Hesselgrave and Rommen (2000:200) define missiological contextualization as:
…the attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God in a way that is faithful to God's revelation, especially as put forth in the teaching of Holy Scripture, and that is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts.
Wan (1999:13) elaborates on this concept by defining “contextualization” in the following words:
…the efforts of formulating, presenting and practicing the Christian faith in such a way that is relevant to the cultural context of the target group in terms of conceptualization, expression and application; yet maintaining theological coherence, biblical integrity and theoretical consistency.
Bevans (2004:26), in reflecting on theology that is contextual, states that such theology realizes that culture, history, contemporary thought forms and so forth are to be considered, along with scripture and tradition, as valid sources for theological expression (Bevans, 2004:4). He advocates the use of the term “contextualization”, and considers this term to include all that is implied in the older terms “indigenization” and “inculturation”. The term “contextualization” includes the aspects of cultural identity, popular religiosity, and social change, where these aspects together enable the development of contextual theology.
Bosch (1995:420) argues that true evangelism should always be contextual. He further makes a distinction between traditional theology that is conducted from above as an elitist enterprise, with its main source being philosophy, and its main interlocutor being the educated non-believer, as opposed to contextual theology, which is conducted from below. Contextual theology has as its main source the social sciences, since these sciences describe and define the context in which theology must be practised. The main interlocutors of contextual theology are seen as the poor or culturally marginalized (Bosch, 1995:423). Bevans (2004:3) also asserts strongly that the contextualizing of theology, “…the attempt to understand Christian faith in terms of a particular context…” is really a theological imperative. Simply put, it means we must contextualize missions with the destitute.
This requires an emphasis on the priority of praxis: as Gutierrez (1988:xxix) states, theology must be a critical reflection on Christian praxis in the light of the word of God. Contextual theology also places great emphasis on commitment as the first act of theology, specifically commitment to the poor and marginalized (Torres and Fabella, 1978:269).
Hence the theologian can no longer observe and evaluate from a distance: theology can only be conducted credibly if it is done with those that suffer. This places the emphasis on “doing theology” rather than merely knowing or speaking about theology: true contextual theology generates “knowing” (knowledge) through action (Bosch, 1995:425).
This call for hands-on involvement: contextual theology is involved in its context, learns from it, and is formed by it. Contextual theology also reflects constantly; and therefore changes constantly in its praxis.
However, this commitment to action and praxis is not to be viewed as a one-sided matter. As Hardon (2005:4) puts it:
Commonly understood, the focus (of contextual mission) is on adapting the Gospel to the culture which is being evangelized, whereas actually the adaptation is a two-way street. No doubt, and with emphasis, the culture must be respected and its deeply human (and grace-laden) qualities recognized. But having confessed that, we must also look to the other side of the relationship.
In doing missions with the destitute, contextualization becomes very important. We need to meet them on the streets, in the context of their need. We must develop a theology of mission and salvation together with them that will bring about conversion on both sides of the relationship, while manifesting God’s hope and reign in our world. In a very real sense their world must become ours if we truly want to practise contextual theology. This requires commitment, especially in being involved with the destitute in a “hands-on” fashion.
According to Bevans (2004:5), contextual theology means doing theology in a way that takes into account two things:
Firstly, the faith experience of the past that is recorded in the scriptures and kept alive, preserved, defended, perhaps even neglected or suppressed, in tradition (Bevans, 2004:5). Hall (1993:34-36) comments that a major part of the theological process is simply that of finding out about the Christian theological past. This is recorded in scripture, as well as preserved and defended in tradition (Bevans, 2004:7).
Secondly, contextual theology takes into account the experience of the present, the context (Bevans, 2004:5). This stems from personal or communal experience, culture, social location and social change (Bevans, 2004:7). Taking into account Bevans’ division of contextual theology into two parts, we can begin to unravel the context of the destitute.
3.1Understanding different ways of doing contextual theology with the destitute
Bevans (2004:141-143) discerns six models of contextual theology that must be taken into account if we want to truly practise such a theology with the destitute. The premise is that there is a time and place for every one of these models, and “certain models can function more adequately within certain sets of circumstances” (Bevans, 2004:139). Also, states Bevans (2004:139), these models are inclusive in nature, meaning that in doing contextual theology, there is no need to commit oneself to one model to the exclusion of all others. However, in terms of the context of the destitute in South Africa, it would seem that the “Praxis Model” (as the model selected in this thesis), might be better employed in a situation that calls for radical change and creative pastoral action.
These models lie on a continuum in terms of their focus and approach (Bevans, 2004:31-32), which can be illustrated as follows:
Experience of the present
Human experience (personal, communal)
Culture (secular, religious)
Experience of the past
A brief discussion of the Praxis Model should be helpful in understanding the specific approach to doing mission with the destitute advocated in this study. The other models are not discussed, since they fall outside its direct scope.
The said model of contextual theology focuses on the identity of Christians within a context, particularly as that context is understood in terms of social change. In terms of the destitute at this time in South Africa, no other model makes more sense.
Bevans (2004:70) states that the Praxis model is a way of doing theology at its most intense level, the level of reflective action. It also deals with discerning the meaning of and contributing to the course of social change, and so it takes its inspiration not only from classic texts or classic behaviour, but predominantly from present realities and future possibilities.
The model operates with a constant cycle that moves from critical reflection (including an analysis of the context and rereading of scripture and tradition) to action (implying committed and intelligent action or praxis).