WHERE IS THEOLOGICAL CONTINUITY FOUND: TEXT OR CONTEXT?–Part 5 and Conclusion

The communication of the gospel is receptor-oriented by nature. Basically, the aim of the gospel is to see the receptor make a faith commitment to Jesus. In order to do this, the receptor has to understand certain facts about Jesus, his mission, his life, death, resurrection, etc. But in many cases, cultural and linguistic barriers, as well as religious, social, economic and political barriers, have to be overcome for the message to truly be communicated. This means that the receptor culture plays a vital role in communication and that the worldview of the receptor affects the way in which the message is received and understood.[1] This affects the choice of words, the choice of media, and the ultimate goal of communication.In order to choose the right words for translation and communication, the worldview of the receptor is invaluable. For instance, the forms of one language rarely correspond with the forms of another; yet, the goal of interpretation is creating a text whose meaning will be understood equivalent with the original meaning. Van Engen and Shaw note that, though forms are not commensurate between contexts, overlapping meanings exist.[2] The principles of word-study are to compare the range of meanings of the word in the original language per the context with the range of meanings for a word in the receptor language. Worldview affects the meanings of words in all languages.

Similarly, worldview affects the media used from context to context. Donald K. Smith spends half of his book, Creating Understanding, analyzing the use of media in communicating the gospel message. He finds that inappropriate uses of media can distort the meaning of the gospel or relegate the meaning as inconsequential.[3] The oft quoted Marshal McLuhan aptly stated over forty years ago, “The medium is the message.”[4] The proper use of the media will make use of the culturally appropriate symbol systems.[5] This will reach the goal of cross-cultural communication-to create understanding of the gospel in the receptor’s context. It begins with awareness of a felt need (cf. redemptive analogies in Don Richardson’s Peace Child), gives time for the receptor to consider the options and make a choice followed by action, and ends with the change of the cultural context.[6]

Thus, creating understanding in the mind, heart and life of the receptor is the ultimate goal of communication. Thus, the thrust of Smith’s message is that communication is not a one-time, instantaneous event. Communication has not taken place until the receptor has had a chance to choose and make an action based on the hearing of the gospel. Ultimately, the biblical text must have time within a culture to be translated (and retranslated), interpreted according to biblical theology, and communicated in a way appropriate to the context in order to preserve the meta-cultural aspect of its meaning.

In conclusion, to be clear, biblical theology finds its continuity in the themes of the biblical text. It does not try to reconstruct the theology of the author, nor can it know the mind of the author.[7] It does not try to reconstruct the events behind the text. The text itself is the inspired interpretation of the events. Biblical theology is transcultural because it is based in the human/divine author-intended meaning of the text. Biblical theologies that create intraversable chasms between the Theology of the New Testament from that of the Old, or that unduly separate Paul from Jesus, or even the Paul of Acts from the Paul of the epistles, etc., overemphasize the discontinuity of the text. It is likely that those theologies hold a faulty view of inner-textuality, in-textuality, and inter-textuality, or worse, a faulty view of revelation and inspiration. True biblical theology finds the continuity of the whole Biblical text and tightly bonds disparate cultural understandings of the text. Therefore, cultural interpretations must be critiqued by this transcultural biblical theology. As such, biblical theology is based on a faithful, yet culturally relevant translation of the original languages. These translations must be faithful to the original and the receptor languages. This means that the process of translation reaches its final stage with cultural insiders who know the original languages. The finished product of the translation leads to theology and communication that is culturally relevant, yet also in meaningful dialogue with the understandings of other contexts, all grounded in transcultural biblical theology. In this final sense, cultural understandings from differing contexts augment one another to form a complete, balanced understanding of the biblical text that is, in effect, meta-cultural.


[1]Donald K. Smith, Creating Understanding (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 65-81.

[2]Van Engen and Shaw, 108-114.

[3]Smith, 166-179, 197-210.

[4]Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994).

[5]Smith, 144-164.

[6]Ibid., 321-324.

[7]Cf. Grudem’s understanding of Biblical Theology. See first post.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: