We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Preaching and Local Theology

In a posting back in September 2012 entitled, "All Theology is Local," I suggested that our geographical and social locales play a role in how we understand God.  Different cultures also play a powerful role in our perception of the divine, as does the language we speak.  As a rule, preachers and local churches, however, devote little thought to the particular nature of their local theology and its spirituality.  The truth is, most preachers most of the time call on a mixture of personal experience, the Bible, personal theology, and pop culture to shape their preaching.  Some will draw on literature or the arts from time to time.  And preachers will more-or-less naturally draw on local images and stories for their sermons, especially if they have been in the same locale for a longer period of time.

There is less evidence of preachers consciously reflecting with the church they serve on the ways in which they experience God in their setting including their natural environment and local culture.  In Lewis County, New York, for example, many people continue to reside here because of its proximity to the northern wilderness.  Many hunt and/or fish.  Others are hikers or ride horses or engage in other outdoors activities.  Many live in the forest as a conscious choice, and in all of this there is often enough a spiritual component to their decision to live in or near the wilderness.  It is quite possible to speak of a "north country spirituality," which spirituality should inform the content of preaching in north country churches and from time to time be addressed directly.

In many locales, there would be a combination of local theologies and spiritualities, such as a farm country spirituality that combines with a Great Plains theology or a hillbilly theology.  An urban theology could well also encompass black theology or hispanic spirituality perhaps in tandem with a North Atlantic costal theology.  The larger point here is that we always experience God through our culture, local history, and natural environment and that fact should be incorporated into local preaching in a conscious way.  Amen.