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Christian Theology as Cultural Engagment

November 30, 2007

Reflecting on the emergence of Christian theology in the Early Church and its interaction with the Mediterranean world of ideas, Andrew Walls writes:

Not only were new social situations constantly arising; an intellectual environment that combined the influences of Greek philosophy, Roman law, Eastern mysticism and spirituality, and astral science [sound familiar?] was giving rise to questions that no believers had found it necessary to ask before. That intellectual environment was the highway to a great outworking of creative theological activity, but it must have often seemed to old-style Jewish believers to be dangerous a, unchartered territory. Had the Jesus community retained the proselyte model, Christians would almost inevitably have been taken out of the intellectual mainstream and shut up to their own sacred books.

All too often Christians do their theology on islands, intellectually marooned from the rest of society and culture. Many academics build ivory towers on these islands, distancing themselves from the world beyond the waters even further. Meanwhile, the common Christians uncritically participate in the marketplace of the city–culturally, fiscally, philosophically—becoming indistinguishable from the rest of society.

The model of the early Christians calls the academic out of his tower and into the boat, to traverse the waters to the city, where theology can live. These early disciples of Jesus also call common Christians out of syncretistic, thoughtless participation in Babylon to fruitfully engage their intellectual environment, producing new cultural forms and combating old ones, renewing the city spiritually and socially with a living faith and active theology.

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