I’m no professional theologian, but I think I’m in a unique position to point out an often-overlooked aspect to developing a better, fuller, theology.
God created us in His image. All the different people groups and cultures that make up our world were His idea, and each one reflects God in a unique way–a way that no one else does. One of the best ways to develop better theology, then, is to live among other cultures and learn their worldviews. We cannot possibly have a complete understanding of God if we have only seen Him through the lense of one culture.
We in the Western world (places like North American and Western Europe) have overlooked this for far too long. We have subtly believed that our theological resources and training give us the opportunity to have as full an understanding of God as one can have. When we go to evangelize least-reached peoples, we automatically assume that we are bringing a full and correct understanding of God and that those we are evangelizing have nothing much to add to the conversation. Yes, we are hopefully bringinging a correct understanding of God, but we’re bringing an incomplete understanding. Even the seemingly most heathen peoples on the planet understand aspects of God that we do not, because He has been uniquely reflecting Himself in their cultures for millenia. If we are to have a fuller understanding of God, we must listen to them and learn from them. We will not understand God nearly as completely as we could until we see Him through the eyes of other cultures. It’s impossible.
At this time in history, we in the West have an opportunity to come to know God like never before. We are surrounded by people of other cultures. Without ever leaving our cities, most of us could reach out and befriend people from backgrounds much different than our own and, in the context of these relationships, discover God in entirely new ways.