Theological Monopoly: The Tight Grip of White Theologians

When I vacation with my family it is not strange for us to pick one day and play board games.  After much convincing to plunge into a long game, we often whip out an old favorite… Monopoly. You know the deal, each player is trying to “monopolize” the whole board, until eventually everyone has folded and you have complete control of the board.

In theological circles, the same practice of monopoly has been going on. White western theologians dominate the theological conversation dismissing voices from poorer countries as well as domestic voices as fringe. When they themselves do theology it is self-labeled “classical”, “neutral”, “objective”, and “biblical”.  On the contrary, when others have different insights into the biblical text that they miss, these folks get these labels… “Black theology”, “Latin theology”, “Asian theology”, “pacifist theology”, “social justice theology”, and “feminist theology”.  The intent of these labels is to dismiss these bright theologians by asserting which context they are speaking from, which supposedly explains why the message they speak is distorted. They on the other hand, are “supposedly” not influenced by their race, socio-economics, or culture, and therefore should be seen and understood as neutral in their theological assumptions.

In pushing this agenda, white/western theologians have been able to claim a monopoly on interpreting the Bible. The truth is that much of what is understood as “orthodox” now in evangelical communities was not apart of the understanding of early Christians in the first 300 years of the church. The closest there was to what we have now comes from those who took the “Tertullian” approach, who as a lawyer communicated much of the biblical narrative in legal terms.  Yet even his understanding was very different over all from what is now considered orthodox.  On the other hand, there was plenty of diversity among the theological understandings of the faith back then. They made distinctions between core essentials (trinity, full divinity and full humanity of Christ, etc.) and doctrinal differences.

In fact, the first 300 hundred years of the church was hugely impacted by African theologians.  Nonetheless, theologians from Africa, Europe, and Asia all participated in theological development.  So now as we look at the present situation, I ask my fellow white theologians, are you willing to loosen the grip of monopoly?  Can you step away from being in the center of the theological dialogue and join everyone else around the table where we can all participate as equals?  This is hard, it means denying the privilege and position one has, while simultaneously empowering important voices of those who need to be heard. It is a tough Christ-like and sacrificial act, but it will strengthen the unity, voice, and witness of the church.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

We Had Some Church Today

I can remember time after time leaving the church service on Sunday, hearing one of the older saints in the church yell out that “we really had some church today”, or actually “chuch” would be the more accurate vernacular. Typically that meant that when the believers had gathered together, everything was right on point. Worship was inspiring and God-adoring, the choir sang their hearts out, and the preacher stirred the congregation with a Word that was really powerful. New people probably even came forward and asked Jesus to come into their hearts as their very own personal savior. That sounds great doesn’t it…. sounds like a day full of church doesn’t it? Or was that really good church after all? On our best day, when we have our best voices singing in harmony, people are lifting hands and clapping, is God pleased? When have we had some good church?

Honestly, I question our understanding of good church. Do not get me wrong, I think God desires for us to come together regularly in His name. In fact Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should not neglect coming together, however we should not so easily skip over verse 24 as many are in the habit of doing.It says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (TNIV). The emphasis of the verse doesn’t seem to care as much about the nature of our coming together, but the fruit of our coming together. It seems clear that the fruit of our coming together, is the producing of a community that is loving others and is doing good deeds. Our gatherings are not for the purpose of feeling good on the inside nor merely just becoming better people.

It goes way beyond that, we gather to get something going, to jump start a movement. When we gather we are supposed to be inspired, provoked, and ignited. However we are not provoked merely on how to pray better or read our bible more. (Important things to do, don’t confuse what I am saying). If our coming together only provokes our personal piety, personal spiritual lives, and personal morality without breaking into the sphere of loving others and doing good deeds then we have missed it. It seems that our coming together regularly should be shaping us as a people that go out into our communities bringing relief to those with aids, adopting children who have been neglected, standing up against injustice, living counter-cultural lives that challenge powerful institutions that oppress their workers.

Our gatherings need to be formed for the very purpose that “we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” And if that is not happening when we gather, then we have hardly had some “chuch”. Maybe our having good church is less about what goes on inside the walls of our facilities that we gather in and more about what happens once we leave. Maybe it’s about our engaging our neighbors with love, helping that elderly woman fix that broken faucet in her house. Mabye it’s about taking some time to spend with that young boy who wanders the streets at all hours, without any guidance and mentors involved in his life. Maybe it’s spending the time to help someone create a good resume and help them network to get a job. (Since getting a job is more about who you know, than what you know.)

Hardly do we see Jesus inside the synagogue, and the few times he was, there were attempts or at plots on his life because he taught or stood up for justice. If Jesus spent most of his time and “ministry” outside the walls of the church engaging people, meeting them on their terms while trying to liberate and empower them from the burdens, sin, and sickness of life, why have we revolved our lives around what goes on inside the church. I think its time for us to encourage one another that we can’t spend all our time at church meetings and services throughout the entire week, but instead urging each other to be active in our communities as salt and light as we love and do good deeds. Once the church has left the building, and we are in our communities serving and loving folks. We can call each other up on the phone and talk about how “we had some church today!!!”.

(Hebrews 10:24-25)