Thursday, June 29, 2017

Polythetic and Progressive Contextualization

A couple notes on George Yip, in his article The Contour of a Post-Postmodern Missiology.

Polythetic is defined as “Relating to or sharing a number of characteristics which occur commonly in members of a group or class, but none of which is essential for membership of that group or class.” Monothetic contextualization assumed that there was such a thing as, for instance, “Arab Culture,” and didn’t make room for diversity. Therefore, in contextualization, one would contextualize to “Arab culture.” But this approach had many problems:

For example, missionaries and missiologists have tried to create the myth that there is a Japanese culture which is homogeneous, that because of Japanese collectivism and their preference for uniformity there is a core of culture and worldview shared by the Japanese. In reality this is far from the truth. Japanese society is, and probably has always been, a society of diversity. Some thirty years ago when I went to Japan as a missionary church-planter I noticed that missionaries did church-planting in many diverse ways, each with a certain degree of success. Many learned the language and culture and tried to contextualize the gospel and plant an indigenous church according to what they perceived to be the Japanese culture. Then there were a few missionaries who did not learn the language well, used English in church-planting, and planted churches similar to American churches. They were able to attract some Japanese, showing that within the Japanese nation there were people who found cultural affinity with the Americans. This example shows that Japan needs many kinds of contextualized churches, including even a non-contextualized form of church. In a society with large intra-cultural variations, polythetic contextualization is more effective than monothetic contextualization. (408-9)

Progressive contextualization seeks to deal with the exceptions and variations within a culture:

There are many methods of Muslim evangelism and many approaches of Muslim contextualization, including the controversial insider movement. All [Yip should say many!] these are based on the assumption that there is a homogeneous and coherent Muslim culture, an assumption that is far from the truth. Both defenders and opponents of the insider movement stand on this faulty assumption. A way out is to use progressive contextualization to study specific cases of insider movements. A number of questions need to be answered. In a context where there is an insider movement, what are the specific culture, structure, and history of that group? What is this situation of power (both hidden and manifested) in that group? The answers to such questions may yield the real cause of the movement, and that may not be the maintenance of Muslim identity. This will help us to make assessments both theologically and pragmatically. (409 Emphasis mine)

I think this is helpful for shedding light on the variations of MBB experiences with “Islam.” Some see it as a form of spiritual bondage, some just as a culture/politic, and some in-between. For instance, see my article on The Complexity of Insiderness. Also note what L.D. Waterman says:

In the Bridging the Divide network, through numerous case studies from scholar-practitioners with a wide range of perspectives and experiences, we have learned of the incredible diversity of contexts within “the Muslim world.” We have noted not only differences of social and political contexts, but also of diverse spiritual alignments and experiences among Muslims. Within these very different contexts, God is working in a variety of creative ways to shine the light of the gospel.

See also: The Essentialist Fallacy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Definitive” “Dazzling” “Extensive” “Groundbreaking” “Impressive” “Game Changing”

From Terry Muck at IBMR:

This is a big book with big ideas. Early readers have already called it “definitive” (Frances Adeney), “dazzling” (Stephen Bevans), “extensive” (William Dyrness), “groundbreaking” (John Flett), and “impressive” (Stanley Skreslet). Let me add “game changing” (or perhaps “theology changing”) and suggest that its future lies in becoming the fundamental text in courses in introductory missiology, theology, and world

Part 1 in the Missiological Engagements series, Intercultural Theology: Intercultural Hermeneutics:

Christianity is not only a global but also an intercultural phenomenon. The diversity of world Christianity is evident not merely outside our borders but even within our own neighborhoods.

Over the past half century theologians and missiologists have addressed this reality by developing local and contextual theologies and by exploring issues like contextualization, inculturation, and translation. In recent years these various trajectories have coalesced into a new field called intercultural theology. Bringing together missiology, religious studies, social science research, and Christian theology, the field of intercultural theology is a fresh attempt to rethink the discipline of theology in light of the diversity and pluriformity of Christianity today.

Henning Wrogemann, one of the leading missiologists and scholars of religion in Europe, has written the most comprehensive textbook on the subject of Christianity and culture today. In three volumes his Intercultural Theology provides an exhaustive account of the history, theory, and practice of Christian mission. Volume one introduces the concepts of culture and context, volume two surveys theologies of mission both past and present, and volume three explores theologies of religion and interreligious relationships.

In this first volume on intercultural hermeneutics, Wrogemann introduces the term "intercultural theology" and investigates what it means to understand another cultural context. In addition to surveying different hermeneutical theories and concepts of culture, he assesses how intercultural understanding has taken place throughout the history of Christian mission. Wrogemann also provides an extensive discussion of contextual theologies with a special focus on African theologies.

Intercultural Theology is an indispensable resource for all people―especially students, pastors, and scholars―that explores the defining issues of Christian identity and practice in the context of an increasingly intercultural and interreligious world.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Challenging the Concept of “The Muslim World”

Contrary to widespread assumption, the term “Muslim world” does not derive from ummah, a concept as old as Islam, which refers to the Muslim religious community. Instead the idea of the Muslim world began to develop in the nineteenth century and achieved full flower in the 1870s. Also mistaken is the belief that Muslims were united until nationalist ideology and European colonialism tore them apart. This is precisely backward; in fact, Muslims did not imagine belonging to a global political unity until the peak of European hegemony in the late nineteenth century, when poor colonial conditions, European discourses of Muslim racial inferiority, and Muslims’ theories of their own apparent decline nurtured the first arguments for pan-Islamic solidarity. In other words, the Muslim world arrived with imperial globalization and its concomitant ordering of humanity by race. The racialization of Islam was bound up with its transformation into a universal and uniform religious tradition, a force in international politics, and a distinct object in a discourse of civilizations. Political strategy and intellectual labor made this new reality, and both Muslims and European Christians took part.

Aydin, Cemil (2017). The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Kindle Locations 91-99). Harvard University Press.

See also: How the Muslim World Was Invented