September 22, 2023

Epic Law

The Law Folks

Book Summary and Reflection – Constructing Local Theologies by Robert J. Schreiter

The book is divided into seven chapters which deal with the definition of local theology, mapping a local theology, study of culture, theology and its context (church tradition as local theologies), tradition and Christian identity, popular religion and official religion, and syncretism and dual religious systems.

In the first chapter, the writer observes the important shift in perspective in theology in recent years. This shift was a concentration on the role that circumstances play in shaping one”s response to the Gospel since it was observed that the theologies being inherited from the older churches of the North Atlantic community did not fit well into these quite different cultural circumstances.

Three broad varieties of local theology analyzed (translation, adaptation and contextual approaches) not only suggest a relation between a cultural context and theology, but also about the relation between theology and the community in which it takes place. Local theology is defined as a dynamic dialectical interaction among gospel, church and culture.

The second chapter concentrates on how the interaction of gospel, church and culture takes place. The author uses a map to chart the relationships in local theologies. This serves two purposes, orientation and evaluation.

In the third chapter, the author echoes that no culture is ever so simple that a comprehensive explanation and description can be given, nor is it ever so static that all is entirely cohesive and consistent. Once the issue of theological reflection has been located within culture, one is ready to begin the Gospel dialogue with the larger church tradition. From the point of view of local theologies, there are two dimensions to this dialogue. The first is determining the proper mode of discourse. The kind of theological result that will make the most sense for dealing with the situation at hand is discussed in chapter four where different forms of theology and their relationship to local circumstances are explored. This chapter discusses the Christian tradition so as to make the encounter between local theology and the Christian tradition easier. The second dimension has to do with the quality of the theological result. The fifth chapter discusses eleven questions which highlight in different ways some of the problems both local theology and Christian tradition face in their mutual encounter and growth. The general purpose of the chapter is to build a framework wherein a local church can better come to terms with the tradition.

In the penultimate chapter, it is forcefully argued that local theologies are in many ways the expressions of popular religions. One must therefore listen to popular religion in order to find out what is moving in people”s lives. The writer opines that it is only then that local theologies can be developed and the liberating powers of the Gospel come to its full flower. It is also noted that the popular religion that develops in a culture (provided that it is not wholly imported) reflects a kind of local theology.

The ultimate section (chapter 7) discusses two other kinds of manifestations of religious belief and activity (syncretism and dual religious systems), their effect on the development of local theologies. The meaning of these issues for Christian practice is presented and some practical considerations for approaching them are suggested.


Schreiter is correct in his assertion that “the Christian tradition is too precious a heritage to be squandered carelessly or treated lightly. But without its continued incarnation in local communities, it becomes like that treasure buried in the ground, producing no profit” (103). Indubitably, the book is an excellent and very practical tool that clearly teaches how one could understand culture so that the gospel message takes root. This is the most important reflection for the researcher during the period when he taught a course History of Christianity in West Africa at West Africa Theological Seminary, Lagos, Nigeria. An assessment of Christianity from the Portuguese explorations in the fifteenth century to the middle of the seventh century reveals that there was a relative failure on the part of the missionaries in the presentation of the gospel. Although issues like malaria, implications of imperialism and mass baptisms, rivalries, language difficulty and finance, to name a few, could be listed, the issue of an understanding of the culture of West Africa cannot be underestimated. The Roman Catholics demanded monogamy from their converts but they did not show how the unwanted wives could be resettled. If fact, they separated themselves from the people when they condemned such customs and practices like polygamy, human sacrifices, image and shrines, the latter which they ordered to be destroyed before the conversion rather than later. The writer”s impressive use of illustrations, bibliographical notes and index is worth mentioning since they meaningfully add to the quality of this invaluable text.


Such an invaluable publication must be read by all Christians since each will have an opportunity to present the gospel to someone from a different culture.

(c) Oliver Harding 2008