Getting Out of the Echo Chamber

Brain McLaren suggests that we who live in the West may be living in an Echo Chamber where it is difficult to “listen to the voice of others.” One solution to this potential difficulty is to get out of the Echo Chamber by reading and thinking about how folks in other parts of the world think and write. The following article is a great start toward that goal.

A UNIVERSAL CORE?
by Sherman YL Kuek, OSL
Sherman is an itinerant minister and an Adjunct Lecturer in Christian Theology at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM). He spends much of his time journeying with his friends in reflecting on faith, life, and culture in a profoundly theological and yet simple way.

In speaking of contextualisation, there are (rather simplistically) two trends of thought:

1) The gospel consists of a “static universal core”, a series of articulations which is time insensitive and perennially unchanging. The contextualisation project is simply about enfleshing this core with a cultural facade for the facilitation of communication and understanding. The core, essentially, does not change.

2) The gospel consists of a “dynamic universal core”, a series of articulations which is time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding. The contextualisation project, whilst being about the cultural expression of this “dynamic universal core”, is also about allowing the enfleshment process to provoke us to re-examine the legitimacy and relevance of the universal core. This means that the universal core, by its sheer dynamic nature, is vulnerable to being modified, changed, eradicated, retained, or reaffirmed in accordance with that deemed necessary.

I suspect that the “emerging” people are those who are more ready to embrace the second of the two approaches, and not anyone is willing to sit well with this methodological vulnerability.

But anyone who is seriously going to engage his/her context authentically would almost immediately see that the second of the two is probably the only way by which one can be authentically contextual in his/her theological methodology.

II
This section dwells on some further sustained thoughts pertaining to the “dynamic universal core”. If we posit that the dynamic universal core is “time sensitive and perennially changing with the development of our theological understanding”, what reasonable sources possess legitimate ascendancy over the dynamism of the core?

It is open knowledge that the emerging people are serious about engaging with the dominant culture confronting the Christian gospel (in the West the postmodern culture, and in Asia perhaps the postcolonial ethos). First and foremost, this engagement is about the vulnerability of allowing the dominant culture to challenge the Christian gospel with serious questions regarding the adequacy, accuracy, and even the absolute rightness of the latter.

But it is probably a misunderstanding beyond proportions that these people engaging with culture are actually permitting the culture to redefine the core. It is most likely that culture raises questions which shed doubt on the perennial universality of the core, but not necessarily that culture redefines the core.

In my observation, it seems to me that whilst culture is permitted the role of the “interrogator”, the contextual thinkers are going back into the Great Christian Tradition to seek solutions for these problems raised by culture. They do not claim that culture itself provides the answers. They seem to have an implicit understanding that the Great Christian Tradition itself possesses more than a sufficient wealth of wisdom to provide plausible solutions for challenges posed by culture. The Great Christian Tradition causes one to expand and deepen the core such that one realises that his definition and demarcation of the core may have been overly limited and unnecessarily fossilised.

Thus, it is not uncommon for contextual thinkers to move beyond the boundaries of their own limited traditions (i.e. their denominational / traditional boundaries and familiar scope of theological positions) towards other even older traditions in search of responses to the problems posed by culture. This explains the openness of the emerging people towards the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions and their willingness to listen to other ecclesial voices beyond that with which they are familiar. Again, this is not something deemed acceptable to every Christian thinker of every tradition. Some traditions are, by their sheer nature, implicitly closed to conversations which challenge the rudiments of their all-familiar categories.

The Christian faith is more than 500 years old. In fact, the memory of the Christian Church goes back beyond 2,000 years. The contextual thinker holds on to this wealth of ecclesial life and therefore understands that there is no need for theological insecurity, for he has a long, long history – a Great Story of which he is a part – consisting of multiple voices of wisdom who have come before him and who would be able to infuse wisdom and impart solutions in his endeavour to be a relevant voice within the present scheme of life. This is the reservoir of ecclesial jurors for the contextual thinker which many others fail to observe or choose to ignore all together.

For him, the challenges posed by cultural confrontations do not cause him to pander into a state of intimidation and self-preserving defensiveness, for he looks beyond himself and his restrained traditional familiarity; and behold, a world of endless possibilities is open before him as he gleans from the voices of his many Fathers who once treaded the path on which he now finds himself. Someone aptly comments (and the contextual thinker certainly mirrors it well): “It’s not about the old ways, it’s about the much older ways.”

Sherman blogs on Sherman on the Mount

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