Friends, Brothers and Contextual Theology
I’ve recently taken to reading Stephen Kneale’s blog and would encourage you to do the same. Stephen is an FIEC minister in Oldham; not too far from us, and he has a lot of interesting thoughts on cross-cultural mission and evangelism.
In a recent post, “Friends or Brothers; a small but significant distinction“, Stephen takes a look at the way in which participants in a Muslim: Christian dialogue refer to each other.
The point, at which I now arrive, is that these differences mean we can happily consider the Muslims meeting with us to be our friends – and they most certainly are our friends – but we cannot call them brother or sister.
I’d strongly recommend that you read the original article, because it raises interesting questions and is an excellent example of applying theological principles in a practical situation. It is an illustration of why I think theology is important – but there are no long words (well, there are a couple).
However, it is also an excellent example of why many people, myself included, would insist that theology is always contextual. The questions we ask and the answers we come to reflect the situation that we are living in.
Fifty years ago, a baptist minister in Oldham would have been very unlikely to ask the questions that Stephen raises in his blog post. The things which are of a pressing need today and which need theological responses just weren’t questions then. In fifty years time, it is likely that we will have worked through these sorts of issues and will no longer think about them very much, either – we’ll know the answers.
Equally, in Ivory Coast, where Christian-Muslim encounters are much more part of life than in the UK, Christians are generally happy to talk about nos frères musulmans “our Muslim brothers”. The thing is, in that context fraternal language is very common. Just about everyone is referred to as brother or sister and it would be wrong to draw a deep significance from the use of the term. In fact, fraternal language is so common, that it isn’t unusual to hear someone refer to as a frère; même mère – même père – “brother, same mother – same father” to underline that they are biological siblings.
We need to be continually examining contemporary issues against Scripture and evaluating how we should approach them. It is a mistake to think that the questions (and answers) which emerged out of a context a long time ago (or along way away) will be the questions and answers that we need for our context.