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January 16, 2013


Theological Modelling and Continuing Indaba

by Admin

At its 2012 meeting in Auckland, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) recognised that the Continuing Indaba process was applicable in parishes, dioceses and provinces and Bishop Samson Mwaluda called for the process to be used at all pan-Anglican meetings.

It might seem ridiculous to argue that one process can applied in so many different circumstances. Can a process that has birth in Africa really be relevant in Hong Kong, Scotland and Latin America? The representatives at ACC 15 believed not only that it can be, they were enthusiastic.

One reason for this is because throughout the process all concerned have been very careful around the use of theological models. In this article Phil Groves, Director of Continuing Indaba, sets out the theory of models that have underpinned Continuing Indaba.


Continuing Indaba is a process which is seen as being applicable on all levels throughout the Anglican Communion.[1] This is possible because throughout the process all concerned have been very careful around the use of theological models. This article sets out the theory of models that have underpinned Continuing Indaba.

Theologians always use models, whether they are aware of it or not. The transfer of models from the Bible into the church is a requirement for the church to be faithful to the Scriptures. Models are tools to bring the insights of one reality to another.

The use of Models in Biblical Scholarship

The Bible is far more varied that a series of simple commands. The hermeneutical task of applying principles from the Bible to a specific situation requires the extraction of those principles from a variety of literary forms including biographies, poetry, histories and letters and their application in many contexts.

New Testament scholar Peter Oakes observes that all those who interpret the Bible use models, but because they are not consciously modelling their conclusions go astray.[2]

Bruce Malina set out the theoretical basis for the use of models in biblical studies in his book The New Testament World – Insights from Cultural Anthropology.[3] Malina defines a model as an ‘abstract, simplified representations of more complex real world objects and interactions.’ The task of those interpreting the Scriptures is to extract a simple, abstract model from the Scriptures so it can be applied in many circumstances.

Some biblical scholars object to modern social models being applied to Bible texts and stress the cultural and social differences between now and then. Questions are raised over the attempt to generalise about human society. However, if there is no correspondence between society then and now, there is nothing of relevance to be learnt from the biblical texts.

Ecclesiologists and Missiologists have taken models further.

The use of Models in Ecclesiology

Models of the Church by Avery Dulles is possibly the most influential theological work to consciously use models.[4] Dulles engages with the theoretical use of models in theology in the introduction to Models of the Church.  He divides models into two types: explanatory and exploratory.[5]

Explanatory models are defined by Dulles as those which describe what we already know, “or at least we are inclined to believe,” by the use of analogy.[6] Thus metaphors such as the cloverleaf, or ice, water and steam are used to describe the Trinity. The Trinity is something Christians believe and models are used to describe it. Explanatory models cannot tell us anything new about the subject and are not in themselves articles of faith. However, they are helpful in clarifying or explaining what is believed.

Exploratory models have a capacity to lead to new insights. His example of an exploratory model is his model of ‘Church as Servant.’[7] He claims that this is an explanatory model based on a biblical image. He uses this to interact with contemporary ecclesiology as an exploratory model. It is the interaction with the contemporary world that makes the model exploratory.

The models Dulles uses are both explanatory, in that they explain what is already known, and exploratory, in that the clarity gained by moving from diffuse beliefs into models, challenges preconceptions and offers new ways of being church. All successful models must be both explanatory and exploratory.

Models are speculative unless they are rooted in some form of reality and they are platitudes if they do not either challenge current paradigms, or defend them from criticism.

Three criteria listed by Dulles are explanatory in nature: having a ‘basis in scripture,’ a ‘basis in tradition,’ and ‘having correspondence with the religious experience of men [and women] today.’

Four are exploratory criteria: the ‘capacity to give members a sense of corporate identity and mission,’ the ‘tendency to foster the virtues and values generally admired by Christians,’ ‘theological fruitfulness,’ and ‘fruitfulness in enabling Church members to relate successfully to those outside their own group.’[8]

Listing the questions in this manner highlights the distinction between explanatory and exploratory models:

  • Explanatory models are abstractions of real objects and instances.
  • Exploratory models are the application of abstracted models in real contexts.

An Anglican explanatory model is based upon Scripture, understood by tradition and reason. If the model is not true to the reality it comes from it will be a false model.

An Anglican exploratory model will be subjected to specific questions to define if it is fruitful. The test of an exploratory model is if it is a useful critical tool for the examination of past actions, fruitful in guiding planning, and able to critically assess present action.

A model is good if it is a faithful representation of the source and brings clarity to the critical appraisal of the present subject.

The use of Models in Missiology

Unlike biblical scholars, missiologists commonly form explanatory models from biblical texts for use as exploratory models to critique present reality. They argue that there is a sufficient correspondence of social and cultural factors to make a leap across time and culture in both directions. In the introduction to the 1927 edition of Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? Roland Allen argued against those who claimed that “what was possible for him (Paul) in his day is impossible for us in ours.”[9] Missiologists such as Walls,[10] and Nyringe,[11] have followed Allen in bridging the gap between biblical text and present application. Walls uses Ephesians as a model to explore the church in a transcultural era and Nyringe to set out a model for evangelism in our present age.

The Development of Models in Continuing Indaba

Within the Continuing Indaba project the Theological Hubs were designed to enable scholars to construct models. They were encouraged to consider Scripture from the perspective of their ecclesial tradition and from their cultural perspective. The models we required had to be faithful representations of the real circumstances that led to their formation.

If you examine the essays in the downloadable book Creating Space you will find that most of the essays are consciously modelling.

John Mark Odour’s article ‘The Luo Drumbeat’ is one example. There are layers upon layers of modelling going on. He examines the present Kenyan context as a model of a drumbeat of war. He uses explanatory models from the Scripture to critique this reality and as he does so he turns them in to exploratory model. He then uses more Scripture to set a new explanatory model for the construction of a new drum.

The centre of the text makes this clear:

What is our drum made of? Is it made of crocodile skin that symbolizes careless rhetoric, or the hippo skin that represents revenge? Could it have been made of genuine leather of love, forgiveness and grace? Are we looking for a beautiful outfit like a snake’s skin that symbolizes deceit or are we looking for real buffalo skin of endurance? We need to re-examine what the ‘church’s drum’ is made of. Jesus’ model which I liken to the Baraza drumbeat may be here helpful.

The Baraza, or Indaba, drumbeat is then carefully constructed and he leaves us with a remarkable theological model, the core values for Continuing Indaba:

  • The priority of Relationship
  • The Need for Conversation
  • The significance of A Place of Meeting
  • The Appreciation of our Uniqueness within a whole community
  • Forgiveness and belonging.

These abstract core values are grounded in Scripture understood by an evangelical Kenyan theologian, but they are abstract and so they can be applied in a parish, diocese and province throughout the Anglican Communion.

Continuing Indaba went a step further. These values were applied to concrete present realities through the Pilot Conversations. The participants put the model to the test to examine if it would work. The evaluation of the processes enabled us to show that the model was fruitful.

Continuing Indaba passed the test of a good model. As an explanatory model it is a reliable abstraction of a biblical model of conflict transformation and used as an exploratory model it proved to be fruitful.

The ACC recognised that Continuing Indaba could change the future of the Anglican Communion.

[2] Peter Oakes, Philippians- From people to letter SNTS 110 (Cambridge: CUP, 2001), 56.
[3] Bruce Malina, The New Testament World – Insights from Cultural Anthropology (London: SCM, 1983).
[4] Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (expanded edition) (New York: Doubleday, 1st ed. 1978, this ed. 2002).
[5] Dulles, Models, 16-17.
[6] Ibid., 17.
[7] Ibid., 18. See chapter 6. Ibid., 81-94.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), vii.
[10] Walls, “The Ephesian Moment.”
[11] Zach D. Nyringe, “To Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (ii)” in Mission in the 21st Century, ed. Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross (London: DLT, 2008), 11-24.
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