Perhaps it is time that missional conversations move beyond contextualization. Renown missiologist Paul Hiebert does just this in his outstanding work, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Heibert devotes considerable attention to what he calls metatheology, a word likely coined but not developed by Bosch in his Transforming Mission There has been very little explicit writing on metatheology. And yet, its essence has filled the centuries of church history and flowed from the pens of many a theologian.

So what is or is not, metatheology? The term, “metatheology” could be misleading. It is not, according to Heibert, a transcultural formulation of theological essentials, a kerygma on steroids. Instead, metatheology is methodology, a way to do theology. It refers to the process whereby a Christian can effectively theologize within his or her culture. It is a transcultural paradigm for theologizing that fosters both theological unity and diversity within a broad range of orthodoxy. Hiebert defines metatheology as, “a set of procedures- by which different theologies, each a partial understanding of the truth in a certain context, could be constructed.” Here are some benefits of a possible metatheology:

  • Create a strong theological center in an increasingly destabilized American church. Something more broad than what the Gospel Coalition is doing and more narrow than the World Council of Churches of Lausanne.
  • Rampant growth of Christianity in the 2/3rds world is giving way to syncretism. Metatheology could bring a helpful corrective.
  • Metatheology could foster unity between denominations, networks, and agencies in the mission of the church.
  • May serve to prevent the political and cultural fissure between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church in promoting unity in the common efforts to relieve the poor and persecuted
  • Could provide criteria for authoritative interpretation that is critical and not relative. This would benefit individuals and churches in determining meaning in texts. It could unite Protestants in orthodoxy and mission.

What separates metatheology from traditional hermeneutics? It’s attempt to provide a universal paradigm for theological unity. Thus, the method is “meta” in that it is intended to indiscriminately enable peoples of all cultures to engage in theological reflection in an honest, self-regulating way that will promote orthodoxy around the world.

So what do you think? Should we advance the metatheology discussion or is it too far reaching? Should we attempt to develop a paradigm of theological unity for the global church, yet again?

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