Groundbreaking work by Fuller faculty sees theology as worldwide conversation
“We look to this event as starting a conversation that will continue long after,” said School of Theology Dean Howard Loewen in his welcoming comments at a symposium on “The Future of Global Theology” held Thursday, October 23, on Fuller’s Pasadena campus. Before a capacity audience in the Rogers Room of Chang Commons, the symposium was held to celebrate the public release of The Global Dictionary of Theology (InterVarsity Press), a significant work “that is really a Fuller project at its core,” said Loewen: Fuller faculty members William A. Dyrness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen edited the work, and Juan Martínez, along with Simon Chan of Trinity Theological College, were associate editors.
Daniel Reed, editor at InterVarsity Press, began the symposium with a historical overview of theological dictionaries. Describing the “old whiskered Scottish tradition” of the encyclopedia as “a unified authority that does not invite dialogue,” Reed explained how The Global Dictionary of Theology, or “GDT,” moves away from this, offering instead “a sort of theological album of a particular generation of theologians.” The GDT strives to view each topic from more than one cultural perspective, he explained, such that “there is a lot of conversation going on in its pages.” Reflecting the new realities of our multifaceted global community, the dictionary is “self-consciously not definitive,” he said; “though global in reach, it cannot claim to be universal.”
The symposium proceeded to focus, through two primary speakers, on “the kind of conversation that this dictionary is encouraging,” said Dyrness. The first speaker, Ogbu Kalu, the Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Mission at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, spoke on “An African View of the Future of Global Theology.” Too often “global” is equated with “universal” in a more homogenous sense, Dr. Kalu said, when we instead need to see peoples and theologies in their diversity. In the African context, theology in the 21st century must focus on the connection between religion and violence, he stressed—and the ways violence is halting the developmental path of communities. To achieve transformation, he called on theology and the Church “to offer the water of life instead of being a river between cultures.”
The second primary speaker, with “An Asian Perspective of Global Theology,” was Simon Chan, the Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore and associate editor of the GDT work. The mainline perception of Asian theology is that it is “trapped in a time warp” with little change over the years—a theology that, Dr. Chan said, “bypasses the living church.” Instead, “We need to recognize that theology is linked to the day-to-day life, work, and worship of the people of God,” claimed Chan: “There is an organic link between Scripture and tradition.” “It is this kind of theology taken on a worldwide scale,” he said, “that is global theology.”
Responses were offered to the two lectures by Assistant Dean for Hispanic Church Studies Juan Martínez, Professor of Theology and Culture William A. Dyrness, and Professor of Systematic Theology Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. “How does our thinking in Latin America or Asia contribute to the question of violence in Africa?” asked Martínez in his response to Kalu’s lecture. “How do we talk to each other, and not just about each other or past each other? Global theology,” he said, “is a player.”