The Church as the ‘Translated’ Faith, a Maasai Creed, and the Dominant ‘Faith of Christ’

The domination of Biblical exegesis and Theological development by White male Europeans in the church’s history continues to be a mantra chanted by many who are seeking to do exegesis and theology from a post-colonial, anti-empire hermeneutic; in other words, there are many who disagree with what they feel is the impingement of one perspective on Christian reality and expression over others. It is true, that the male species of the European variety has dominated the construction of theological grammar, and the conclusions in exegetical decisions for centuries; but this does not mean that what has been constructed, and what has been concluded is not valid or sound, it simply reflects the reality that all theology, and exegesis is contextually derived. And this, in and of itself fits well with the Christian reality of indigenizing the ‘faith’ into particular expressions relative to the panoply present in the human race. The problem, of course, comes in, when one expression, does indeed become the norming one simply because it is the dominant one. But really what needs to be considered within this kind of ‘dilemma’ is whether we need to “chuck” this kind of ‘dominating’ expression for other contextualized readings of the Bible, and other contextualized theological constructions? That seems to be how some people want to proceed; by elevating ‘their’ particular contextualized production of theological and exegetical flare for what has in the past been the dominant one. But this doesn’t seem very ‘Christian’ either, we are just exchanging one dominate form of theology for another one; it is all about who has the ‘power’ it seems.

maasai

What if, instead, we acknowledged that, yes, indeed, there has been a domination of the theological landscape for many years, but instead of replacing that, why not place that into conversation with other expressions of Christian reality from different regions of the world, and different socio contexts from the dominant one? I think that is the better way to proceed. Todd Billings writes of all of this in his book The Word Of God For The People Of God. He quotes a Christian creed given voice by the Maasai Tribe in Africa, and then he concludes the section he provides this quote from with a summary about how contextualized offerings of theology and exegesis are inevitable within the Christian community, and that this is a good thing to be cherished, not a bad thing to be repudiated.

First the creed from the Maasai, and then Billings summarizing thought:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.[1]

Here is Todd Billings summarizing how powerful the contextualization of Christian thought is, and how and why we should appreciate it. The Masai creed helps to illustrate the beauty of all of this, and the freshness available in the Christian faith as we serve and worship the living, loving God in Jesus Christ for us (pro nobis):

In summary, the indigenizing of the Christian message – tied to contextual readings of Scripture – is a work of the Spirit that we should celebrate. In terms of our norm stated at the outset (“scriptural interpretation from diverse contexts can be received as mutual enrichment, gifts of the Spirit”) that indigenizing can be used by God to open new doors for the understanding of Scripture. Unlike the Enlightenment tendency embedded in some historical-critical approaches to see the cultural particularity of the reader as an obstacle to be overcome, cultural difference in scriptural interpretation can be a sign of the Spirit of Pentecost making the word of God penetrate the idiom, narratives, and practices of various cultures. The very act of translating the Bible into many languages implies the striking claim that Christianity is a religion of revelation “without a revealed language.” There is no such as an untranslated manifestation of Christianity. “The church anywhere and everywhere is situated … in a translated environment.”[2]

Christianity is a big thing, because it is grounded in its conditioned reality in Jesus Christ, from within the Triune life of God for all, not for some.

[1] J. Todd Billings, The Word Of God For The People Of God: an entryway to the theological interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 121.

[2] Ibid., 122.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “The Church as the ‘Translated’ Faith, a Maasai Creed, and the Dominant ‘Faith of Christ’

  1. “The domination of Biblical exegesis and theological development by white male Europeans in the church’s history continues to be a mantra chanted by many…”

    …who forget– or never knew– that those in Western Europe were only a small minority of the world’s Christians until the C 14-15. Studies in post-colonial, anti-empire hermeneutics cash in on that minority’s providential escape but do nothing at all to correct the Latin bias in our memory of the first millennium. And unsurprisingly, Rome sponsored the received hermeneutic of empire. Balance the picture to include the adventurous but persecuted Christians to the East and that hermeneutic will shrink to its properly minor place.

    Local history matters locally, of course. But if I were an African or an Asian, I would flatly ignore clever dissertations quibbling with missionary misunderstanding and just learn more Syriac. Read anything by Sebastian Brock and his students and you step into a Christianity that at its farthest eastern reaches had monks in the ancient Chinese capital of Xian translating the Buddhist canon from Sanskrit. Especially for a Christian in or near Iran and China, these are glimpses of a cultural past that any Christian there would want to know. Moreover, the varied theological grammars by which the lost Christian East engaged both Buddhism and Islam have a tragic headline news relevance right now that nothing else can match. And finally, this literature is a spiritual feast. Especially in the global south, the retrieval of the East will be the more radically interesting and helpful Christian project for all foreseeable time to come.

    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2011/01/lost-history-of-christianity-by-philip.html

    http://www.doaks.org/research/byzantine/resources/syriac/brock

    Like

  2. TFT writes of the Latin heresy; EC traffics in that reality, viz. against the Latin heresy or dualism. But I suspect you are thinking of something else, Bowman. And so I agree with you as far as the retrieval of the ‘East’, but that would included Constantinople for me.

    But in one sense I think I disagree with you, per my post. I see God’s hand of providence everywhere, not just in the East, or in the West, or in the minority report etc. I am happy and joyful to learn from every sector that God speaks in, whether that be Chinese, African, Arabic, etc. That was the point of my post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “…EC traffics…against the Latin heresy or dualism…”

    Certainly more than Brand X does. However I do wonder how the EC understanding of union in Christ differs from that in Luther or St Gregory Palamas.

    http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/WebberUnionWithChrist.pdf

    http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/Russell_partakers.html

    “I agree with you as far as the retrieval of the ‘East’, but that would include Constantinople for me.”

    Many sailing
    To Byzantium.
    Zizioulis sizzling.

    “I see God’s hand of providence everywhere, not just in the East, or in the West, or in the minority report etc.”

    Yes, but some of its sign language is more intelligible than the rest of it.

    “I am happy and joyful to learn from every sector that God speaks in, whether that be Chinese, African, Arabic, etc.

    Zechariah 14.16 comes to mind, along with St John 7.

    Like

  4. I personally think it’s interesting that some insist on contextual creeds when most American and European churchs recite creeds written by middle easterners 1600 years ago. But maybe that’s just me.

    As for Eastern Orthodoxy, I don’t think it’s wise to overemphasize the differences between it and Roman Catholicism. There has been a lot more trafficking of ideas between them than is often recognized. See this for example:http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0199650659/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?qid=1417182342&sr=8-3&pi=AC_SY200_QL40

    Like

  5. @Nathanael,

    Yeah, I agree, EO and RC have more in common than not; Lewis Ayres has done great work demonstrating this at a Dogmatic level relative to material things like the Trinity.

    Like

  6. After the wild horse had trampled the viper in my path, I continued on my way through the wood until I began to hear the sound of surf crashing into rocks. Reaching a clearing, I saw two monks in black. They were waiting for me with a silver tray, their monastery farther behind them in the distance. They had spied me coming from afar. After days of this hiking across the mountain, I could guess that the tray would have a glass of water, a glass of ouzo, and some Turkish delight. When I reached them, I caught a better view of the monastery high on the rocks above the sea. Above its stone walls, a black flag fluttered in the breeze with a motto in Greek. “Orthodoxia e Thanatos!” And why this black flag of death? “Because the minions of the accursed Antichrist in Rome once burned our brothers alive because they would not submit to use the satanic and heretical words of the Latin Mass that have brought so many souls to hell. Christ will avenge the blood of our glorious martyrs. We will remember them here until the end of time.”

    Like

  7. Bobby– My comment faithfully reports a moment on the Holy Mountain, except that there was also a cup of espresso on the silver tray. The opinion of my welcoming committee was one of the milder ones about Rome that I heard in that admittedly ‘traditionalist’ monastery.

    St Mark of Ephesus is a saint of the Orthodox Church, one remembered among the Pillars of Orthodoxy. On one hand, he is an example of a hesychast familiar enough with the works of St Thomas to have borrowed a few arguments from them. On the other hand, his canonization was and is a sign of Orthodox resistance to the West.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_of_Ephesus

    Like

Comments are closed.