Aiming toward Contextual Preaching
In the introduction to his book Models of Contextual Theology, Roman Catholic theologian Stephen Bevans tells of an experience he had as a theology student in Rome in the late 1960s that awakened him to the significance of culture for the shaping of theology for proclamation. It was the season of Advent, and Bevans, a twentysomething member of the Beatles generation, prepared a homily which explored the image of Christ as “sun.” He began the homily with the playing of the Beatles’ song, “Here Comes the Sun,” and then elaborated upon the One who brings light and warmth to a cold and God-less world.
“I was very enthusiastic about what I said,” reports Bevans, “and thought I had really done a good job of interpreting a traditional Christian symbol in contemporary terms.”1 Until, that is, an Indian participant in the liturgy approached Bevans and told him that Christ as sun was not a helpful image in his own context. The worshipper explained that in India the sun is an enemy that brings unbearable heat, terrible thirst, and the possibility of sunstroke. Rather than seeking and awaiting the coming of the sun, Indian people seek the shade as a respite from its dangerous rays.
“This incident,” says Bevans, “was my first encounter with the fact that some of our predominantly western and northern liturgical and theological images are meaningless in other cultural contexts. I had read about this fact in books. I had heard other people talk about it in conversations, but this was the first time that I had ever met someone who simply had no use for an idea that really meant something to me and was deeply nourishing, both theologically and spiritually.”2
One of the realities encountered by contemporary pastors who are preaching the gospel in congregations whose cultures or subcultures are significantly different from their own is that they, too, can find