A London life
I enjoyed my time studying theology at Bristol University but there was always something about the process which made me feel uneasy. At the time I’m not sure if I could have exactly identified my problems but looking back I always find myself thinking about an article I read describing how a group of theology students from Cambridge University went to Manchester to do contextual theology. The question I found myself asking myself was “why couldn’t they do contextual theology in Cambridge?” I now realise this is because the theology that is done in universities is not seen as being contextual but as being universal. But, of course, it is not universal just the theology of the powerful elites who dominate international theological discourse. Moving out of this elite world we can begin to engage in the true theological task of bringing the story of Jesus alive in the different contexts in which we might happen to find ourselves. This is what contextual theology is really about: retelling the story in the situations which we know intimately and understand from the inside. Certainly theology needs to be done within academic institutions – but it is just that a theology of academic institutions, not the gold standard through which all other theologies must be judged.
Liberation theology has been helpful for me
in thinking through these issues. It is
often characterised as being about the preferential option for the poor or
doing theology from the basis of a Marxist interpretation of society. These characterisations are not altogether
untrue but never seemed to me to be the heart of the issue – liberation
theology was, for me, at least, about doing theology in a different way. Rejecting the universal dominance of western
elites and letting thought and theology emerge from the marginalised and
suppressed. I found a John Sobrino’s Christology at the Crossroads – a Latin
American view particularly helpful in this regard. I also enjoyed a James Cone’s God of the Oppressed which is a
wonderfully vibrant account of theology from the perspective of black
Americans. Neither of these two writers
were from my context but they were crucial in helping me see my context in a
different light. Also significant for me
was Robert Schreiter’s Constructing Local
Theologies which gives a more western perspective: tussling with our
heritage of universalising theology alongside the insight that “the church
becomes truly universal to the degree that it becomes a plural communion of
local churches”. The Urban Theology Unit
was also important to me a workshop where I could begin to engage with the task
of constructing contextual theologies.
Reflecting on Gentrification. My first serious attempts at contextual theology arose out of my time at the Urban Theology Unit. I wrote a long paper on gentrification and tried to reflect on the experience which was such a significant issue when I was living in Clapham and Battersea in southwest London.
I continued looking at contextual theology through my work with ECUM and particularly when I was tutor to the masters in urban mission at Spurgeon’s College. I facilitated a theological reflection group and was struck by how difficult people found this, but, for me, it has always been the natural way of doing theology.
Living in a Gated Community. This article was published in Crucible and
was an attempt to do the kind of theological reflection which my Spurgeon’s
students found so difficult! When we
moved to Homerton in Hackney we bought a shared ownership property in what was
called a mews, but in fact was an old furniture factory. Sometime later the residents decided to put
gates on the mews, this is my reflection on that experience. Gated Communities are often regarded as a
symptom of a polarised city, but as I argue, things are more complicated than
Jesus and the learning organization. This is a reflection on Jesus in terms of the learning organization described by Peter Senge in his book the Fifth Discipline.