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Evangelical learnings on hybridity 1

You are one of the ‘subaltern’, having the unique experience of being on the underside of society. How do you live in a world that seems set against you?

You are part of the centre, one of the powerful people. (That’s me, by the way, and probably you.) You like the idea of forging solidarity with ‘marginal’ communities, but how do you do that without papering over their complexity and diversity, and boxing them as foreign?

The truth is that both these groups need to find dignity. Dignity is not something the subaltern lacks while the centre possesses and grants; the domination of others is not a dignifying thing.

Okay, so let’s work together: solidarity is about owning to both our differences and our shared humanity (see Gayatri Spivak). Yet if we are to do this, we need to be able to chart a course between fragmentation and homogenisation, between individualism and ethnocentrism.

Hybridity is the suggested answer. This is about giving ‘other’ knowledges a place at the table (see Homi Bhabha). In the process, these ‘other’ knowledges will impinge on the existing centre, leading to the creation of something new: ‘hybridity refers to a multicultural identity that is not dominated by the hegemony of one race and ethnicity’ (loc 2527). This is how colonial thinking can be unraveled.

Some of the theology chapters in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations open up the idea of Jesus as hybrid, Jesus as the place for and Creator of hybrid identities. For us as evangelicals, this isn’t about co-opting Jesus for another agenda, but enabling ourselves to better live out his vision.

First, there’s an emphasis on the particularity of Jesus. The chapters by Collins/Yong and Colon-Berezin/Heltzel both envision new christological foundations grounded in the body of Jesus, ‘the lowly history of the suffering Son of Man’ (loc 2319). Spirit-powered people will be people whose lives conform to the life of Jesus. Through our ‘participation in Jesus’ Jewish flesh’, we find that our identity as church, as covenant people, is an outward-facing one. Covenantal obedience is not ‘an expression of racial, cultural or religious purity’, but instead goes out to meet ‘outsiders’ (loc 2340). The particularity of Jesus, unlike an abstract focus on his deity (identified here with Carl Henry), can therefore provide us with the resources to overcome our own interests.

Second, there’s reflection on how we do theology. Have we become too concerned with making assertions about Christ? Colon-Berezin/Heltzel encourage us to see the meeting in Christ of divine and human as something slippery and mysterious. Just as the Council of Chalcedon spoke about Christ’s two natures in the negative, we need to acknowledge what we can’t lock down.

There’s a similar warning against assertion in the chapter by DeFranza/Franke. On the one hand, Greek language helped the early church to expand rapidly, on the other, the use of a single imperial language dampened the multicultural promise of Pentecost. On the one hand, the standardisation of canon and doctrine helped to promote clarity and unity, on the other hand, the marginalisation of the Syriac tradition helped to obscure the proper diversity of language about God. On the one hand, Christians have tried ‘to make the recipient culture the true and final locus of the proclamation’ (Lamin Sanneh), on the other, Christians have been agents of cultural imperialism.

In the midst of these paradoxes of history, DeFranza/Franke call us back to the pluralising Spirit of Pentecost. The catholicity (i.e. wholeness) of the church is not about uniformity, but united diversity. This is where DeFranza/Franke question the appropriateness of systematic theology, the pursuit of a stable and uniform expression. A truly catholic church will not use a homogeneous body of knowledge but will look to the range of voices from all nations.

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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