As I teach theology at an ecumenical Christian college with a thorough but hospitable faith statement, I make it clear that we aren't a church and aren't in the indoctrination business. I most frequently drive my students back to the Bible with their theological questions while explaining how various groups in church history raised "big issues" and made sense of them. In the last post in this series I noted that many of the young (often nondenominational) Christians I teach want to opt for a "lowest common denominator theology." However, at around the same age, many young Christians discover the joys of tradition, as well as critical thinking and the like. Some have sunk their teeth into church and theological traditions ranging from Eastern Orthodoxy to Reformed while PPECs(now for about 14 years) have essentially been asking for (demanding? taking?) the same freedom that new churches of the global "south" have taken in their post-colonial contexts (see especially the writings of Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako).
The PPECs are essentially saying, "We have history with various traditions of Christianity that were imposed upon us, but we now claim the right to take the best from what we received and to develop theology for today that fits our context." Like most of the young Christians I meet, PPECs seemed to have minimal (initial) connection to the enculturated dispositions and intellectual frameworks of any traditional denomination, though some have church/family loyalties and their beliefs packed for them. Nearly the same could be said for the church culture of Anabaptists; radical reformers who hit "reset" on the church in the 16th century much harder than Luther or Calvin and took it in a different direction Perhaps it is no surprise then that many PPECs have read Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder and Western-culture missiologists like Lesslie Newbigin and his descendants.
In 1659, Rome’s Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had the sense to ask 3 French missionaries to China: "What would be more absurd than to import France, Spain or Italy, or any other country of Europe into China? Don’t import these, but the faith." Granted, they assumed the "venerable antiquity" of Chinese tradition (and the controversy went on) but they had the right question and imperative. The overwhelming density and pervasiveness of current Western cultural influences (popcompared to anything that might be called "venerable" amounts to the accrual of culture for young Westerners today that is arguably as removed from the major theological traditions of "old World" Christianity as Chinese culture may have been in 1659.
Jewish legend states that 70 isolated Jewish elders each made exactly the same Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures for Ptolemy. Sometimes Christians who have embraced a traditional systematic theology act as if all other Christians should arrive separately at the same systematic theology from their readings of the Bible. Or, barring this, that they should skip the theological process and just buy the systematic theology they are offered. Neither of these options is likely. If this has NOT been the case missiologically on other continents, should it be the case in Europe or North America as the church seeks to re-evangelize its old territory? Some may embrace a traditional theology expressed in new or old ways. Others need the freedom to engage in theological process for themselves, in community, from the scriptures; finding different points of connection, priorities and emphases than their Christian ancestors.