An emerging theology of Tshwane?
Last night a group of us met in a cafe in Hatfield to chat about a theology of Tshwane. We were invited by Cobus van Wyngaard, and, as Samuel Pepys might have written in his diary, there was good company and good discourse. Cobus has written about it in his blog here, and has described more or less what happened, so I won’t go into a full description here, but rather write about some thoughts prompted by the discussion, and by other meetings.
One of the things we discussed was context. Cobus quoted a passage from David Bosch’s book Transforming mission, in which he said that mission should be contextual, but what is the “context”?
Tshwane is a megacity that came into being about 9-10 years ago, and replaced 13 former local authorities, the three bigger ones being Pretoria, Centurion, and Akasia/Soshanguve. It is a hugely varied city, and our little group, sitting in a cafe on the eastern side near one of the city’s three university campuses, hardly represented the whole context. We might represent a subcontext, the academic/intellectual part of the city. Most of us were from various kinds of Reformed backgrounds, and Val and I were Orthodox, which meant we didn’t fully represent even that part of Tshwane that calls itself Christian. There were no Zionists, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals, Neopentecosals, Methodists or Anglicans.
A lot of ideas were tossed around, and a couple of them linked at least partly with our context — the idea of a worshipping community and the gospel story. We didn’t spell out what the gospel story actually is, and I suspect that there would have been several different answers, and to explain them would have taken too long. We couldn’t even agree on whether there is a gospel story, a metanarrative. For what it’s worth, my version of the gospel story is here, with a longer and more elaborate version here.
One of the things I am involved in (which I didn’t mention at last night’s gathering) is planning a teaching week for a new Orthodox Christian community in Atteridgeville. Atteridgeville is on the other side of Pretoria, in the west, and on its extreme western edge is an orphanage run by Fr Frumentius Taubata and his wife Matushka Evgenia, which is the core of the community. Between it and Atteridgeville proper is Brazzaville, a shanty town that was the scene of xenophobic violence last year. Atteridgeville is a predominantly black working class suburb. That is the context for this particular activity we are planning.
The main aim of the teaching week will be to prepare candidates for baptism, and to teach them and others the gospel story outlined in the links given above. And the aim will also be to help them to become a worshipping community, because the worship is built around the story, and the story is celebrated and lived out in the worship. David Bosch puts it quite simply, at the end of his book Transforming mission: “It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world.” And in order for the community to be a witness, it must first be a community. An abstract witness, not incarnated in a community, is not going to change the world.
Is a “theology of Tshwane” going to emerge from such discussions? There wasn’t much sign of it last night, but then I didn’t expect that there would be. There seems to be a desire among Western Christians to have a theology of this and a theology of that. That sort of thing sounds strange to Orthodox ears. Our problem is not lack of theology so that we have to construct new ones, but that we have failed to apply the theology we already have. We have failed to move from orthodoxy to orthopraxy.
So was any useful purpose served by the meeting, or by any such meetings? Yes, I think so. I met some new people, and got to know a bit better some people I had met previously. They had interesting things to say about life in our city, and the life Christians are called to live within it. They asked interesting and challenging questions, which help one to think more clearly. Good company and good discourse are also gifts of God. So thanks to Cobus for bringing us together.