[This is part 2 of my response to Clemen's Sedmak's Doing Local Theology. Read part 1 here.]
The majority of Doing Local Theology focuses on what Sedmak calls “little theologies,” as he defines, “To translate the big concepts of our theological tradition into our life experience is to create ‘little theologies’” (p. 46). Much of “little theologies” is understanding tradition. As Sedmak states, “Theologians are accountable to a community, a community that was there before them and will be there after they are gone. Chesterton talked about tradition as democracy including the dead, giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves any longer.” In this dialogue with tradition, the theologian not only receives a sense of identity but also respects other cultures in other contexts (p. 53).
Although theology must respect tradition, “the theological tradition has to be reappropriated [sic]” (p. 54). Theology must be done with people in mind, and the theologian must decide how a certain concept is expressed within a local culture. The Bible is the primary source for where Christians engage tradition. As one reads the biblical text, he or she must keep in mind, “Everybody who reads the Bible has an agenda,” and, due to this, Sedmak explains, “The Bible has to be reappropriated [sic], taken into the reality of the people” (p. 57). In this way, tradition is contextualized.
The author has already explained that there is diversity of opinion in theology. However, Sedmak further explains, “We have seen that the Christian tradition is a series of ‘little traditions,’ local traditions. Similarly, we can see that the reappropriation [sic] of the tradition and the message of Jesus can have many faces. Christian spiritual life allows a healthy pluralism of spiritualities and expressions of faith life” (p. 63). Theologians engage in a variety of cultures, and many, if not all, experience Jesus differently than other theologians. Thus, theology is left with a colorful representation of Jesus and his message, and such is not dangerous but healthy.
Culture touches all areas of human life. Sedmak explains, “Culture is the way we live and at the same time the framework within which we live as social beings…culture touches all levels of human existence (see Tanner 1997, 25-28). Cultures are expressions of our attempts to come to terms with life.” Also, culture shapes theology, as Sedmak continues, “Cultures help to answer the question, Who am I? This question is also one of the basic questions of theology. In this sense we do theology all the time, because we constantly try to find our place in our community, in society, in the world. Questions of identity are theological questions” (p. 74). In other words, due to the fact that culture permeates all areas of human existence and answers questions of identity, theology is necessary. In line with this, the author explains how culture develops diversity in theology, “Doing theology takes place within the framework of a particular culture. This has an impact on the language we speak, the categories we use, the experience we rely on, the problems we deal with, the assumptions we make” (p. 80).
This is the basis of “little theologies,” which engages the surrounding culture. Sedmak states, “Little theologies cannot copy other theologies or repeat those from the past if they want to do justice to a particular culture” and “are not about bringing about final solutions” (p. 123). Little theologies engage people, as Sedmak explains, “People recognize themselves in little theologies! People want to be part of a sermon! We do not preach to ‘the whole of humanity.’ A person preaching to everybody does not reach anybody…Little theologies are addressed to human people of flesh and blood, with experiences of their own, with local knowledge of their own (p. 126). Due to this, little theologies should be challenging to hearers (p. 128), and its criterion is “appropriateness to the given situation and fidelity to the gospel” (p. 141; emphasis mine). Thus, little theologies are designed to engage people as if they matter by understanding their culture and meeting their spiritual and physical needs, as well. In this, they provide individuals with hope as is the goal of all theology (p. 160).
What do you think it valuable about church tradition? Do you agree with Sedmak?
How have you seen culture influence your outlook on life?