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How the East Sees the West

The presence of multiple perspectives within the Christian faith is not a new invention of the 20th century. The split between the Western (Roman Catholic, then Protestant) church and the Eastern Orthodox church is well traveled by Christian historians, yet an understanding of the churches which grew from this cultural differentiation is not as common. In the infograph below, several theologians who are considered to be pillars of Western Christian thought are examined through an Eastern Orthodox perspective. (One of these three pillars is so esteemed, he even garnered an entry in our recent World Cup of Theologians – Augustine of Hippo!)UnsungInTheEast1-514x1024This infographic originally appeared at www.russianchristianclassics.org, a blog exploring Russian church history, the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity, and introducing Russian Christian leaders to an English-speaking audience.

For more information about a leader in the Orthodox church, see our post on an interview with Thelophilus III, the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

Misusing Christianity to Change Cultures

In his article, 10 Ways Christians Misuse Christianity, by Stephen Mattson (Author’s Blog@mikta) describes areas that have been inappropriately conflated with a “Christian” identity. To value and celebrate (not simply reluctantly accept) cultural identity is an area that is difficult to succinctly communicate to people who do not already have a frame of reference for diversity appreciation. Readers of this blog are probably already on board with this concept, but it is refreshing to see it expressed in the larger, Christian media and targeted to a rising generation of church leaders and engaged Christians. (Relevant is an online platform that engages 20-30somethings around issues of “faith, culture, and intentional living”.)

10. To Change Cultures

Christianity isn’t meant to erase or change a cultural identity. Christianity is amazingly complex and diverse, and it was never intended to be a uniform religion of ethnocentric beliefs.

Many mistakenly perceive that a “correct” Christianity will exactly mirror all their own traditions, beliefs and lifestyles. Thus, instead of introducing people to Jesus, they attempt to change and conform people to their own cultural preferences. When people inevitably don’t conform, they’re often unfairly accused of being sinners—condemned to hell.

Questions to go deeper:
Historically, we see examples of a cultural imprint tied to Christianity actively erasing culture (colonialism, conversion to European cultural expression), but how does contemporary Christianity change cultures today?
What does it look like to celebrate cultural diversity within a local church?

A New Voice in Our Household

ImageOur first child, Josiah Shepherd, was born in August so my spare time, attention, and energy have been fittingly diverted from this site for the past few months. I have not given up the effort, however, as I am now getting back into the rhythm of research and writing about the intersections of faith and culture. I hope that this project can be used in ways to bring an appreciation and application of diversity to the foreground so that the faith that surrounds my son welcomes his unique voice in a multi-cultural world.

If you are interested in joining me on this project or have any notes or suggestions for the site, please contact me!

-Michael Shepherd, MA, MSM

Editor, GlobalTheology.org

Macrina: The Woman Responsible for the Trinity?

macrinaMacrina was born in 327 to a wealthy family living in Turkey. She was named after her grandmother, who had studied theology and been persecuted in the third-century. Macrina was the oldest of 10 siblings and responsible for educating her younger brothers and sisters. She was arranged to be married but he died before the wedding, at which point Macrina dedicated herself to assisting her mother before entering the monastic life.

Convincing her mother to relinquish her estate among her siblings after the death of her husband, the two women began a convent consisting of freed slaves. Their religious devotion would leave a greater impact than they could have imagined. (more…)

World Day for Cultural Diversity

doonethingMay 21 is the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, an international holiday originated by the United Nations and UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001/2.

At GlobalTheology.org, we recognize the value in cultural diversity in the different perspectives that develop within Biblical interpretation and theology, believing that the presence of these voices gives us greater insight into ourselves, our communities, and our world.

Celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity with us! (Click to Tweet)

We have a list of 10 Things to Do for World Day for Cultural Diversity. As you celebrate, share with the tag #DoOneThing

1. Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures. (more…)

The Impact of Pope Francis

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times (March 13, 2013)

There is still much to come in the tenure of Pope Francis, but already in his short time there is much that has caused the world (non-Catholics included) to take notice and consider the impact of this pontiff at this moment in history.

Let’s take a look at Five Reasons Why Pope Francis Matters… (Click to Tweet)

1. Recognition of the population shift of Christianity to the Global South

Much has already been written in missiological circles about the growing demographics of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and South America after a historical majority in Europe and North America. Despite the swelling numbers, the influence of these regions is still largely untapped.

Within World Christianity, there is no position more high-profile that Pope and few institutions wielding as much influence as the Vatican. The recent papal election was dynamic in the fact that cardinals from Africa, Canada, and the United States were considered as possible candidates (although their actual viability as candidates may be questioned).

With this appointment, Pope Francis opens the doors for other thought-leaders to emerge from the non-Western world. The perspectives that they inhabit will inevitably change the dynamics of the theological education, training, and implementation in ways that will impact our diverse and changing communities and world.

2. Pastoral experience among a growing (and practicing) Roman Catholic Church (more…)

A (Post)Modern Proposal

I once had a professor refer to modernity as a “300-year cul-de-sac”. He was speaking glibly about the ways in which post-modern theory in application resembles cultures that never experienced the contextual forces of the West, which produced modernity.

Modernity, at the risk of over-simplification, is the philosophical context produced and sustained by the European Enlightenment era. The prioritized assumptions of this era became normative for Europeans and North Americans. Within the last century, these assumptions have come under greater scrutiny and alternative realities have been posited. The collection of these perspectives fall under the nebulous category of “post-modernity”.

By consequence of the attention given to post-modernity, non-Western perspectives have also risen to examination. As one explores these views, there is a tentative label of “pre-modernity”. I believe this designation to be ineffective however, as it implies a linear, evolutionary path for cultures. From a primitive existence, through enlightenment (by which we mean the prioritization of Western methods and assumptions), to eventually settle where the post-modern’s have pioneered.

But this process is not necessarily the path all cultures must follow. Some will never experience modernity, others will experience their own unique changes through the influence of globalization and migration patterns.

I propose a different term, amodernity. Although still referencing its antithesis, there is no evolutionary bias (pre-/post-) or negation (non-). The neologism can serve as a more inclusive term when referring to perspectives or cultural contexts. The philosophies represented within amodernity are diverse and can represent a community of thought ranging from ancients to avant-garde and bring a source of commonality to a myriad of “post-philosophies”: post-colonial, post-structural, post-Christendom, post-foundational, post-empirical, etc.

Within this shared pool of philosophies, meaningful dialogue can take place to further develop the impact of these unique perspectives. By alignment, the currently disparate philosophies can borrow from one another’s strengths and benefit from communal critique. These values are familiar to the disparate contextual communities now falling under the categories of pre/post-modern.

This essay is still preliminary and welcome to critique.

If you identify with a particular philosophical context, how would definition under “amodernity” affect your current self-understanding?

How do you effectively balance an attention to the unique perspective of a group yet also bridge to commonality? (In theory? In practice?)

This site is primarily interested in the influence of culture upon theology and Biblical interpretation (as well as the reverse). The application of amodernity, however, would also have implication for other fields of study. I am especially intrigued at the potential of the worldwide church to be a laboratory of sorts for amodernal thinking and action, as it is a diverse organization (“body”, some might say) cutting across cultures, languages, contextual realities, social class, and time.

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies and Hope International University. His research into the cultural influences upon theological identity led him to create the collaborative blog GlobalTheology.org. He currently works for a local non-profit agency and serves as an adjunct professor.

Fear of Different Cultures

I spend a lot of time thinking about how the Western church can benefit from the exploration, examination, and integration of non-Western perspectives. A recent voice I have appreciated is Christina Cleveland (@CSCleve), a social psychologist, professor, writer, preacher, and consultant on multicultural issues affecting churches and organizations.

Her post, Our Culture of Fear (of Different Cultures), takes a psychological look at a group’s tendency to avoid those who are perceived as different. These same elements affect interacting with non-Western theologies because of the unspoken assumptions of Western superiority. If the people of the Global South are viewed as having a deficient or derivative perspective, it is a matter of priority to preserve the “purity” of a Western interpretation.

“I sometimes wonder if the animosity some express toward [those who offer a different perspective] is motivated by the fear that the case [for the opposing perspective] might turn out to be more compelling than they can handle.” (Greg Boyd)  We’re afraid that they might influence us. As a result, our cross-cultural interactions are not characterized by humility, openness, interdependence and hopeful invitation.  Rather, they are characterized by fear, retreat into cognitive closure and accusations. Our orientation and motivation is one of fear and retreat. Within our culture of fear, our words and behavior are motivated by a desire to avoid being like a certain group, rather than a desire to be like Jesus. (Click to Tweet) (more…)

Group Discussion: Church Without Walls

To help integrate global perspectives into the life of a local church, we have prepared some questions to begin a conversation of looking outside our immediate context. Feel free to use for your small groups or classes and email to let us know how the conversation went!

As a group, watch the following short video and discuss the following questions:

Where do you think “the wall” comes from?

Where do you see yourself in the cartoon?

Which side of the wall do you feel more comfortable on?

Why is that? (This is not a question of which you feel you SHOULD be more comfortable on)

Have there been people in your life who are similar to the one who “goes out…goes a long way out…stays out” as a way of sharing their faith? How have you seen this in their life?

What would it look like to live a faith without walls?

For yourself, your family, and friends?
For this group?
For your church?

Link to video only

What is Open Theism? (Video)

We had a great response to an earlier post about Open Theism on our Global Theology Countdown.

One of the authors listed in that blog, Greg Boyd, has created a short video answering some basic questions about Open Theism.

The questions posed to the theologian are:

  • What is Open Theism?
  • How is this relevant today?
  • How does this help the believer?

This video is posted as a part of a theological project at ReKnew.org, whose purpose is to explore issues and ramifications of Christianity.

Throughout the world, people are re-thinking what they thought they knew about the Christian faith. It is an age, it seems, in which many believers and skeptics alike are dissatisfied with the status quo.  Questions increasingly outnumber answers, and faith feels harder and harder to hold.

ReKnew is a place for those in the midst of these questions.

The Foundation for Imperial Mission

From the last decade of the 15th century, Europe would welcome the discovery of a new continent, and with it the opportunity for the expansion of empire and Christendom. Those nations most immediately suited to seize this opportunity were the naval empires of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal. Both royal houses were firmly aligned with the Roman Catholic Church and assumed an imperial mandate to expand the authority of the church along with political and economic growth. The missionary endeavors which the Roman Catholic Church would embark upon in the formative years of European global exploration would set in place the foundation for overseas evangelization strategy and reverberate in the methods of other European nations and leave an indelible impact on global Christianity. Understanding the social context for this initial push in overseas missions can put into perspective the successive waves of zealous missionaries and their understandings of Christendom, imperial authority, and the sanctified use of military force which would come to mark the interaction of the church with the newly colonized lands.

An examination of this history can shed light onto a region still affected by these actions as well as insight into the colonial political power structure still affecting the life of the global Church.

(more…)

Appreciating the Multicultural Church

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah of North Park Theological Seminary speaking at chapel of Fuller Theological Seminary on “The Next Evangelicalism: Appreciating the Multicultural Church” (November 7, 2012). Dr. Rah uses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as a model for understanding “a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural  and how the church responds to this very dynamic time in our nation’s, as well as our world’s, church history”.

The following is my summary and notes from his lecture.

The question is not whether the world is changing, but how Christian Americans will respond. (Click to Tweet) (more…)

Qur’an Christology?

Adrian Warnock has a post about 11 things Muslims agree with Christians about Jesus. How can  a functioning Christology be made out of this to turn the corner from interfaith dialogue to ecumenical dialogue? (more…)

Journal of Global Theology: Call for Submissions

Foundation University is sponsoring a new scholarly journal project called the Journal of Global Theology. See below for information about the inaugural volume :

Global theology in the internet era: an examination of the importance of the internet as a tool for the promulgation of Christian theology

The Journal of Global Theology (Foundation University) seeks to provide insight into the study of Christian Theology from a decidedly Global perspective. We offer readers an opportunity to view theology from various viewpoints while at the same time maintaining both an orthodox Christian viewpoint and an openness to differing Christian traditions. We seek contributions from every corner of the globe and encourage especially contributions from Asia, the Pacific Rim, the African continent, and the Middle East. Nonetheless, contributions from North and South America and Europe are also welcome.

Journal of Global Theology is aiming to promote scholarly discussions, contributions and dialogue in the following fields:

  1. •Contextual Theology
  2. •Intercultural Theology
  3. •Inter-religious Dialogue
  4. •Theology and Internet
  5. •Peace and Justice

The Journal of Global Theology accepts submissions in English, French, German, and Spanish.

If you would like to contribute, please send your essay to our Editor, Dr. Jim West, at drjewest@gmail.com and note in the subject line ‘submission for the Journal of Global Theology’. All submissions will be subjected to ‘blind peer review’ and those accepted will be notified accordingly.

A Strange Word – Following Jesus in Postmodernity and Monastic Orders

“…from that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.  You do not want to leave too, do you? Jesus asked the Twelve.” – John 6:66-67

From time to time, Jesus said and did some things that were rather strange.  He broke every social taboo he encountered while on the way to Jerusalem.  He elevated the status of women in a patriarchial world.  He spoke of a Kingdom that inverts this world’s paradigm of power, authority and what it looks like to be “blessed”.  He is the High King of Heaven that conquered his enemy by dying on the cross.  He rose from the dead.  In the context of these verses Jesus just finished telling his disciples that one day they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.   Several of his disciples had said that was a little too strange for them and left him right then and there.  The Twelve’s response to Jesus’ rather vulnerable questions was the polar opposite, “Lord, to whom else would be go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.”

The strange-ness of Jesus both alienates and attracts those who come near enough to hear what he has to say. (more…)

Reciprocity of Meaning: How Non-Western Biblical Interpretation Benefits the Western Church

For generations, the stereotypical missionary method has been to train non-Western Christians to “think Western” in order to read, interpret, and apply scripture. This technique has been criticized, however, and there is a growing consensus that the most effective communication of the gospel message is one that is interpreted within the particular context of the local church. If this is the most beneficial practice, then the question must be asked, why should a Western church need to be concerned with culturally different forms of interpretation?

This article will examine briefly the value that these perspectives can have for a local church in a Western cultural context. (more…)