I just finished reading Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski at the recommendation of Fred from On The Journey. It was a very interesting book and one that seriously challenged many of my comforts. The thesis, as far as I understood it, is that one develops his theology within a certain cultural context, therefore it is necessary to evaluate how that effects the development as well as the expression of that person’s theology. I think that is a pretty solid statement and something many of us forget to recognize.
He explains that there are different schools of theology: Systematic, Biblical, and Contextual. The first two I assume you understand, but the third is the major focus of the book. The idea is that a person forms his theology based on his context. In reality all forms of theology are influenced by context therefore even the first two cannot avoid being contextual.
He goes on to explain modernism and postmodernism and how these worldviews impact our theology, what we must be cautious of within them, and what we can glean from them as theologians. He shows that many current theological trends are either left over from modernism or are attempts to embrace postmodernism.
His definition of postmodernism is interesting, in that he seems to say that postmodernism does not embrace that there is no universal truth but that we lack the capacity to individually attain truth without the input from others, especially those outside of our culture, both geographically and historically. I don’t know if this is the common understanding of postmodernism, but the principle has great value in my opinion.
With this as a springboard he explains that it is important for Christians to look outside of their culture to hear what others think about God. This may be as simple as talking with someone from another denomination to learning from people in other parts of the world to reading up on theology throughout history. His desire for unity in Christ, and attempting to grow by hearing what others have to say is encouraging and, for me at least, was very convicting. I do not tend to approach discussions with the mindset that I will learn from the other person, more often I tend to approach these situations with the attempt to teach the other person why I am right. I think I have a lot to learn from people of different cultures and traditions.
There were a few sections where it seemed that he felt experience trumped Scripture: specifically concerning women in ministry and the work of the Spirit, but it is possible that he simply did not lay out his full thought process on these topics since it was not really the point of the book.
I would encourage anyone to read this book, especially those who are very dogmatic or have significant theological education. It is encouraging and convicting to those of us who think we have it all figured out to hear that there may be ideas out there that we haven’t even thought of, let alone thought through and come to conclusions on. It is also a great read for someone interested in the modern and postmodern worldviews, particularly as they pertain to Christian thinking. If you haven’t ever consider your worldview, culture, or context then you should definitely read this book. You may have been making many assumptions that you were never even aware of!
I’m no hippie and I don’t do coffee shops but aside from the hipster title of the book I think there is a lot that can be learned from Coffeehouse Theology.
Note: interestingly, Alan Knox posted something today, Learning from One Another, that is very much in line with the ideas in this book. In this post Alan asks what you have learned from brothers and sisters from different denomination, philosophical worldview, and hermeneutic. I’m sure he would appreciate your input; check it out!