Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations
As we have seen with Ferguson, this country desperately needs to dialogue about things like race, systemic inequality, and the existence of disenfranchised and disempowered communities in our midst. Yet these very conversations, necessary as they are, are incredibly difficult to conduct, especially in religious circles, which are among the most segregated of groups. Thankfully, the Postcolonial Theological Network is leading the way. Their book, Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis, was formed by bringing together theologians of various nationalities, ethnicities, and genders to dialogue about the collusion between evangelical theology and colonialism. Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations is a must-read for anyone seeking to reconcile the urgencies of their own context with traditional, universalized means of constructing evangelical theology, which have so long favored the status quo of white colonialism.
The structure of the book is logical and easy to follow. The introduction establishes the need for postcolonial conversations, while the first section focuses on evangelical mission within the context of colonialism and how the two were intricately intertwined, as missionaries often required converts to become "civilized"—in other words, to become like Europeans. As Lakota contributor Richard Twiss writes, "The church told me that God loved me a lot but that God didn't like me much, at least culturally."
Part Two focuses on the ideologies behind colonialism, and particularly addresses the Kantian idea that there is a universal and objective knowledge, which, in practice, identified "'scientifically-minded,' white, male, Christian Europeans" as truly civilized. Parts Three and Four begin the important work of creating a new kind of evangelical theology, one that benefits from postcolonial criticism and focuses on praxis. The last section details the process of creating and dialoguing at the roundtable, including fairly honest self-critique in the spaces that were created for the voices of people (especially women) of color, particularly in the early stages of the project.
As might be expected (and, indeed, as the editors warn), most of the entries are academic in tone and subject matter. It appears that the Network assembled a fairly diverse group of scholars, in contrast to early stages of the project. While some authors identify themselves and their communities' experiences with colonialism, others remain silent. Readers are left to guess at the context of many of the authors—a strange choice for a work that prides itself on the diversity of its authors and the contextuality of their theology.
Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations is not a perfect book, just as the roundtable process was not immediately successful. While seeking to unite theologians of different contexts, it ultimately fails to identify those contexts, and, at times, to relate them to the content. Yet, ultimately, this book is not a final masterpiece but a brave first step. As the editors write, "the conversation resembles … a spiral—with threads appearing and reappearing in new combinations … We do not tie the threads together at the end but leave them for our Creator to join with us and with others in weaving them together in ongoing collaboration."
Rebecca Hall Baik is a recent graduate of Palmer Theological Seminary with extensive experience working with immigrants as well as victims of domestic violence in Tijuana, Mex.