Context And Concept: Contextual Theology and the Nature of Theological Discourse -- By: Marc Cortez

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Context And Concept: Contextual Theology and the Nature of Theological Discourse
Author: Marc Cortez


Context And Concept:
Contextual Theology and the Nature of Theological Discourse

Marc Cortez

Marc Cortez is a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, Scotland.

The last several decades of the twentieth century witnessed the development of a general consensus on the essentially contextual dimension operative in all theological discourse.1 Even theologians maintaining the existence of trans-contextual moral and theological realities acknowledge an element of contextuality in all theological formulations.2 Most theologians thus recognize that “contextualization is part of the very nature of theology itself.”3 Robert Jenson goes so far as to argue, “Recent clamor for ‘contextual’ theology is of course empty there never having been any other kind.”4 Thus, the contextual nature of theology “has become almost axiomatic for most theologians.”5

Despite this near universal consensus on the contextual nature of theology— including a general agreement that all theology takes place in the tension between two poles, the biblical message and the cultural situation—glaring differences remain as to precisely how this theological contextuality should be understood. Examples include re-contextualizing eternal truths (David F.

Wells),6 reflecting critically on the praxis embedded in every situation (Gustavo Gutierrez),7 establishing “mutually critical correlations” between the message and the situation (Paul Tillich),8 interpreting “the significance of a religion or cultural norm for a group with a different (or developed) cultural heritage” (Grant Osborne),9 articulating “faith commitments within a given community utilizing the culturally conditioned categories of that community” (Stanley J. Grenz),10 and “attending to the affective and cognitive operations in the self-transcending subject” (Bernard Lonergan).11

This myriad of definitions leaves the theologian in an untenable position: acknowledging that contextual theology is critical for developing a “vital, coherent theology...

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