Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christian Universalism: An In-House Practice of Generous Orthodoxy

I am not a universalist. I am not an exclusivist. I am not an inclusivist. I am a Christian wrestling with an in-house debate [1] related to the implications of the vocation of Jesus, i.e. his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, on the history, present, and future of the whole world (versus the elected few). I am also a follower of Jesus who dares to hope that all of humanity can be redeemed. In other words, the ransom has been paid (Mat. 20:28; Mk. 10:45), Christ has died once for all (Rom. 6:10; 2 Cor. 5:14-15), death has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15:55), the gates of heaven will forever remain open (Rev. 21:25), as God desires not only the church, but also the whole world to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 1 Jn. 2:2). I am aware that a long list of competing biblical references could be compiled and a systematic, proof-texting debate could be pursued ad infinitum. Nonetheless, the dialectic remains. I wonder if that is the way that it is supposed to be?

Origen of Alexandria
While I do find myself leaning more towards universal redemption, potentially due to my eternal optimism and inability to believe that anyone is beyond redemption or without hope, I am also aware that the Scriptures are clear on this matter on one point: limited and universal redemption are possible. However, that is not my current gripe when it comes to this in-house debate. Instead, my frustration lay in the inability to relinquish the association between universalism and Unitarianism. [2] That is to say, there is a clear and significant distinction between Unitarian Universalism and Christian Universalism. The former is rooted in politically correct, cultural and religious pluralism that believes all religious faiths to be witnesses to redemptive truth and universal salvation. The latter is a Christocentric reading of Scripture and interpretation of the gospel that believes in and through Jesus alone the whole world and all of humanity are saved. [3] In language common to Evangelical theology, Jesus is the only way, truth, and life (John 14:6). This way was and is for the entire world and all of humanity.

I also struggle with how the mere mention of universalism leads to a complete dismissal of the viability of evangelism and missional vocation for a Christian universalist. This sort of assumption reduces the nature and purpose of Christian mission to an evangelism rooted in an escapist and fatalist theology. In that light, Christian universalism actually gains an edge in that it promotes Christian mission as present incarnations and inaugurations of the new creation that is already here and yet to come. Moreover, when one’s eschatology is shaped by universal salvation evangelism becomes an invitation to participate in this divine and everlasting life in anticipation of the eternal life to come. Thomas a Kempis once wrote, “Practice now what you’ll have to put into practice then.” This is the paradigmatic nature of Christian mission and evangelism within a universal hope for the world’s redemption.

I am aware that I develop these reflections from my context of freedom and luxury and within a nation that privileges people like me, i.e. white men. Furthermore, as a Protestant Christian, neither I nor my ancestors suffered through the holocaust, making hope for even Hitler’s postmortem redemption less personal and painful. I did not suffer through American segregation or African apartheid, making it far easier to relinquish resentment of those who promoted racism and oppression. I do not live in Western Sudan and the regions of Darfur, certainly alleviating a need to quench a thirst for vengeance against those who encourage mass genocide of the tribal peoples. Moreover, those who have endured these historical crimes against humanity, as well as many others like them, may find universalism not only improbable, but also offensive. Why would they want to hope for an eternity where their oppressors also have been granted access? I cannot answer that justifiable question. I cannot even relate to the context in which such question would be posed. I can only bear witness to the gospel that calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And for those who may feel unable to do so, I can only offer love and prayers for their enemies on their behalf. I am not saying that Christian universalism is the most effective reading or interpretation of biblical theology, for it may not be. I am suggesting, better said, longing for others to dare hope for it. [4]


[1] I borrow this phrase from Gregory MacDonald, author of the blog, Evangelical Universalist. He writes on his blog, “Therefore disagreements about whether all will be saved should not be thought of as debates between ‘the orthodox’ and ‘heretics’ but rather as ‘in-house’ debates between Christians” ( 24 Sept. 2010).

[2] My frustration on the matter began when an article was published in Relevant Magazine by Jonathan Merritt, “The Rising Tide of Universalism.” Nov/Dec 2008. . I wrote a critical review of this limited and naïve article, of which a portion was published in the in the following month’s issue.

[3] This is not a new conversation in the Christian tradition.  Men and women alike have explored and suggested the viability of Christian universalim, most notably Origen.  While I am not interested in exploring the contributions of this faithful disciple at this time, although I hope to in the near future, I do suggest reading some of his works, e.g. Origen: An Exortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works .  Also, look for the release of All Shall Be Well: Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology from Origen to Moltmann by Gregory MacDonald.

[4] A phrase borrowed from Hans Urs von Balthasar, a 20th century Swiss theologian and Catholic priest.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lectionary Reflections: Over the Rhine, Matisyahu, John Legend, and Zechariah’s Prophetic Lyric

The invention of programs such as iTunes has effectively resulted in the deconstruction of the artistic brilliance behind musical compilations. That is, instead of buying a whole record we pick and choose the songs we prefer from a particular album so not to waste money on other, less favorable tracks. However, this money-saving habit leads the consumer to miss the carefully crafted storyline or thematic overtone that provides context for each song. Yet, there also are advantages to the plucking of preferred tracks, e.g. our ability to piece together our own narratival playlists that incorporate a variety of artists. In other words, we become the artists who write musicals conducive to our particular experiences and personal stories. These playlists generate emotional and experiential rhythms that move in harmony with our life experiences.

The music industry’s encounter with the downloadable world bears resemblance to what has typically been done to the Christmas story and the birth narrative of Jesus. The church has often plucked the baby Jesus out of the compilation we call the biblical narrative and celebrated the coming of Immanuel outside of the context of the whole. We then lose the brilliance, beauty, and prophetic thrust behind such tracks as Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the angelic announcement to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20), and even this past Sunday’s lectionary, Zechariah’s priestly lyric (Luke 1:68-79). In that light, in my feeble attempt to provide a brief and not-so-developed context that surrounds these sacred texts and the real experiences of those whom first experienced them, I have crafted a mosaic of sorts that combines three tracks from three great musical artists coupled with a related biblical reference (click on each for the song, maybe open the Scripture as you listen):

o Idea #21 (Not Too Late) by Over the Rhine // Psalm 13

o Thunder by Matisyahu // Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 65:17-25

o Wake Up Everybody by John Legend and The Roots // Luke 1:46-55 and Luke 1:68-79

The movement of these three songs moves us from despair and struggle, questions of suffering and the hope for change as in "Idea #21" and Psalm 13. Then there is the promise of deliverance, movement out of exodus, and the assurance of a new “break of day” to come as in "Thunder" and the texts from Isaiah. Finally, John Legend, The Roots, Melanie Fiona, and Common invite us, as did Harold Melvin who originally wrote the song in the 70’s, to wake up to the “God hour” that will “reboot us” through love. The same rings true as Mary and the angels announce the “God hour” that is to “wake up” God’s people through the birth of this Messiah, whose special concern and ensuing work of liberation is for the poor and the oppressed in the land. The playlist above could be titled something like, Despair. Faithful Endurance. Deliverance. Moreover, it could be suggested that these are the themes of the biblical narrative that runs throughout Scripture and culminates in the coming of the Christ child at Christmas.

Despite the premature nature of our consumer-driven culture, Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, and pondering the arrival of our Deliverer, who is Jesus. It is a season where we reenact the story of God’s people who were moving from despair, pursuing faithful endurance, and expecting deliverance. As we enter into this Advent season next week, I invite you to rest, to wait, and to ponder. You may be in a season of despair. Speak that to existence and let God meet you there. You may be faithfully enduring a difficult and dark season. Speak that into existence and let God meet you there. You may be in a season of hope and joy. Speak that into existence and let God meet you there. Wherever you are, know that in Jesus, who is “God with us,” the Creator of all things will meet you there.

What’s your Advent song? Mary had one. Zechariah had one. I have one. Write it. Post it. All the more, know that as we journey through Advent we are an expectant people, believing that in Jesus God has met us right where we are…and will guide our feet, as a community, a people of God, into the way of peace. And may we live into that peace with those lifted up in the songs of Mary and Zechariah, not only during this holiday season, but especially all the days thereafter…

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thinking, Being, and the Validity of Generous Orthodoxy

I was reading a particular Christian periodical the other day when I stumbled across an ad for a new book written by a well-known Evangelical. The book's title and sub-title underscored "thinking" as the primary discipline and characteristic that forms a person's Christian identity. In other words, it was argued that in order to live right one needed first to think right. The book proceeds to explore this "right thinking" as a prerequisite for Christian identity, especially as it affirms a particular school of thought that is deemed true, Christian, and orthodox. I shrugged, familiar with the writings of this particular Evangelical, his particular theological convictions, and the related quest to convince others of his brand of thinking. But is right thinking really the goal of the Christian life? Is right thinking really the benchmark for Christian identity? And how can this particular individual and his followers claim to have arrived at and possess such absolute truth?

I read another book a little over a year ago that pursued the matter from a different angle. In Desiring the Kingdom [1], James K.A. Smith writes, "Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly- who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love" (32-33). Smith's running thesis throughout the book is that humans are primarily liturgical animals whose desires and imaginations are at work even before we begin to think. He writes a few pages later:
"We are what we love…humans are those animals that are religious animals not because we are primarily believing animals but because we are liturgical animals- embodied, practicing creatures whose love/desire is aimed at something ultimate" (40).
In other words, Christian formation begins not with the embrace of right philosophical ideas, concepts, and doctrines. Instead, Christian formation begins in the "fulcrum of desire" (56) whereby our imaginations and habits are reshaped and reformed so to move in rhythm with the narratives, myths, pictures, stories, and dreams that are a part of the kingdom of God. That is to say, the question must shift from primarily thinking to a way of being in and for the world.

However, it must not be misunderstood that we can escape the significance of thinking, especially theologically, nor can we underestimate the grave consequences of misinformed and irresponsible thinking. In fact, we could spend endless amounts of time and energy exploring the effects of ignorant thoughts, oppressive ideals, and dreadful theologies on the social, political, and religious landscapes of the past and present. Time must be invested in the value of thinking critically. Nonetheless, thinking alone cannot lead us into God's dreams for the world any more than my modest musings found on this blog could solve homelessness in my community. Moreover, the moment we claim to have arrived at a set system of universal truth statements and assumptions, i.e. one right way of thinking, we begin to move from faithful Christian discipleship and into imperialistic religious discourse. In essence, there must be room for dialogue, space for conversation, and opportunity for dissent without condemnation and marginalization, especially as we change the focal goal from right thinking to right being in and for the world. Said differently, a generous orthodoxy is crucial to the transformation of our thinking and being on individual, communal, and global levels.

In Brian McLaren's, Generous Orthodoxy [2], he writes, "Theology is the church on a mission reflecting on its message, its identity, its meaning" (105). That is to say, theology is a conversation that God's people have on the move, as pilgrims, who are venturing towards God's promised future mysteriously unveiled in the present through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This conversation cannot be co-opted by a singular voice, a particular culture, or a distinct tradition, and imposed upon the whole. There must be room for mystery, space for disagreement, and opportunity for debate as God's people seek truth not as statement, but follow Truth who is Person. Karl Barth once wrote, "Evangelical theology is modest theology, because it is determined to be so by its object, that is, by him [God as trinity] who is its subject" [3]. Again, the goal is not doctrinal or dogmatic certainty, but movement towards the object and subject of the faith, who is God as Trinity. We can never posses or fully contain God, no matter how right we believe our thinking to be. Therefore, we must never cease to be conversant with one another, even though we may be in disagreement, as we move more and more in rhythm with the mission of God and the gospel of Jesus. Even more so, a generous orthodoxy is vital to the Christian community as it seeks to move conversations from intellectual speculations and academic debates and into shared vocations and witnesses in and for the world.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will make a few posts in regards to significant issues of debate within the Christian conversation. My posts are to be interacted with, discussed, critiqued, and debated. However, may we maintain an awareness of our convictions as modest musings of faithful pilgrims who practice generous orthodoxy with one another. Even more, may we be reminded that thinking is not the goal; rather, may we encourage one another to fresh opportunities for being a particular people in and for the world. May we do this together as we desire the kingdom of God that is breaking in all around us, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

[1] Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
[2] McLaren, Brian. Generous Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
[3]Barth, Karl. Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. Translated by Grover Foley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans    Publishing Co., 1963. p.7.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Privilege, Power, and Pentecost: Long Over-Due Reflections on My Freshman Experience

As a final assignment for my recent course, Theology, Ethnicity, Gender, I was charged to write a sermon I would potentially give that pertained to course content. This is what I came up with:

I remember my first class as an eager first-year student at Eastern University, a Christian, liberal arts college outside Philadelphia. The course was titled, "Living and Learning in Community." INST150, its name according to the registrar, was more or less an introductory course to the university's curriculum framed by "faith, reason, and justice." [A quick aside] Those of you that know me are aware that I am neither short of opinions nor slow to offer my perspectives. What many of you may not know is the drastic narrative of transformation and change that has undergirded my theological and ethical convictions over the past ten years. [Back to the story] So I purchased the books for INST150, walked towards Walton Hall, and took my seat in the conference room where I would participate in my first-ever college course. The primary text was a collection of articles and excerpts from publications that were then bound in a book. First-year students were then to mull over and discuss the content with one another, in community, hence the course name. My professor was an African American woman who was fairly new to the faculty. I was unaware in that moment how much she would influence and shape so much of my thinking in the days ahead.

One of the assigned readings was a paper written by Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege." Needless to say, as someone who grew up in a very conservative, right-wing Christian experience, many of my worlds were colliding. I was beginning to experience some of the most intense personal cognitive dissonance to date. I was in a course being taught by a minority faculty member. This was a personal first, as my childhood education was far from diverse. I was being taught by an educated woman in a religious setting. This was not only a fairly new encounter, but also did not resonate with my readings of Scripture as reinforced by my context, i.e. only men were able to do such a thing and women were to be in submissive roles in family and church life. After all, that's what the Bible says?! Then I was asked to read an article that suggested I was in a position of power and privilege as a white American male. This was also an uncomfortable and offensive first, as all I knew was my white experience. I read the article, which I still have, jotted some ignorant remarks in the margins, and intended to reject the article then and forevermore.

Then there was the final exam. I cruised through questions that pertained to worldview, personal spiritual formation in the academy, and even missional praxis in the emerging and post-modern context. No problem. Then there was a question that asked us to explore the notion of white privilege and male privilege and how that has implications on faith, reason, and justice. I was irate. How could the professor dare ask such a question on an exam? How irrelevant to the gospel? How naïve to demand us to respond to the liberal notion of on-going racism and gender discrimination? So I wrote something to the effect: As a white male, I find this question absurd and inappropriate. To suggest white privilege and male privilege is irrelevant to what it means to be a Christian and explore the Christian faith. I refuse to respond to this question any further. I closed my blue book, handed it to my professor, refused to make eye contact, and walked out.

I was not sure what sort of grade I would receive. To be honest, I feared my future at Eastern even in my first class, thinking that I was about to fail my first exam. But that was o.k. If I was going to fail an exam because of white privilege and male privilege questions, I did not want to be there anyway.

But…I got an "A" and proceeded to graduate from Eastern, Magna Cum Laude. I wonder what would have become of me should my professor have responded to my hatred and discriminatory behaviors, some would even say racism, with a well-deserved failing grade versus a generous and forgiving offering of not only a passing grade, but an absurdly gracious "A." Would I have stayed? Would I have explored further? Or would I have chalked it up to another example of angry minorities holding grudges about long-gone experiences of injustice? I am not sure. But she gave me an "A," and I stayed…and I am so grateful that I did…

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Changing the Conversation: Day 2 Reflections from Pastoral Leadership Gathering

"Wilderness is where we [the church] are, a community questing for an alternative future in the wake of a patriarchal empire." These were some of the opening remarks made by Peter Block in this innovative leadership gathering being held at my home-away-from-home, Broad Street Ministry. I was not prepared for such a prophetic statement loaded with religious and biblical overtones, as Block is not noted for his engagement with the church (in fact, it has been said that this is the first time he has implemented his ideas in an ecclesial setting). You could have heard a pin drop as Block was speaking a lot of what many of us in the room had been thinking for quite some time. Nonetheless, those of us who gathered in the sanctuary are interested in "changing the conversation" from sustaining institutions to incarnating kingdom ethics, from propping up absolute systems to imagining fresh embodiments of intentional communities, from feeding imperial truth-statements to asking prophetic and formative questions and concerns. As Block reminded us, as pastors we are more than holders of certainty and dispatchers of answers; instead, he challenged us to be initiators of conversations, conveners of dialogue, and architects of communities.

Here are a few notes from the "Day with Peter Block." These are not absolute statements, rather comments up for critique and debate as we explore together alternative methodology to community formation:

Morning Part 1:
  • Transformation is linguistic, i.e. conversations about creating alternative futures distinct from the past; this is not to say the past is to be completely forsaken, rather the past is neither absolute nor definitive…
  • Key to transformation is to invite people into a conversation they have not had before with people they are not used to talking to
  • Offering "help" is more often demonstrative of colonization than transformation
  • Communities are not built by deficiencies, systems are, and are propped up by attempts to "fill the gap" with consumer-driven, quick-fix solutions
  • Communities are gift-minded; key distinction between citizenship and consumerism
  • "Citizen Capacity": encourages people to create for themselves what they thought they could purchase
  • Six Key Conversations:
    • Possibility v. Problem; i.e. what can we create together v. what is wrong and how can we fix it…
    • Commitment; i.e. what role do I play and what can I contribute; what can I give v. what can I get…
    • Dissent; i.e. the right to say "no" and the embrace of doubt and disagreement
    • Invitation; extending hospitality and including even those on the margins into the conversation
    • Ownership and Accountability; i.e. turning complaints into requests
  • Small groups are the units of transformation
  • Systems extract humanity in order to create safety, security, and control; communities reclaim and restore our humanity in quest for alternative future distinct from patriarchal past
  • The future will not come from the front of the room

Afternoon Part 2:
  • My transformation will never come with those whom I know best; if you want a future distinct from the past you must extend the invitation to those who are different from you…
  • Questions are more significant than answers; answers lead to peddling and consumerism, implementing a system that sells
  • Art plays a key role in community formation, reminds us who we are and who we are striving to become
  • To be human is to "not know"; to claim certainty is to deny humanity
  • Most reform movements are about improving the system instead of reimagining an alternative future; we must begin with the surrender of our need to fix problems (deficiencies) and engage gifts to create new possibilities
  • What threatens communities is not difference of opinion, but absolute certainty
  • Dissent and doubt are the beginning of conversations of transformation; communities need to create adequate space for cynicism and doubt

It is difficult to grasp fully the implications of the day's events, reflections, conversations, and interactions with strangers from within the same denomination. However, when listening to Block, especially after reading his book (Community: The Structure of Belonging), one cannot help to notice the significant Christological and ecclesial overtones found within his proposed methodology. Block ended with a brief anecdote whereby someone approached him after reading his book and said, "It's so good for a book to be written by a Christian like you." Block responded, "Thanks, but I am a Jew." The man proceeded to respond, "No, you're not." Block laughed and acknowledged that he was grateful to explore his theories and paradigms among Christian leaders and pastors, with whom he felt very much at home. I would agree, and maybe that is because a large part of our narrative is shared- a quest out of imperial exile and towards an alternative future in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Future Will Rise Out of a Barren Past: Day 1 Reflections of Pastoral Leadership Gathering

This week I am attending the Pastoral Leadership Gathering, hosted by Arch Street Presbyterian Church and Broad Street Ministry. Pastors and other church leaders from a variety of churches, predominantly from PCUSA communities, have traveled to Center City, Philadelphia to be a part of facilitated dialogue and intentional conversations related to community formation. A key element to the gathering is one of the more influential books I have read within the last few years, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. However, the first day was all about setting the tone and beginning the conversation. While I was grateful for the opportunity to walk the streets of Philadelphia, a sort-of exegetical exercise of the City of Brotherly Love," and to have significant conversations with new and old friends in various ministry contexts, it was Susan Andrews' sermon as a part of opening worship that, for me, really got the event started. Andrews is a former Moderator of the PCUSA and now general presbyter of the Hudson River Presbytery in New York. As a fairly new Presby, I was unaware of who she was when she began to engage John 1:35ff in light of the gathering's thematic intentions and missional implications. However, her message was clear, convicting, and nothing short of prophetically engaging. Here are a few snippets of the sermon (beware, she doesn't mince words):
  • "The brokenness of the institutional church has superseded its beauty."
  • "The old [paradigms] has died and the new has begun to rise…"
  • "The call process is not about rules, but about relationships; not about regulations and doctrine, but about reimagining new possibilities."
  • "Leaders are disciples who begin with the question, "What are you looking for?"
  • "A future will rise out of a barren past."
Andrews even incorporated a prophetic litany of indictments on the institutional church that challenged our obsessions with policies and procedures, committees and doctrines, mission giving without missional living, capital and stewardship campaigns, etc. It is important to note that these were not cynical remarks from a disenfranchised, Gen-X, emergent church leader; rather, they were honest reflections from a seasoned and gifted veteran who has begun to lament over the institution she has spent so many years trying to "prop up." She challenged those who gathered in the old sanctuary of Arch Street Presbyterian Church, where many have gathered, questioned, and explored before, to ask tough questions, consider new possibilities, and to "come and see" fresh opportunities to incarnate kingdom life in the communities we live and serve. This may mean surrendering old paradigms for the sake of the gospel, the love of our neighborhoods, and the hope of the world. Dare we place institutional standards before the needs of our communities and the mandate of discipleship? If so, these institutions will surely die…

Again, I am reminded that there are beautiful conversations taking place within the PCUSA. Unfortunately, these conversations often take place on the margins of the denomination and often fail to enter into the midst of real congregational discourse, spiritual formation, and local church and community structuring. My hope and prayer is that the gap between conference and congregation would be effectively bridged in the days ahead. Even more, I am grateful for my friends who are exploring this missional turn and paradigmatic shift with me in Center City over the next few days, reminders that we walk not alone…

More to come tomorrow…

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Presbyterian Church (USA): Vital Resources for Venturing towards a Missional Future

Maybe this is precisely where I am supposed to be as an Inquirer for Ordination within this denomination, but I continually wrestle with a wide variety of issues related to the missional church, the PCUSA in particular, and the related conversations there within. It could be said that the PCUSA is one of the prime examples of Western ecclesial paradigms saturated in extra-biblical resources that forms the life, government, and mission of these ecclesial institutions, i.e. Book of Order, Book of Confession, Book of Common Worship, etc. That said, I often find myself exhausted, sometimes limited, in PCUSA conversations related to what it means to be the church within emerging, postmodern, postcolonial conversations. It can be quite difficult to move in rhythm with missional convictions and callings, as individuals and communities, when we are confronted with the reality that we must not only adhere to biblical faithfulness, but also the daunting collection of secondary sources (often mistaken as primary) in order to be supported, recognized, and affirmed by the denomination at large. Furthermore, these documents have often failed to take into consideration that they were primarily developed within the context of the Western white world of power and privilege and then imposed upon other communities in diverse, non-Western, non-white communities, i.e. Africa, Asia, Central and South America, etc. This is not to discount the contributions of the Western theologians, confessions, and people of faith formed by them, i.e. Calvin, Barth, Heidelberg Catechism, Scots Confession, Barmen Declaration, etc., for these are certainly important witnesses to not only the gospel, but also the gospel as incarnated within particular eras and contexts (including Nazi Germany). However, if the PCUSA is to be faithful in the days ahead and to exist not as a denomination of imposition but of humility, generosity, and grace, it must begin to embrace the contextualization of both the gospel message and method. In other words, we must be reminded that Scripture and the constitutional documents cannot be read, interpreted, and incarnated absolutely and universally, once and for all. Unfortunately, the relinquishing of control of the latter is often more feared than the former.

That being said, I have been grateful for the recent conversations that have been had by the PCUSA over the past few years, especially as it considers what it would look like for the denomination to embrace the missional turn of the church, abbreviate constitutional documents and thus leave room for contextualization of message and method, and reevaluate the church's stance on a wide variety of significant, albeit controversial issues. This is a refreshing testament to the denominations quest to be faithful to the gospel and to bear witness to person of Jesus in a wide variety of cultural contexts. Yes, we are reformed and reforming. Moreover, in such conversations the PCUSA has recognized its need to expand its confessional documents to include non-Western, non-white attestations to manifestations of gospel faithfulness in the midst of oppressive contexts, i.e. Belhar Confession in the wake of South African Apartheid (see a previous blog entry: "Belhar Confession: A Bold and Intentional Incorporation?"). Finally, I must note that my gratitude for and engagement with these recent discourses is because I have come to love this denomination, value its history, and believe in its future. That is to say, the present dialogue will only enhance the witness of God's people gathered within this particular denomination, especially as it opens itself to new and fresh possibilities.

As I continue to wrestle with the PCUSA's venture towards a missional future, I invite you to join me. Moreover, I ask that you would converse with me as I am surely a novice to the denominational positions, traditions, and incarnations of our missional vocations. Below are some helpful documents as we move forward together…and may God's Spirit go with us as we seek to be "a provisional demonstration of what God intends for the world" (Book of Order, G-3.0200).

Monday, November 1, 2010

James Cone and Jonathan Tan: Reflections on Black Liberation and Asian American Theologies

Christian theology and related discourses are not to be limited to a single tradition, cultural context, or human experience. Instead, a plurality of witnesses is imperative for the development and movement of Christian theology within the emerging culture and an increasingly diverse socio-political and religious climate. In James Cone's seminal text, A Black Theology of Liberation, and Jonathan Tan's introductory survey, Introducing Asian American Theologies, the voices of the marginalized are elevated to prominent positions within theological conversations. In other words, the engagement with these premier texts allows the reader to be reminded once again that Western, white theology is neither normative nor absolute in the Christian quest to bear witness to the person of Jesus and God's unfolding story of liberation.

Click here for the full review and reflections on these significant contributions to the Christian faith and theological traditions.