As Tuesday’s Missio blog task is to listen and encounter the faith, vocation, and culture conversation from voices around the world, a recent pseudonymously penned essay on the theological vocation shed sobering light on a harder aspect of that task.
Published in the BMS World Mission’s sharply crafted Mission Catalyst journal, the brief essay is entitled “On the Never-Ending Need of Western Christians to Warn the Non-Western Church,” by Nour Armagan, who is identified as “a Middle Eastern theologian.”
Nour argues that the hubris of the West with respect to the development of theology about all sorts of issues in non-Western contexts is painful and dishonest. Nour expresses his (or, one might hope — and the name would not preclude it — her) need for “theological accountability” from “Christians from Latin America, East Asia, and North America as well as Europe” to help him in his vocational wrestling. Nour puts it well: “Simply put, without such a theological accountability, we are vulnerable to confusing our own constructs, culture and nationalism with the truths of God.”
And while some of us may affirm the value of such theological accountability with our lips, Nour charges, our North American hearts seem far from it. For instance, Western theologians confidently call their work “theology” proper, but non-Western theologians are constantly reminded of their “context,” and thereby subcategorized into irrelevancy. Or, Nours asks, why does the West persist in issuing warnings against syncretism in non-Western contexts, when that charge is rarely leveled against Western forms?
Nour’s essay is a humbling reminder that part of the task of global listening involves grappling with sin and its capacity to blind, deafen, and harden us to the other. Confess it, and then truly listen:
“I believe in a global theological accountability. We are all shaped by our contexts, personal and communal concerns, anxieties, questions and capabilities. This shapes how we read the Bible, how we develop theologies, what tools of interpretation we utilise, which metaphors we use and what topics we cover.
This is not relativism, not a denial of universal and absolute truths, but the humility of knowing that God and his truths are often beyond our man-made creations and perceptions. That is why we need the experiences of the global and historical Church, with all of its shades and colours, to be with us if we are to advance his Kingdom and ignore pitfalls of our own bubbles. Church history is full of episodes where a particular country and the Church in it gets carried away with its own social and political constructs, all along thinking that ‘God wills it’.
Thus, as I try to develop a theology for today’s Middle East, I need Christians from Latin America, East Asia and North America as well as Europe to keep me accountable; to challenge me where I need to be self-critical and to learn from my experiences. Simply put, without such a theological accountability, we are vulnerable to confusing our own constructs, culture and nationalism with the truths of God.
This, however, is not happening and, where particularly Western Evangelical Christians are concerned, is truly far from this ideal.
Allow me to give two symptomatic examples of this . . .”