Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Theology and Diversity

Something else terrible is happening with our formalization of theology as an academic discipline - we are losing true diversity. 

We have determined what 'theology' means and what is acceptable as 'theology' and we have even spread out into the world to teach acceptable theology to those who would not otherwise have access to it and might - gasp - have to rely something so untamable as the Holy Spirit. And then, we approve only what lines up with what we're already teaching. 

Then, we go out and get voices from all of these places around the world and all of these other people groups - persons of every race, tribe, color, ethnicity, gender, culture, whatever - and we get only the voices that we've educated in our own theology, and we give them a platform. And we call it diversity, but it's not diversity. The fact that these persons look different doesn't make them theologically different. It doesn't give us a different perspective if they all came out of the same seminary and have been taught and trained to think and believe and interpret in the same way. They might put a different social context around it from the nature of being a pastor in Cincinnati versus South Africa, but the theology is safe - it's fundamentally the same and already authorized and approved because it's not their theology; it's our theology. We just put it in the mouths of those who look externally different from us, and then we called it diversity. What a sham. 

We are seeing this happen over and over again, as we are witnessing a shift in global Christianity to have its locus in the southern hemisphere. But those voices that we previously weren't listening to aren't really experiencing some kind of tremendous explosion of the Christian faith - what they are experiencing is something that we can probably relate to our concept of 'church growth.' 

What's happened is that, over the past several decades, we have expanded our seminary educations. We have broadened our outreach to other nations. We have established better and more opportunities for persons from other countries to come and learn from our theology (or, in some cases, for us to go to their countries to teach them). And then, we send these newly-educated leaders back into their communities to preach our gospel - our understanding of the Christian faith. And now that our Jesus is being preached around the world, we're taking notice.

But these peoples have always been spiritually hungry. They have always been seeking the Lord. Our current Pope is from South America - the faith has been established there for a long time. And what's been happening is that the peoples of these nations have been discovering and worshiping the Lord in their own context, far before we ever got there to teach them anything. They have been figuring out God the same way so many of our heroes of the Bible did - by living with Him. By learning something new every day about His mercies. 

And instead of listening to what they might have to teach us, we got scared that they weren't using our words for things and embarked on a campaign to give them the words...when we were oh, so close to them giving us the heart. It's been more important to us for them to know the name Jesus than to witness the heart of Him, but now that they're calling Him Jesus, we're ready to listen.

We're ready to listen to our theology come out of their mouths and then to declare how beautiful it is, when in fact, what we have done is actually to squash out so many of their truly beautiful things. 

But then, we call it diversity anyway. Because their skin is a different color than ours, even though we are not interested in their voice. Because their gender is different than ours, even though they are using our voice. Because they speak in a different language than we do, even though we've determined their words. This isn't diversity. It's not. 

We had our chance at diversity, at a real opportunity to learn from one another. And we 'educated' it away in the name of 'theology.' No wonder we never learn anything new about God. Or, for that matter, about each other. 

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