Monday, February 4, 2013

When Questions Aren't Appreciated



I've had many responses to my theology lectures, but none like I had last week.  In the course of some animated back in forth with a Systematic Theology class, several students were unhappy that I was raising questions about 'Western' theology with the implications that they were, by association, 'Western' Christians in their understanding of Christianity.  Essentially they were saying, 'And the problem is?'  Good question!  But only if you are willing to listen to the answer.

Other fascinating questions aimed my way:

'Why are you raising so many questions?'
'You make it sound like the Western understanding of the Gospel is not what the Bible teaches?'
'What if we want to be Western in our understanding of Christianity?'
'Why aren't you teaching us like our other instructors? Why don't you just go over the options of each position and then just tell us [what we are supposed to believe like our other instructors].'

As I have said in other places before, the whole game of Systematic Theology (which I am supposed to be teaching) is a Western game seeking to resolve Western fights and come up with the appropriate Western answer to Western questions.  It is very difficult to get us Westerners to acknowledge that ours is a perspective, not the perspective.  So pervasive is Western theology and Western assumptions (and Western books and Western founded theological colleges and Western modeled courses) that it's not surprising that my class is alarmed at the implications of some of their lecturer's questions.  But the great problem, at least from my vantage point here in East Africa, is that Western Theology does not work.  We (Western Missionaries and our Progeny) have been assiduously teaching our hearts out, passing on to a new generation of African Church leaders what we have learned from our own (Western) educations.  There are exceptions, but creating African Theologians and Bible Scholars who are more or less experts in the Western ways of doing these things has done little to touch the actual African soul and points of need.  And untouched, the African soul takes its points of need increasingly to so-called African Initiated Christianities (or other experience-based versions of Pentecostalism), some of which are only vaguely Christian (like many of the 2nd and 3rd century Gnosticisms).

My students were alarmed in particular that I was criticizing the Western 'Jesus meets my legal need' understanding of salvation as being essentially irrelevant to the lives people actually live here.  Is it any wonder that the Health and Prosperity heresy has flooded into many Pentecostal churches and is making inroads into many Protestant churches as well.  Some of my students who hold to a form of the Health and Prosperity teaching were understandably unhappy.

I must keep reminding myself that this is a class.  And  my job is to make my students think.  And it's ok if thinking causes controversy.  My job is to keep it from becoming personal and to keep students focuses on the issues.  My students, in the end, may choose to remain Western in their theological orientation and in their assumptions.  But at least I will have helped them understand that they have a choice.