John Wesley's Quadrilateral is often appealed to as a foundation for doing theology -- Scripture/Revelation, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. My own tradition has placed great emphasis, especially in its earliest years on Scripture and Reason. Ours was a reasonable faith -- as should be expected of a tradition informed by John Locke and Scottish Common Sense Realism. We've been suspicious of experience, especially that of the exuberant kind. As for Tradition, well, we've always prided ourselves on being non-creedal (though to be honest, it was a non-creedalism in the sense that creeds have not been made tests of fellowship). That being said, we bring our history, our experience, and yes our rationality to our engagement not just with Scripture, but to our encounter with God.
But what might culture add to the conversation? Chalice Press has issued a most significant theological work for the Disciples of Christ. Entitled Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology (edited by Peter Goodwin Heltzel it was published this fall -- 2008). This book, of which I'll be saying more about in the coming weeks and months, raises cultural issues. It reminds us that we live in a post-colonial world and a multi-cultural nation. Things have changed, and we must take these changes into context.
In a chapter written by Peter Heltzel and Don Browning entitled: "Practicing Reconciliation: A Methodological Proposal," we are confronted with the issue of culture and its impact on how we do theology and practice our faith. They rely on Hans-George Gadamer's work on hermeneutics for their proposal.
So, what is theology?
"Theology is a practical discipline, an ongoing conversation between human others who worshipfully engage the Divine Other. Human truth entails going beyond a simple mechanistic account of human affairs. Gadamer notes: "According to Kierkegaard, it is the other who breaks into my ego-centeredness and gives me something to understand. This Kierkegaardian motif guided me from the beginning." This transcendence is based on the Divine Other that breaks into human reality through the human other giving us a subject and context to understand. In order to understand the subject in front of us embodied in the face of the other, we need to have a conversation. The gospel moment in our three-step practical theology [gospel, historical, constructive] looks in two directions at once -- first, trying to describe, interpret, and understand the human other in her or his context and second, trying to describe, interpret, and understand the Divine Other, mediated in history, that is the foundation of both other and self. This threefold practical interpretive process is naive and impressionistic in its first phase and must be tested and matured through historical theology and constructive-strategic amplification. This is why practical theology, in its first gospel step in both confessional and descriptive modes, should be humble. Faith's first impressions have not be tested. (Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology, Chalice Press, 2008, p. 76).
Don Browning is well known for his explorations and development of practical theology, which I don't want to go into at this moment. The question I want to raise concerns the necessity to take into consideration the context in which we live -- the situation that we find ourselves in and how that influences how we see God. Feminist, Liberationist, and other formulations ask us to consider life experience as a foundational piece in doing theology. Experience tends to be personal, but context is communal.
I welcome your thoughts on this idea that we should consider our cultural context in our act of doing theology.