Written By Andrew Bossardet
I have been a CLC facilitator. Some of you reading this may still be recovering from the experience. My introductory e-mail to the Theology Course included the phrase, “This class will be challenging.”
It is challenging because theology is hard work.
On one hand, there is a lot of reading, conversations with mentors, fellow Christians, non-Christians, and examining one’s own ministry. On the other hand, the challenge comes from my particular reading list. Of course, there is standard Reformed thinking. There is also not-so-standard-Reformed thinking. Liberation theologians talking about the social dimensions of salvation, psychologists musing about what it means to be human, people from historically marginalized communities talking about creation, church and ethics, all were a part of the reading list.
I did this because all theology comes from a context. There is no “pure theology” which is read without lenses or interpretation. Over the course of history, a narrow band of thinking has been privileged as “theology” and the rest is given a descriptive designation. “Liberation theology,” “black theology,” “postcolonial theology” are a few examples. The result is that most folks don’t realize the water they are swimming in, believing that only the musings of 16th century European clergy provide an understand of who God is and how God is acting in the world. For example, the language of salvation often takes on a legal metaphor in Protestantism (despite a rich variety of metaphors in Scripture). Many folks just assume that guilt/punishment is just how God works, not realizing that many of the leaders of the Reformation were trained in law. Of course the legal metaphors would jump out to them!
To me, this is more than an academic distinction. While I am haunted by many passages in Scripture, few haunt me more than the book of 3 John. Only fifteen verses long, all of them fitting on a single page in my Bible, 3 John tells the tragic story of a church that has become an echo chamber. Diotrephes, a leader in the congregation, has taken to the task of theological policeman. People who question his understanding are not allowed to teach in the church, and people who show hospitality to people not-in-the-camp-of-Diotrephes are kicked out of the church altogether. They are slandered and maligned. “The elder,” as the author is called, promises to address the behavior of Diotrephes (which the elder calls “evil”) in a future visit. Another leader, Demetrius, is elevated as one who believes the truth and acts in love and generosity.
Research shows us that, while the world is becoming more interconnected, our networks are gradually becoming echo chambers.
People are increasingly surrounding themselves only with folks who agree with one’s own presuppositions. This will not do for the Church, which holds the Revelation vision of a multi-national, multi-lingual people.
Christian leaders need to be listeners, willing to be challenged, willing to ruthlessly interrogate their hidden assumptions (to use the words of Dr. Cornel West).
The successful Christian leaders will resist the echo chambers, pursue a greater vision of God and God’s glory, and will be humble enough to set aside a privileged position to listen to all God’s people. It has been an honor to curate and cultivate those conversations.