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Posted February 16, 2006

An Excellent Book to be Read with the Latest Study on International Priests “International Priests in America: Challenges and Opportunities” listed on our home page of books.

Book: Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today
Authors: Stephen R. Bevans and Roger P.Schroeder
Orbis, Maryknoll, NY, 2004, pp. 488

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

This book is both a historical, systematic theology and a systematic theological history of the church’s missionary practice. On one hand, we have conceived this book as a systematic theology that has mission at its very core; on the other hand, we have written a church history that is not only a collection of facts, persons and events, but one that is shaped by the constant but always contextual Christian biblical and doctrinal traditions. Christian mission is both anchored in fidelity to the past and challenged to fidelity in the present. It must preserve, defend and proclaim the constants of the church’s traditions; at the same time it must respond creatively and boldly to the contexts in which it finds itself. Christian history is a story of the church in mission. It is, to borrow the eloquent phrase of Harvie Conn, a story of the encounter of Eternal Word with changing worlds. As we express it in this book, it is a story of constants in context.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Stephen Bevans has suggested that a spirituality of inculturation is needed to guide Christians through the heady but difficult task of allowing Christian faith and local contexts to encounter one another authentically. He calls this a spirituality of “letting go” and “speaking out,” and it is one that functions differently for “outsiders” and “insiders.” For outsiders, the main spiritual task in the inculturation process is letting go – of superiority, of power, of illusions that they understand of a culture, of illusions that theirs is the true understanding of Christianity. Only after years of listening, learning and being evangelized by the context in which they live as strangers and guests might they dare speak out with suggestions for inculturation or with critiques of the context. For insiders, in contrast, the main spiritual task is to speak out – to have confidence in themselves and in their own understandings of their cultural and/or social context, and to risk ways of encounter between gospel and context. Only very slowly should they heed criticism of their culture and let go of their intuitions and instincts. It is, again, in such prophetic dialogue that local communities and their leadership – whether insiders or outsiders – will discover new ways of living, witnessing to and proclaiming the good news of healing, reconciliation and new life.

Inculturation is certainly an exercise in prophetic dialogue. It needs, first of all, to be profoundly dialogical, because a context is not always easily readable on the surface. Years of listening, years of learning from a culture’s traditions, the hard work of conversing with both grassroots people and academic studies – these are all essential for both insiders and outsiders in any pastoral situation. At the same time, not everything in a culture is good; some things might even need to be denounced as evil and eradicated from a culture. Experience must be honored, but biases can distort perceptions as well. The gospel finds resonances and obstacles in every context. Ironically, says Darrell Whiteman, “good contextualization offends.

Table of Contents:

Part I
Constants in Context: Biblical and Theological Foundations

1. “Missionary by its very nature”: Context and the Church’s Mission
2. “You are witnesses of these things: Constants in the Church’s Mission

Part II
Constants in Context: Historical Models of Mission

3. Mission in the Early Church (100-301) Individual Christians in a Variety of Situations
4. Mission and the Monastic Movement (313-907) From Constantine to the Decline of the T’ang Dynasty
5. Mission and the Mendicant Movement (1000-1453)
Crusades, Preachers, Nuns and Mongolian Christianity
6. Mission in the Age of Discovery (1492-1773)Conquistadors, Prophets and Gurus
7. Mission in the Age of Progess (1792-1914) Civilizers, Evangelists and Volunteer Societies
8. Mission in the Twentieth Century (1919-1991) The Emergence of World Christianity

Part III
Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today

9. Mission as Participation in the Mission of the Triune God (Missio Dei)
10. Mission as Liberating Service of the Reign of God
11. Mission as Proclamation of Jesus Christ as Universal Savior
12. Mission as Prophetic Dialogue

Concluding Reflections: On being constant in today’s context