Islam, Inerrancy, and Progressive Christianity: A Postcolonial Response

Are Muslims Our Neighbor? Are Inerrantists?

Lesslie Newbigin was Moderator of the General ...

Lesslie Newbigin was Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC in 1978/1979. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given my past posts on my questions on biblical inerrancy, one might say I am the least likely candidate to be “taking” the side of inerrantists on this one, but I do have questions that I seek to ask; if I apply one criticism to one side (the conservative side), it should be only fair that that same question is applied to the other (the liberal side.).  Like I have argued in the past, I have major problems with the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,  but that in no way shape or form means I have some vendetta against the humanity of inerrantists themselves. Not all inerrantists hold to the same interpretation of Scripture, not all inerrantists are bullying dissidents out of their church. In the U.S. context, there have been small groups of inerrantist Christians, the John Browns and women evangelists such as Zilpha Elaw, who was both a fighter for social injustice and an inerrantist.

In other words, the path of “anti-inerrancy” progressive, missional Christianity does not necessarily lead to “heresy” or liberal versions of neighborly love. Take for example this quote by Lesslie Newbigin, how inerrantists are more “Muslim” than Christian. One simple question: what does this actually mean? No really, what does this mean? That inerrantists are some how “sub-Christians” i.e., less neighborly in a white Christian liberal sense? Is it not so easy to make this very argument in a post-9/11/2001 world which is still filled with Islamophobia, where Muslims (and sikhs who only ignorant folk mistake for Muslims because of racial+religious profiling) to primarily white liberal Christians? Does not this type of argument benefit from liberal forms of Islamophobia and Orientalism? What if an ierrantist just said, so what? Are not Muslims children of Abraham too? What would the missional response be? So my question is, other than being used as a personal attack against inerrantists, what’s the point of comparing fellow Christians to Muslims? In a post-9.11 world, it’s to Other inerrrantists, that they are less than white/Western/civilized than missional/progressive Christians.

Interestingly, Enns’ ends his quote with a somewhat cheery, whitewashed view of missions:

“The half-serious joke I heard while in seminary (as a student and a professor) was, “Heresy begins in missions.” That’s where you have to deal with actual people. When you do, you may find that you will actually be changed in the encounter at least as much as they, and that your theological system, as airtight and divinely endorsed and immutable as you might think, often does not work when you wander away from home. And so you need to learn to think differently about yourself, your world, the Bible, even God.”

The Missional/Progressive church is no different than its conservative counterpart in its refusal to discuss the nexus between colonial history and the history of missions. To ignore this truth, and to not speak of it, is to give silent approval to the ways in which white supremacy has spread. A person can adopt all the liberal “heresies” she wants, but she can still be committed to staunch anti-neighborly stances like imperialism. Heresy does begin in missions, but so does colonization. One African proverb from a wise man goes like this, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” It did not matter if the missionaries were inerrantists or not; what matters was in that in the colonial moment, the missionaries, nice people as they might have been, rejected our Savior’s Golden Rule.

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

In the late 1960’s, James Cone in his Black Theology And Black Power briefly discussed the differences between conservative biblical inerrantists, “liberals [who were] freer in their treatment of the bible” and the neo-orthodox theologians in the mid-20th century who worked to make Jesus the central religious authority. What Cone suggested back then, we can apply now, that all Christian doctrines, even the doctrine of the Bible, must come under scrutiny to speak to the experience of blacks [read: oppressed people groups, not African Americans] “who are living under unbearable oppression.” (for more, see Black Theology and Black Power, Chapter 5, “On Religious Authority.” While persons may object to Cone’s language of experience, oppression, and otherwise, what Cone is doing is not simply “black” theology, it is Christian theology in that oppressions are major, systemic violations of Christ’s Golden Rule, and so in the final analysis, taking Cone seriously, we see that Christ is the final judge of theology and doctrine. So, with this I ask, does your argument benefit from hatred towards your neighbor [in this case, Muslims]? If so, it must come under the utmost scrutiny. Does your argument benefit from hiding truths like the colonialism and missions? If so, it must bear the brunt of anti-imperial critique, like it or not.

Again, this is why I prefer the language of Scripture as fully-trustworthy,  because it recognizes that a hermeneutic is required to read this text. Not only does this trust require a faith, but also an understanding of love (we experience in Christ), and a hope, we will one day see at the New Creation.

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h00die_R (Rod)

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9 thoughts on “Islam, Inerrancy, and Progressive Christianity: A Postcolonial Response

  1. I myself am a Calvinist and an inerrantist. I easily see that being an inerrantist does not predestine me to use a specific hermeneutic when interpreting the Bible. I disagree with the view of Cone which you stated here because his canon lies outside of scriptures. However, I agree with his concerns over the oppression of Blacks. In fact, I tried to get my church to approve of using his book on the cross and the lynching tree approved for our high school students to study.

    What you say about missional Christianity is what I would say about what I call extroverted Christianity. That is a Christianity that emphasizes what we do for others more than our own personal piety.

    I find the causes of colonialism to lie outside of all of the major schools of Christian thought. The causes for colonialism by “Christian” countries lies in a syncretism between the exaltation, and even worship, of one’s own culture or country with the Gospel. By syncretism, I mean the pounding of a square peg into a round hole. One can’t accomplish that without doing violence to at least of these objects. The motivations for such a joining could range from simple idolatry to fear, which we know from intergalactic history is the path to the dark side. And when attributing this to idolatry, I would add what Chris Hedges says when he says that idolatry goes back to self-worship.

    One more point, as for the closeness between inerrantists and Islam, first, that does not apply to all inerrantists. Rather, I find that legalists from Christianity and Judaism have more in common with most forms of Islam than the non-legalsts of their respective religions.

  2. what Cone is doing is not simply “black” theology, it is Christian theology in that oppressions are major, systemic violations of Christ’s Golden Rule, and so in the final analysis, taking Cone seriously, we see that Christ is the final judge of theology and doctrine. So, with this I ask, does your argument benefit from hatred towards your neighbor [in this case, Muslims]? If so, it must come under the utmost scrutiny. Does your argument benefit from hiding truths like the colonialism and missions? If so, it must bear the brunt of anti-imperial critique, like it or not. –

    Like it. (Let us bear the critique, let us follow the rule of Christ.)

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  4. This is a very helpful critique. I have unfortunately played the “You’re just like the Taliban” card myself in the context of trying to call out fundamentalist “hypocrisy” at the expense of Islam. So thank you for calling that behavior out.

    • Yes, i actually find myself criticized by this post too. We have been taught and internalize Islamophobia. How are we to reach them when we believe the worst things about them?

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