The Predicament of White Evangelical Scholarship and Evangelical Theological Education: Radical Reconciliation for a New Christian Community

The Predicament of White Evangelical Scholarship and Evangelical Theological Education:  Radical Reconciliation for a New Christian Community

In this short essay, we articulate a two-fold objectives about white evangelical scholarship and theological education in America. First, we suggest that the project of Christian reconciliation and unity, from the perspective of ethnic and racial difference, in the various Christian circles in America must begin in the theological seminaries and divinities where prospect Christian ministers are trained for the Christian ministry and vocation. The second objective of this piece is to argue that reconciliation and harmony can be successful achieved in various Christian communities and Evangelical circles when we radically restructure the theological curriculum of Christian seminaries and divinities schools by intentionally integrating non-White professors and administrators in the culture of these institutions, and correspondingly, by placing these individuals in position of power and influence to make critical decisions to enrich student enhancement and success toward the intellectual and spiritual progress of these schools. Consequently, the theological education of prospect Christian ministers and leaders should be broadly-diverse, encompassing the transcultural, transracial, and global experiences of Christians and the multiple narratives of Christianity beyond the White-American and European theological paradigm and hermeneutical framework and reasoning. As a result, we introduce two concepts: “radical Christian reconciliation,” and “revolutionary Christian unity.”

By “radical Christian reconciliation,” and “revolutionary Christian unity,” in the context of theological education and Evangelical Scholarship in North America and in the Western world, we are protesting against the monolithic narrative that gears theological engagement and stirs theological learning in this Region and beyond; both phrases propose an intellectual shift and a new direction toward a more inclusive Evangelical scholarship ad theological education to counter white evangelical resistance to the biblical and theological voice of non-White Christian thinkers. The desire not to actively engage non-White Christian biblical scholars and theologians has, in fact, led to the ensuing decline of Evangelical Scholarship and weakened its intellectual impact on culture and society. Comparatively, the erasure of non-white Evangelical scholarship in contemporary Evangelical thinking has contributed to the depreciation or devaluation of Evangelicalism as a worldview and system. The silence of minority voices in contemporary Evangelical scholarship has also resulted in the devaluation, untrustworthiness, and misapprehension of Christian Evangelicalism in modern theological history of ideas. The problem lies in the legitimacy and authenticity of the Evangelical intellectualism.

White Evangelical scholarship has fostered a deliberate disengagement with non-white Evangelical scholarship. This purposeful alienation and intellectual distancing, which is more perceptive in the disciplines of theology, Christian ethics, and biblical studies, between white Christian thinkers and non-white Christian scholars, have often delayed the work of reconciliation and harmony in Christian communities  and Evangelical guild (s) in America and beyond. The idea that Evangelical scholarship produced by white thinkers is rigorous and more faithful to the Biblical data as compared to the Evangelical scholarship produced by non-white thinkers is not only intellectual arrogance, it is sinful. No Christian thinker or evangelical scholarly community is the guardian of Evangelical or Christian scholarship. Christian hermeneutics is like a spiral that encapsulates various voices and ideas.  From an ethnic and racial perspective, in order for genuine Christian reconciliation and unity to become a practical reality in Christian intellectual communities and institutional places, we must begin with the terrain or sphere in which our pastors, ministers, counselors, Christian leaders, missionaries, etc. receive training and education for the ministry and a career in Christian vocation.

How to move forward toward Radical Christian reconciliation and unity

In this juncture of the essay, allow me to offer a few helpful suggestions in the subsequent paragraphs below. The first four suggestions are directed to white presidents and administrators of divinity schools and Christian seminaries; the last four recommendations are addressed to white Christian professors teaching in seminaries and divinity schools. These suggestions will be followed by two important appendices: Appendix A, Number of Full-Time Faculty by Race/Ethnicity, Rank, and Gender – United States, 2013, and Appendix B: 10 Largest U.S. Seminaries, 2015-2016.

 

A) For White Christian seminary and divinity schools presidents and administrators

  1. Foremost, achieving ethnic and racial diversity in Christian theological education is not or should not be a program of theological schools; it is a necessity for the triumphal work of the Gospel and the imperative of reconciliation in Christian higher learning.
  1. Secondly, while it is important that racial and ethnic diversity is representative in the student population of your seminary or divinity school, it is critically crucial that racial and ethnic diversity is also evident among the individuals of your staff and administration, especially among those who hold the power and influence to shape the future of your school and make critical decisions for the student and faculty body. In other words, it is of paramount importance to delegate power and responsibility to non-white administrators and committee members toward the growth and success of your seminary. The integration of ethnic diversity in your faculty and staff population should be an intentional doing.
  1. Thirdly, if you are white and the president of a seminary or divinity school, you should be intentional about multicultural theological education by incorporating a well-represented diverse and multi-ethnic theological curriculum. In other words, a theological curriculum that tells a single narrative, that is the singular experience and monolithic account of White American and European Christians and Western Christianity—while neglecting or silencing the multiple narratives of non-Anglo Saxon Christians, and the stories of God working actively among the peoples and cultures in the world–is a great disservice to the Great Commission and international mission. It is also a tragic hindrance to missional evangelism and Christianity’s engagement with cultural and religious pluralism, and transnational and trans-cultural world.
  1. Fourthly, hiring non-white faculty members who are going to be faithful to the mission of your seminary or divinity school is not a program; it is necessary if you want to achieve both faculty and student diversity and contribute to the important task of reconciliation in Christian higher learning.  The “color,” “race,” and “gender” of your faculty body is indicative of your theological vision, the extent of the school’s mission, and ultimately, your politics of inclusion and exclusion.

 

B) For White Christian seminary and divinity schools professors

  1. First of all, if you are a white Christian professor teaching at a seminary or divinity school, operating within the paradigm of evangelical scholarship, be intentional in your selection of “required texts” for your course, as you should strongly consider assigning  non-white Christian authors or texts written by non-Anglo Christian thinkers. By doing so, you are encouraging your students to be open to the non-white reading and interpretation of Scriptures; their theological experience and training will be enriched immeasurably. This is also an important endeavor for your students to study broadly and thinking outside the “white box,” and “the white narrative” of Christianity, and most importantly, your students will have a better grasp of the human condition and appreciation for their theological education.
  1. Even though you may not share the experience or culture of the non-white Christian writer you’re teaching and your students are learning about, you are well acquainted with various theological methods and theological pedagogy to effectively facilitate the conversation in your classroom. As you’re enriching your students spiritually, culturally, intellectually, and theologically, you are also growing together with your students by benefiting from this shared experience.
  1. Secondly, if you are a white biblical scholar or theological professor, it is important to challenge your students to think broadly beyond the historical, textual, and cultural hermeneutical approach–the standard approach of Evangelical hermeneutics– what if you were to lead your students to think critically about a certain text or particular theological system or theological idea from a non-Western perspective providing a non-white reading of the Biblical data. What if you were to ask your students to suppose how an evangelical community in Africa, Asia, or Caribbean would interpret a particular theological idea or biblical passage? Your role as a facilitator is to encourage intellectual curiosity grounded on alternative reading of the Biblical account.

Critical non-conventional theological and biblical interpretation, by any means, will encourage theological apostasy nor engender intellectual doubt about the reliability and credibility of the biblical account. Building strong theological muscles and a critical mind that honors God in the thinking process and the production of Christ-exalting ideas is a mark of good Christian scholarship and sound theological instruction.

  1. Thirdly, as a seminary or divinity professor who has the freedom to craft new courses and tailor the new course to achieve certain objectives and particular goals toward student enhancement and success, you should also venture in offering unfamiliar and challenging courses, such as theology and race, theology and anthropology, theology, gender, and sexuality, Church History from the Non-Western Context, Non-Western Biblical and Theological Hermeneutics, Christology from non-Western Perspective, etc.

Finally, White evangelical biblical scholars and theologians and seminary and divinity schools presidents and administrators ought to know that the sovereign and almighty God of the universe has also called people everywhere to Christian scholarship, and raised non-white Christian biblical scholars and theologians to serve the church faithfully through sound theological writing and Christ-exalting scholarship. When White Evangelical scholars and theological schools’ administrators commit themselves to actively engage the works of non-white Christian thinkers, and pay close attention to the alternative perspectives they bring to the table, which might often challenge the accepted hermeneutics or even counter the so-called “standard interpretation,” the first phase of racial and ethnic reconciliation and unity will begin.  Don’t be quit to dismiss non-white Evangelical scholars or their works. Cite them respectfully and responsibly even if you disagree with their thesis or the theological premise.

The conundrum of contemporary theological education in America lies in the fact that most contemporary evangelical theological seminaries and divinity schools are not preparing their students adequately to effectively and constructively engage the culture, and radically transform their society with the training they received. Another shortcoming or pitfall of contemporary evangelical theological education pertains to the reality that these same institutions are not preparing their future pastors, ministers, or church leaders to minister to various multi-ethnic and multi-racial groups and circles. Interestingly, the twenty-first century carries  a lot of promises  for Evangelical scholarship and theological education to thrive and expand their horizons for the greater good of Christianity to the glorious praise of the Triune and eternal God. The need for generous inclusion of many different people at the Evangelical table is as urgent today as it were one hundred years ago.

 

Appendix A

 Number of Full-Time Faculty by Race/Ethnicity, Rank, and Gender – United States

Year 2013

Race and Ethnicity   Rank Male/Female
Asian or Pacific

Islander

Professor

 

Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

53/6

62/23

49/19

 

212

Black Non-

Hispanic

 

Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

73/24

42/24

43/30

 

236

Hispanic Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

42/ 10

26/7

27/9

 

121

Visa or

Nonresident

Alien

 

Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

6/2

10/1

4/5

 

28

White Non-

Hispanic

 

Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

 

Total

1,014/228

500/185

326/121

 

 

2,374

Multiracial Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

4/0

3/0

4/1

 

12

American

Indian, Alaskan

Native or Inuit

 

Professor

Associate Professor

Assistant Professor

 

Total

2/0

2/0

0/0

 

4

 

 

Source: 2013 – 2014 Annual Data Tables – The Association of Theological Schools (ATS)

http://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/institutional-data/annual-data-tables/2013-2014-annual-data-tables.pdf, p. 74.

 

Appendix B

10 Largest U.S. Seminaries, 2015-2016

 seminary table

Source: The Institute on Religion & Democracy, https://juicyecumenism.com/2016/08/01/americas-largest-seminaries/

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) http://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/institutional-data/annual-data-tables/2015-2016-annual-data-tables.pdf

 

 

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