Action in history or Nailing your colours firmly to the fence

This week we are looking at Stephen Bevan’s different models of contextual theology. Yesterday we looked at two models that start from different ends of the theological process. The translation model begins with the theologian’s understanding of the gospel and church tradition. The anthropological model begins with the cultural values of the location of theology. Today we will look at two other models.

The praxis model is, in one sense, where contextual theology gained its foundations—especially in epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) and hermeneutics (philosophy of interpretation). For theologians employing this model, God’s presence is manifested not only in the gospel or in the fabric of culture but in the fabric of history. God’s action in history especially in the history of oppressed peoples struggling for liberation is the starting point for this model.

Thus, theology must be done in the context of commitment to action, as a continual dialogue between the heritage of faith and experience in this struggle. It focuses on the identity of Christians as they confront the social realities of their context and presupposes that the highest level of knowing is in action.  It asserts that a theology that does not take praxis into consideration is an irrelevant, theoretical reflection. The Praxis model can be summarized quite succinctly as a process of “action-reflection on action- and re-action” (based on a new understanding of traditional authority and a trial-and-error approach toward social action). Bevans identifies Liberation theology as only one example of the Praxis approach.

The synthetic model preserves the importance of the gospel message and traditional doctrinal formulations while acknowledging the vital role of culture. It emphasises the importance of reflective action for change and the need to honour the resources of other cultures and theologies and strives to keep these elements in “dialectical tension”.

The word “synthetic” is not used in the sense artificial as in “synthetic leather” but rather in the sense of something constructed out of various sources as in a “synthetic fibre”. So in this sense, a synthetic model of contextual theology is a theology constructed out of all elements of the theological process.

In one way, the Synthetic Model is the moderation of all previous models. Bevans identifies this model as a “dialectic” or “dialogical” model, meaning that the intention is to converse with the target culture and allow for a give and take between the gospel message and local cultural forms. A good example of this model would be the work of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, especially in his Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai.

To a certain extent I question whether this is a model at all as it seems to “nail its colours firmly to the fence!”