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Evangelicals & Critical Race Theory

Evangelicals can’t do Critical Race Theory. There are 4 major problems and 5th issue of identity.

You can read two of the recent Evangelical responses in The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today.

In this video I outline the problems in:

  • Individualism
  • Scholarship
  • Marxism
  • Diversity

Then I tackle the final straw of the nature of evangelicalism.

You can also check out yesterday’s video and my reflection from several years ago.

Response to The (Non)Wesleyan (Non)Quadrilateral

Please read this is the “I’m having fun talking about something I love” voice.

A very good post was put up called: Once Again The Wesleyan Quad

I will now call it the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Should Not Be Allow To Use ‘Butter’ Blog”

The author and I have a lot in common: both United Methodist, both from Ohio, both academic.

The Butter Blog is right on so many points.

  • The Wesleyan Quad was not explicitly used by John Wesley in the 1700’s
  • Wesley looked to scripture first (Prima Scriptura) unlike other Reformed folks who claimed ‘Sola Scriptura
  • The Quad is not an symmetrical cube but a 4-part sequence which many of us have pointed out.

The Butter Blog is missing a couple of things:

  • Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience are found in Wesley and easily retrofitted as ‘the Quad’
  • This is the same impulse that developed the canon of scripture because of it’s common use centuries after the founders.
  • The Quad was born out of the cultural need of the 1970’s and answered a question that was being asked in that context.

In my mind there are (at least) two vital reasons for the element of experience being added:

First, since 1906 the Pentecostal (and charismatic) movement has place primary importance on the experiential nature of Christian expression. I don’t think that we can afford to (or want to) poo-poo on the largest and fastest growing branch of Christianity globally.

Second, locating ‘experience’ as a site of theological reflection gives validity to the experience of those who have not had a chance to contribute to scripture, the tradition, or ‘reason’ (aka European philosophy) in the way that they may have wanted.

In this way: perspectives of women, people of color, and non-European contributions  are included and valued.

 

So when the Butter Blog argues that:

“Moreover, what too often happens in UM circles is that when the quadrilateral is employed, it is most of the time used for the purpose of pitting one of the four “principal factors” against the others (usually to pit experience against Scripture)”

Well, sort of … not against scripture … but to compliment the scripture and compensate for the lack in scripture …

I hate to be the white guy who has to point out that every person quoted in this Butter Blog seems to have something in common: Kevin Watson, Randy Maddox, Andrew Thompson, and N.T. (Tom) Wright.

As far as the quote:

“The problem, as Thompson rightly notes, is that we Methodists tend to be more American than Methodist.”

That is like saying that International Harvester tends to be more ‘harvester’ than international. Most Methodist (even in Ohio where the articles’ author is from) can’t even tell you what the ‘methods’ are.

 

I would like to point you in 3 other directions:

 

I have 50 other thoughts tonight but unfortunately it is late, and I have a 6am online session to teach for my East-coast seminary class.

 

BTW: I have an entire session in that seminary class about ‘the migration of meaning’ where we talk about everything from universities in Texas  – TCU (the ‘C’ being Christian) and SMU (the ‘M’ being Methodist) – to Emergent (from scientific thought to a ‘brand’ of post-evangelical hipsters).

10 Minutes on Jesus

Jesus was unique in human history. Here are 4 splits that help us frame that conversation:Jesus icon

  • Christ/Jesus
  • Divine/Human
  • Eternal/Time
  • Type/Degree

The video below is my 10 minute take on Christology.

I am in the final week of my study break – so let me know your thoughts, concerns or questions and we can tackle them next week!

10 Min on Jesus from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

Jesus was unique in human history. Here are 4 splits that help frame our understanding: Christ/ Jesus, Divine/ Human, Eternal/ Time, Type/ Degree

’12 Years A Slave’ and the Cross of Christ

by Bo Sanders 

12 Years A Slave is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. The cinematic elements compliment the twisted and troubling plot to create a riveting experience for the viewer.  What follows is a theological reflection – for a more formal review of the movie check out Pop Theology by Ryan Parker.  Ryan and I also recorded a podcast that will be released this evening. 12-years-a-slave-poster-405x600

Based on a true story, the plight of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a journey from the good life as a free black man in the North to the hellish existence of a slave in the deep South. Visual artist-turned-director Steve McQueen frames the narrative in stunning cinematography and a unique pacing that reflects the twists and turns in the story.

12 Years A Slave is one of those rare movies that impacts you emotionally and challenges the assumptions you carried into the theatre. The journey of the main character sticks with you and causes you to ask questions that you know deep down need to be examined.

I expect that this movie will be one of those rare films that trigger a much-needed cultural conversation. Issues of race and America’s haunting legacy of slavery and native reservation are never far from our national consciousness. Race is often front and center in the nightly news and on the margins of most national conversations.

While we know that something is amiss, we may not know how to approach the topic. We want to have a conversation but we may be unsure about how to proceed.

From the controversies surrounding the election of President Barack Obama to the George Zimmerman trial to the ongoing ‘stop and frisk’ policy debate in the New York City mayoral election, there is an awareness that race matters (to borrow a sentiment from Cornel West’s book title) but a perpetually unsatisfying confusion about how to access the underlying issues.

For Christians, perhaps the best way to address these issues is via the cross of Christ.  In his newest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, famed theologian James Cone equates the cross and the lynching tree: “though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy.”

This is poignant because Solomon Northup first witnesses and then experiences the lynching tree in 12 Years a Slave. The lynching tree is the ultimate weapon of intimidation employed by the same slave owners who claimed the name of Christ, but who preached from the Christian Bible to their slaves in order to justify their cruelties.

For Cone,

“what is at stake is the credibility and promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society.”

There are plenty of movies that are as fleeting and significant as the popcorn one eats during it. 12 Years A Slave is a different kind of movie. It has substance and is capable of being a touch-point for a significant cultural conversation.

“Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy”.  – Cone

If we can talk about a movie like 12 Years A Slave in light of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, we may be able to begin to have a much-needed constructive and reconciling cultural conversation about race in America.

The election of President Obama was not the end of racism in America. As the 50th anniversary of ‘the March on Washington’ showed, we still live in a deeply divided country where race and the legacy of racist policies and attitudes have a lasting effect and are an ever-present reality.

America is also a deeply religious country and Christianity is the dominant religion. The irony, and the opportunity, resides in that fact that the symbol of the cross is so central to Christian imagery. There is great hope there, if only we would take it seriously and see what the Salvadoran martyr Ignacia Ellacurio called “the crucified peoples of history.”.

You can listen to my conversation with Ryan on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast here.

That Liberal Label

It has been a while since I posted here and part of the reason for that is that I have embroiled in a bit of a kerfuffle. I didn’t go looking for it but it came and found me. Anyway, here is a part of my response to all of the hullabaloo.
Once is an incident. Twice is a trend. Three times is a pattern.

This the now the 3rd time this thing idea about shying away from the label ‘liberal’ has come up.

  1. I heard it for the first time almost 10 years ago: “Emergents are just cool liberals”. This came from conservative, evangelical and reformed folks who were squawking at the Blue Parakeets that were new to the yard.
  2. More recently Fitch & Holsclaw leveled the accusation in their new book Prodigal Christianity and Tony Jones took exception.
  3. Then last week the idea was suggested on a different blog that Tripp & I were really just closet liberals who where afraid of the label because of its intrinsic baggage.

I tend to bury my big point in the final quarter of every blog post. For the purpose of clarity I am going to begin putting them at the top of the post. Here is my main point:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition. If I were liberal I would be so proudly. I am not liberal. Liberal approaches do not go far enough to combat capitalism, address colonial consequences or repent of the Constantinian compromise that led to Christendom it’s subsequent horrors.

I am not liberal. While Tripp and I are left-leaning. We are progressive. We are postmodern in our approach. We are emergent in our expression. We are playfully heretical (in a good way) and we are innovative where appropriate given our christo-centric hyperTheism.

But I am not liberal. Liberalism doesn’t go far enough in addressing five of my biggest concerns:

  • Critique of Capitalism and Consumerism
  • Post-Colonial consequences
  • Continental Philosophy’s reflection on late modern thought
  • Criticism of Christendom (Western and Constantinian)
  • Our cultures’ dangerous cocktail of Nationalism and Militarism

I have written extensively about how Progressive is not Liberal and even got taken to task over at Scot McKnight’s blog for trying to make that distinction. I will say this again:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition.

If I were liberal I would be so proudly. But alas I am not.

One last thing in closing:  I understand the historic drift of the term ‘Liberal’. I know what it meant in the 1700’s (specifically as it relates to individualistic epistemology) and I understand what it has become in the late 20th century (a constellation of loyalties and identity markers). I also know about it’s demise as an impotent political approach and I get why some evangelicals are allergic to the term and thus why some would desire to shy away from it. I get all that. I even recognize the unique draw of its individualistic epistemology. 000_0008

What I am saying is that calling me a closet liberal who is afraid to be identified by the label is like saying that I don’t wear ‘medium’ sized T-shirts because I don’t like the letter M. It is to miss the point. I don’t wear medium sized T-shirts because they are not big enough and don’t cover some essential areas that I deeply care about.

i.e.  It just doesn’t fit.

 

John 14:6 may not even be about salvation

Over the past two months we have been having a lot of fun talking about John 14:6.  The release of Brian McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  and our subsequent live event with him at Wild Goose West (audio here) got us started.

Then Jericho Books gave us some copies to give away so we put out the John 14:6 Challenge. People stepped up with posts and used the speakpipe to leave us messages.

I swung first with “Jesus wasn’t talking about Muslims in John 14:6” and followed it up with “an alternative to John 14:6” saying that one that famous passage is off the table for thinking about how to deal with other religions … where does one start? What are the alternatives?

Last week, Tripp and I recorded a TNT that will come out this afternoon where we listen to some of the calls and talk about some of the posts…  in that midst of that conversation, (beginning in minute 15)  we put out an idea that I thought should be in written form and not just audio.  Here it goes:

Not only is John 14:6 not about other religions – since it is a disciple’s invitation – but it is not even about salvation. It is about relationship and not salvation.

I blame it on lazy reading that results in conflating subjects. I think that Jesus is inviting those who follow him to relate to ‘the Father’ (Abba) as he relates to Abba by:

  • living the life he laid out,
  • walking the way he modeled and
  • embodying the truth we proclaim.

Tripp implies that is has something to do with Calvinism and it’s histroical impact of making salvation:
A) transactional instead of relational
B) individual instead of communal

So I want to ask the question (you may want to listen to the TNT episode to hear the whole context):

What if John 14:6 is not only not about other religions – but isn’t even about salvation? How would that impact your use of that passage and where else would you turn in the Bible for an alternative?

Personally, I would go to Acts 4:12 “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Mainly because it has the word ‘saved’ in it AND sounds semi-exclusive … which is what people TRY to get John 14:6 to be – but simply isn’t.   That is the conflation that I am talking about.

Thoughts?  Responses?   

John 14:6 simply isn’t about other religions

I love John 14:6. I take so much encouragement from it and it challenges me deeply.

I love John 14:6 but I do not like what many today are doing with it: hiding behind it as a catch-all explanation for other religions...

Here is what I love about the passage and the three things I don’t like that people do with the passage:

What I love – this is a disciples invitation. It happens within a story, it is in dialogue that Jesus’ famous sentence “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. It comes in response to a very specific question. Here is the thing – the question is not “What about other religions?” The question was a disciples’ question about following.

Three things people do that scare me – My first concern is that people only quote John 14:6 and not John 14:1-5 or even 14:7. They have ripped this one sentence out of its narrative context and acted like it emerged in a vacuum. This is never a good sign. In fact, the only way this famous sentence of Jesus works as an answer to the question ‘What about other religions?’ is if you isolate it from the rest of the story and place it in a vacuum.

The second concern is that our inherited (non-Hebrew) concern with substance and our language’s (non-Hebrew) lack of relational emphasis really handicaps us when reading the scriptures. I have to explain to people all the time that when Jesus calls God ‘Father’ he is speaking relationally – he related to God as one relates to one’s pappa (or abba). He is not saying that god IS ontologically a Father. Language about God is not univocal, it is equivocal. Or, if you prefer, as Nancey Murphy points out, language is not representative of God, it is expressive. Language does not represent God is a 1:1 ratio – it is merely expressive of some aspect or nature of God.

The third concern is that in John 14:6 Jesus could not possibly have been talking about Muslims. He had never met a Muslim (as Islam didn’t exist yet) and therefore could not have been talking about them. In fact, once one comes to terms with this reality, one has to question whether Jesus would have even know about Buddhists or Hindus either. No, Jesus had probably never encountered them and certainly wasn’t referring to other religions in John 14:6.

(Unless of course you are retroactively ascribing attributes … at which point you are going to have to explain why you chose this one over other preferable ones.)

This sentence was uttered:

  • in conversation with his disciples
  • in response to a very specific question
  • as an invitation to his disciples
  • to relate to God as Jesus related to God

Where the problem seems to lie: When people miss the relational language (come to the Father as related to God), remove the sentence from its narrative context (as if it emerged in a vacuum) and assume that Jesus was referring to things he couldn’t possibly have known about … then irony sets in.

The ironic thing is that quoting John 14:6 as a stand alone explanation – without receiving it as a disciples invitation – one may actually be doing the exact opposite with that passage as Jesus was asking one to do: follow his way.

Having said all of that: Maybe Prophet Isa was talking about Muslims in John 14:6. Maybe he was saying that if they want to relate to God as he did – that they could only do so by walking his way and following his life.  In fact,  if you take away the univocal  calling God Father (ontologically) and see it as expressive (or equivocal) of relating to God as one relates to a loving father … you would remove the biggest obstacle Islam has to Jesus – namely that the Quran tells Muslims not to say that ‘God has children’.

You may think that I am way off here – but until we:

  1. stop quoting John 14:6 in a vacuum
  2. stop thinking that Jesus was talking about other religions
  3. stop thinking that Jesus’ Father language is univocal (instead of relational)

We won’t even be able to have the conversation and explore the possibility.

 

Stop Comparing Religions

I had the chance to teach adult Sunday School this past weekend as we worked our way through Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. We are up to Question 9 “the Pluralism Question”. I had looked forward to this all Summer.

Now unfortunately I did not have the time to cover some classics on the subject like:

What I was able to do is to build on the thought of folks like  John Hick. In his famous works ,such as An Interpretation of Religions, Hick provides tour-de-force in the realm of comparative religion. He is not, however, simply reporting on religions – he is putting forward a theory about religions.

Many of Hick’s fans and critics alike end up saying the same two things when talking about him. The first is about the analogy of the mountain.  The metaphor about many paths leading up the same mountain is a pluralistic classic. The second is about the blind men and the elephant. This is of course based on a Kantian dualism between the numenal and the phenomenological.

Religions are like blind men, each with their hand on a different part of the elephant and thus describing different aspects of the same reality. One has the trunk, one the ear and one the leg. They each talk as if they have grasped the whole but in reality, they have not. Though it may appear as if they are talking about very different things (a Christian from a Muslim or Hindu) they are actually all touching the same entity.

Then there a critics of Hick.  Both Mark Heim in Salvations and Stephen Prothero in God Is Not One are post-Hickian.

Critics of Hick seem to have two main critiques (I am being very general here):

The first is that analogy of ‘paths up the mountain’ is flawed. Religions are like different paths up different mountains. The mountains may all be in a range together – in that they have some similarities and are in proximity to each other – but essentially they are not all leading to the same place. Being a good Hindu, which may have some ethic overlap with say the Christian sermon on the mount, is still not the ultimately after the same thing. Religions do not all lead to the same place and so just walking on road for long enough does not guarantee arriving at the same destination.

The second concern is about the Kantian blind men and elephant. When one takes on this enlightened view, one is placed in an elevated position above the religious traditions. They think that have a grasp on the whole but in reality it is only a part (ear, trunk, leg). The Katian-Hickian at that point is in the real seat of truth. The question then, is why would anyone ever participate in any particular religion?  Why even be a Christian – for example – and only grasp the part? Why not be a generic ‘God-ian’ and recognize the whole? In this way, studying religion is a way to not actually participate in any actual religion! Ironic isn’t it?

 Here was my main point on Sunday: the problem is comparative religion itself. The very discipline that we end up being unsatisfied with contains within it (from the very beginning) the inherent problem that we end up being frustrated with.

The problem is this – comparative religion is a product of a Western approach (with its intrinsic dualism) that first imports and them imposes it categorization upon other traditions and then looks within that compartmentalization for points of similarity and contrast. This will never work.

What I ended up doing was pointing folks toward an innovative concept called ‘Comparative Theology: deep learning across religions borders’ developed by Clooney in the book “Comparative Theology”.

His point is that each tradition tells its own story – in its own words. The art then is not in compartmentalization but in humble listening. Each learning to hear each tradition-religion bring forward its own stories, teachings, practices and values we remove ourselves from being ‘over’ the religion as a judge/reporter and humbly place ourselves at the feet as a learner/listener or at the table as friend/partner.

 I love Clooney’s approach. I find the epistemology and posture refreshing. I also think that in the inter-connected, trans-national, multi-religious 21st century it is going to be ever more critical to distance our selves from approaches of centuries past.

I have written before that I don’t want to apologize for being a Christian (I truly love it) but the time for apologetics is passing into the night of history. It’s a new day and a new approach is needed for the plurality and multiplicity that we increasingly live in. Many conservative christians hide behind exclusivism to guard against the threat of relativism.  What I love about Clooney’s approach is that they are not asked to give up their internal belief as christians but are challenged to adjust their external posture toward those of other traditions.

Innovation, Context and History in Christianity

I was away on a youth service trip last week and upon my return had the opportunity to listen to the Barry Taylor podcast from the previous week’s live show. It sounded great and I was sorry to have missed it.

About 23 minutes in to The Theology of Rock, Barry Taylor talks about the play between the universal nature of music and the highly contextual nature of styles and genres. He points out that while music is said to be universal, actual songs and individual expression are very particular and specifically located. They come from a place and in a time and that lyrics – while they may get the lion’s share of attention – are nearly inconsequential in some respects to understanding what is going on in the music.

Lyrics are often an afterthought and may even be antagonistic to what is going on in the music itself. This was a fascinating point and it sent my brain on wild series of connections and contrasts in theology.

My background is in contextual theology and as I stated two weeks ago in my post about the Creeds as contextual documents (or time/place snapshots) they are neither universal nor timeless. Christian expressions – even the early Creeds – are both radically located and time-bound. Now, the objection is always that ‘they were not intended to be so – the authors surely believed them to be universal and for all times’.  While it may be true that writers of the creeds, or the Reformers or systematic theologians in general may be under that impression, we see the historical flaw in that line of thinking.

 We see now that all theology and thus theological expression are contextual expression that are uniquely located and particularly time specific. It’s not just the language (Greek or Latin or German) that needs to be translated but the ideas, concepts and content itself needs to be translated and renovated.

I would like to put forward a proposition to help us unravel the tangled web of theological history and frame – in a positive way – a path forward. I am suggesting that we acknowledge that we are always braiding or weaving a fabric from at least 3 strands:

  •  History and Tradition: Theology and other Christian expressions don’t happen in a vacuum. We never start with a blank slate. We never get back to zero – and we are not supposed to! We are part of long history with much tradition and we are to honor that even while continuing out along the trajectory provided.
  •  Context and Location: All truth is both received and expressed in cultural containers that come with inherent lenses through which we interpret what we see, experience and receive. Our job is to acknowledge and incorporate this understand as we engage our culture, place, and time in a meaningful way that is faithful to the tradition, based on the historic precedent, and aware of our modern realities.
  •  Innovation and Expression: Nothing stays the same. We are fooling ourselves if we pretend otherwise. Language – even about God, technology, and society are fluid realities that call for us to adjust, revisit, and renovate our understandings and activities. Christianity is uniquely designed to adapt and evolve. We are not only called to it but are empowered with a unique set of tools embedded within the Gospels and Acts of the early Church.

The trick is to stop reducing down things down to simply one element in our thinking. That reductive move is death to both understanding and applying the very message that we are talking about!  [read Lamin Sanneh’s Whose Religion is Christianity?: the Gospel beyond the West  for more]

 It is not simply history or tradition. People who extract content without accounting for historical context or timely innovation are in grave danger of importing and imposing collateral damage every time and in every place they do so. If we do not acknowledge the particular time and unique context from which any expression emerged, then we are willfully blind to the cultural constraints and societal containers that framed the content.

 It is not merely context. We are not free to disregard the precedent of the past. The entire project of theological reflection and Christian expression is in dialogue with the historic tradition. If one wants to do something else, that is fine – I get that – but to do theology is to submit to some level of constraint within the forms and disciplines employed.

 It is not only innovation. We do need to, in fact we must, engage our time and world as it is. We can no longer afford to  retreat into a romanticized imagined past (like the radical orthodox). But neither can we simply disregard the tradition and act as if we ourselves are not cultural creatures and products of socialization and cultural-religious conditioning. We are not free to do whatever we want. The entire enterprise is to be in dialogue with the tradition, to acknowledge the contextual nature of all truth and to engage our time and place appropriately based on that.

Theology is not simply history or tradition. It is not merely context. It is not only innovation. Christian theology is a dynamic interplay between these three elements (not to mention issues of power that effected formation of things like the early Creeds). We are foolish to ignore them historically and our work is impotent if we don’t acknowledge them and joyfully incorporate them in our work today.

We do well when we incorporate the long tradition into our context and allow for an appropriate level of innovation that honors the trajectory of the tradition and provides a continuity with the precedent of the past.

-Bo Sanders 

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