Overview: Coffeehouse Theology is wrapped around the idea of contextual theology. As Ed explains, contextual theology
“recognizes that all theology takes place within a local cultural context. This cultural context colors our reading of the Bible and produces a wide variety of locally made theologies…[it] also reminds us that each local understand of God has strengths and weaknesses, and we can fill in some of these holes by listening to other local theologies” (pp. 36-37; emphasis mine).
Contextual theology breeds humility and understanding. It is not systematic. It does not seek to fit everything within a box. It allows theological study to breathe.
Theology should not only be for personal growth, but it should also transform us into the people of God that the Father needs for his mission. Thus, every Christian is in some sense a “theologian.” We all must reflect on God (theology = the study of God) in order to pursue Christ and his mission, and we are all contextual theologians because we are all contextual beings.
Ed shows that theological diversity doesn’t plague the Body of Christ. Rather, theological diversity should be celebrated in such a way that it allows communities to see the beauty of Scripture more intimately. For Ed, this doesn’t blur everything into theological relativism, but it remains distinct from clearly defined, “black-and-white” dogma. Contextual awareness (so to speak) allows one to approach theology from a standpoint of humility rather than prideful naivety.
Key themes: diversity, unity, contextual theology
What I didn’t like:
What I (kinda) didn’t like was Ed’s treatment of tradition. I tend to take a little stronger of a stance with tradition (you can see some of my thoughts here). Where I think Ed falls short from my own understanding is that he sees tradition as a guide, whereas I believe we must yield to tradition over our own interpretations unless we have good reason to go against it.
Also, I found the book to have a strong evangelical slant (mainly, salvific notions), but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing (indeed, I am evangelical). I just wonder if it would hurt the book’s popularity amongst other audiences, which would be a shame.
What I liked:
Overall, Ed does an excellent job at popularizing much of what is written elsewhere in works from theologians such as John Franke. Ed takes ideas and expounds on them, creating a read made possible for the average church-goer. Whereas I would not recommend a high school youth group member who’d like to go “deeper” read The Character of Theology (by John Franke), I would recommend, however, that he or she read Ed’s book.
I also enjoyed the fact that Ed added a discussion on the purpose of tradition. Even though I disagreed to the extent to which Ed takes it, tradition must be involved, and, for its inclusion, I applaud Ed. Tradition is often neglected in most evangelical books on theology. Some may think it smacks of the rejection of Sola Scriptura, but I would reject that notion.
Also, Ed takes some time to involve the global church, which I believe is often neglected by American Christians. Often, American theology is often treated as the theology, as if Christ was a blue-collar, Ford-loving, Nike-wearing, patriotic, middle class, white, American male. This is most certainly not true, and the global church makes up for our theological brevity.
Who would like it: The first-year seminary student, the first-year bible college student, the novice theologian, and the layperson interested in theological studies. It is a good beginner’s guide to theology. Perhaps one day there will be a Contextual Theology for Dummies written by Ed Cyzewski.
My rating: 8 out of 10 (1 – I would use it for kindling for a camp fire, 10 – I would force it upon someone; 8 – I would keep it and give another copy to someone else as a gift)
Overall Conclusion: Reading Coffeehouse Theology was definitely worth it. I had previous knowledge of contextual theology, but Ed gave me a greater appreciation for it and has fused its importance in my mind. So, if you like theology, I think you should read this book. Coffeehouse Theology clears away some of the mistakes we make, brings the reader to theological humility, and jump-starts the Christian into a better, more unified relationship with Jesus Christ and with other Christians elsewhere. Great job, Ed!
–Cyzewski, E. (2008). Coffeehouse theology: reflecting on God in everyday life. NavPress: Colorado Springs.
Ed Cyzewski (MDiv Biblical Theological Seminary) works as a freelance writer in the nonprofit sector of southwest Vermont. He is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life, an introduction to contextual theology as well as the Coffeehouse Theology Bible Study Guide and aCoffeehouse Theology Discussion Guide. He can be followed at:
Buy Coffeehouse Theology at Amazon.com here.