in search of an emerging South African theology
June 3, 2008
After my own post yesterday, and Tom’s response on it, maybe today would be a good day to post on something that’s lying heavy on my heart. For a long time now I’ve been asking myself what the contribution of South Africans should be towards a global theological conversation, also the emerging conversation. More and more I realise that we need to ask what a local South African theological conversation would look like if we’d like to see what our contribution globally can be.
South Africa seem to be a good off-set point for a number of emerging thoughts. This seem to make sense to me, someone like Leonard Sweet refer to the perfect storm when describing the change that came in his society, and which results in a change in church. This metaphor seem strike a bell somewhere with people in our church (see for example Nelus Niemandt’s use of it in Nuwe Drome vir Nuwe Werklikhede, as well as the use of this in the name of a book under the redaction of Stephan Joubert, Die Perfekte Storm). But maybe our storm look somewhat different, it’s post-apartheid, it’s political turmoil, neo-nationalism, combined with postmodernism, a technological revolution, and the perfect storm which Sweet and others have described.
I found it quite shocking a while ago to see how the thoughts of Alan Hirsch gets eaten up by 40 and 50-something pastors in of our denomination. Like they are completely disillusioned with the fact that everything has changed, and that it seems like the church they grew up in made a big mess of everything, and maybe a mid-life crisis also plays a role, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, this guy coming out, telling them that the institutional church is a great big mess, and that it’s possible to simply do it in another way, seem to be taken as a life-saver almost uncritically.
South Africa is a challenge. We experience a storm. I think this is a big part of the reason why the emerging writers seem to strike such a natural chord with us. Obviously another is the fact that we are also experiencing the same things they are.
But our local challenge is also very much different. We live in the extreme tensions between rich and poor, which America, Europe and Australia do not know. We experience violence and crime in a way that I don’t think the communities in which these people write can understand. AIDS is a door-step reality and not something of which we read in books. We have a boiling pot of different cultures and westerners is a minority, not a majority. These are some of the local struggles, maybe you can add some more.
I use the word emerging in the title as a verb (wrote something on thisa long time ago as well). The changes occurring ask that our theological response need to be emerging. Emerging from something, towards something new. But our challenge are different from that of the big voices in the emerging conversation, and our response need to be different.
It was in a module I had with prof Piet Meiring back in 2005 that I was introduced to third world theology, and also African theology. More and more I’m realising that we need to listen to African theology in our search for a South African theology. Yes, we need to listen to western theology as well. I cannot help but be western, and this is what I will carry into the conversation. But there are other voices in South Africa that must add to the music.
More and more we seem to hear this need for a South African theology. Mynhardt for example ask for a response to specific local issues, and Tom for a proudly South African theology. Before getting some fancy speaker from a far-away country (with all due respect to many people from far-away places who have had a very positive influence on my own thinking), maybe it’s time we get together in search of a South African theology. Maybe it’s time we just start the emerging conversation in a South African context. Who will take part? How will this look? What would the most important things be?
And when we start discovering our local relevance, I believe we will have a lot to contribute in a global conversation…