Theology

[Re]imagining Jesus

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I ended my last post about multiethnic church by calling us to a greater imagination of what the Church could look like by considering the insights of postcolonial theology. The goal in these conversations is to bring awareness to the impact our Westernized culture has had in shaping our theology and imagining of the church. The central identity of the church has been formed around Westernization and Whiteness. In order to reimagine the church it is imperative examine key concepts of our theology with the aid of a postcolonial lens. I would like to start with our theology and [re]imaging of Jesus. He is after all, our model for extending the Kingdom. How do we imagine Jesus? Why is it important? 

In their piece Jesus/Christ the Hybrid: Towards a Postcolonial Christology [1] (from Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis) [2] Joya Colon-Berezin and Peter Goodwin Heltzel lay some groundwork for our [re]imaging of Jesus. They lay out how a new Christology helps us move away from a Western social imagination to one that opens us up to the interdependence of humanity. To do so they speak of two important concepts in postcolonial studies: hybridity and solidarity. Building on their work, I want to connect how reimagining Jesus can help shape the church by creating space for space for non-western narratives and embracing others.

Hybridity

Hybridity refers to “a multicultural identity that is not dominated by the hegemony of one race and ethnicity.” [3]  The clearest example of this can be seen with the construction of race in the United States. If someone is bi-racial, they are often categorized by their minority identification. My friends are “half black” or “half latino,” rarely do they say they are “half white.” This identification system becomes divisive; one identifies with only part of who they are at the cost of negating the other piece of their identity.

Hybridity, however gives voice to the experience of being bicultural. It sidesteps the latent power structures of dominant/subdominant culture by making room for both. One understands both the dominant culture while also having experiences of being a minority. The concept of hybridity gives place to examining a dialectic narrative. Hybridity does not negate one part of identity at the cost of another. It builds a capacity for tension and to hold different experiences together.

Hybridity sidesteps the power structures of dominant/subdominant culture by making room for both. Click To Tweet

When applied elsewhere, hybridity offers stepping stones to move away from dichotomized thinking and systematic ideology which limits our interpretation of the theology and the Gospel. A Western approach asks questions about what can be understood and explained. Westernization also has a dualistic approach to Christology. Christology traditionally emphasizes one side of Jesus’ being. We either focus on his divinity or his humanity. These categories then imply that one must choose which side to relate to.

Hetzel and Colon-Berezin posit a Christology through the lens of hybridity (Jesus/Christ). Jesus/Christ hybrid gives room for both narratives of Jesus experiences as God AND man. It opens a way of understanding how Jesus was able to relate to our experiences (fully man) yet simultaneously have a different experience because he was fully God.

When we think of Jesus/Christ as hybrid it builds our capacity to hold the tension of different, but equal, narratives. Our social imaginations open to understanding how others may have a different but equal way of identifying with Christ.

Solidarity

Solidarity becomes a “mode of relationship” for the underrepresented and those within the dominant culture. Solidarity reimagines a people who acknowledge their difference and common humanity. “True solidarity provides a way for [underrepresented] identities not to degenerate into individualism, particularism or relativism.” [5]  

Jesus’ social imagination focused on those who were alienated from mainstream society. He knew that the dominant structure of their faith removed them from power, position, and influence. When we reimagine Jesus from a postcolonial perspective we make space for “non-Western patterns of understanding which tend to begin with questions of common experiences and challenges.” [6]

In light of recent events and our national climate, how we re-imagine Jesus is an imperative question for how we understand the gospel. How did Jesus relate to the underrepresented in his community? What if Jesus looked like a Syrian refugee? What if his face was that of a non-documented worker? What if we pictured the boy Jesus who stood at the temple and preached as #TamirRice? Would we reimagine 12 year old dark skinned boys not as threats but as prophets?

What if we pictured the boy Jesus who stood at the temple and preached as #TamirRice? Click To Tweet

When we apply these questions to our churches and places of influence it can help reassess our ministry. Solidarity addresses power dynamics through relationship. Diversity and capacity is about more than cultural difference and numbers. More so, diversity points to our capacity for social imagination. Like Jesus, we need to ask whose voice is missing at our table. Are we missing people experiencing homelessness, single parents, or those with differing ability cognitively or physically? Does the gospel we proclaim give voice to the narrative of how our black and brown friends, or those who are refugees or immigrants see and experience Jesus? How are we making room for these voices?

Solidarity addresses power dynamics through relationship. Click To Tweet

Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom in who he chose to associate with and who be befriended. Solidarity becomes a starting point not only for how we can reimagine our theology, but for how we tangibly enter into the lives of others. Jesus brought people with different experiences to the table, giving them voice, influence and dignity.

When we picture Jesus from a Western worldview we tend to forget that he was a refugee; his family fled to Egypt with an undocumented child to escape a dictator who was fearful of a new King. A new imagining of Jesus creates space for us to understand a fuller picture of who he is. It allows us to move toward what we don’t understand. A new image of Jesus moves us towards empathy and humanizing the experience of each other.

It makes room for narratives that share in suffering of Christ by embracing the suffering of those around us.


[1] Jesus/Christ the Hybrid: Towards a Postcolonial Christology p. 162

[2] Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis (Smith, Lalitha, and Hawk, 2014)

[3] Jesus/Christ the Hybrid: Towards a Postcolonial Christology p. 164

[4] Theology without Borders An Introduction to Global Conversations (2015)

[5] Jesus/Christ the Hybrid: Towards a Postcolonial Christology p. 164

[6] Jesus/Christ the Hybrid: Towards a Postcolonial Christology p. 163

Image credit: Mary and Jesus ©2013 Creatista/Scott Griessel.

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