Tag Archive: Avant-Garde


minimumArtist Joey Novak has an installation of minimalist interpretations of books of the Bible (LINK). Out of respect for his work, I will not post the images here, but encourage you to follow the link to see for yourself.

Questions to consider:

What symbols carry the most power in his art?

How do we assign meaning to symbols (enough meaning that they can convey so much more than words)?

What other symbols exist that we can use to communicate the gospel and discipleship?

How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?

In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed.  1991, 302).

Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.

Which of these is closest to the image of Christ?

Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance.  The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship.  For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.

What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these  be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?

This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.

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.

I have always liked this song for its simplicity. The band (mewithoutYou) is one whose use of imagery and lyricism  is pregnant with meaning and the connection toward the spiritual.

There is much hand wringing in the western church over the growing margins of people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious” or specifically “Christian”. This song speaks to this strata of people looking for spiritual significance in a world that is increasingly distant.

The song makes no explicit mention of Christ or salvation, yet a cursory glance at the lyrics makes several theological declarations. Continue reading

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

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.

Today’s guest post comes from Brainerd Prince. The comparative essay examines the leadership style of the Jedi–and its emphasis upon masterhood–and draws implications for Christian pastoral ministry leadership. For disciples to become more like Christ, a pastor must become more like a Jedi-Master. (Click to Tweet)

A Jedi Master Trains His Padawans

Jesus, after he was gone, wanted his disciples to be masters like himself rather than contemporary pastors! This is neither to be provocative for the sake of it nor purely an attention-grabber.  I am deliberately positing the image of a master in opposition to that of a pastor with a view to get behind these images and seek an ultimate reconciliation. I will begin with the master-image. Jesus was a master and in his becoming the ‘servant’ and ‘friend’ he was equally elevating his ‘servants’ and ‘friends’ to masterhood. That is why he was able to say to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and great works than these he will do; because I go to the Father’ (John 14:12).

Being a master is a bit like being a Jedi-Master in the world of Star Wars, the highest rank of the Jedi order Continue reading

Open Theism views God as entering a guided partnership with humanity to actualize our history. God desires to work out our future with us rather than dictate it to us and, to that degree, created a world with a largely unknown future (i.e. “open”). By being responsive to human activity and prayers, God engages with us daily through Christ and the Holy Spirit in achieving the Kingdom’s reality here on earth. The doctrine is also referred to as Openness Theology or Free Will Theism, and is a distinct departure from Classical/Reformed traditions.

The Global Theology Countdown  breaks down a large topic into more easily accessible parts, linking to other sites for those who would want to go deeper.

  • 4 Keys to Understanding
  • 3 People to Know
  • 2 Blogs Worth Reading
  • 1 Book to Read Immediately

This post covers Open Theism and we welcome contributors to share on a different perspective or more information regarding Open Theism. Enjoy! Continue reading

Marilynne Robinson is an American author whose writing has carried subtle Christian messages and found resonance among wider circles, most recently a review in the New Yorker magazine. Allison Backhous has a recent piece in ThinkChristian.net considering her approach to creativity and the impact it can have on society.

This leads her to a question, can art be both true and evangelistic? Continue reading

Have you ever considered how the environment around you shapes your perspective of life? how the buildings, streets, and neighborhoods influence who we are?

A few months ago, we had a piece on the theology of the Built Environment and the video below goes into more detail about the Parish Collective on Churches, Places, and Spaces

Where are those places where the whole church is in the whole neighborhood?

The Parish Collective is about connecting and resourcing the people of faith in particular neighborhoods to be the church in the place they live. The video above was produced by The Other Journal.

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. Continue reading

Eugene Cho, along with Helen Lee and Soong-Chan Rah, have written recently about the need for cultural sensitivity within society in general, but in the church specifically.  Prompted by the airing of a political campaign ad from Pete Hoelkstra presenting negative stereotypes of Asian-Americans, the trio discussed how this insensitivity permeates popular culture and the church as well.

They provide an example of a sermon illustration gone awry:

We recently witnessed a sermon video in which the pastor of a large, multi-site church in Minnesota brought an Asian man on stage representing a “samurai” and had him sit before the congregation, stone-faced and silent, while the pastor flailed his arms in a cartoonish imitation of karate moves while yelling random Asian-sounding gibberish, then banged a loud gong in an attempt to rattle the “samurai’s focus.” Continue reading

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