King's Evangelical Divinity School

29 October 2009

Intercultural Theology: Pluralist Relativism or Democratic Absolutism?

Several weeks back I asked for definitions of intercultural theology from both postmodern and Christian perspectives, offering a guest blog post for the best answer in 200 words or less. There were no takers (!) so I thought I’d better wrap up this one so we can move on. Here are my 200 words on the topic.

Intercultural theology is a broad term which can generally refer to the study of religion and cultures and often forms part of a missions/missiology degree. But more specifically it has two distinct meanings, closely related but quite different, within postmodern and Christian settings. Drawing on postcolonial theory and thus challenging Western theology’s automatic privileged position, both seek to explore how local factors, culture and worldviews shape theological inquiry. (Actually there is a delicious irony here, given the fundamentally Western nature of postmodern thought.) But whereas a postmodern understanding of intercultural theology emphasises pluralism and relativism, so that the outcome is a collection of various local theologies, none of which is right or wrong, a Christian approach to intercultural theology, though still emphasising pluralism and local theological engagement, nonetheless ditches relativism. Instead the focus is on how different cultures represent equal stakeholders in the formulation of theology (a view expressed by the pioneering scholar of Pentecostalism Walter Hollenwegger), so that it is not just a Western stronghold, yet in keeping with the Christian concepts of absolutism and truth there still exists such a thing as good and bad theology. In short, the postmodern approach regards theology as a pluralist, relativist exercise, while Christian interculturalists instead emphasise a democratic yet absolutist approach (that is, they are pluralist to a degree as long as the ultimate outcome is truth). So while both take a similar starting point (postcolonial theory), their outworkings they are poles apart.

No comments: