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Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: what’s your starting place?

Steve Hu and Gene Green contributed chapters to the introductory section of Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations, the book I’m posting on each Friday.

Steve Hu graduated from an evangelical seminary.

Beginning to minister in a Chinese American megachurch, he found himself ill-equipped for the cross-cultural questions. People were grappling with their cultural identity, often with the idea that becoming more Christian means becoming less Chinese. Hu’s studies weren’t wired for this, and neither was he.

He also had his own entanglements with ‘race’. He would be asked, ‘What country are you from?’

And when it came to the theological discussion table, what he found was ‘so embedded in Western forms and categories that when I attempt to converse, my words, as Tite Tiénou notes, “are perceived as threats to orthodoxy.”‘

For Hu, these global issues call for a new literacy, and postcolonialism comes with timely words and dialogue.

Gene Green had been teaching at Wheaton College.

His wife had been doing research for a children’s story involving Native American characters. He kept hearing, ‘Gene, did you know that…?’

Meanwhile, he’d been teaching a course on World Christian Perspectives.

‘And then it happened. The stories my wife told and the colonial stories from Africa and Asia intertwined in an agonizing encounter.’

‘I was the colonist; I am the colonist.’

‘I walked out the back and wept.’

We talk about ‘mission’ — a word entangled in empire. It is a word that many of us have reexamined and reinvigorated in recent decades, but can it still do justice to the nature of our calling as the body of Christ?

Green calls for a new awareness of the language of the New Testament, in which ‘mission’ terminology is strangely absent. Instead we find lots of talk about ‘invitation and banqueting’, embodiment and participation.

It is not enough to get new perspectives, says Green. We must put them to work.

What’s your starting place?

Mine is perhaps similar to Gene Green’s. It means little to say that I have not been a perpetrator of injustice when my Christian tradition has been complicit in colonial ways. In what ways have we, together, denied Christ? My starting place must include confession. Then we can consider repentance — changing the road we are travelling.

At the same time I’m aware that the evangelical tradition holds some relevant resources. There’s mission as transformation which parallels postcolonialism in several respects. There’s global theology which starts from the assumption that all theology is contextual, shifting us away from eurocentric theological discourse. So, as we listen to and interrogate postcolonialism, I expect we will find things that need change but also things that need nurture.

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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