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Rescuing Theology from White European Males

Do a Google Image Search for the word “theologian,” and you’ll scroll through page after page of white men (punctuated by the occasional non-white Orthodox icon or otherwise out-of-place image). When we think of many of history’s greatest theologians they tend to be white European males. I don’t know why so many of my white male counterparts get so defensive when I bring it up, but they do.

I find it incredibly strange that the Bible, written in large part by marginalized, and often oppressed people would be almost entirely interpreted by their sociological opposites. One has to wonder if South African and India would have had to put up with British Imperialism for so long if there were more Africans and Indians being read by Christians.

Would the abolition of slavery have taken so long if we weren’t waiting on white guys to be the church’s conscience? Would women have voted in America sooner if the church had courted the opinions of women on social issues? How could more culturally diverse theological voices helped fill the ideological vacuums filled by Maos, Castros, and Stalins?

What could we be missing?

How would our theology be different if there were more voices being represented. Could we be missing out on important ideas and perspectives?

Just think about the metaphors we use to describe Christ’s work. The Bible does use so legal word pictures, but our dominant European theological system has commandeered those metaphors (because we’re comfortable with them—whether or not the western equivalent of those metaphors might obscure the original point) and fashioned substitutionary atonement (particularly penal-substitution).

Is that wrong? Not necessarily—but I wonder what images, metaphors, and similes we’re missing out on with this one perspective? To many in the church, to question substitutionary atonement is to question the gospel itself, but it’s really one perspective we’ve received by theological gatekeepers.

I’m convinced there are worlds of understanding we miss because we’ve limited theological voices.

Are you kidding me!?

I had a pastor tell me once that liberation theology was heresy. But come on, those are the words of one white guy to another white guy about a theology they have no need to understand.

Now when I read theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez, I feel like I am reading the words of someone so much closer to the ache of first-century New Testament readers.

When I think about how my wife and I can experience the exact same biblical passage and walk away with such vastly disparate perspectives, it speaks volumes to me about how important all voices are to the biblical narrative. To assume that the gospel is complete when taken from one frame of reference seems entirely illogical and completely dismissive of most of the world.

But much of evangelicalism is so steeped in white European male theology that often the perspectives of others (back to liberation theology for instance) is instantly seen as suspect. Theologians from other people groups or genders are seen as having an extra-biblical agenda. Never mind the extra-biblical agenda and status quo that we’re trying to protect.

I know it’s not intentional

Part of the reason people get so defensive when you talk about this issue is because they think you’re accusing someone of intentionally marginalizing others. I don’t think it’s intentional—at least, I don’t think it’s willful. But at the point where there’s an obvious discrepancy that we’re not trying to remedy, there’s a problem.

When you look around worldwide, who has the best access to schools that will teach them theology? Who typically buys theology? Who runs most of the theological publishing houses? If you’re honest, the game is rigged. Whether we mean to or not, others are marginalized. We need to be intentional about giving others a voice.

We need to seek out other theologies. We need to let publishing houses know that we’re interested in other’s approach to the Scriptures. We need to encourage, enable, and empower a wider understanding of theology.

My interest is not just in aiding them—I know I need it.

I need voices like:

. . . and so do you.

21 Signs You Might Be a Terrible Christian

I had a discussion with someone today who told smugly told me how much he loved when Mormons came to his door, so he could put them in their place. I said, “Aren’t those usually young kids just trying to fulfill their required mission?”

“Yep,” he said. “And they need to learn something about messing with a true Christian.”

It was on the way home I was thinking about this list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely no one’s shining example of Christianity. But I still think there are some cultural examples of faith that actually hurt our cause (some would argue that blogs like this are one!). For the most part, I will admit that this is a list of things I find terribly annoying with a wonderful click-bait title (blogging wannabes take note).

You might be a terrible Christian if:

  1. You love to put Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses in their place when they come knocking
  2. You think the original language of the Bible was King James
  3. You’re a one-issue voter
  4. You think a banana is atheist kryptonite
  5. You have ever said, “We should just turn that place into a parking lot (or glass).”
  6. You demand that the culture caters to your holiday preferences
  7. You think Jesus is a proponent of unregulated, free-market capitalism
  8. You blame women when men lust
  9. You have a foreign policy which gives Israel an unconditional free pass
  10. You believe success and wealth are a sign of God’s approval
  11. You have an “it’s all going to burn anyway” mindset about the environment
  12. You don’t believe you have to leave a tip because you tithe (or else you leave a tract)
  13. You think you’re a scientist because you read some Ken Ham books
  14. You think your theology makes you an expert on sociology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, etc.
  15. You think you’re being persecuted because someone disagrees with you
  16. You think you can separate your business practice from your Christian convictions
  17. You think you’re a really good example of Christianity
  18. You think you’re exempted from Christ’s call to love your enemies
  19. You want to end abortion and welfare
  20. You laughed when Sarah Palin said, “Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
  21. You think atheists just don’t believe in God because they’re mad at him

What did I miss? Leave me a comment. Feel free to also leave comments like, “Who do you think you are Mr. Judgmental!?”, “Humility demands that I say that I’m a terrible Christian”, “When you criticize the church,” and “No one’s good except the Lord. Therefore, we’re all equally terrible.”

Radically Normal: An Interview with Josh Kelley

radically normalJosh Kelley and I have a lot in common. We both live in Washington state, we both have a background in the same denomination, we’re both pastors. One area we differ is that he’s a published author with Harvest House Publishers, and I’m not.

If I didn’t know how much we had in common before starting Radically NormalI would’ve figured it out pretty quick. The characters and experiences he describes gave me a profound sense of deja vu. My background is awash with hyper-spiritual, holier-than-thou types (many of which have since shipwrecked).

In Radically Normal, Kelley uses these stories as a jumping off point to remind us that many super Christians aren’t, and that the most profound thing we can do is live a radically normal life of simple obedience.

I talked to him about his book today: Read more

Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath

wrathUnless you’re dead (or a big fat liar), you get angry. Don’t worry—it’s a perfectly reasonable emotion. We don’t do wrong by getting angry; it’s just that when we’re angry, we often do wrong. Paul expresses as much in his letter to the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” (Eph. 4:26)

But when we give shelter to anger, when we nurse and indulge it, when we give it a long lead, it becomes wrath.

Where envy resents when someone else does well, wrath is hellbent on ensuring that its object suffers loss. And it isn’t always through physical violence—it can be a desire to see someone lose face and suffer humiliation. Read more

Emotional Bullying: Using Guilt to Lead Kids to God

guiltI was talking to a friend who, although raised in the church, is pretty antagonistic toward Christianity. He was talking about his childhood and how Sunday school and VBS constantly beat into his head his personal responsibility for Christ’s death.

Not in the “Christ died for your sins” vein, but more like, “It was your sins that drove the spikes into Jesus’ hands and feet.” The way his parents and church hammered (no pun intended) into him his personal responsiblity, made him feel mortifying shame.

It worked, he was a devout little kid. But he wasn’t propelled out of a sense of gratitude or wonder. No—his driving motivation for being good was humiliation.

As he got older, he walked away from the whole thing. I know so many people who have had the same experience. When they get older, their guilt turns into anger and frustration. Read more

4 Stupid Substitutes for Humility

humblebragWhen Ben Franklin turned 20, he was determined to become virtuous. He put together a list of 12 virtues (frugality, sincerity, justice, etc.), and worked out a system of regularly focusing on one virtue a week while tracking his progress as he went.

He showed his finished list of values to a minister who pointed out that Franklin was missing humility—the queen of all virtues. Ben added it to the list bringing the total to 13.

After spending many months working on the virtues, Franklin’s friend asked how he was doing with humility. Franklin responded, “I can’t boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

If you’re acting humble, you’re not

Virtues are a lot like garments; you can put them on on without owning them. It’s tricky because we don’t just fool the people around us by playing dress up—we fool ourselves.

Humility’s much easier to manufacture than it is to internalize, and as long as we’re more focused on humility’s appearance, we’ll never experience its transformation. Read more

The Cross Isn’t a Brand—It’s a Mission Statement

duckdynastyConstantine was certain that God had come to him in a dream. The first “Christian” roman empire had looked up at the sun and witnessed a cross-like apparition along with the words, “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” (In this, conquer).

Unsure of the meaning of this vision, Constantine went to sleep a couple nights later to be met by Christ who explained to him that he must use the sign of the cross against his enemies.

History tells us that Constantine marched into the Battle of the Milvian Bridge as a conqueror under the banner of the cross. Because obviously, when a warrior people hear they should use something against their enemies—it must be to vanquish them. Read more

Ask Jayson: Finding the Good in Terrible People

typekeysDear Jayson,

I need some insight and help regarding Philippians 4:8:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Can you describe the meaning of each word . . . ie . . . true, honorable, just . . . and how to daily put this verse to work.

This passage truly messes me up. What if someone has done many abusive things to you, or grossly lied about you, or hurt someone you love? It’s true they are a bad person. Its true they are toxic. Yet . . . what else. Noble? Praise worthy? Not sure how to correctly put this verse to work. Seeking because I want its promise.

Peace,
Perplexed Read more

Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Pie_eating_contest_Taking gluttony seriously is more than simply wringing our hands about the Western obesity epidemic.

Although the idea of gluttony is often tied to food, it’s much, much bigger. Simply put, gluttony is the act of taking something acceptable, useful, or even necessary and indulging in it in an unhealthy manner.

With this in mind, gluttony includes, but is not limited to, things like: Read more

4 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Joke on Social Media

DislikeIf social media’s taught me anything, it’s that many well-meaning people have a sort of super power when it comes to ruining jokes.

When I’m not filling the internet with writings about spirituality and music, I’m telling jokes on Facebook and Twitter. After having thousands of great jokes destroyed within a couple comments, I’ve learned a few things I’d love to pass on to you.

Here are 4 ways to ruin someone else’s perfectly good joke on social media. Read more

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