A Missional Method for Constructive Theology (Part 6)
Many theological methods are concerned with relevance and, as a matter of academic legitimacy, current ideas. Relevance and currency are valid interests, but missional theology assumes that more is at stake in attending to context. Being teleological and participatory, missional theology understands the viability (livability) of theology to be a matter of coherence with God’s ongoing mission in particular contexts. Furthermore, attention to context is not merely a matter of method; method itself must be a product of contextualization. Prolegomena too is the result of some method.1 Missional theology is, therefore, in search of a way to understand the contexts of theology but also a way to understand the context in which that search takes place. Its method must be recursive like the hermeneutical circle, and, like the hermeneutical circle, it assumes that inquiry breaks in at one point or another in order to proceed with the circulation. Accordingly, the following description serves only to initiate an ongoing exploration of the context of missional theology’s methodological formulation.
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen aptly characterizes the post-everything context: “Postmodern, postfoundationalist, poststructuralist, postcolonial, postmetaphysical, postpropositional, postliberal, postconservative, postsecular, post-Christian, post-? While contemporary theologians and philosophers share the deep desire of attempting to go beyond the old, they also are confused and ignorant about what that ‘beyond’ might be!”2 Post-everything, therefore, stands for the Western church’s locus theologicus and bespeaks the disorientation of knowing where it has come from but not where it is going. The church shares this context with many others who feel far surer about what is behind than what it ahead. Disorientation has become so intrinsic to the cultural discourse (on both scholarly and popular levels) that terms like post-postmodern have appeared in the frustrated attempt to describe what comes next. Aside from being less than lovely as neologisms go, the word expresses the same contextual reality that Kärkkäinen’s litany does: an overwhelming sense that we can only say where we have been and why we left, not where we are or where we are going, much less for what purpose we journey except to leave past failures behind. The sense of disorientation does not correspond to a particular set of issues, whether epistemological, political, cultural, or religious. Instead, all of these and more cohere to a narrative about running away and getting lost in the process. My concern here is not to find the path, though there are already many signs of more constructive work than the proliferation of post-postmodern might suggest.3 Rather, a method for missional theology should, in the contemporary context, take this complex disorientation with utmost seriousness and attend to theological methods that do the same.
- If falling into infinite regress in the pursuit of the method of method seems fruitless, it is still at least necessary to admit that theological method is not the preserve of objectivist naïveté. A method does well to realize theology is inevitably contextual and seek to understand such dynamics; it does better to consider itself contextual and, therefore, contingent and provisional. ↩
- Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World, vol. 1, Christ and Reconciliation, Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 1; emphasis added. ↩
- One recent anthology suggests that the work is well under way: David Rudrum and Nicholas Stavris, eds., Supplanting the Postmodern: An Anthology of Writings on the Arts and Culture of the Early 21st Century (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). ↩