Archive for the ‘church and culture’ Category

When I was a 17 years-old-year Senior in High School, I was in several Advanced Placement courses. As the school year drew to a close, I wanted to take the AP test that would allow me to attain college credit. The AP tests, however, were very, very expensive. I went to my guidance counselor. She said that they could waive the fees for the exams if I qualified for the school’s free lunch program.

I had avoided the free lunch program for years. I had been on the free lunch program in elementary school and middle school but was always embarrassed by it. So when I got to high school, I didn’t apply for it. I picked up a part time job so I could pay for my own lunch. But now, I wouldn’t be able to take my AP exams if I didn’t fill out the free lunch program form.

So I agreed to fill out the form. Later that day, my guidance counselor sent a student aide with the form to my social studies class room, where in front of the entire class, she declared that I needed to fill out the free lunch form. I remember the shame of not only my classmates laughing at me that day, but my high school teacher bursting out in laughter as well.

My family was poor. My father abandoned our family when I was in elementary school, leaving my mom to raise four children by herself. I don’t know of many people that worked harder than my mom. She worked two jobs for many years to keep our family together. She worked in an inner city Baltimore sub shop (the kind of store with the thick plexi-glass barrier and the small turnstile to exchange money and food). After her ten-hour day shift, she would head over to the inner city nursing home to work the graveyard shift as a nurses’ aide. She would return home at seven in the morning to make us breakfast, grab a quick nap, before heading back to work at 10am. She worked nearly 20 hours a day, six days a week. She insisted on keeping the Sabbath holy and would reserve all day Sunday for service at our church. A devout Christian woman with an incredible work ethic.

Despite her long hours of work, she had trouble making ends meet. Our family lived in a small two bedroom apartment in a rough inner city Baltimore neighborhood. For long periods of time, there would be nothing to eat in our refrigerator. I tell my 11 year-old daughter who is coming dangerously close to being as tall as I am, that if I had had proper nutrition when I was her age, she would never be close to me in height.

So back in the 1980’s, my mom applied for food stamps. We used them to buy groceries and food. We needed this safety net to eat, to survive.

Years later, I remember sitting in an evangelical seminary classroom as a student in a Christian ethics class. The topic was government programs that helped the poor. I sat listening to the vitriolic venom spewed by these good Christian men about freeloaders and welfare queens. I sat in stunned silence listening to future pastors judging people they did not know — sitting in their seminary ivory tower casting dispersion on all these freeloaders.

A few weeks ago, North Park University (where I am now privileged to serve as a member of the faculty) sponsored a viewing of The Line, a short feature documentary produced by Sojourners. The film showed images of everyday poverty throughout American (apparently a topic that is taboo in Presidential politics). Seeing the courage of these individuals sharing their struggles emboldened me to share my story. So this tenured professor who holds four advanced degrees from two Ivy League institutions with a fifth advanced degree on the way, shared with a group of undergraduates that he had once been on food stamps. That I wouldn’t have made it through my education without government help – through food stamps, free lunches, Pell grants, and government-backed student loans.

So maybe my story makes me a part of the 47% that has grown dependent on government and would never vote for a self-made man. Maybe some will view me as the offspring of a welfare queen. Or maybe I fulfill a new political category tinged with racial overtones: the food stamp professor.

Or maybe my story makes me an American.

In Revive Us Again Joel Carpenter offers a picture of fundamentalism in the second quarter of the twentieth century that challenges the prevailing notion of a movement in retreat destined for extinction. While wounded, fundamentalists did not dissolve into the sea of secularization and modernity after the public confrontations of the 1920s, but grew in strength during subsequent decades. Carpenter depicts a robust fundamentalism that spent those decades regrouping and forming infrastructures of media, educational institutions, and para-church organizations. The successful engagement with the surrounding American culture made straight the path for a public resurgence in the 1950s.  Evangelicals in the latter half of the twentieth century inherited not only a theological conservatism, but also the surprisingly nimble cultural adaptability of fundamentalists. Carpenter offers a well written, thoroughly researched, and convincing narrative of a movement that took pride in its uncompromising separatism but ultimately flourished in the twentieth century because of its adaptability.

In the pursuit of establishing the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism, Carpenter draws too straight a line connecting the two movements. Carpenter portrays the successful Graham revivals as having a direct link to the fundamentalism of the previous decades. The burgeoning evangelical movement in the 1950s owes a great debt to the foundational efforts of fundamentalism. However, Carpenter does not offer a clear distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals, oftentimes using the two terms interchangeably. Carpenter diminishes the possibility that the evangelicalism that emerges in the second half of the twentieth century links to a longer thread that weaves together the Protestant Reformation, Puritanism, Pietism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, Holiness traditions and other expressions of American Christianity. What Carpenter characterizes as the re-insertion of fundamentalism into American life could be interpreted as the re-forming of fundamentalism into American evangelicalism.

North Park University presents the 2012 JUSTICE SUMMIT. This conference brings together theologians, teachers, students, and activists from across the country. Participants at this two-day event will learn how to engage people in ministries of compassion and mercy, challenge policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Today’s schedule:
9am – Jim Wallis

10:30 – Workshops, including presentations by Curtis Evans (U. of Chicago), Tim King and Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners), Corey Brooks (the rooftop pastor), Dan Hodge (NPU’s Director of Youth Studies), David Byrd (Chicago Urban League).

NOON: Lunch forum/reception to learn about the NEW Urban Ministry Certificate Program (hosted by yours truly).

1:15pm: Judy Peterson (North Park University)

2:45: Workshops

7:00: Dr. Cornel West

It is not too LATE!  Register at the door.  Hope to see you there.

Come by to say hi at the Urban Ministry Certificate Launch at NOON (Carlson Building, Room 28)

Douglas Sweeney’s work presents a broad overview of American evangelical history. In the preface, Sweeney explains that the center of gravity for evangelicalism now resides outside of Europe and North America. This key observation shapes the book’s movement towards his statement “that though we have always been diverse . . . evangelicals share a heritage that is both rich and spiritually powerful – a legacy worth passing on to future generations.” (11) Various authors have attempted to define evangelicalism, with the concomitant action of narrowing its parameters. Donald Dayton and Robert Johnston lead the way in defying “neat and tidy categorization.” They suggest “that evangelicals resemble a large, extended family and should be described in only a general manner in terms of their ‘family resemblance’ rather than pigeonholed with excessive, propositional precision.” (21).
The strength of Sweeney’s work rests in his ability to provide a larger picture of evangelical history that encompasses the story of pietists, Pentecostals, African-American Christians, and others, while maintaining coherence. Rather than describing evangelicalism with a doctrinal rigidity, Sweeney describes behavioral aspects such as revivalism, pietism, and missionary zeal. Sweeney’s approach reflects the desire of an insider to “refresh our shared, historical memory, [that it] may help us to regain our spiritual bearings” (185).
For most historians and theologians, the American evangelical story has been the story of white Americans. Because of this dominant narrative, there has been an exclusion of the story of non-white evangelicals. Sweeney’s broadening of the evangelical story to include African-American Christianity provides a significant contribution. With a growing diversity evident in both global Christianity and American evangelicalism, Sweeney strengthens the connection between evangelical history and evangelicalism’s future trajectory. Sweeney’s work provides an example of an attempt to encompass “the great wealth of evangelical diversity” (19).

Part II of an interview with Duke Divinity School’s BLOG:

Q: Do you first have to help people realize they’re captive?

That’s an important first step. When you grow up in a particular church context with a particular worldview, you develop assumptions about what faith is. After a while, a culture develops within all churches, and we assume our particular cultural expression of Christianity is what the church is supposed to be.

In any context, whether the American church or globally, we have to offer that knowledge about captivity. But part of that comes when we’re in conversation with each other. When a white suburban church talks to an inner-city black church, or a Western church talks to an African church, then we start seeing which things are more cultural and which are more biblical. We start learning from each other what church is really about.

Q: So how do you free the church?

That’s the tough question. Right now in the U.S., we’re blessed to have an increasingly multicultural society. I’m a Korean and grew up in a Korean church, but I was educated in the context of American Christianity and American culture. So I have a bicultural lens.

The subtitle of my second book is “Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church,” but I always thought the better phrase would be “Cultural Intuition.” “Intelligence” implies just a set of knowledge that you pick up. Intuition is more something that you develop through experiences. A person who has lived in one cultural context all their life doesn’t develop an intuition for culture. They might read books on culture and gain knowledge about it, but they won’t develop intuition.

The more you’re in cross-cultural relationships and settings, the more you encounter people who are different, the more you can develop cultural intuition. And through that, you can start asking, “Well, where is my faith coming from?”

Q: What does a culturally sensitive, culturally intuitive church look like?

We’re just starting to figure that out. Part of the problem is that the U.S. has very few multiethnic churches. Only about 7 or 8 percent of U.S. churches are multiethnic, meaning 80 percent of one group and 20 percent of another. We don’t have churches that have been at this for 20 to 40 years and know what it’s like to live through stages of church life as a multicultural community. We’re starting to see more examples.

I hesitate to suggest principles that everybody should follow, because every context is different. But we have to develop even more intuition, relationships and abilities. We have to be patient. Maybe we first need to have more multiethnic churches and be more intentional about being part of multiethnic communities. Then we can see what principles emerge.

Q: You’ve written about the conditions that are required for people to grow and to change regarding issues of race and culture. Tell us about that.

I was a pastor for 15 years — 10 of those in one church — and that deeply shaped the way I view how people change.

Two variables are helpful, and you have to have both. One is a place of safety, a place where you feel safe enough to ask stupid questions, make mistakes and feel affirmed in your basic identity. That, by the way, is often why people go to single-ethnic churches — because they’re safe. We feel safer with people who are like us and who understand us.

But we also need the flip side of that, which is a place of discomfort. Most of us don’t grow unless there’s a reason to grow, unless discomfort is introduced — and usually that is introduced by people who are different.

That’s why it’s hard to establish multiethnic churches, because you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have places of safety,  but you also need a place of challenge, where people will say, “Hey, maybe you need to think about that a little more.”

Safety and challenge are things I hope the church could offer. That would be a great church, wouldn’t it? A place where people can say, “I’m affirmed here. God accepts me as I am. But at the same time, the community has challenged me to grow in areas that I would not have thought of unless I’d been part of this community.”

Q: The debate over immigration reform is an area where these issues of safety and discomfort seem relevant. Yet church people have often been some of the harshest voices in the debate. Why?

There’s no easy answer, but it goes back to cultural captivity, where being an American and protecting an American identity, usually associated with a white European identity, became more important than the scriptural values of compassion for the alien and immigrant among us. That reflects a cultural Christianity. Christianity as a whole has fallen captive to this idea of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. That has become more important than being the servant of all.

I get disturbed when people say, “We want America to be a Christian nation.” That usually means triumph, victory and maybe even violent conquest. The best way for America to be a Christian nation would be if we accepted the alien and immigrant among us. That would be more of a testimony of America as a Christian nation than any Islamic jihad we were able to defeat or put down.

Q: How should historically single-ethnic congregations welcome and minster to people of different cultures and languages?

American churches don’t look the way they did 20 or 30 years ago. They are more multicultural and more diverse than they’ve ever been, across all denominations. So the question is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?”

Is our goal to be hospitable? Well, yes, if we’re talking about the biblical understanding of hospitality, but not if we’re talking about the Western concept of hospitality, which means, “Come to my home for a couple of hours — we’ll feed you, but at the end of the night, you’re going to leave.”

Hospitality in the Western concept is an occasional event. Hospitality in the biblical context means, “No, actually, we’re going to live together. My home really is your home.”

What happens when that kind of hospitality changes not only your living arrangements but your food? If I’m a guest in your house, you might fix kimchi for me, but you can throw it out after I leave. But if I’m living with you, that kimchi’s going to be in your refrigerator for a long time, and your milk is going to start tasting like kimchi, and you might not like it as much as when it was just a random, one-night visit.

What happens when we live together for a long time and the liturgy changes? What happens when our children marry each other? What happens when all the things that make family life messy become what our church life needs to be?

It’s not just a Western host saying, “Hey, come on in. We have room for you.” It’s the church saying, “We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.” That is a very different approach to being a multiethnic church.

Usually, you get the dominant church or the dominant culture saying, “Come join us and become like us, and then we’ll have worship together.” This other approach says, “Unless you’re here, the way God made you, my life as a Christian is incomplete. By you being here, bringing your different culture and style of worship and approach to fellowship, my life becomes complete in Christ, because I’m seeing Christ in you the way I can’t see Christ just in my own life.”

Q: What advice do you have for churches that want to do what you describe?

Studies show that neighborhoods generally are six times more diverse than churches. Every neighborhood is different, but the excuse that “our church isn’t multiethnic because the neighborhood isn’t” is probably just that — an excuse. If you look within a mile radius, certainly four or five miles, you’ll see more diversity.

A first step would be to ask, “What’s going on in our neighborhood? Have churches started up that we didn’t know about? How can we partner with churches that are already doing this work?”

Then, also think about evangelism. What does it mean to do outreach and evangelism into communities that are already diverse?

Churches should also think seriously about what it means, what it costs, to become a multiethnic church. What would be lost potentially? It could be a lot.

I’ve been looking at what dying churches do with their buildings — churches that were vibrant for 40 or 50 years but they’re down to 15, 20 people, and they’re just kind of waiting. They have a huge endowment and the building is paid for, but they’re not going to make it. In many cases, those churches shut down and become community centers or libraries or bowling alleys or condos.

But what would it mean for that church to give the building to a Spanish-speaking church or a Korean congregation? That would require thinking about what it means to pass on a legacy to people who are in some sense your children but don’t look anything like you or even speak the same language.

What would it mean to think in such a larger, kingdom mindset that you would say, “Our run has ended, and our time is coming to a close. The next generation is not our biological children. It’s the Hispanic church or Asian-American church down the street that we should pass this legacy on to.”

It’s coming to a point in American church history where we’re passing on our legacy to people who look very different from us.

September 2011 on Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership Blog. I did an interview on The Next Evangelicalism. Originally posted on: http://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/soong-chan-rah-freeing-the-captive-church.

This is part I of that interview.

Our nation’s growing diversity represents more to the church than a pool of potential new members. Even more, it’s an opportunity for the church in America to begin to live out a richer, more biblically authentic form of Christianity, Soong-Chan Rah said.

“Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity,” Rah said. “As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?”

The question for the church in America is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?” said Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

If the goal is hospitality, then the church must decide what kind of hospitality it is willing to extend — traditional Western hospitality or a more demanding, biblical form of hospitality.

“It’s not just a Western host saying, ‘Hey, come on in. We have room for you,’” Rah said. “It’s the church saying, ‘We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.’”

Rah is the author of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.” He was the founding pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass., a multiethnic, urban church committed to racial reconciliation and social justice.

Rah was a faculty member for the 2011 Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School and spoke with Faith & Leadership about diversity, church growth and freeing the church from cultural captivity. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You’re an associate professor of church growth and evangelism and you write about race, ethnicity and culture. What’s the connection between those? Are race and ethnicity keys to church growth?

When we look at evangelism and church growth and America’s changing demographics, we have to consider issues like multicultural and multiethnic ministry. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the two have gone hand in hand. Diversity has been a big factor in our growth.

Twenty years ago, the Evangelical Covenant Church was overwhelmingly white and Swedish, because it was a Swedish immigrant church. But in the last 15 years, it has become 20 to 25 percent nonwhite and has been one of the fastest growing denominations. It’s a place where we see a denomination’s growth parallel its growing diversity.

 

Q: Tell us about your first book, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

I look first at how Christianity has changed globally and in America. The assumption has been that Christianity in America is on the decline, but because of immigration, we’re actually seeing American Christianity, if not increasing, then certainly leveling off. We can be thankful that immigration and changing demographics are contributing to the church’s growth in the United States.

But given that demographic reality, what elements of American Christianity are still beholden to systems and structures from a previous time when it was dominated by Western white culture? And what do we need to think through in light of the changing demographics?

So where does our Christianity look more cultural than scriptural? Where do we go from here as we become more ethnically diverse? What is our theological and biblical understanding of culture? How do we start looking at multicultural communities? How can we build cross-cultural relationships?

Every expression of Christianity has cultural baggage, both good and bad. All Christianity has cultural relevance to a particular context. Churches need to do that. But at what point does it become captivity rather than relevance?

Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity. As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?

 

Q: What are the most obvious signs of the church’s captivity to Western culture?

One is the individualism of Western culture. We see this very strongly in evangelicalism, which tends to be highly individualistic. Is that really a biblical approach, or is it acquiescence to American culture? If Western culture is individualistic, then the Western church had to develop patterns of church life that parallel that individualism. But at what point does that become not just relevance but captivity?

Another is how we worship. Does our preaching reflect more the values of individualism than biblical values of community life? Western culture is very much about the individual, but is that what the Bible talks about when it talks about church? Do we need to move out from Western cultural captivity to see other models of community and church? How do African and Asian churches do church life? In what ways might they reflect a more communal spirit rather than the individualism of Western culture?

Captivity doesn’t allow us to see that. Captivity forces us into a particular worldview that says, “This is the way we do church.” But if we’re freed from that, we can see other expressions of church life.

North Park University to Host ‘Justice Summit and Chicago Reload’ March 23-24

North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload image

Cornel West, Jim Wallis highlight prominent speaker lineup

CHICAGO (February 2, 2012) – North Park University, Chicago, will host hundreds of people next month at an event for those who want to know more about justice as a way of life. Participants in the “North Park Justice Summit and Chicago Reload,” event will learn how to engage in ministries of compassion and mercy, confront policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations, all from a Christian perspective.

The Justice Summit and Chicago Reload is March 23-24. It combines Chicago Reload, an annual event for urban youth workers hosted by the University the past seven years, with a new Justice Summit to expand the audience and dig deeper into the subject of justice, including focus on systemic issues and policies. Event organizers are hoping at least 500 or more people will attend.

Prominent plenary speakers highlight the event, and are expected to address justice, compassion and mercy from varied perspectives and contexts. They are Dr. Cornel West, Princeton (N.J.) University; Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners, Washington; Rev. Harvey Carey, senior pastor, Citadel of Faith Covenant Church, Detroit; Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, North Park Theological Seminary; and Rev. Judy Peterson, campus pastor, North Park University.

“The whole idea is to gather folks around the issue of justice, and start the dialogue in a direction we think is holistic,” said Tony Zamblé, director, North Park University Ministries. “This idea gained traction because we believe North Park is uniquely positioned as an institution to lead the conversation on justice.” Justice Summit and Chicago Reload presenters will address the theological framework for justice ministry so participants understand what God calls them to do, and why, Zamblé said.

Justice issues are a significant component of youth ministry regardless of the context, said Alison Burkhardt, assistant director, Center for Youth Ministry Studies, North Park University. “There is a real electricity around Chicago Reload, and I believe it’s going to translate into the full conference. I’m hoping attendees will leave knowing that what they do makes a difference, having perhaps a different perspective on the impact they have on the communities they’re working with,” she said. Conference planners hope attendees gain “foundations and tools” for doing ministry that can be applied in multiple contexts, Burkhardt added.

Attendees will be able to choose from a significant number of workshops organized into four tracks, said Rich Kohng, urban outreach coordinator, North Park University Ministries. Workshop categories include “Presence,” “Policy,” “Programs,” and “Perceptions,” he said. Some workshops are already planned, and others will be added in the coming weeks. Kohng said he hopes attendees will become “contemplative activists,” combining their relationships with Jesus Christ and activism as important components of the gospel.

Conference registration is open online; early registration rates are available through Feb. 29. Regular registration begins March 1 and closes online March 21. For those who sign up, conference email updates are also available.

Justice Summit and Chicago Reload sponsors are three University entities: University Ministries, Campus Theme Committee, and the Center for Youth Ministry Studies. North Park University is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

North Park Theological Seminary Announces Urban Ministry Certificate

Certificate in Urban Ministry

Applications for first cohort accepted through March 31

CHICAGO (February 10, 2012) – North Park Theological Seminary is accepting applications for a new, two-year graduate educational program leading to a Certificate in Urban Ministry. The 15-credit certificate program is intended for Christian ministers and lay leaders who want to learn more about engaging in effective ministry in urban settings.

The Seminary is part of North Park University, a higher education institution with a Christian, multicultural, and urban identity. Those core values, combined with the cultural and Christian diversity represented in Chicago, position the Seminary to offer a rich educational experience to students, said Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, program director. Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism for the Seminary, and a former urban pastor himself.

“Chicago is part of the classroom we’re offering,” he said in an interview. “Being in Chicago is a tremendous advantage. It is a center for community development, community organizing, for ethnic diversity, and with diverse neighborhoods.”

Offering a certificate program in urban ministry is part of a larger trend of urbanization and the growing influences of urban culture, Rah said. Both the University and Seminary are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), which is planting new congregations in urban areas, Rah said. Urban pastors and urban lay workers could benefit greatly from the certificate program, Rah said. “We hope it will strengthen and undergird their urban ministry,” he said. The program can also introduce people to urban ministry who want to learn more.

The urban environment is complex, constantly changing, and always challenging, Rah said. The certificate program will emphasize deeper theological and spiritual engagement, as well as practical ideas for enhancing urban ministry. “We do this ministry as followers of Jesus. Anytime we can deepen the theology, it is a good thing. Also important are spiritual formation and discipleship. All of these serve to strengthen our work in the city,” he said.

Students who complete the program will earn 15 credit hours in just over two years. Plans call for the first cohort to meet Aug. 13–17 in Chicago, followed by online coursework beginning in October. The cohort will meet in Chicago for another week in August 2013, followed by online coursework. A final week-long gathering in Chicago is planned for August 2014. Rah said an ideal size for the urban ministry cohort is about 15 to 20 people.

“There is great enthusiasm in this Seminary and in this denomination for this certificate program,” said Rah. “It represents a wonderful convergence of what North Park University is all about, and what the Evangelical Covenant Church is excited about.”

Applications and supporting materials must be submitted to North Park Theological Seminary by March 31, said E. Kirsten Burdick, director of Seminary admissions. All applications will be considered at the same time in April, she said.

Over the past decade, I have had a number of conversations with pastors who were beginning to engage on the issue of race in the context of the church.  Some are attempting to develop multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches.  Others are struggling with whether multi-ethnic churches were in their future.  I have noticed that two dominant themes emerge in my conversation with the wide range of Christians on the topic of multi-ethnic churches

The first perspective claims that we are all the same and that racial and cultural differences do not matter.  Commonplace phrases include:

“We’re all the same race – the human race.”

“We don’t have a race problem at our church. We’re all one in Christ.”

“People put too much emphasis on culture . . . we should be about the culture of Jesus, not human culture.”

“We’re really trying to form a new culture at our church, one that goes beyond everyone’s original culture”

The second perspective also has its set of catch phrases:

“We have too many issues in our own community.”

“We’re just not ready, it’s too difficult of a task to try be a multi-ethnic community.”

“Multi-ethnic churches don’t grow, if we want to grow as a church, we need to be with people like ourselves”

Professor Willie Jennings of Duke Divinity School finds in these two different streams, the manifestation of two historical heresies. The first perspective reflects the docetic heresy, while the second perspective reflects an adoptionist heresy.

The docetic perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was not human at all. There were strains of the gnostic heresy in the docetic perspective.  Flesh and matter were evil. Jesus could not have been encased in flesh, since flesh is evil.  Therefore, Jesus was fully spirit and his physical body was an illusion.  The docetic perspective stems from the inability to deal with differences. Human limitations and differences were a problem to overcome and to be eradicated rather than something to be renewed.  The docetic antagonism towards the flesh yields an antagonism towards anything of the flesh.  Racial and cultural identity (arising from the material world) should be obliterated, rather than affirmed.

The adoptionist perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was born fully human and was later adopted by God as His son by virtue of Jesus’ supernatural devotion to God.  The awareness of this adoption occurred at the moment of Jesus’ baptism.  Declared a heresy in the second century, adoptionism was refuted by the First Nicean Council – hence the Nicean Creeds assertion that Jesus was eternally- begotten of the Father.  Adoptionism places a priority on one’s social location and identity and places high emphasis on one’s context.  Because one’s social location and identity are centralized, Christianity gets added on as an extra ingredient. Christianity is subservient to one’s culture, race and ethnicity which hold a primary, central position.

So one perspective exalts culture while another position diminishes it.  Both perspectives are heretical. Neither path is an appealing option.

I find that evangelical Christianity struggles with how to best deal with culture.  We tend to cover the gamut of perspectives ranging from the docetic to the adoptionist.  In Many Colors, I try to address the need to have a healthy perspective on culture.  A perspective that does not disparage or diminish culture.  At the same time does not elevate culture beyond its rightful place.  Part of the process of planting and developing multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches requires a deeper theology of culture.  Working towards a deeper theology of culture provides a starting point for developing cultural intelligence for a changing church.

For more on the topic, See: http://restructure.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/endorsement-of-racial-colorblindness-is-linked-to-racism/