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Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century.

Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Stephen B. Bevans and Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, (2011) Wipf and Stock, Eugene (USA), 154 pp.

This is a coherent, well-laid out collection of articles based on a consultation on contextual theology held in 2009 at United Theological College, Sydney (Australia). Drawing together a global ecumenical group of contextual theologians, ecumenists, and missiologists, the volume is divided into three parts: 1) Contextual Theology and the Twenty-First Century Church; 2) Theology in Particular Contexts; and 3) Contextual Theology and the Mission of the Church.

In one of his articles, Bevans' previous work on mission as prophetic dialogue is highlighted. This seems an appropriate theme because prophetic dialogue is an undertone evident throughout the consultation. It is a clear intention behind the variety of perspectives presented in the collection.

Within this variety, it is clear that some positions presented on the topic of contextual theology are be in contention with others. This "creative tension" (a phrase used by the late South African missiologist, David Bosch) is what makes this small volume such an engaging and important read for anyone interested in mission, contextual theology, or theological education in general. For students, I believe the various positions offered give a good cross-section of the developments in contextual theology, and at the same time, the discipline as it has developed thus far is quite heavily critiqued. For established scholars, the richness of the dialogue sparks the imagination, appropriate for re-engaging the imagination in the theological and missiological task, as called for by many of the contributors. From the traditional to the challenging to the downright funny, the book has much to contribute to global, ecumenical thinking on the ways in which theology both takes away from and contributes much to the life we believe God wants for us in abundance.

As a testament to how engaging and inspirational this volume is, it is possible to read it in a single sitting, but the reader is coaxed back to reflect, to re-read, and to think through the various strands of the book. One important theme that arises throughout is the heavy critique of contextuality as offered by writers such as Havae, Te Paa, and Budden. From identifying the power imbalance in global Christianity to the "cultural cringe" resulting from contextual theology's hesitancy to discuss race politics openly, the contributors lead by example, as in Budden's "The Necessity of a Second People's Theology for Australia."

One gets the sense that the volume could have been expanded, although there would be both pros and cons for doing so. On the one hand, adding a chorus of additional global voices to the volume may have added to the imaginative kaleidoscope of perspectives. On the other, adding voices not present at the original consultation might have resulted in the dilution of the rich discussion there.

While the volume clearly articulates, in almost every presentation, the concerns of the marginalized who are on the "underside" throughout the world, it should be noted that in addition to the co-editor Tahaafe-Williams, Te Paa is the only other woman's voice published here. For a discussion on contextual theology in the 21St century, the marginalization of women's voices (regardless whether intentional or not) is highly regrettable, as is the failure of the editors to explain the visible absence of women's perspectives in the volume.

Given these critiques, the work presented here is still an overwhelming success. It will be interesting to see where global ecumenical dialogue on contextual theology goes in the future. As a theologian but also simply as a Christian, I look forward to additional contributions to the discourse that can spark the imagination in such a lively manner.

(The Rev.) Carmen Lansdowne--Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley (USA)

DOI: 10.1111/i.1758-6623.2012.00166.x
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Author:Lansdowne, Carmen
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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