“Black Theological Education and Liberalism, and The Shortcomings of Conservative and Evangelical Seminaries and Divinity Schools (Part I)”

“Black Theological Education and Liberalism, and The Shortcomings of Conservative and Evangelical Seminaries and Divinity Schools” (Part I)

The majority of black theologians and biblical scholars, and clergy in the United States are trained in the nation’s most liberal seminaries and Divinity schools, resulting in serious weaknesses in theological thinking, biblical exegesis, and ministerial practices in black congregations.

While those institutions may provide considerable advantageous resources, better networking, and human support and connection, contributing to a solid intellectual (theological) education of the future black scholar and minister towards the common good, some of these theological and ministerial centers have fostered in modern black theological education a distinctive expression of black theological liberalism and a crisis in black theological thought that bluntly reject biblical authority and the exclusive salvific message of the Gospel through Christ’s satisfactory atonement through his shed blood, and interrogate the relevance of the historic confessions of the Christian faith in black life and black ethical practices in the contemporary moments.

Nonetheless, as any theological worldview, there are many merits of or good things we can learn from Black theological liberalism. First, Black theological liberalism in the contemporary intellectual enterprise accentuates the imperative of black freedom and black agency in a society that constantly doubts the value of black existence and challenges the merit of black dignity and humanity. Second, this theological category or system seeks to promote the hoslitic welfare of black people and sustain the notion that the black life in the modern American society is worth safeguarding and that black people as a collective (human) race deserves the protection and care, not the constant surveillance and monitoring of the black body or existence, of the American government. Third, black theologians operating within the tradition of black theological liberalism embrace the promises of the Social Gospel Movement to envision an alternative life for black folk in America in which equal opportunity and access to better employment and housing opportunity, better education, healthcare, job promotion, and economic mobility are also granted to them. Fourth, Black theological liberalism draws from a wealth of sources and traditions for theological reflection and imagination, and the Bible is not its sole authority in matters of faith and practice. Finally, this theological tradition in black highlights black voices and agency, as well as those of non-European theological traditions and canons in the theological exegesis of the Biblical text and theological eisegesis of the contemporary American culture toward black and human flourishing.

Moreover, the five-fold tenets of Black theological liberalism, which I proposed above, are both the direct and by-products of non-conservative and liberal seminaries and institutions, which train most of black theologians and clergy in the United States. In the same line of reasoning, there are at least five major reasons accounting for the (Black) preference to be educated and formed in non-Evangelical and conservative schools:

1. Lack of racial diversity and inclusion, and faculty and leadership representation in the faculty-staff body of these schools.

2. A closed theological curriculum or program that does not represent the rich diversity and plurality of Christian scholarship and thought, considering the manifold contributions of a wide-range of Christian thinkers (i.e. Black, Hispanic, Asian, non-White European descent) to the Christian ministry and the discipline of theology and religious studies–even within the Orthodox theological (Evangelical) tradition.

3. The human dynamic and atmosphere in those schools are not often welcoming and friendly to the so-called minority students and students of color; some black students believe their presence is not wanted in these closed circles.

4. Black students and students of color are interested in non-Evangelical and non-conservative schools because of the promise of future and better employment opportunity (especially to those who are preparing for a career in the academia as professors and school administrators), greater financial funding and support, the educational and intellectual prestige associated with those schools such as Harvard Divinity schools, Union Theological Seminary, Boston School of Theology, Candler School of Theology, University of Chicago Divinity School, etc., and the close affiliation of (named) seminaries and divinity schools, for example, with renowned (named) universities and world-class faculty.

5. Unlike most Evangelical and Conservative seminaries and Divinity schools, most non-conservative and liberal schools intentionally pursue greater gender and racial inclusion in their faculty-staff make-up, promote and incorporate greater ethnic diversity and plurality of thought, worldview, and praxis in theological education and ministerial formation, and they train their students in the highest rigor of the social sciences and the humanities, critical theory, and multicultural education; also, these schools strategically and ideologically prepare their students to become cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and intersectional Christian activists, human rights advocates, public intellectuals, social critics, scholars, and ministers and pastors.

As a black Christian minister and (Evangelical) theologian who embraces the historic confessions of the Christian faith, I value many of the merits and benefits of Black theological liberalism, as they address serious issues of equality, fairness, justice, representation, and equity in our culture and theological schools. These are also Gospel issues. On the other hand, there lies a profound dilemma in black theological education, black theological thinking, and ministerial practice, which are arguably a direct failure of Evangelical and conservative seminaries and institutions.

I hope the leadership of those (conservative) schools would be intentional about the theological training and ministerial formation of black seminarians and students of color, which could eventually contribute to more effective and biblically-centered black christian leadership and ministers, as well as strong and healthy black and ethnic churches in this country.

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“A Morning Prayer to God for Consolation”

“A Morning Prayer to God for Consolation”

Lord, I’m tired. We are tired.

How long will we know the way of peace?

How long will we experience unity and grace?

How long will our suffering, tears, alienation, and pain be ceased?

How long will we be treated with love, dignity, and as your Image Bearer?

How long shall we wait for You, Oh Lord?

How long?
How long?
How long?

I am tired. We are tired. Do not be silent about our tears and complaints!

How long, Oh God the Sovereign Lord of the universe and all people?

****
I am an intercessor. I pray for peace and unity in our country and the world. I pray for justice, and I pray for racial healing and reconciliation in our nation. I pray for God’s reign to go unrestrained in our hearts and in the world. I pray for the Spirit of God to move in our community, in the city, and every home without any human interference. I pray to God to restore our hearts and make us new again. Most importantly, I pray for the light of Christ to penetrate every heart and transform every soul. Our prayers to God are always shaped by our social realities and circumstances; God hears the prayers of the saints and respond quickly to the prayers of the vulnerable, and especially those who trust in Him, those have been/are being mistreated, dehumanized, as well as those who have no hope in the justice system of this society and the world.

The Gospel for the Whole Life!

These two actions contradict the essence of the Gospel:

1. You’re trying to save the soul of the poor & the vulnerable by illuminating their life with the light and power of the Gospel of Christ.

2. Concurrently, you’re making moral choices, supporting public policies, & substantiating political laws and choices that are detrimental to the very well-being and existence of this very group of individuals and families.

The Christian Gospel is for the whole life, the whole person, and the whole world. It must transform how you live, how you think, how you choose, and how you relate to people and everything around you.

Since the Gospel is a story about God’s redeeming love and amazing grace in Christ for everyone and the cosmos, it must bring balance and coherence to life. Those who practice it must show grace and live a life of love.

Grace, not Resentment!

If we’re serious about improving race relations and racial unity in this society and churches, we have to be open to the possibility of forgiveness and of redemption; resentment will often delay forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is crucial we allow space for the guilty party to mourn and repent of the wrongdoing. Retaliation of any form is never the most effective way to deal with this issue. It is the antithesis of grace. We have to practice & sustain unity and peace in the manner of Jesus, and never should we follow another way, as defined by the culture.

On Diversity and Inclusive Spiritual Leadership in American Christian Churches

“On Diversity and Inclusive Spiritual Leadership in American Christian Churches”

Recent studies have consistently demonstrated that most multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial congregations in America are not led by a senior Pastor who is a minority (i.e. brown, hispanic, black, Asian).

Nonetheless, the few congregations in America that are multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial are not only run by an Anglo or White Senior Pastor, their leadership staff is predominantly white and racially exclusive. I would like my Christian friends and ministers to consider the following questions:

1. Why do these churches function that way?

2. Why do these churches follow such a focused leadership structure that contradicts or is insensitive to the biblical vision of diversity and inclusion in Christian churches and church leadership?

3. Is there a problem of fear (in these congregations) of being led spiritually by a non-white Senior Pastor?

4. Is the spiritual leadership of/from a hispanic, brown, black, or Asian pastor less trusted in these noted congregations?

If American (Evangelical) christians believe in (spiritual) equality in Christ, why is this Christian conviction less evident and remarkable in pastoral leadership and ministerial functions in our contemporary churches?

Consider Paul’s daring assertion in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

What are your thoughts?

“Still Teaching and Exalting Christ through Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians…”

“Still Teaching and Exalting Christ through Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians…”

At Jesus Center Community Church, I’ve been teaching and preaching through the book of Ephesians since the month of January (2018). When I began this book series at the beginning of the new year, I thought it was going to take me about three months to complete it.

Four months later, we’re still in chapter 5. I plan to preach one sermon on Chapter 5: 1-21, and do three teaching lessons on vv. 22-33. There is indeed a lot to teach about on marriage roles in antiquity, stereotypes about male and female in antiquity, hierarchy, gender and submission issues, etc., as discussed in Ephesians 5:22-33. How did Paul respond to these complex issues? Hence, I will spend the next four Sundays in May in the fifth chapter of Ephesians.

In addition to the Bible, the sample texts below (see pics) continue to assist me in making sense of what Paul is doing in this beautiful book of Ephesians. If God willing, after I’m done with the series of preaching and teaching through Ephesians (hopefully, on the last Sunday of June: 6. 24.2018) I would love to write a small and practical book on Christian living and relations for the church and the people of God.

As the Holy Spirit continues to guide me and the people of God at Jesus Center through the ministry of preaching and teaching, in the first Sunday of July, we would like to begin a new series on the Sermon of the Mount, covering Matthew chapters 5-7.

Oh, how much I love the church and the people of God. I’m grateful to God for the ministry of preaching at Jesus Center Community Church.
What a privilege and honor to be entrusted with the souls of men and women, and little boys and girls!

Please continue to pray for my pastoral ministry at Jesus Center Community Church and the people of God at Jesus Center to truly live and embody the message of the Gospel in the city of Fort Pierce and its surrounding, and in all we do as God’s transformative agents to show mercy, kindness, hospitality, compassion, love, and care for the people in our city, the poor and the vulnerable.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Joseph

“A Few Propositions on (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology”

“A Few Propositions on (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology”

This post addresses some of my Reformed & Evangelical friends who conflate (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology. (At the recent death of the Father of Black Liberation Theologian, James H. Cone, many evangelical Christians and reformed theologians correspondingly began to express their discontent towards Black Liberation Theology as if it is the worst theological system in the world.) While the former emphasizes the black experience in theological inquiry and thought, the latter rejects some of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. (Black) Liberation Theology and Liberal Theology are two different theological systems that do not share the same methodology. They have different sources of origin, address different (theological) issues or (practical) concerns, and speak to different audiences or people. Black Liberation theology seeks to interpret the plight of Black people and the most vulnerable in our society from a theological perspective; in other words, the black liberation theologian examines the Christian Scripture carefully to discover what God has to say about the black experience (i.e. black death, black suffering, and black (cultural) alienation and (cultural) invisibility) and black life. Three fundamental questions black liberation theology attempts to answer theologically and biblically include the following:

1. What does it mean to be black (Black existence) and oppressed (Black oppression)?

2. Is God on the side of the oppressed, that is, is God in solidarity (or with) “black people” in their suffering and oppression?

3. Will the oppressed find justice or will God vindicate the oppressed and judge the oppressor?

Any theological system, whether reformed theology, black liberation theology, liberation theology, or liberal theology is always done from a particular experience and context: the cultural experience and context, and the value of the theologian and those of the people about whom the theologian writes/theologizes. (While all people’s experience or culture is equally valid before God, God does prioritize the suffering and painful experience of the poor and the lowly who calls upon him daily for deliverance.)

All theological systems and methods have both strength and weaknesses. There’s always room for improvement and more creativity. No theological system is from heaven or inspired by God. They are all human inventions or constructs. That does mean all theological systems are equally valid or purely biblical and theologically sound; some are more faithful to the biblical text and divine revelation; others are not. Some theological systems prioritize the life of the mind and undermine practical aspect of theology; other systems try to balance theology and praxis, and the life of the mind and the practical life of faith. While we must always pursue theological truths that are rooted in God’s revelation to humanity, we should not undermine the milieu and human environment in which God communicated his will, plan, and message to humanity. God’s revelation came in a contextualized form; all theologies and theological systems are contextualized forms and expressions. God always speaks in the context of the human experience and the culture of of the people who are the recipients of his gracious revelation. God is not (has not been) absent in any culture in the world. He has indeed spoken and revealed himself to all peoples and to all cultures.

Hence, Black Liberation theology is not an enemy of biblical Christianity, but an antagonist of certain theologians and theological systems that use the biblical data and the discipline of theology to dehumanize individuals and oppress people created in the Image of God and for whom Christ died. We should never interpret (Black) liberation theology as a theological category that is anti-reformed theology or anti-Christian.

Any theological system that bluntly rejects the revealed truths, what many Christian theologians have phrased the “orthodox doctrines and beliefs,” about the biblical triune God, humanity, sin, and God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ for the world is a rigged system. Any theological system that emphasizes academic theology while undermining practical theology and God’s passion for justice and his command to care for the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, and show compassion and hospitality toward strangers and the needy is inadequate and insufficient. The theological system that is silent on human suffering, pain, and oppression, as well as world hunger, exploitation of workers, and sex slave trafficking in the world is also a rigged system. These are “Gospel issues,” not merely “social issues”; they are equally human concerns that touch the deepest part of the divine heart and mind.

The Biblical God is a relational Being who is totally committed to the welfare and safety of his people and his creation. God is not the God of the philosophers and academics only, but also of those who cherish Him in their (theological) thinking, understanding, writing, and kind attitude towards the weak and the vulnerable. Any human phenomenon or activity that causes suffering and pain is a Gospel issue. Sin of any form or expression (i.e. cultural sins, political sins, racial sins, sins of the heart, theological sins) is worth examining through the lens of the Gospel.

Furthermore, theological thinking is a performance that is rooted in the theologian’s values, attitude, imagination, and worldview. No one does Christian Theology without assuming a worldview. Christian theology is not a set of abstractual propositions and principles the theologian articulates, promotes, and defends. Biblical theology never divorces theology and ethics, and the human experience and response to God and the cosmic phenomena; these are intermingled in the biblical notion of good religion and sound theological truth.

Being a Christian is not equivalent to be a reformed theologian or an evangelical thinker. One can be a Theologian who is black and embraces some of the tenets of (Black) Liberation Theology. Blackness does not mean divine condemnation nor does God expect the black theologian to renounce his or her race, gender, ethnicity, and experience when that individual theologizes about Who God is, his interplays with the world, and what He has done in Jesus Christ for our redemption and deliverance. Biblical and orthodox theological thinking always presupposes that the human experience is intertwined with our theological imagination and conclusion about the triune God, humanity, sin, and divine salvation. Consequently, one can be both a Black reformed theologian and black liberation theologian.