The Story of Contextual Theology at Northern Seminary
By: David Fitch
LEADING CHURCHES INTO MISSION
Leading a church to be present in its local context, and then engaging that context with the gospel, is the missional task. How do we open space to discern the hurts, pains, struggles and joys of the places we live, long enough, to then proclaim the gospel that Jesus is Lord and in Him God is reconciling all things to Himself? Northern Seminary’s Doctoral degree in Contextual theology is aimed at pressing in to these questions and this task. It is an intensely theological degree, but it is also intensely practical (we originally called it “missional leadership”). Over the last ten years, here’s what we learned was essential to a pastor-contextual theologian’s education for mission:
Early on we realized we needed to teach pastors how to listen to the people in the context, be self-aware, learn how to recognize narratives, locate struggles, understand power and its various cultural dynamics. We said “ethnography,” the skill of researching like this, needs to be taught to pastor-theologians and so we hired Mark Mulder from Calvin College to teach our students how to do it in a seminar. We asked Bob Price, another skilled ethnographer, to come alongside students and coach them on ethnography.
We needed to help pastors let the Bible shape how we think about the gospel, the Kingdom, salvation, sin, the way God speaks. We must ask these questions again of the Bible so that we can enter into the context of Scripture without enforcing our own historically received views on it; but rather to translate and find new entry points between the Scripture and our contexts. We asked NT scholars Dennis Edwards and Michael Gorman, leading voices today on Kingdom, Gospel, Mission and Hermeneutics, to teach these skills to our students.
Along the way we realized how important it was for pastors to understand the dialogue of theology and context if they were to be able to discern God’s work among the places they inhabit for the gospel. How does the church engage a context as sent ones, with a theological tradition and Scriptural truths, and yet allow what God is already doing in these places to shape the starting points for engagement? How do we learn and change from the dialogue? We asked David Fitch to lead courses on ecclesiology and mission, and the dialogue box of Contextual theology.
We realized how necessary it is for pastors to think about the culture dynamics they enter into. We must all examine our own assumptions as well as develop ways of reading the forces at work in our cultures to then be able to listen, discern and respond as people of the gospel, Kingdom and the Scriptures. Power, socio-economic inequalities, privilege, celebration, what we value and what we marginalize, pain and violence, and the narratives that drive them must all be discerned. We asked professor Soong Chan Rah to lead us and teach pastors on these skills. We do not think there’s anyone better.
Lastly, we realized that pastors needed a way to think and re-imagine the future so as to lead congregations into new places for mission. More than techniques for leadership, pastors need ways to think, provoke, and shape imagination in their congregations. They need tactics for leading our people into the places where God is working outside traditional church. From these places new seed is sown, new works of God discerned, new relationships begin, and the good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. We asked Alan Roxburgh to come and teach us on all these things.
After these six classes, we gather to assemble an on-the-ground thesis project that leads a congregation into Mission. It becomes the capstone doctoral thesis. And yet it is just the beginning of learning the ways of leading church into Mission, and helping others do the same. We have assembled expert thesis supervisors from around N. America, and David Fitch over-sees the program.
So take a look at the world renown faculty teaching in this program. Google them. Look up their Amazon pages and their publications. Get familiar with their work. Then, if you are interested, contact our admissions office ASAP. We begin our fourth cohort in this program June of 2018. After an initial contact, David Fitch will contact you and help you find out if this is the program for you. We would love to have you!