There’s been a bit of a tempest in a teapot between D.A. Carson and the Emergent Church Movement. I have no intentions on piling on D.A. Carson for seeming to miss the point of attempting to engage something without talking to any of the voices of the movement. Nor address how the Emergent folks have handled it (pretty classy from the top, using the controversy/book as an opportunity to expand the conversation with folks). I fear this rant is going to go all over the place and touch on a ton of topics, so just sort of hang on. First, let me back up.

D. A. Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author or coauthor of over 45 books, including the Gold Medallion Award-winning book The Gagging of God, and An Introduction to the New Testament. He is general editor of Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns and Worship by the Book. He has served as a pastor and is an active guest lecturer in church and academic settings around the world.

He, like many other conservative theologians, is wrestling with the implications of postmodernism to the church. As part of his trying to engage the movement, he wrote a book called Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. All in an effort to, you know, supposedly start a dialogue. I’m all fine and good with all of this. I haven’t read the book, though from everything I’ve heard, it comes off like a parents’ critique of their children’s music. However, I stumbled across a quote from the book which I’m perfectly willing to take out of context, because, hey, it gives me an excuse to launch a protest and that’s what we Christians are all about. The following is not the best way to start a dialogue with me:

Yet, to put things in perspective, I have heard a fair number of African preachers handle narrative texts very ably, but can think of only three or four African preachers who can expound on Romans very well. The narrative culture of many Africans (though that is now changing somewhat) produced certain limitations; the heritage of Western epistemology and culture produced another set of limitations. (p. 67)

Yes, this sticks in my craw. Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way. Someone please explain to me the context and point of this paragraph.

I know, I know, I know. People are tired of always having to either talk about or tip-toe around the issue of race. I understand the sentiment, the need to get past the things that separate and divide us. But by that reasoning, let’s get rid of the Bible. Or Jesus. And then I hear things like why can’t “we” move beyond it? Well, “we” haven’t. Frankly, I get offended when people ask me that. I liken this to asking a rape victim to get over it. And allow me to assure you, I’m not using that analogy lightly. This gets to the heart of the problems in developing a multi-cultural ministry.

It’s hard getting people on the same page about being multi-cultural. The problem begins with the fact that the idea of what this means is often nebulous in our minds. When we say multi-cultural, we seem to equate that with multi-racial; and when we say multi-racial, we seem to only mean black and white people. We tend to forget that there are other races and other cultures and sub-cultures to welcome into the family.

America suffers from serious amnesia (this goes beyond the race thing). We like to forget. We have to seriously talk about what happened and why. Every time the dialogue starts, it gets too painful or too heated, and it stops. White folks don’t want to be blamed for things that they didn’t do and are tired of paying for–or more on point, hearing about–sins of the past. Black folks haven’t forgiven and hold on to old hates and anger. God is the God of the past. Set up rituals that are all about remembrance. Passover. Communion. These are signposts for where we’ve been in order to not go there again in the future.

Too many people want to rush in and set aside ethnicity to “just worship Jesus”. Let’s face it, we’d all be doing racial reconciliation if “they” would simply come to “us” (on our terms). No risk, no mess. I want to hold hands and praise Jesus as much as the next person, but I don’t want you to see me as your brother in Christ until I want to date your daughter (at which point all you can see is “brother”). Or I don’t want to hear how you don’t want to attend a small group meeting at my house because you think I live in the hood. It’s easy to say that you don’t see color and that I’m your brother, if I’m the only “one” you know.

That being said, we have to start somewhere. Even if I have to meet you where you are.

These are the dilemmas we face as we seek to become comfortable with the idea of a multi-cultural church. And you know what? There are no easy solutions. We build bridges, one relationship at a time. We learn the language of respect, tolerance, and develop thick skins because we’re going to make mistakes. But better to try and make mistakes than to not try. From the church’s side of things, a multi-cultural vision needs to be more than a message preached from the pulpit. It needs to start at the leadership level. Those leaders need to understand history, culture, and nuance. Those leaders need to listen and come alongside their community. If people want to know me, they need to read my history and come to my neighborhood. Then they can speak. It’s about building relationships before they’ve earned the right to speak.

I’m just trying to figure out a way to live out the church’s mission. Frankly, I’m tired of talking about the importance of being a multi-cultural enterprise and want to just do it. It’s like I feel like people are throwing a party, put out signs that I’m welcome, then gets upset when I crash it. That’s all I’m saying.

For those who are still trying to figure out the subtleties of race relations, please see my new favorite site, black people love us.

###
Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.