • Sino-Christian theology
  • Third World Theology
  • Womanist theology

See also TOC’s, indices, etc.