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01
Feb

Theology in the service of the church

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Theology in the service of the church

When his book, Salt, Light and A City: Introducing Missional Ecclesiology was released in 2012, Graham Hill promised his readers a companion volume that would draw from theological works in the “Majority World” as a contribution to a better understanding of the missional nature and practice of the church. The promised book, Global Church: Reshaping our Conversations, Renewing our Mission, Revitalizing our Churches (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016) is now available. In deciding to write this book, Hill set himself an ambitious project and many readers will agree that he has lived up to the expectation formed in the minds of those who read his earlier work.

Hill names the book’s audience: The work is written primarily for the people in the “Global North.” Hill wants them to “abandon their flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews” and adopt a “new global and missional narrative” influenced by what they can learn from “the Majority World and indigenous cultures…about the church’s mission, worship, theology and community.”

Hill’s plan is impressive: He peruses theological writings emerging in the Majority World in order to discern what may be gleaned for the benefit of the church in the Global North and beyond. Of course, it is difficult for any one person to secure sufficient access to the vast body of literature produced in the Global South. We can have nothing but admiration for those who are bold enough to try to develop an adequate understanding of ideas that emerge from contexts vastly different from their own.

Of course, where theological reflection is understood as primarily a constructive task undertaken more through the spoken rather than written medium, printed essays reflect only part of the story of a people’s reflections on God’s mission among them. However, printed works are often more accessible to those who are not hearers of the sermons and presentations given in Bible study sessions and elsewhere.

Like those who participated in the 2004 Pattaya Forum, Hill opts for the term “Majority World Church” over the church in the Global South. One reason why some people from the part of the world that this term references prefer to describe themselves as coming from the Global South is that they have seen how a quantitative calculus has tyrannized some Christians in other parts of the world. Quantitative measurement, whether of money or people, tells a story, but not the whole story, and often the story it tells tends to prioritize quantity over quality – a habit that puts at risk those who are focused on Christian discipleship.

Hill’s goal is clear: He wants the church in the Global North to listen to, and learn from, the insights emerging in the “Majority World Church.” He calls on Christians in the North, whom he accuses of having ignored the voices from the South, to participate in fresh conversations that will evince a new global missional narrative. These conversations, he says, “must be multivocal, multicultural, multipeopled, missional and glocal (global and local).”

Hill has produced a book that will be appreciated by anyone who cares about our interdependent churches, their vocational self-understanding and the manner in which they participate in the mission of God in the world today. Hill makes it clear that his book does not address the perspectives of those in communities in diaspora. It will be interesting to see whether such communities will claim that what Hill passionately calls for corresponds in what they seek to do every day.

Meanwhile, people from the Global South will want to continue to interrogate how far their understanding of God’s ways of working in their cultures is influenced by insights from metropolitan centers. They will want to continue to develop their own contextual theologies – a task those in the North have been doing for centuries. Then, because of the catholicity of the church, they will want to dialogue with their fellow Christians from the Global North, but without ever wanting to impose their own views on others. Then, a way will need to be found to determine how the partners will proceed in crafting new narratives in response to Hill’s invitation.

Those who, like me, are from the Caribbean will want the contributions that several of their theologians have made to the quest for an understanding of the church’s mission in their region to be treated with appropriate respect. What a debt of gratitude we owe to people like Idris Hamid, Adolfo Ham, Ashley Smith, Hyacinth Boothe, Lewin Williams, Theresa Lowe-Ching, Burchell Taylor and Horace Russell – to name a few. We will be also be appreciative of the effort Hill has made to highlight the need for the sharing of the riches that are unearthed in all parts of the world as people seek to plumb the depths of God’s workings among them and discern how faithfully to respond.

Hill continues to display how theological scholarship can serve the church that is mission-centered. We look forward to the dynamic conversions that his accessible text, Global Church, will inspire. We encourage you to read and study this book.

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Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.

Comments

  • Guest
    Peder M.I. Liland Tuesday, 02 February 2016

    Theology is indeed serving us all. Here Neville George Callam focused his comments on Graham Hill's recent book on our global perspective as the Christian church - for all humanity.
    And in December he noted how our faith brings us to an involvement with the care for nature or the environment where people live, not just the matter of global warming. Our faith in Jesus Christ is the secret behind the involvement within areas, which may not seem specifically "christian". Theology also serves the need to bring about leadership within any part of human life, to end corruption and enhance the task of bringing about a more peaceful and righteous world. Thank you.

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