Church: World

Fault Lines

I am beginning to fear that the greatest fault line in the Church today lies between those in the West who feel that their theological and exegetical heritage is the only valid one for the church and those in the developing world who are developing their own indigenous theologies as they read the Scriptures faced by very different realities.

Vinoth Ramachandra captures this in a strongly worded post:

A group of North American pastors calling themselves The Gospel Coalition of International Outreach is engaged in what they call “a mission of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church”. They state on their website: “We are partnering with translators, publishers, and missions networks to provide new access to biblical resources, in digital and physical formats. Our goal is to strengthen thousands of congregations by helping to equip the pastors and elders who are called to shepherd them.”

Sounds loving, until one asks: who decides who is theologically famished and who is not? who selects what “resources” to send the famished? who decides what constitutes “equipping” and who should be doing it? The answer is always the same. A small group of white, well-to-do American or British males. We have experienced such paternalistic, colonial “mission” before- others deciding what is the “Good News” for us, what is “sound doctrine”, which authors to read and whom to avoid, etc. They have exported their theological blind-spots and sectarian rivalries, reproducing carbon-copies of themselves in the global South rather than nurturing real leaders. The learning and theological traffic is all one-way.

Of course, the West still has something to contribute to the growing worldwide Church, but we also have a great deal to learn. The very fact that the church is growing like wildfire in the two thirds world, but is declining in much of its historic heartland should indicate to us that not all in our theological garden is rosy.

This question is explored in more depth in the recent edition of Encounters Magazine which features a longish lecture by me on ‘Reading the Bible With the Global Church‘ along with responses from scholars from four continents. You might enjoy reading it.

This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.

1 reply on “Fault Lines”

Well done for opening your paper up to the critique of others and having their responses published along with your paper!
Anthony Loke comments that your picture of western Christianity is limited to western evangelical Christianity. The same thought struck me as I was reading your paper – and I found that I did not position myself with western evangelical Christianity. For example, the conquest of Canaan. I side with the victim – and am convinced that God does too (even though God is portrayed as being on the side of the conqueror – but then again, it’s always the conqueror who writes the history).
Secondly, Brian Russell comments on “the translatability of the Gospel into the emerging cultures of the Western world”. I happened to read Andrew Walls back to back with Ray S. Anderson’s “An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches”. The line of reasoning is very similar! Walls comments, “There’s no such thing as safe theology. Theology is an act of adoration fraught with a risk of blasphemy, but an act of adoration, of worship nevertheless.” The theology of Anderson et al in the west and Ramachandra et al in other parts of the world are risky – but crucial if we are going to be both faithful and relevant.

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