What would it look like to do proudly South African theology? This is a question I’m asking with more frequency. Thankfully I’m not alone in asking the question – you can read here, here and here. Others have asked it before and have gone a long way in articulating a response. Gerald West’s article, “Articulating, Owning and mainstreaming local theologies: The contribution of contextual Bible Study” is an excellent example of such an articulation.
In it he argues that the prophetic message of the church, one articulated in part during apartheid, is not incorporated into the life of the current church. This leads to a “church theology” that serves to legitimate the status quo. This status quo continues the oppression of marginalized groups, whether socially, economically or ethnically. The church theology becomes public theology; that is for the most part silent and favors the rich.
This is a perfect description of my church experience since 1994. The gospel that I was presented with connected me with nobody from the marginalized voices of our country. We had the occasional ‘outreach’ but then we returned to our safe neighborhoods thanking God that we’re so blessed. West quotes another theologian when he describes such a theology as one that “tends to be a movement of consolidation of which is situated among the established and secure and which articulates its theological vision in terms of a God who faithfully abides and sustains on behalf of the present ordering”.
In the churches I partook in this manifested itself on a steady stream rhetoric that propagated living into “life to the fullest”, a definition that gets colored more by materialistic capitalism than Jesus. This steady diet produced in me a narcissistic individualism that is summed up in the question, ‘do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?’ By no way am I a silent victim to this. Not only did I accept it uncritically, I also preached it – with alliterating letters and all!