Friday, June 13, 2008

A Native American understanding of the Christian story

One of the other presenters on my panel at Envision was Randy Woodley. I worked with Randy on the IVP edition of his book Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity. He's currently finishing up a PhD at Asbury Seminary, and he's part of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, working to develop and mentor Native North American Christians. Randy talked about how American Christianity has been historically colonialist and imperialist, often obliterating Native cultures in the name of Christian mission. But Randy is part of a new movement working to recontextualize Christianity in thoroughly indigenous ways, to the benefit of both Native and non-Native communities.

For example, Randy notes that the typical Western evangelical understanding of the Christian faith usually goes something like this:
I believe in God because I am a Christian. I read my Bible and help build God's kingdom as a missionary, sharing the gospel of salvation with the heathen. I tell them to repent from their sins and to be born again because of God's great love for them.

Randy points out that each of those bold-faced words is loaded with all sorts of baggage and connotations that are a barrier for many (Native and not). But here's an indigenous, contextualized version of the Christian narrative:
I believe in the Great Mystery because I am a follower of Jesus. I read the scriptures and help build the community of the Creator as an ambassador, sharing the good news of healing to the unversed. I tell them they can turn around from failing and to follow Jesus because of Creator's great love for them.

Some folks might think that this version isn't the gospel. Well, it might not be the Christian story they're familiar with, but I'd much rather have people hear version #2 and follow Jesus as a result instead of rejecting Jesus because they only heard version #1! I'm glad that Randy and others are doing this kind of work. All of us work in particular contexts, and every context demands fresh thinking and approaches.

[BTW, I connected with Todd Hiestand while at Envision, and we chatted a bit about our upcoming suburban church seminar in Philadelphia in August. He also has some notes about Envision here.]


Earl Grey Tea said...

Christian theology needs more rationality; after reading those statements of absurdity, I felt pity that people even utter these words in modern world, these words to me sound like “Stone Age men discussing cannibalism”. It deserves no comments, but looking at the stupidity, let me share some modern thoughts.

I believe in myself because I am a fearless man, I try to spiritualize my thought and help build civilized “non Christian world” as a freeman, sharing my thoughts of liberation with foolish Christians, I tell them to free their minds from foolishness of biblical texts and to be open minded because the inner soul is the absolute truth and not the belief in god outside of them.

If you go through a nightmare, you get up and dismiss it as a bad dream; that’s the consciousness that man should aspire to live. That’s the goal of an atheist.
Misery, pain and poverty are relative truths but to interpret it as absolute truths is inherent qualities/attributes of human mind; mind works in subtle ways; if it can reason things by itself then it can also be made to believe in things by others, this fact needs to be taught and understood carefully. The state of physical/mental existence mentioned are relative truths, you feel poverty because somebody else is richer, you feel miserable because somebody else is happier, you feel pain because you know how it feels when your without pain; What if, the whole world was starving then the agony of hunger would have been a constancy of existence, therefore nobody would complain about it.

Instead of making people know “about the true consciousness that man needs to live” missionary work binds people to more relative truths and more misery.
The classic example, Christians foolishly ask after every natural or other kinds of disaster, why god is mad at them? This question is asked with a pretense that god can like and dislike; god can see evil and good; well the question then would be is Christian god defined by finite attributes? Don’t look outside but look inside, open your mind.

I always smile when I remember what pope said, “show me just what Jesus brought that was intelligent and divine, there you will find things only foolish and unwise, such as his stupidity to spread butter by the sword the free bread he gave”. LOL

Al Hsu said...

Earl Grey Tea - You're certainly free to comment here, but I'm just wondering why you don't blog about these things on your own blog? Why are you merely lurking in comment fields rather than blogging your own ideas publicly on your own blog?

I understand that you don't see things the way I do. That's fine. You're entitled to your opinion. But there's no need for you to characterize Christians in derogatory terms. While some Christians are relatively naive, I can assure you that countless Christians have given rigorous philosophical analysis to the coherence of the Christian worldview and found it convincing and persuasive. I'm not qualified to argue all the details - it's not really my cup of tea - but if you want to engage the rationality of Christian thought, read some Alvin Plantinga or Richard Swinburne or Nicholas Wolterstorff.

If you can't agree to live and let live, then I reserve the right to start moderating comments. Not because I'm afraid of open-minded discussion. Not at all. But you try the host's patience if you insult them and their community while visiting their home. I'll do my best to be a hospitable host, but you'll need to be a respectful guest. So I'm going to ask you to play nice. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Maybe you want a vigorous debate about rationality and religion. That's fine, but I'm afraid I'm not the best person to give that to you. I've got other things I need to do with my time, and I hardly have time to do what little blogging I do. I suggest that you seek out other Christian bloggers who really get into this kind of debate and mix it up with them. If you search for "Christian apologetics" I'm sure you'll find any number of folks who would be happy to take you on as a sparring partner.

At any rate, if you want to be a frequent guest here, why don't you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live? What do you do? You obviously invest a lot of time composing responses to my blog posts, so I'm curious what else you do with your time. How did you stumble across my blog in the first place? Let me (and anyone else who reads this blog) know a little more about you - that way we can really have a conversation.

Earl Grey Tea said...

As I see, truth has no dualities- god or bad; pleasant or hostile. If, I calling names to Christians seem to offend them, then words like “Jesus is the only savior” and “spread the word of Bible” offends us – the atheist. If people think that Atheist’s, name calling of Christians a prejudiced view & needs change of mind set, then, they trying “to convince us the existence of god” or even mere utterance of such subjective truth, to us constitutes for a prejudiced view and deserves change in mind set. Think how our views are analogous to racist prejudice, “black ideas are inferior to white”; are this thought/utterance not a prejudice? Yes, it is, and we have finally realized this racist prejudice; and it is time to realize the Atheist perspective as good and both groups need to dissolve within the truth; we all are equal -Atheist, Believers, Agnostics; if one wishes no confrontation then he/she should undertake quiet inquiry rather than being a activist- both positions are just, its matter of choice.

To acknowledge each others styles seldom make one of us imbecile but rather contrasting styles instill balance in arguments. Let me contrast our differences, a believer can be a monotheist or polytheist (Christians and Pagans equal) in the quest for the truth which is abstract, start of with a assumption that “God exists and is real” and proceeds forward to understand/realize the abstruse absolute truth, however, Atheist, starts his quest with a basic assumption that “God does not exist and is unreal” and moves forward in his quest to understand/realize the abstruse absolute truth. Note, if instead, believers make an assumption that “God is the absolute truth” then he finishes his journey before it starts, because what needs to be the final realization (end result in the quest) has been made out as an assumption; then what ensues latter from these people is pure fanatics. The absolute truth by definition has infinite attributes and one cannot put a limitation by name, form, smell or color. .

Thus, I being offensive to Christian people is tantamount to they saying “Jesus is the only savior” and “god is real”. We feel their subjective opinion of saying “God is real” as domineering and an insinuation that our thoughts are no good.
Let the quest continue…..

Al Hsu said...

EGT - Thanks for your thoughts. I can see how Christians making statements about God as absolute truth could come across as offensive to atheists. It's certainly not my intent to be domineering or to insinuate that your thoughts are no good. On the contrary, I appreciate your spirit of inquiry, commitment to reason and openness to search out the truth. We may have different starting points, yes, but I suspect that if we were able to get together for a cup of coffee somewhere, we'd find that we'd find a good amount of common ground to talk about.

And I agree that many Christians begin with their conclusions that God is real and argue in circular reasoning. I would agree that that's not helpful.

What I'd invite you to consider, however, are those folks who began as skeptics and had no assumptions about the existence of God, but truly inquired into the plausibility of God and found sufficient evidence that was persuasive to them, whether writers like C. S. Lewis or the journalist Lee Strobel or any number of others.

Just so you know a little bit about where I'm coming from. My father was an atheist, or at least a skeptical agnostic who saw no evidence or reason to believe in God. (He was a PhD in electrical engineering, very rational and preferred to only believe in that which could be empirically studied.) My mother was a Christian believer. And while growing up, I wasn't indoctrinated in either direction - I actually had the choice to explore both my parents' perspectives and beliefs and to decide for myself which way (if any) I wanted to follow.

Along the way, it seemed to me that my father's worldview couldn't account for any number of things that were not empirically knowable or testable - intangibles such as love, beauty, justice, compassion, etc. But a theistic worldview accounted for both the natural and the supernatural, the material and the immaterial. In that way, it seemed to me that Christian theism was more comprehensive. It was not a denial of reality or the laws of physics, but also included a larger dimension that was beyond what science could detect or interpret. My father's worldview explained the "what" and "how" of the universe, but the Christian worldview went beyond them to include ultimate issues of "why".

And this was not just a philosophically abstract exercise in my own mind. I needed to know that Christianity was anchored in reality, in history. And I learned that contrary to popular misconceptions, there is all sorts of historical evidence for the claims of Christianity, especially the person of Jesus and his death and resurrection.

I know that many folks rule this out of hand as myth or irrational. If you have a rationalist, materialist worldview, I understand that this might seem as implausible as aliens. But we have good historical evidence that Jesus was unique, that his tomb was empty, that the authorities could not produce the body, and that his followers were not deceived or hallucinating when they claimed that he had indeed risen from the dead. I wasn't convinced of just theism in general - I am convinced of Christianity in particular, and it all hangs or falls on the identity and person of Jesus of Nazareth. If you're interested in some of the rationale for the plausibility of the Christian story, read books like Basic Christianity by John Stott, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, or Simply Christian by N. T. Wright.

I agree with you that there are too many religious fanatics out there who have not thought critically about what they believe. That's not what I'm about. I'm about an informed, intellectually coherent faith commitment that is rational but also transcends mere rationality. I think all of us, believer and skeptic alike, would benefit from reading one another's books and perspectives with an open mind. So read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, but also read The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath as a counterpoint.

Anyway, that's a little bit more about who I am and where I'm coming from. How about you? What's your story?