Review of Henning Wrogemann’s Intercultural Theology, Volume One: Intercultural Hermeneutics

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Culture & Society, Mission Studies & Intercultural Theology | 0 comments

Book Review

Intercultural Theology, Volume 1: Intercultural Hermeneutics

By Henning Wrogemann

Published by: IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 2016, 431 pages.

ISBN-10: 9780830850976
ISBN-13: 978-0830850976

This review was first published in the “Australian Journal of Mission Studies”, Volume 16, Number 2, December 2022, pages 95–97.

Majority World churches are redefining twenty-first-century Christianity. Western churches must decide how they will respond. Philip Jenkins writes, “We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide . . . Over the last century, the centre of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions.”

What does all this mean for the mission, theology, worship, and church communities worldwide? Furthermore, what does it mean particularly for the Western church? Those of us in the West need a new narrative. It is time to abandon our flawed Eurocentric and Americentric worldviews. We need a new, global, and intercultural narrative. We must turn to the churches of Majority World and Indigenous cultures. They can help us explore what being a global and intercultural community means. Many Christian communities in Majority World and Indigenous contexts have been wrestling with contemporary intercultural and interreligious issues for generations. Marginalization, persecution, and alienation have been their lot. Nevertheless, somehow, despite or because of that, they have flourished. They have grown exponentially.

In his three volumes on intercultural theology, Henning Wrogemann offers the most comprehensive treatment of World Christianity, mission studies, and intercultural theology seen for decades. Wrogemann’s series is magisterial and profound, displaying a breathtaking mastery of theology, missiology, sociology, and related disciplines. German-language intercultural theology and mission studies are largely unknown in the English-speaking world, and much of this German-language intercultural theology is still to be translated. In Volume One, Intercultural Hermeneutics, Wrogemann gives us a window into German-language intercultural and missiological treatments of such topics as World Christianity, intercultural theology, culture, syncretism, inculturation, identity, cultural semiotics, postcolonialism, ecumenism, discourse theory, globalization, and historical and contemporary models of mission.

Henning Wrogemann’s Intercultural Hermeneutics is stunning – a feast for anyone interested in mission studies, World Christianity, and intercultural theology. Wrogemann defines intercultural hermeneutics this way. “From a cultural-semiotic perspective, [intercultural hermeneutics] is the attempt to decode other, foreign cultures using the medium of their own conceptions and terminology, i.e., to identify that meaning, those referential connections, and that relevance that things have for people from the culture in question.”

Intercultural Hermeneutics has many strengths, including:
• The series is more than comprehensive; it is magisterial.
• Wrogemann offers a holistic view of hermeneutics (encompassing culture and text).
• The book introduces readers to German-language missiology and intercultural theology.
• Wrogemann’s location in a European university makes him work hard on rationality and reason, critical engagements with his theories, and the contribution of his work and intercultural theology to society. The intellectual rigour of Wrogemann’s university location of this work may prevent intellectual calcification and stimulate a dynamism to intercultural theology.
• Lesslie Newbigin’s missiological project regarding society got warped into “church matters” in North American discourse, but Wrogemann picks up Newbigin’s broader agenda.
• The book recognizes the complexity of the history of mission and colonization.
• Wrogemann respects Pentecostal and Evangelical voices, often ignored or despised in other literature (scholars sometimes study Pentecostals and treat them as “exotic” but ignore Evangelical voices and movements).
• The book calls for a new form of ecumenism that is less colonial than older forms.
• Wrogemann elevates local, grassroots voices and theologies, asking critical questions about whether academic theology in the Majority World represents the churches in those contexts.

I have some concerns about the book, however, including the following:
• Can we examine what Wrogemann says and does use his own discourse analysis tools? (i.e., Who is saying this, why are they saying it, and from what location?) What happens to Wrogemann’s arguments when subjected to his tools?
• Wrogemann tends to dismiss the discipline of “World Christianity” as descriptive, suggesting that “intercultural theology” is genuinely constructive. This seems to be a self-serving argument, and too eager to dismiss alternative contributions.
• Early in the book, Wrogemann offers a Tanzanian and German case study to show how our cultures shape our perspectives and how we can ask each other reciprocal questions on inculturation, syncretism, etc. In the case study, Wrogemann offers almost three pages of critical questions from a European perspective and just over one page from an African perspective. One would assume an African cultural analyst would have many more questions about European syncretism. This reveals Wrogemann’s blind spots.
• It is hard to imagine a scholar from the Global South writing this work on intercultural theology in this type of way. So, this book is very German, but Wrogemann does not always recognize this fact.
• Occasionally, one gets the impression that Wrogemann is saying, “This is intercultural theology, and this is how it should be done.” It is hard to imagine a Majority World scholar saying that or Wrogemann accepting that assertion from them.
• Wrogemann is always trying to navigate the tension between the universal (global) and local (contextual), and it feels like his mind is not yet settled on the appropriate relationship between the two.
• Wrogemann is dismissive of the notion of “contextualization” but often in a way that feels elitist or rhetorical. The arguments seeking to reveal the weaknesses in the approaches of those focusing on contextualization feel thin and need development.
• Wrogemann’s “transculturality” discussion feels like he is flirting with a deeper discussion on catholicity, which may come later.
• At times, the book feels like Wrogemann is writing a justification (and textbook) for a university discipline called “intercultural theology”, which he might offer in seminaries and universities. That is speculative, but the book often reads that way. Wrogemann claims a lot about intercultural theology. These grand assertions make the series feel like a justification for a university course or discipline.

My concerns about the book should be read considering my acclaim. Wrogemann’s Intercultural Hermeneutics is a breathtaking book. Are mission agencies, colleges, universities, and churches listening to other cultures and their views and experiences of theology, faith, church, and mission? Are we paying attention to others and learning from them? Is our mission theology and praxis multivocal and attentive to the Majority World and our contexts (church, academy, and society)? Are we establishing mission works and communities that do local self-theologising? How are we learning from the local church in each culture and setting? Do we allow for uncomfortable and prophetic questioning of our methods, models, theologies, and practices? Are we ready and willing to do authentic intercultural theology? When I read the final page of Intercultural Hermeneutics, I can hear Wrogemann saying, “We can do better.”

References

1. Jenkins, Philip, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 1.
2. Hill, Graham Joseph, Global Church: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016). 20.
3. Wrogemann, Henning, Intercultural Theology: Volume 1 – Intercultural Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016). 154–55.

Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill serves as Mission Catalyst for Church Planting and Missional Renewal with the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 13 books. Graham writes at grahamjosephhill.com

Graham's qualifications include: Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6532-8248

 

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