Context and contents

When I was writing the first chapter for my next book Who Needs Words, a question I needed to tackle early on was that of context and contents. In other words, does the context make sense of our words, or do our words make sense of the context? So, for instance, if I see the words “God is love” on a day-glo poster outside a church in a destitute neighbourhood I can do one of two things.  I can question the words on the basis of their context, concluding that if God is love such a place should not exist. Then again, I could question the context on the basis of the words, concluding that if they are true there must be more to this place than I have seen.

On Sunday morning I was looking for up to date prayer news from Japan, and started monitoring the Twitter feed from Yokohama Grace Bible Church, on the edge of Friday’s earthquake zone. The tweets have given me up to date news, but more than that they have returned me to the whole context .v content debate. If you follow this link, you can listen to the sermon preached in that church two days after the earthquake on the text ‘because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken’ (Acts 2 v.25) Do these words make sense of the context, or does the context make a new kind of sense of the words?

Good theology is always hewn from the unforgiving rock of experience, and rarely done quickly. We need to pray for those clinging onto faith in the wreckage of their lives in Japan. Not only that, but we should allow their words to challenge our faith content as well as their own.