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While this post will be less adventurous and more off the cuff than the title promises, I’d like to begin by asking you to check out this recent interview with jazz (and more) musicians Pat Metheny and John Zorn, as conducted by the New York Times critic Nate Chinen.

I want to focus on two statements Mr. Metheny makes:

“What I look for in musicians is a sense of infinity. Within this world, you could go forever.”

“Another thing I love is hearing musicians who develop context for themselves. And of the many things I admire about John, that might be right near the top. He’s a master of coming up with opportunities for music to exist.”

Put together, these ideas of musicians inventing the context for their music to make sense on its own terms, in such a rich way that doors keep opening seemingly without end, put me in mind of theology. The notion of “context” has come to play a very important role in contemporary theology. Many theologians today would argue that all theology is “contextual,” by which is usually meant that it is grounded in or emerges from a particular human/worldly scene, situation, or difficulty — for example, an existential question, an unjust suffering, or a break in normal ways of life.

This development in academic theological work over the past generation has helped to make theology in (and beyond) the West more attuned to local needs and to break it away from Eurocentric ways of proceeding. One of the questions about contextual theology — whether as its own approach or as a way of thinking about theological approaches in general — that I have had, however, is its reluctance to be contextual all the way down. That is to (more…)