Why we should listen to non-western voices

When postmodern references were all the rage some years back, where were all the African, Asian and South American voices? In his article “Why cultural theology is not relativistic” Allen Yeh writes:

“Not only do non-Western perspectives give us insights into God that we in the West could never get on our own, Western theology also has some serious flaws in it. For example, we are often beholden to Platonic dualism which has filtered down to us through the millennia, and it is so hard for Western Christians to shake this dichotomistic thinking about the spiritual and physical worlds (this is played out in missions in the sense that evangelism is seen as more important than social justice; non-Westerners would never make such a prioritization!). Another example is the influence of the Enlightenment on Western thought—well, we all know what the Enlightenment did to European Christianity: it killed it. Today, Europe is the most secular continent on earth, thanks to the Enlightenment and rationalism. Do we really want to export that to the non-Western world?”

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for linking this post, which is great. I think Yeh’s perspective on nonwestern theology is dead on and reflects the theme of 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26. I think I’ll provide a link to it on my blog as well! 🙂

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  2. I have always appreciated non-Western theological perspectives as, having come to Christianity via the New Age Movement and Zen Buddhism, my earlier years of discipleship were devoted to exploring Christianity nondualistically and the simple awareness that Non-Western Christianity was a living tradition and not an oxymoron was a stabilizing influence. I must add, I think non-Western theological perspectives are an important counterbalance to Celtic Christian / New Monastic revivalism when it comes to considering how we might effectively engage pluralistic spiritualities in post-modernity. Celtic Christianity has undoubted appeal, but it is chronically Anglo-centric, and that’s most problematic in highly pluralistic and ethnically diverse situations. For instance, I don’t think Celtic Christianity is the answer to yoga, at least not in the magic bullet sense. Indian Christians, who’ve been dealing with yoga influenced societies a great deal longer than us, need to be listened to.

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  3. Why does it seem like Evangelical theology is some how the sum and substance of Western Theology? Hmm.
    I can see how there would be real benefit in investigating different ethnic theologies and how they adapt to different cultural dilemmas. However, their cultural dilemmas aren’t always or necessarily ours.
    So when that particular man at the conference asks “isn’t it like asking for the African perspective on gravity?” I think it seems to be a fair question. “Theology” isn’t what man says about God, but what God says about himself. Therefore, it doesn’t mean that I have to value all theologies that might be going on in the name of Jesus. There are plenty of terrible Christian theologies in the West, I’m sure there are also plenty in the East.
    The fact that Yeh mentions Pneumatology and says “the Holy Spirit is the one that is with us today!” seems to be a dead give away that he might be limited in his understanding of Western Christianity, since he doesn’t seem to regard the Lords Supper or Baptism to be Christ’s presence.
    Secondly, I would think, indirectly, that the Apostles did seem to make a higher emphasis, and importance, on the preaching of the Gospel, ie, Acts 6, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” And “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:47) Seems to take precedence.
    Maybe I’m just being defensive of my theology. But come to think of it, Lutherans don’t seem to do a whole lot outside of church. I’m not going to defend that! Maybe its not so much about theology per se, but people just need to go out on a limb and do!

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  4. @Losing All. Few comments in response.
    Firstly, I wasn’t limiting my comments to western Evangelicalism. I have similar reservations about western Catholic theology. Only last night I was reading up on Ratzinger, his views on God’s providence in church history, and his insistance on the indespensibility of our Greek heritage. Now, I understand how it’s best not to throw out babies with the bathwater, but to put it like this … it effectively puts Greek philosophy on par with our Hebrew heritage and I just can’t go that far. Suggesting we can’t be deep Christians without converting to Graeco-Roman throught is just a wee bit too close to the Galatians error for my liking. Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” is worth a read on that score.
    As for an African perspective on gravity, I don’t see that as a fair comparison since I’ve never heard of Africans even having a word for gravity prior to western contact. For something more comparable, I’d suggest considering an African perspective on time … and that IS culturally conditioned.
    I have to disagree with the statement that theology is “what God says about himself.” I’d consider the scriptures to be what God says about himself through the prophets, but not theology. Theology is us reflecting on what God says about himself through the prophets, and our reflections always take place within a cultural context so they are never culturally neutral. That’s not to say our conclusions don’t have implications for Christians in other cultures but they’re not the same as scripture.
    I’m not suggesting we have to buy into all theologies, but … well, look at it this way. It’s like having an accent. People generally don’t recognize they have an accent till they go to another country for a few weeks. Listening to non-western theologies can help us to become aware of our western theological accent, and recognize both its good sides and not so good sides. That way we can do theology better.
    With regard to preaching the gospel, I wouldn’t have put it quite the way he did, but I do seem some unhelpful polarizations in the western church born of platonic dualism. We have some conservative extremists saying you should leave your church if the preacher even mentions social justice. We have some liberal extremists saying evangelism is a form of abuse. Both are equally in error in my view. It’s both/and not either/or. Yes, preachers should prioritize evangelism, preaching is their gift to the church. But the church, as a body with many limbs, should be saturated with both.

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