In an earlier post I mentioned the difference between contextual and academic theology. This was in the context of reflection upon the image of God embodied in the whole of humanity, rather than any single culture or faith.
The Urban Theology Unit was founded around 1970 in inner city Sheffield, a few streets away from where I live. The idea from the outset was to do theology from a specific context. Students (for the first few decades they were known as the study year) could join in doing theology in inner city Sheffield, hear of other contextual theologies and learn to apply them in their own context.
This approach to 'doing theology' was contrasted with academic theology in the universities. The idea is that all Christians do theology in their setting, whether or not they are aware of it or even equipped for it. Inspirations came from Latin American Liberation Theology and by the time I did the study year in 1981-82, contexts such as Feminist, Black, Asian and of course Urban theologies.
Even by the early 80s this approach had become better known to the extent that as the 80s progressed contextual theologies were incorporated into the course work of other theological seminaries. Soon, it appeared ministerial students were sitting examinations in topics such as the (renamed) pastoral cycle (I knew it as action-reflection or the hermeneutical circulation) and UTU moved on, itself becoming more academic in its approach. At one time it boasted of being the only theological seminary in Europe with 2 outside lavatories; now this is seen as a bit of a liability.
I do not in any way wish to criticise UTU for these changes; it has had to move with the times and what was a successful movement for a period in Britain, where radical approaches to theology had an impact on the churches, has moved on and Christians now look to movements like fresh expressions for alternative Christian lifestyles.
I wonder to what extent mainstream ecumenism was influenced by radical or contextual theology and the extent to which churches together reflect theologically on their context? If we are different and so able to view the same context from a range of theological perspectives, to what extent do the churches really capitalise on their differences in this way? If we are seeking the will of God in a situation, it seems likely multiple perspectives would better equip the church as a whole.
Also, radical theology has influenced my life as a Christian. My understanding of ecumenism must have been formed as a result of my approach to radical theology, formed (4 years after my conversion) by my study year at UTU.