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Good News for the City: Urban Apologetics

Friend of the blog, Ramon Mayo of Urban Ministries Inc. and UrbanFaith.com has an interview with Chris Brooks about his new book, Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers. In the interview, Mayo and Brooks explore the need for thoughtful articulation of the faith to respond to the distinct questions that people are asking. Doing Apologetics from an Urban Perspective opens a conversation about how best to engage the living contexts of our cities with the gospel–acknowledging that both the questions and responses may differ from those of prior generations of apologists.

Chris Brooks is the senior pastor of Evangel Ministries and also the founder and president of the Detroit Bible Institute. He also hosts a Detroit-aired daily radio show, “Equipped For Life,”and is the newly appointed Campus Dean of Moody Theological Seminary-Michigan. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Chris over about his new book “Urban Apologetics” and apologetics in general.

What inspired you to write a book on apologetics?

Two things. First it comes from a passion for the gospel in the urban community. People have intellectual barriers and need answers to their questions about life, so I wanted to provide the answers from Christ and scripture because most people assume that we don’t have answers.

Secondly it stems from our members being sent out to do evangelism and coming back with the questions and objections of the urban community they were sent to. I took it upon myself to develop a specific ministry of equipping Christians to answer people’s objections regarding the faith.

Why do you believe apologetics are important for the urban context? (more…)

My Problem with The Lord’s Prayer

We recently began attending a church that recites The Lord’s Prayer each Sunday as a part of their liturgy. We have never been a part of church that practiced this weekly–participating more in communities that place spontaneity over ceremony. While I do appreciate the intentionality of a liturgical church, there is something specific that bothers me every time we pray these words together.praying

The English translation which we use is based on the text of Matthew 6:9-13 that depends on an outdated form of language, namely the “King James” English. See the chart below for words and phrases no longer in common usage:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Not a single sentence can be understood with contemporary usage!

Why do I have a problem with the Lord’s Prayer? Two reasons… (Click to Tweet) (more…)

World Cup of Theologians: Belgium – Edward Schillebeeckx

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

schillebeeckxEdward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009) was a member of the Dominican Order and a professor of Theology until his death in 2009. Schillebeeckx was also closely involved with several topics of the Second Vatican Council.

Because of his work with Vatican II, Schillebeeckx is well known for his strong arguments for a more reconciling ecclesiology, celibacy, and the sacraments. He often came under fire from the Catholic Magisterium because of his ideas, with the most volatile clash happening in the early 1980’s with the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF). Schillebeeckx’s passion for the Church can be clearly seen in many of his writings, but especially in this excerpt from The Church with a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry (1985):

The crucified but risen Jesus appears in the believing, assembled community of the church. That this sense of the risen, living Jesus has faded in many [churches] can be basically blamed on the fact that our churches are insufficiently ‘communities’ of God…. Where the church of Jesus Christ lives, and lives a liberating life in the footsteps of Jesus, the resurrection faith undergoes no crisis. On the other hand, it is better not to believe in God than to believe in a God who minimizes human beings, holds them under and oppresses them, with a view to a better world to come. (34)

Schillebeeckx was a respected Catholic theologian, and one who has strongly influenced both the direction of the Church and of various forms of theology including liberation, European political, and systematic Catholic Theology

Zane Ridings is a Masters of Divinity student at Brite Divinity School. As an undergraduate at Eureka College, he completed an honors research thesis titled: Walking Alongside the Least of These: Liberation Hermeneutics and Praxis-based Missions in Guatemala. This work has been part of Zane’s theological exploration of questions concerning justice, politics, and Christian fellowship and ethics.

World Cup of Theologians: USA – Cornel West

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

westCornel West (1953- ) is the Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary and an outspoken public academic, philosopher, and activist.

He uses philosophy, Christian practice, and Marxist thought to bear witness and influence in love and justice. Much of his work has grown out of studies on race, class, and gender within American society, as well as the ways in which people interact based upon racial conscientiousness.

As a public intellectual, West’s dream of keeping alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. takes shape in the ways in which he writes and participates in current events, asserting that theology must be expressed in one’s social and political life. In Race Matters, he examines moral authority and racial debates regarding skin color in the United States and focuses on progress through what unites man in love and justice as he points out the differences that divide humanity.

In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other’s throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.

Currently, Cornel West contributes to the radio show Smiley and West and has authored a memoir, entitled Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. For more information, you can find his official website here.

Phillip Sturgeon is a graduate of Chapman University. He writes at his personal blog, phillipotamus.com and lives in Southern CA, where he almost always drives with the windows down.

World Cup of Theologians: France – Jacques Ellul

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

French Historian Jacques Ellul TalkingJacques Ellul (1912-1994) was a sociologist who wrote extensively on the creation and effects of propaganda. The passion for this work came from his experiences with the French resistance to the Nazis during World War II (which earned him a commendation as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem) and outrage at the injustices levied during the Algerian War of Independence.

As a theologian, he is most well-known for his contributions to Christian Anarchism and the assertion that allegiance to a political party or state makes one complicit in the oppression of others through violence and power.

In The Subversion of Christianity (1986), Ellul expands on this concept, writing,

The biblical teaching is clear. It always contests politicalpower. It incites to “counterpower,” to “positive” criticism, to an irreducible dialogue (like that between king and prophet in Israel), to antistatism, to a decentralizing of the relation, to an extreme relativizing of everything political, to an anti-ideology, to a questioning of all that claims either power or dominion (in other words, of all things political), and finally, if we may use a modern term, to a kind of “anarchism” (so long as we do not relate the term to the anarchist teaching of the nineteenth century). (116)

The reflection along Ellul’s theory and work continues on in the International Jacques Ellul Society, a multi-disciplinary group whose objectives are to preserve and disseminate his literary and intellectual heritage, to extend his penetrating social critique, especially concerning technology, and to extend his theological and ethical research with its special emphases on hope and freedom.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.

World Cup of Theologians: Germany – Johann Metz

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

metzJohann Baptist Metz (1928- )is a unique German theologian who learned first-hand both the devastation of human suffering and the furtherance of suffering caused by the silence of Christians. After World War II, in which he was an American prisoner of war, he returned to Germany and studied at the University of Innsbruck under Karl Rahner. He was a primary voice in the development of Political Theology, working to find meaningful theology after the collapse of humanism ideals seen in the Holocaust.

Metz is best known for his concept of the dangerous memory of suffering, an element of the Theology of Hope that stresses the role of Christian’s creating spaces for stories of suffering. Dangerous memory is also an essential part of our Christian experience because the memory of Christ’s suffering is one of our key catalysts for our salvation and the justice for all peoples that comes with that salvation. His ideas have been used to argue for an increased Christian presence alongside those with mental illness, survivors of abuse and genocide, and alcoholism.

Metz writes of the way memory is destroyed, in this instance for the survivors of the El Mezote Massacre in En Salvador in 1981:

The destruction of memory [in situations of injustice and violence] turns out systematically to hinder identity, to prevent people from becoming subjects or continuing to be subjects in their social-historical contexts. Uprooting slaves and deporting them always tends to destroy their memories, and precisely in this way serves as a powerful reinforcement of their state of being as slaves, their systemic disempowerment in the interest of effecting their complete subjugation. On the other hand, the formation of identity always begins with the awakening of memory.

Metz’s classic work, Faith in History and Society. Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, expands on his understanding of political theology, with special attention to the implications of living out this distinctive expression of faith.

Zane Ridings is a Masters of Divinity student at Brite Divinity School. As an undergraduate at Eureka College, he completed an honors research thesis titled: Walking Alongside the Least of These: Liberation Hermeneutics and Praxis-based Missions in Guatemala. This work has been part of Zane’s theological exploration of questions concerning justice, politics, and Christian fellowship and ethics.

The History and Future of Womanist Theology (Video)

Union Theological Seminary recently hosted a documentary about the origin of Womanist Theology through the perspective of some of its early adherents. The 12-minute video below is a preview of the full documentary, Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, which will be shown at the American Academy of Religion meeting this fall in San Diego, California, USA.

A social and spiritual look at female theologians and ethicists of African descent…Union Theological Seminary will premier Journey to Liberation, a 50-minute documentary on the founding of Womanist theology, an African-American feminist liberation movement. Filmmaker Anika Gibbons takes a deeper look at the radical spirituality and scholarship within the lives of the founding mothers of Womanist theology and Womanist ethics. She focuses on their significance as figures in African-American theology and history, and on the role played by Union in that founding.

For a summary and commentary on the event, see Womanist Theology at Union: A Past, A Present– A Future? by Jamall Calloway (H/T to Jason Harris and Postcolonial Theology Network Facebook Group)

For more videos, including an introduction to the film and resulting panel discussion about the current state of African-American women in theology and Womanist perspectives, follow this link.

 If you are interested in sharing your perspective and becoming a writer with GlobalTheology.org, find more information on our Get Involved Page!

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is the editor of GlobalTheology.org and lives in Fullerton, CA, USA with his wife and son.

Power of Symbols: Minimum Bible

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?

Imagining a Local Theology

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.

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.


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