Category Archives: Theology at Work

Contextual Theology – Encounter with God, Right Here and Right Now!

Amidst a crunched, crazy schedule, I thought I should take some time to write this post on Contextual Theology. This is a vast area of theology which was covered in approximately 4 hrs. at the Theologate under the Module – Emerging Trends in Theology. Today I sat for the examination of this module and I thought of sharing some of the preparations I made with regard to a certain aspect of this branch of Theology.

Okay, so you’ve read the title. If you surf across the web, you’ll find tons of theological definitions on what Contextual Theology is. For me  hard meat boiled, Contextual Theology is an Encounter with God, happening Right Here and Right Now. And no, I’m not talking about Prayer (for once 🙂 ). Instead of mystically rising to heaven and trying to understand God, you bring Him where you are, to the current context you are in. And Contextual Theology is by no means Inculturation.

In order to Contextualize Theology, our lecturer presented us with Stephen Bevans’ Models for Contextual Theology. At the last minute when I was preparing for the paper I went through my notes on the different models. Geezzz that left me with a headache and nothing else at all. I couldn’t wrap my head around all these models. I didn’t have the book, so it was like searching for something in the dark. So as usual, I sought my friend who helps me out with crisis like this. Mr. Google, of course!

Following is a summary (almost a summary 😉 ) of the six models, with information gathered from the web. For a detailed explanation, I have included some references below only because I hate spoon feeding every little thing…

I love analogies. And if you find your head twisted with these models, turn to the analogies presented by Bevans, it’ll definitely make your life lot easier.

1. Translation Model

Analogy Bringing seeds to plant in a native ground.Translation Model

You take the seeds you have go to another country or city to plant them. In this model, you reveal the core message of the Gospel in a completely new setting. That is, you proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard of it nor knows that it exists, a completely new cultural, linguistic or historical context.

When you’re taking the Gospel message to a foreign community who speak a foreign language, obviously you have to face the problem of Linguistic Translation. You can solve this problem with two approaches,

  1. Accuracy / Consistency – Translate the original message to the new language, where each word of the original is an absolute match to the new language word that is parallel to the original word.
  2. Comprehensibility and Relevance – Strain out the gist of the original message and give it to the people in your words.

Then again, you can’t mess around with God’s Word. Though Bevans prefers the second option, he says that you cannot compromise with the first option when it comes to the Gospel. True that! What if someone interpreted it wrong?

2. Anthropology Model

AnalogyWatering the seeds already in the ground so that they will sprout. Anthropology Model

You’re land that is in another country already has some seeds sowed in it, so you only have to water them so that they can grow. In this model, there is a vague understanding about the Gospel in the context. So it’s not completely new! In this the primary focus is on the our common friend, the Human Being. This model upholds and reveres culture and the members of that particular culture.

3. Praxis Model

AnalogyConstantly weeding the garden and learning to be a better Gardener. Praxis Model

Okay so the seeds are sown, plants have come up, now you have to tend the garden and make it a better place. In this model, it assumes that Christianity has a stand or say in a particular context, so it’s not completely new or alien to the culture. Since Christianity is already established, you judge your cultural values in the light of the Gospel tradition. This model focuses on Action.It presents a cycle.

Action - Reflection - Action

4. Counter – Cultural Model

Analogy Weeding and Fertilizing the soil so the seeds can be planted. Counter-Cultural Model

At the first look of the analogy, I personally thought “Errr isn’t that the same as the earlier model??!” Well yes and no! The term Counter – Cultural means being different from and above culture. Yes, you engage with the culture but your fidelity lies to the Gospel. It calls for a radical change in the culture. It is similar to the Praxis Model but this model takes a prophetic stance. This model’s focus is on the Gospel. It emphasizes the difference between the Gospel and Culture.

5. Synthetic Model

Synthetic Model AnalogyCross-Pollination

This is my favourite part of gardening. A hybrid of two plants. This model presents a process of Dialogue. It is a dialogue with a pool of people having different viewpoints. This model is closest to the Gospel, where in the Gospel also we see how different views are brought together through dialogue and forms a true synthesis.

6. Transcendental Model

AnalogyI cultivate my own garden in the hope that another will be inspired to cultivate their own garden.

Don’t get carried away with the name of the model. In this I become a role model to another. It’s pretty much the same approach I follow with my posts. You share your own religious experiences based on the cultural, historical and religious settings that you come from. In this model, one has to be cautious on how to identify authentic theologies of individuals. In order to be authentic theology, it should be inline with the teaching of the Church.

Transcendental Model

So there you go, the six models of Bevans’ almost in a nutshell 🙂

SACRISTAN – The Jack of All Trades

Having a typical human being attitude, you don’t get to realize the value of a person until you have an abrupt role reversal and get to play that person. Similarly yesterday, the Faculty of Theology had to organize the mass celebrated for the Annunciation. Myself known to be the Universal Monitor of three batches and sometimes nicknamed as the Pope, took the liberty of appointing the lectors, cantor and selecting the hymns for the mass. I assumed that this is all that I had to do, in order to organize a mass. For my surprise, when I entered into the chapel, little did I know that the job of the Sacristan was awaiting me.

The heart attack for the day started off with the shooting pain, when I saw that nothing was arranged in the chapel. No Lectionary (The book which has the daily mass readings), Missal (The book which has the prayers and responses of the priest and the congregation), wine and the host, water, microphones, lamps, hymnals and everything that you can think of which is needed for the mass. Gathering myself together, calm and composed as possible and only having 20 minutes to prepare, I prioritized the tasks. The first question I asked myself was, what is the most important thing that will be needed and without which the mass cannot be celebrated. DUH!! The Readings for the day!

Liturgy of the WordSo I found the Lectionary, grabbed the Ordo (The book that provides a guideline about the significance of the day and the readings for the day) and started to dive and find the reading for the day. Since it was a solemnity (a feast), it couldn’t have been in the lenten section, kept on finding and I called up a friend who knew how to find it and finally, Yureka! Likewise found the correct page in the Missal for the Priest and placed it on the altar.

Liturgy of the EucharistThe second priority during the mass is, of course the Host, Wine and the Water. These were placed in the sacristy, so put them into the relevant vessels and kept them on the altar. Then I went on to do the arrangements of the altar along with the vestment of the Priest. Since it was lent and the lenten colour is purple, that was a bit of a cake walk. But then how many lamps do you light during a mass? Well I learned this for the subject called Liturgy, but didn’t want to clutter my brain with too much information at that time. Why would I wanna remember that right? I’m not the sacristan! Well now I am and that was important to know. Anyways, lit a lamp and kept it. With not much of time left in hand, I was hunting for the microphones, which seem to have been missing, but tracked it down on time. The next problem was, how to get them working? Because I’m no expert in that area. Did a little bit of twisting and turning of the buttons and tested the microphones and Bingo! there you go, it works!

Having only 5 minutes in hand, the heart attack was when I realized that none of the appointed lectors and cantor were there. So managed to utilize the available human resources and reorganize the choices. Selecting the appropriate hymns was the next milestone. It was weird how we easily found the offertory and final hymns but the entrance hymn was a bit of a hard nut and missed it, because the Priest was already there to celebrate the mass.

Whew… One heck of a rat race I must say. Come to think of it, if you analyze my thought process, as to how I prioritize the tasks, it’s exactly the same way how the mass generally flows. For Liturgy, we learned that if the mass was put in a form of a graph, the 2 peak points would be,

  • Liturgy of the Word (The Gospel) Liturgy Graph
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Likewise, my first 2 priorities were these. If you take a look at the Liturgy preparation, each minute detail makes a big difference and it is because it has a meaning. The celebration is a ritual. The Catholic Church breathes along with 2 lungs, Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Details like the colour of the vestments, number of lamps to be lit at different types of Eucharistic Celebrations are handed down from thousands of years young tradition. And the amusing thing is, we might find it too much to digest, so much of details and information right? But all these details are available in one repository, approximately found in all churches of the world. The Sacristan! Just like Joseph’s coat of many colours, the Sacristan is a man of many shades.

In the context of Sri Lanka, we hardly recognize the role of this man. But if anything goes wrong on the altar during the mass, he’ll for sure be the first scapegoat. And we take his job for granted. But what I realized yesterday was that, he’s a technician, an interior designer, a florist, a Taylor, a master of the Lectionary and also who knows the work of a Nun and a Priest on the altar. Hence the Sacristan is The Jack of All Trades when it comes to the mass. Hats off!