[This is the finale of my response to Clemens Sedmak's Doing Local Theology. Below is my personal reflection on what he has put forth. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here. My overall score of the book is at the end of this post.]
Clemens Sedmak’s Doing Local Theology deserves both negative and positive reflections. First, the overall writing of Sedmak’s book is at times repetitive and slightly monotonous. Also, when culture-specific theology is emphasized, everyone is a theologian. This is at times important, but the global Church does not always benefit from everyone practice theology. For instance and although Sedmak would resist such an example, no one outside of Nazi-sympathizers desires Adolf Hitler to be a theologian, even though in some cases he was. If one emphasizes cultural-specific theology, this is the danger.
However, even if the abuse of cultural-specific theology is possible, it should not be neglected, and Sedmak is correct that “little theologies” are incredibly important to the life of the Church. “Little theologies” can be used to touch the life of a single mother more than a “big theology” like Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Little theologies can help the homeless man in my neighborhood more than a big theology like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Although “little theologians” will be less known, their grassroots influence cannot be overemphasized.
Theology desires to bring people closer to God. This is extremely important to the journey of the Christian. The local theologian works to speak within real life situations rather than to these situations and, by doing so, brings individuals close to God. When a college student’s friend dies in a horrible accident, Christians are prone to speak to this individual in order to fix her. They seek to tell the person that her friend is in heaven or God is still in control. There are many examples of individuals rejecting God because of Christian responses like these. On the contrary, the local theologian mourns with this college student, speaks with her, and helps her struggle and fight with God’s sovereignty. Since the local theologian is speaking within this situation, he or she brings the individual closer to God.
If culture permeates every aspect of human life, one’s theology is greatly influenced. Sedmak is correct to point out the overarching power of culture. One must come to terms with the cultural influence of his or her reading of Scripture, denominational choice, response to the poor, and so forth. This brings one to humility rather than pride, which has characterized much of theology through the centuries. In this way, an biblical interpreter reads Scripture understanding that his or her reading is not the reading of the text but one of the readings valid for the text. A white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-to-high class, evangelical from Northeast Philadelphia (like myself) will always read Scripture as such a person. This is not wrong, but it is reality. However, such a person must acknowledge his or her cultural reading and, at the same time, appreciate the voice of others. Culture greatly influences one’s theology, and such a perspective leads to humility.
Overall, Clemens Sedmak offers a solid understanding on how to approach theology in one’s cultural context, and, thus, his book is a guidebook for the missional Church. However, it might not be one’s “first” book to read, but one would do well to at least “skim” the book. It is true that theological concepts must be placed within his or her cultural context, and, in return, the theologian creates “little theologies,” which speak within the experience and needs of others. Such must be emphasized. Also, Sedmak does well to push the reader to see the importance of a diversity of theological positions, which he correctly states is healthy. The missional student would do well to keep Doing Local Theology on his or her bookshelf.
Do you agree or disagree with Sedmak’s (and my) desire for a “healthy pluralism?” Why or why not?
How does your culture influence your interpretation of Scripture?
+++Overall: 6.5 out of 10+++