“On Theology and Human Concerns and Realities”

“On Theology and Human Concerns and Realities”

Christian theology, as a social construct that is shaped by human experience and perception about God, humanity, and the created order, does not have the final say in determining the nature of human dignity, justice, peace, violence, and evil in the world. For example,
theological consciousness is not good enough to sustain the project of Christian unity and interracial (re-) conciliation & ethnic diversity in Christian circles and churches. People are shaped by their cultural frameworks and habits, and ideologies and worldviews that orient their faith.

All forms of human knowledge are part of that social construct project, even the revealed divine knowledge unless God sovereignly secured its original intent and meaning, falls under that category–since theological knowledge, like other forms of constructed knowledge, is subservient to the art of human interpretation and the diversity in constructing “meaning” makes theological discourse an imaginative end and explorative endeavor.

Hence, theological orthodoxy in the Christian tradition is also representative of the perceptions and ideas of a community of interpreters that interpreted and constructed a body of beliefs and confessions to sustain faith and promote its understanding of biblical religion.

While certain theological confessions such as the first order of theology must be energetically safeguarded and defended, each generation of Christian community must interpret and reintepret creatively in light of cultural trends and currents as well as within the complex trajectories of (the) human experience and existential concerns (i.e. war, poverty, hunger, sex trafficking, sexuality, gender idenity, racism, immigration, white supremacy, abortion, education, capitalism, globalization, systems & structures, environmental issues) what Scripture means to the people of God and for their time. Consequently, it’s not enough to be theologically awake; it’s equally valid to be socially and politically conscious.

Thus, the idea that there’s a particular theological system that could be called a “model theology” (Western theology) to evaluate all other theological systems and discourses, and the underlying and hidden premise that that “standard theology” does not need any intellectual revision or improvement is insensitive to both cultural evolution and movements and human evolution and needs.

The goal of a or any theological system (i.e. Feminist theology, postcolonial theology, liberation theology, black liberation, minjung theology, Asian theology, Caribbean theology, African theology, indigeneous theology) or method is to provide a people, a group, or a communtiy with a blueprint, and this blueprint articulates a worldview and intellectual tradition, and embodies a system of moral values and certain ethical principles, correspondingly, to help both men and women navigate through life and to assist the community of faith to think critically, reflexively, and responsibly in light of the life-worlds and life-experiences that shape human attitude toward life and freedom, and individual actions and collective interactions toward commitment and decision.

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Today’s Pensée!

The highest form of praise to God Almighty is not preaching about God, nor writing about God, nor talking about God, nor singing about God, but the memory of Christ in you and the embodiment of God’s moral life and ethical attributes in your life.

Christ in you is the highest expression of worship to God.

“SBC, Resolutions, and the Future of Christianity in America”

“SBC, Resolutions, and the Future of Christianity in America”

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Christian denomination in the United States, and its influence in the world (i.e. the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, Africa) is outreaching, substantial, and historic. I pastor a small and new church (a church plant) that is affiliated with the SBC. Sometimes, I express mixed feelings about our affiliation; other times, I’m glad we cooperate with the SBC to be a truly an incarnational community that is committed to sharing the love and grace of Christ with a broken world and a fragmented people in our culture and in the world. I believe in the power of christian cooperation and fellowship, which is/could be an astounding witness (and the manifestation) of the Gospel in public and in both civil and political societies.

Further, the SBC has one of the most active rescue reliefs (i.e. to attend to natural disasters, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes) teams among other Christian denominations in the United States. SBC also boasts about its international mission agencies and projects in the world and its sustaining campaign in ending modern slave trafficking and rescuing orphans in our society. Yet I’m always puzzled about the SBC’s hunger for political power and cultural influence in society.

I’m appalled by SBC Christians’s support of public policies that hurt the poor and the immigrant, and the marginalized black and brown populations. I’m also puzzled by the denomination’s symbols and artifacts of racism, white supremacy, and anti-black racism. These unchristian issues and practices break my heart and awful witness to Christianity and the Gospel.

One of the reasons I write so much about racial justice and social justice issues in American Christianity and the SBC in particular is because I love the church (the people of God) and would like to see followers of Jesus in this nation and in the SBC become a peacemaking community as well as a faith community that practices ethnic diversity and racial inclusion, and reconciliation and racial unity.

Followers of Jesus in the SBC should be actively and energetically engage in the project of ending racism and white supremacy in the contemporary American society and in Christian circles and institutions as well as helping to reform the prison system and rehabilitate former convicts and felons back to society and to the church.

One of the chapters of my forthcoming book, “Evangelical Paradoxes,” is called “SBC 1845 and Resolutions on Race and Social Justice.” It chronicles the SBC’s paradoxes concerning these connected matters. The ambiguity lies in the rhetoric and the SBC praxis.

For this particular research, I read some 25 SBC Convention Resolutions on race, racism, and social justice issues, from its founding year in 1845 to the most recent SBC convention in 2019. In these historic Convention Resolutions, the language on race dominates the SBC’s 174 years of existence. Correspondingly, the rhetoric on social justice and racism is strong, clear, and eloquently defined.

In sum, I’m thankful to belong to a denomination that was founded on slavery (I’m not proud of that!) not on mission and evangelism as traditionally interpreted by some SBC theologians and leaders, but refuses to carry on its racist narrative in the twenty-first century SBC culture. There’s hope in Christ for the SBC community and family. May God give us more grace and a repentant heart toward justice and love, reconciliation and unity!

#SBC19
#SBC1845

“On Social Justice and Early Christianity”

“On Social Justice and Early Christianity”

The word “justice” ticks Evangelical Christians off to the core, as if the concept is a threat to the Gospel. Put the word “social” in front of it, that would help advocates of social justice (as an intrinsic element of biblical justice) earn a new label: liberal or Marxist.

The problem lies in an unhelpful view of (Evangelical) eschatology that looks forward to a new world and renewed culture; thus, Evangelicals are not concerned about systems and structures that create patterns & structures of injustice in society. Their home is not in this world.

Evangelical Theology is too theoretical to be incarnational in the manner that God of the universe became a mere flesh & (table-) fellowshipped with those whose collective lives were characterized by extreme poverty, dehumanization, humiliation, alienation, colonization, & exclusion.

Jesus, the God-Man, related to the real experiences & living conditions of those who suffered in First-century Roman Empire. Until Evangelicals come to grip with the practical meaning & existential consequences of the incarnation, they will always oppose the social justice model.

Evangelical Theology must reckon with the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God and explores what it means for those who live on the margins in society. This is the Great Commission of American Evangelicalism of the Great God-Man in the twenty-first century America.

It is terrifying that social justice a way of thinking about & applying the Gospel in life is now becoming the “great omission” of the gospel in contemporary American Evangelicalism. By contrast, social justice is a heritage of Christianity; this legacy began with the early Christians of the First century Rome who devoted themselves not only to the spreading of the Gospel of grace and salvation to non-followers of Jesus the Christ in their pluralistic (Greco-Roman and Hellenistic) and secular culture and beyond. They seamlessly integrated a Gospel-based grace in their social outreach programs and ministry of reconciliation, resulting in their radical collective action to care for the poor, provide spiritual equality to the enslaved, bury the dead with dignity, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and attend to the existential needs and living conditions of the widow and the elderly in society. The early Christians adopted abandoned orphans and unwanted children in the Roman society and advocated for the dignity and rights of women and the marginalized, comparatively.

Early Christianity was a social movement within its Greco-Roman context and world, one that radically transformed its culture toward human flourishing and provided a more promising path in Christ Jesus to the spiritual destiny of men and women. Yet there were contemporary social and philosophical movements that were campaigning for better living conditions for the poor and the marginalized; it was, however, the early Christians who were proactive in changing the face of their society by giving the poor and the vulnerable an existential hope and promise that was grounded on the generous and self-giving character of God. They were also persuaded that they were fulfilling the great commission of their Savior-Messiah Jesus Christ—through both social activism and announcing spiritual salvation. These early urban Christians did not theorize the Gospel; they were pragmatists.

Early Christians knew the Gospel graciously delivered to them entailed both the spiritual salvation and the social salvation of men and women in contemporary Greco-Roman society. It is safe to infer that Early Christianity was not just a spiritual movement, but also a social movement that championed social justice as a heritage of the Christian faith. The Gospel is God’s liberating message to all people and social justice as part of that Christocentric-good news is a Christian heritage for all people, regardless of their economic status, race, gender, sexuality, culture, geographic location, and linguistic preference.

What does this all mean for contemporary Evangelicals & Christians in this culture?

Let me make five recommendations:

A. to stand against systemic structures that racialize & dehumanize people who are created in God’s image;

B. to campaign against forces & powers that unjustly & illegally incarcerate black and brown people;

C. to be a voice on racial justice issues;

D. to become an ally to the poor, racialized minorities, the economically-disadvantaged class, & the marginalized in our society; and

E. to challenge public policies that disfranchise the group & races mentioned in part D.

“Why I support the #SBC19 Resolution 9”

“Why I support the #SBC19 Resolution 9”

In these series of threads, I offer ten reasons why I support the #SBC19

Resolution 9 on “Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.” As a matter of preface, allow me to make some preliminary remarks before I articulate my ten propositions in favor of Resolution 9. Resolution 9 does not exhibit a worldview and ideology, as many have wrongly interpreted it, but should be construed as a theoretical tool of analysis not a system of thought; as such, it provides a starting point to think conceptually and categorically about the interplay between Christianity and race, the message of the Gospel and the message of the American culture, and the liberating teachings of Christ for the disinherited, the poor, and the vulnerable in our society. Resolution 9 is a much needed instrumental framework to help foster within the SBC community more constructive Gospel-centered conversations on racial (in-) justice concerns and socioeconomic (in-) justice issues that have plagued this nation and the SBC (and to a larger degree American Christianity) for too long—since its birth in May 1845 in Augusta, GA and its eventual split from the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society over the issue of slavery.

Further, Resolution 9 could help the SBC to be a more constructive denomination as well as more mindful and sensitive as a multi-service Christian institution about the economic and health disparities between racial groups, toxic living conditions of the poor, environmental justice issues, the mass incarceration of Black males, the mass abortion in the Black community, the educational underperformance of Black students in public schools, intentional geographic segregation in residential zones, and designed systemic and social segregation that are terribly affecting the Christian experience in America, the American cultural and political fabric, and the intricate experience of both Black and Brown population, both Christians and non-Christians. Some of these problematic issues have deep roots in racial-based economic wealth and distribution, white privilege, white supremacy, racial prejudice and discrimination, the legacy of the segregation system, and the consequences of the racist narrative of this nation supported both by American Christianity and American Evangelicalism.

These problematic matters have produced disastrous impact on the life of contemporary SBC and Evangelical churches and they continue to change the nature of Christian fellowship and interracial relations in Evangelical circles. Finally, the #SBC19 Resolution 9 could help the SBC community to venture optimistically and Christianly toward the project of Christian reconciliation and the possibility of racial unity and reconciliation in its various circles, institutions, and churches.

At this point in our conversation, let us now explore the additional ten reasons that substantiate my underlying claim in supporting the #SBC19 Resolution 9 (I borrow the language and rhetorical expressions from Robert P. Jones’ influential and well-researched book, “The End of White Christian America” (Simon & Schuster, 2016)):

1. “No segment of White Christian American has been more complicit in the nation’s fraught racial history than white evangelical Protestants.

2. And no one group of white evangelical Protestants bears more responsibility than Southern Baptists, who comprise the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, particularly in the states of the former Confederacy.

3. As the largest Protestant denomination in the country, and the white Christian denomination most concentrated in the South, the SBC is an important bellwether for White Christian America’s progress on race relations.

4. The SBC was, after all, created in the years before the Civil War as a haven for pro-slavery Southern Christians. Baptist churches in the South seceded and formed the Southern Baptist Convention so that members would not have to choose between their slaves and their calling to be missionaries.

5. Following the Civil War, Southern Baptists stood by southern status quo of segregation…Typical white Baptists in the South viewed civil rights as at best irrelevant to the Christian faith and at worst a threat to their culture.

6. The Southern Baptist Convention—known for passing resolutions on even minor matters of concern—largely ignored the early civil rights movement. Their only official race relations resolution during the entire decade of the 1950s was a resolution issued in 1950 recommending the denomination officially invite “Negro churches” to participate in simultaneous (but separate) revival meetings.

7. [W.A.] Criswell’s speech to the South Carolina General Assembly was a potent example of the overtly segregationist faction within the Southern Baptist Convention during the civil rights era.

8. In his popular Separating people of different races through law was not portrayed as a moral evil—in fact, some argued that it was necessary to maintain peace in the South.

9. The individualist flavor of Baptist theology, with its tendency to reduce racial problems to individual sin rather than systematic social discrimination, remained, ensuring that most responses to the race problem by groups like the Southern Baptist Convention were fairly shallow.

10. Early resolutions [i.e.1995] had gone out of their way to minimize Baptists’ complicity in white racism and often simultaneously denounced civil disobedience or destruction of property as legitimate ways to enact social change… The sins of the fathers continue to haunt the SBC’s attempts to deal with race today as they attempt to move from apology to reconciliation” (pp. 147-195).

“On Evangelical Paradoxes”

“On Evangelical Paradoxes” (Part 2)

Two years ago, I signed a book contract with @wipfandstock to publish a text tentatively called “Evangelical Paradoxes: American Evangelicalism and the Destruction of American Christianity.” The book is a critique on “the evangelical worldview” and to engage some of the socio-political ills and cultural malaise in contemporary American Evangelicalism. (Yet these issues and “evangelical practices” have deep theological foundations and associations.) It is also a very personal book, as I attempt to chronicle my own struggles to understand how Evangelicals have responded and continue to react to some of the most urgent issues of our time and in our culture, such as political party’s affiliation and advocacy, immigration, police brutality, mass incarceration, abortion, white supremacy, race, gender and sexuality issues, social justice issues, etc.

I also attempt to write about my personal journey in Evangelical schools and circles such as @BCF, @SBTS, & @SWBTS and express my discontent about the theological curriculum and religious education in my own affiliated denomination, which are very inclusive, white, male, ideological, homogeneous, and monolithic. The book is also a critique on the problem of diversity, Christian fellowship, and interracial relations in Evangelical circles and Christian churches in America.

In addition, I explain my experience with race and of racism and “cultural prejudice” in the schools cited above, as well as the humiliation and isolation that I have endured in Evangelical places. “Evangelical Paradoxes” is intended for pastors, seminarians, and lay people. My ultimate goal for writing this book is threefold: (1) to disturb the evangelical conscience; (2) to foster candid conversations among Christians around these pivotal and problematic issues; and (3) to redirect the Evangelical conscience from its crave for political power and cultural influence to embrace a Christ-centered politics and ethics, and a Biblical-centered anthropological relationality that give primacy to hospitality, self-sacrifice, servant leadership, mutual reciprocity, justice, and compassion, as well as to attend to the existential needs (and be concerned about the living conditions) of the poor, the vulnerable, and the economically-disadvantaged populations in this country. As I am wrapping up this manuscript, I begin to think seriously about how this book will be received among friends whom I dearly love and the schools that I have trained me and informed me theologically, but not socially. (The latter I received from my secular education at the University.)

On the other hand, and in the course of time, I have written two manuscripts to engage the notion I call “Evangelical Paradoxes.” Two weeks ago, I submitted the second volume (about 400 pages) to the publisher even before I was through with the first volume (about 400 pages also). The second volume, “Theologizing in Black,” is intended for scholars and Christian thinkers, while the first one is directed toward the people in the pew and the thinking christian. The second volume attempts to provide some possible solutions to the Evangelical paradoxes. It seems to me that the second volume will be first published, as I intend to submit volume one to the publisher by the beginning of August this year. Yet the first volume is a very personal book. It reveals mon cri de coeur for shalom, renewal, transformation, and a kind of radically Gospel-centered rebirth in contemporary American Christianity.

The more I study American Christianity and American Evangelicalism, the more I am realizing that contemporary American Evangelicals have destroyed Biblical Christianity and have become perhaps the greatest enemy of the Gospel and perhaps the greatest opponents of social justice and racial issues in this culture.

May God give us enough grace and radically transform the Christian conscience in this nation to turn away from its obsession with cultural practices, religious habitus, and political idols that have taken captive the liberative message and teachings of Christ to become a dangerous community of faith that champions human flourishing, the common good, and a great people who embodies God’s grace compassion, humility, and love in public!

“On Christian Miracles and “Religious Myths”

“On Christian Miracles and “Religious Myths”

It is interesting to imagine that the things that are called “myths” and “legends” in various religious traditions and in the field of (secular) anthropology are called “miracles” in Christianity. Two examples of the latter are the incarnation of God in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and his bodily resurrection substantiated by eyewitness testimony—the two cardinal truths of Christianity concerning the (divine) identity and (soteriological) function of Jesus Christ. If one wants to truly embrace the Christian message, one has to believe in the supposedly “christian myths and legends.” Hence, one can infer that the essence of Christianity is embedded in its myths.

By contrast, Orthodox Christianity uses the language of myth and legend to label what might be considered supernatural phenomena and events in other religious traditions. In this way, Orthodox Christianity establishes its distinctive religious identity and truth-claims from other religious faiths and its bold claim of divine origin or authorship.