I have never been one to tip toe around my opinion of mainstream american religiosity. I have trouble labeling what passes for Christianity in America as such. This is not a statement on whether or not folks are among God’s family (which isn’t really for me to decide), but rather it is an ecclesiological and theological concern which aims to critically consider what qualifies a group of people to be the Church, as well as what is the heart and substance of Christianity.
Unfortunately, American christianity-ism, has inundated itself with very elaborate abstract and systematized theology. The lack of theology being done rooted in specific 21st contexts as well as understood through situating Jesus in the biblical narrative, history, and his Palestinian socio-political context is at the core of our contemporary theological plight. In doing theology with the attempts of building universal systematic principles, we have in essence landed upon vague theological musings that can and often are manipulated regularly.
An example may prove helpful. Jesus challenged his followers to take up their cross and follow him. In America these verses are loved by so-called Christians. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear people talk about the various ways in which they daily take up their own cross and follow Jesus. The only problem is that they have an abstract understanding of what that means. Taking up the cross of Jesus and following him hardly means to literally consider the actual life, deeds, and teachings of Jesus as they broke into the realities of 1st century life while reflecting and then living out its implications for 21st century American life. No, instead we get to decide what that means based off of our own personal preferences. (Yes I am critiquing the way Americans read and apply scripture). It is not strange to hear someone talk about getting up and throwing on a christian tee, listening to their favorite christian artist in the car on the way to work, and reading their bible at the work place as succesfully taking up their cross and following Jesus throughout the day. While those things are not inherently wrong, they have little to do with taking up one’s cross and follow Jesus’ as was originally intended. Our abstract and vague theology allows us to creatively reimagine the Christian life in light of our own comforts and unwillingness to have our lives disrupted by the Jesus way.
We have lost sight of Jesus, having replaced him for systematic theology. With our abstract and vague theology, we are able to justify and convince ourselves of just about anything we want. But when we consider Jesus, the Crucified One, who is situated and concrete in real human existence, it will disturb and disrupt our agenda. The realities of Jesus’ sermon on the mount subverts our american ethic, forcing us to wrestle with whether we are serious about following Jesus or not. It is only as we turn our eyes to the Revealed One that our religious justifications are undermined. This can not be done through our tainted imaginations of a nice western Jesus. This demands that we read the Gospels anew, examining the life and teachings of our Lord with utmost seriousness. May we all turn in our clean and pretty systematic theology for Jesus and the cross, which are often not so comfortable and nice, yet open our eyes to seeing the world in truly fresh ways.
Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD
Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well.
Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance.
His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign.
Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today.
His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action.
Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo.
Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.
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