Aliens in the Promised Land, edited by A.B. Bradley
Aliens in the Promised Land, edited by A.B. Bradley

Last night I read Ralph C. Watkins’ essay “A Black Church Perspective on Minorities in Evangelicalism” and it had me thinking about the common approach to teaching ecclesial history and systematic/historical theology in the context of the evangelical seminary. Watkins challenges the assumed perspective that Eurocentric theology is “normalized” while theology from other places is “contextualized.” He writes,

Black theology, liberation theology, Latino theology, and feminist theology are considered “contextualized,” but Eurocentric theology is not considered contextualized. The theology of the others is not considered worthy of required learning for students in evangelical seminaries. Students are required to take systematic theology, and in these courses they may take note of “minority” theology, but the minority voice is nowhere equal to the dominant Eurocentric voice. The marginalization of voices in text selection, theological discussion, and the very design of the curriculum is a product of institutional racism. [1]

Similarly, he observes that most courses on ecclesial history center on the development on Christianity in the European context, often ignoring the important role Africa played in the development of early Christianity, and the contemporary reality that most Christians can be found in Africa and Latin America today. As a graduate of Pentecostal and evangelical institutions this statement by Watkins stings:

A student who graduates from an evangelical institution who does not have a working knowledge of two-thirds of the world’s religious and theological history is a student who is ill-equipped to share the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively in a world that is shrinking. [2]

It hurts because it is true. I wonder if it is time to propose a pedagogical shift among evangelicals. As evangelicals have sought to establish their identity in recent years (how many times have we debated “What is an E/evangelical?”) it has become painfully obvious that most of the discussion is centered on the future of privileged, white Christians who have traditionally defined themselves as reacting against other privileged, white Christians of the more “liberal, mainline” persuasion. Yet, we remain oblivious to the reality that Christianity is shifting globally and our so-called “decline” does not mean Christianity is dying. I know, we’d like to think that if Christianity doesn’t center on us then it may not survive. We’ve educated ourselves to believe this!

When I took systematic theology courses it centered 90% of the content on early Christianity, European Christianity, and North American Christianity from a Eurocentric perspective. Other opinions and debates are “contextual,” as if Asia, Africa, South America, and minority populations in Europe and the United States don’t have anything to say that is that important. Should we be surprised toi find that when we discuss the future of Christianity we do so from the perspective that we must save Christianity as we know it, or else?!

If I had the authority to make changes in the curriculum of an evangelical institution of higher education I’d try to abandon the four to five semester/trimester sequence which includes “Church History I: Apostolic Era to Reformation,” “Church History II: Reformation to Present,” “Systematic Theology I, II, and III” often discussing Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther most of the time for a sequence that goes something like this: Asian Church History and Theology, African Church History and Theology, European Church History and Theology, Latin American Church History and Theology, and North American Church History and Theology. This might help us escape the idea that the Spirit has been working through whites in Europe and North American almost exclusively for the last two thousand years and now, and only now, the Spirit is being “poured out on all flesh.” Also, it would help us recognize the contextuality  of all systems of theology. There may be catholic doctrines, but that doesn’t mean there are universal expressions of those doctrines, especially when we place our doctrines into interweaving theological systems where one idea informs the other.

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[1] Bradley, Anthony B. (2013-05-06). Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (Kindle Locations 1693-1697). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., (Kindle Locations 1791-1793).

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