Radio Free Christianity and the Dangers of Colonial Theology
There is a brilliant routine comedian Eddie Izzard does in his standup where he suggests the British Empire advanced through “the cunning use of flags”;
We stole countries with the cunning use of flags. Just sail around the world and stick a flag in. “I claim India for Britain!” They’re going “You can’t claim us, we live here! Five hundred million of us!” “Do you have a flag …? “No…” “Well, if you don’t have a flag, then you can’t have a country. Those are the rules… that I just made up!”
Eddie Izzard- Dressed to Kill
Watching this it dawned on me, “Christian theology has been shaped mostly through the cunning use of flags.”
The Bible is this big collection of 66 books full of history, poetry, letters, prophecies, genealogies and even an apocalyptic vision or two. Written over thousands of years it tells the human story of God redeeming his people in the midst of our hate, selfishness, and violence. It’s got wonder, emotion, passion,
…and more than a few contradictions.
Despite this many a church leader feel they have it pretty figured out. They take a particular verse, declare this is what the verse means (in the name of Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Reformed theology etc.) and precede to plant their flag.
From that point on when the theological “flag” is not recognized the offending theologian is declared to be “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy” at best and a “heretic” at worst. They make these judgments by the rules, as Eddie Izzard would say, “that I just made up.“
Radio Free Christianity
Colonialism saps human dignity. It imposes law on freedom, inflexibility on expression, and control on thought.
…and people don’t like it!
People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.
River Tam- Serenity
Colonial theology is no different!
Eventually freedom fighters rise up to challenge the stifling system. Local people are drawn to their messages of hope and opportunity. Of course to the colonizing flag planters they are denounced as terrorists…or in the theological sphere, as heretics.
Some of the Christian leaders who have influenced me the most in the last two years are routinely called heretics. The heresy in question you ask? Well their chief offense seems to be that they offer grace and freedom. N.T. Wright, Brian Zahand, Greg Boyd, Brian McLaren, Paul Ellis, … and of course Rob Bell.
Rob Bell is probably the most well known “heretic”. In colonial controlled environments, freedom fighters often distribute literature to give hope to the oppressed. (In Bell’s case it was Love Wins ) Of course those pamphlets are denounced and torn up by the controlling authorities; anyone caught reading or distributing them can be subject to persecution.
The parallels to present day Christianity are uncanny. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a private e-mail sent to me that said, “Hey great post. I can’t comment publicly though.” or “I read Brian McLaren too but if my pastor found out I would be in trouble.” Recently I was introduced to a Christian leader and just before I met him a friend whispered in my ear, “Don’t mention that you like Rob Bell…he thinks Rob Bell is a heretic.”
But more and more Radio Free Christianity is being beamed into a church held in chains.
“You can’t stop the signal!” – Joss Whedon (Serenity)
I wrote in a recent post on the decolonization that is occurring in Christianity.
There is a decolonization going on in the church today and it’s making a lot of people uncomfortable. Certain texts of scripture, patterns in worship, and theological understandings that have been previously taken for granted (“This is what it means” and “This is how it’s done”) are being questioned.
Take for example John 14: 23
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them
How much pressure and condemnation has that verse caused with the understanding of it a lot of us grew up being taught. I’ve known so many people (myself included) who struggled to prove to God they loved him through acts of obedience… both real and imagined.
The colonial flag planted over that verse was the not so veiled threat that disobedience proved we didn’t love God (and we all knew where people who didn’t love God ended up).
Then my friend Paul Ellis comes along and throws off the colonial flag by writing that John 14 :23 isn’t a threat…but a promise! Those that understand the love Christ has for them are promised they will obey his ways leading to Life!
One interpretation leads to freedom and life…the other leads to ongoing condemnation and a feeling of never quite measuring up. Those feelings of never quite measuring up can then be used to get people to perform a never ending series of tasks in order to “prove” their love for God; which can come in quite handy for church leaders who have a lot of tasks that need to be done.
But as I wrote previously:
Colonial possessions throw off imposed culture begin to enjoy new expressions of local identity. Alternative ways for believers of Christ to meet and gather are popping up all over. In some circles they are celebrated, in others they are vilified.
But change is coming.
Yes, in the beginning some stability can be lost in the transition. People will color outside the lines sometimes but the Spirit of God never stops declaring
Let my people go that they may worship me…
Radio Free Christianity….you can’t stop the signal!
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