All theology is culturally conditioned. In scripture we see Israel trying to make sense of God while exiled in Babylon. You can also consider Paul who brought a peculiarly Jewish message to the nations.
The need to carefully think through our contextualization of the gospel is more important now than ever given the globalization of our world. We cannot effectively communicate the gospel in other cultures unless we can derobe the gospel of its North American clothes and re-clothe it in the host culture.
Bevans offers five models to understand the way we do this:
- Translation Model: This is the most conservative of the models. The goal is to use the images and metaphors of the host culture to explain the gospel. Essentially, we translate theology using the functional or dynamic equivalence method.
- Anthropological Model: This is the most radical of the models. While in the translation model the highest emphasis was placed on gospel and tradition, in the anthropological model the highest value is on seeing and explaining how God is at work within the other culture.
- Praxis Model: This model places the highest value on social change. This is essentially the model of liberation theology.
- Synthetic Model: This model attempts to take the middle road, using the strengths of each of the preceding models.
- Transcendental Model: This model is based on existential philosophy. The goal is the transformation of the subject doing the theology rather than the theology or culture.
These models are not mutually exclusive, nor is one better than another. The models help us to think through how we communicate the gospel in diverse contexts.
Bevans, Stephen B. Models of Contextual Theology. Faith and Culture Series: An Orbis Series on Contextualizing Gospel and Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992.