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).