45 Responses

  1. Jim Caldwell
    Jim Caldwell May 15, 2013 at 7:52 AM |

    CC-I think we all believe we have the best version of the gospel. The real question is whether we are open to change. If we think we have not only the best but the final version we are in trouble. Semper reformanda is the reformers’ motto that has largely been forgotten. Always reforming. Keep going.

  2. myfullemptynest
    myfullemptynest May 15, 2013 at 9:59 AM |

    This is a conversation that the west needs to have since the majority Christian is a woman in a third world country. Good post.

  3. Lotus
    Lotus May 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM |

    As a member of a immigrant church growing through the period of aging first generation founders with a shrinking 2nd generation, I see that the statements in the article apply to me. I have lost count of how many times I have heard the same sentiment spoke in the context of administrative meetings, members meetings, church seminars, etc… I think that cultural pride is written within the fabric of our sin nature. This is one of the was that it manifests. It flourishes and grows rapidly like tall weed stalks whenever there is cross cultural exposure with little to no cross cultural engagement.

  4. Loretta Saint-Louis
    Loretta Saint-Louis May 15, 2013 at 10:58 AM |

    Thanks for this post. I like the concept of cultural idolatory. As you point out, part of cultural idolatry is theological. Can we extend Paul’s body analogy here? The body of Christ will not be healthy without all of its parts, all of its diversity, in communication with each other, influencing and being influenced by each other. Theological diversity keeps Christianity healthy and growing.

  5. Kurt Ingram
    Kurt Ingram May 15, 2013 at 12:17 PM |

    I wonder how the idea of conversion plays into this conversation, because people are often converted to the Gospel they received. And in general that conversion moment comes in the midst of a homogenous community with a Gospel that speak to the convert because it is bent towards their cultural center. There is at times an idea that conversion is a final thing that ends at a place of the converted, but if we are to take seriously this questioning of the static Gospel that the converts feel is the “best version” I think we have to question what conversion is, what it is a conversion to, and it the point to be converted or to be a person who lives in the place of conversion. When we become the converted, we take that as power, and want to convert others to our answer. But if we are called to be a people of conversion maybe our stance is always to be submitting to the truth of others, to learn and be further converted into a dynamic Gospel that makes a radical claim against authority. Thank you for sharing this, I have found myself at times believing that I had this best version, but as I have encountered others I realize that my best version was flat, one demensional, and deaf.

  6. Dennis
    Dennis May 15, 2013 at 12:29 PM |

    thank you for these observations and admonitions. I agree so much with what you say, especially one of your responses above stressing humility in our interpretations. THAT would be “incarnational” (Philippians 2:5-11 kind of stuff!) — our exegesis and praxis are more about giving ourselves than “being right.”

  7. hannahgustavson
    hannahgustavson May 15, 2013 at 1:09 PM |

    Hi Dr. Cleveland! Hope you don’t mind me snooping around your blog. Just feel like putting my two cents in. :) Congratulations on the book publication, by the way!

    Maybe the problem is not in thinking that we have the best version of the Gospel, but whether or not we try to impose the best version of the Gospel for ourselves on others. We all read the Bible through the lens of our own experiences. We interpret it as it needs to be interpreted for our own spiritual development in that time and place–and yes, as Jim says above, this interpretation is always changing.

    This post reminds me of a particular Bible Study discussion which took place during a staff meeting a few months ago (I work at a Presbyterian Church). I don’t usually participate, really. The people around the table with me are PhDs, MDivs, Biblical scholars, historians, and theologians. And then there’s little ol’ me, the youngest by 15 years, sitting there thinking, “Don’t say anything! They will know you got a D in Old Testament at Westmont!” This story would probably be more effective if I could remember the passage we were discussing. I can’t. But I do remember that the conversation began with inviting people into the church. At the time, we were a Warming Shelter site for the homeless during cold/rainy nights, and there had been a few issues with the homeless people hanging around during the day. My boss’s wallet had been stolen, the custodian had to clean up pee from the wall of the Sanctuary, and the grounds-keeper found used needles down by the daycare center. Needless to say, it was a heated discussion centering around how to implement an effective service to this population without risking the safety of our children, and while still opening the arms of our church as a place of worship (which is a whole other discussion in itself).

    Let me say up-front that I never feel as diverse as I do when I interpret the Bible differently from the people I believe should know “the best version of the Gospel.” And in this moment, I felt pretty damn different. I finally said something along the lines of, “Yes, we have a large homeless population in Santa Barbara and yes, a lot of them probably feel excluded from the Christian community. But there are so many more minorities that are CRAVING invitation to a church that will welcome their perspectives, and in failing to acknowledge them, we are failing to invite them into the church, and we are failing in opening ourselves up to diversity.” It doesn’t sound as profound when I type it out like that, but the table literally went quiet as the youth pastor admitted, “Yeah, sometimes we get stuck on the homeless and forget about everyone else.” And I’m not surprised. I mean, as a sexual minority, I often have a different point of view from, well, a lot of people–especially church leaders. And I’m okay with that because I am trying to be proactive about getting my voice heard. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel the need to be invited into a church. I have never walked into a church and immediately felt welcomed, because I can’t feel welcomed until I know that the church in which I am standing will accept my voice as a sexual minority who is /comfortable/ with being a sexual minority.

    Anyway, I went on a bit of a tangent there, but to get back to my point… I don’t believe the church where I work (which, ironically, is not my place of worship) is a church that struggles with cultural idolatry, but that doesn’t mean that they know where or how to begin the conversation of attracting people who not only look diverse but feel diverse. There seems to be some kind of a road block between admitting that the church lacks diversity and knowing how to take the steps of making the church available and open and welcoming to those with a culturally diverse perspective who, at the same time, are searching nooks and crannies for a church that will nourish their points of view.

    Wow, sorry for that novel! I hope you’re doing well!

  8. Will Dole
    Will Dole May 15, 2013 at 6:59 PM |

    Good thoughts.
    It is important to remember though, that there is a difference between believing you are correct and being unwilling to change. If you don’t believe you are right then you don’t actually believe what you say you believe. But you can believe you are correct, even labor to defend your particular position on any issue, including the Gospel, while maintaining humility.
    There are also things that we ought not seek diversity in. If someone has a fundamentally different view of God or Scripture or the Gospel then that is not an association that I need to seek in the realm of the Church. It is in fact one I should fight. I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about here, but I think someone could grab these thoughts and run in the wrong direction.

  9. Tony Jones
    Tony Jones May 15, 2013 at 10:24 PM |

    You got the quote wrong. I said, “We have a better version of the gospel.”

    “Best” would foreclose discussion and conversation. Thus, I would not say that.

    “Better” was clearly aimed at the conservative, evangelical, penal substitutionary model that is regnant in America today.

    Your misquote of me makes all the difference. But it seems a misquote works in your favor.

  10. Darren Beem
    Darren Beem May 15, 2013 at 10:44 PM |

    I came from a church setting that was big into cultural idolatory. We unapologetically saw ourselves as the best church, one that shared the best version of the gospel.

    The leader of that church would often state:”You should believe that your church is the best church. If you don’t believe your church is the best church, you should leave.”

    Ironically, her words were a double edged sword to me, and this was one of the reasons why my family left that church. You see, we eventually realized this was not the best church for either ourselves or our children.

    My particular church had started off as an college church, which did outreach especially to the students at top level colleges. The pastor there would often say that this is where the future leaders for the church could be found. What eventually happened at this church, is what happens to many churches. The members grow older and matured. They had families and some of them didn’t want to do college ministry anymore. But because the church was convinced their version of the gospel was the best one, the leaders of the church were unable to accommodate the changing needs of its congregants. They had the best version of the gospel, and as a result they were unable to show grace to diverse people, After all, the problem wasn’t the church, it was these people who couldn’t get with the program and live out the right gospel message.,

    In the end, what I’ve discovered is that if someone claims to have the best version of the gospel, they might not only be alienating diverse people from the gospel, they might also be holding themselves up to an almost impossibly high standard. When diverse people look at this version of the gospel and see the lack of humility, the pride and the inability to empathize, they will remember. They will hold these churches accountable for their words.

  11. Ken Pettigrew
    Ken Pettigrew May 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM |

    This a great piece. It applies on so many levels.

    First, I must state that I’ve read Tony’s book “A Better Atonement”, and I find it to be a well thought out and liberating work. Though I have a difficult time accepting all of its points, it does provide a great foundation for a needed conversation concerning our views of sin and the actual details of Christ’s sacrifice.

    That said, I am hard pressed to accept a more loving and welcoming view of the atonement as “better” version of the gospel, but I’m inclined to see it as the very gospel that’s always existed and that time, history, interpretation, and division have robbed us of our ability to see. The gospel is not in need of adjective and modifiers; it just needs to be preached.

    1. Tony Jones
      Tony Jones May 16, 2013 at 10:34 AM |

      Ken, I appreciate that you actually read something I’ve written before passing judgment on me. Thanks.

  12. anamardoll
    anamardoll May 16, 2013 at 10:34 AM |

    We might say we want diverse people to participate in our group but we are often too enamored with our own culture (e.g., our version of the Gospel) to invite diverse people to influence it.

    This is amazing. Yes. +1

  13. Kimberly
    Kimberly May 16, 2013 at 11:20 PM |

    I was a part of a multi-ethnic church plant, and made the decision to leave after pouring myself into the church for 5 years. There were a myriad of issues, but one that I try to caution against is this diversity issue. The main pastor (“directional leader”) was not to be questioned, and toward the end of my 5th year they had begun posting belief statements one at a time to the church website as demonstrative of what we all should believe. Trying to have a discussion about how many of those beliefs were grounded in his cultural context were dismissed. Exactly what you said – an appearance of diversity was championed, but the actual hard experience of diversity in community was not affirmed. Diversity was great – as long as everyone thought the way he did. I have struggled with this myself in remarks made about Calvinism. It is not a theology that sits well with my soul, and I tend to pick the worst representatives to focus on. Luckily, I have some beautiful friends in the Calvinist tradition, who gently remind there is truth and faith in their tradition, as well. In my brief stint as a co-pastor at a church that very openly allowed conversation and diverse points of view, my heart was very much softened to the fruit that can come from these encounters. When an African American homeless man told me (a white, highly educated female) in the middle of a discussion I was facilitating that he didn’t believe that the Bible allowed women to teach, and then proceeded to tell me how much he appreciated my teaching as we washed dishes together later – that was humbling. I could allow him to be honest with me, and even show respect for his input, even though I clearly (by nature of being a pastor) did not share his perspective – he could allow me to be honest with him, and he was still very respectful of me, even though he (by his own admission) did not share my perspective – and we could continue to serve and learn and grow in faith side by side. We’re all figuring out the gospel as we live it together, in all its messy beauty.

  14. Whiteness & Emergence Christianity: Tony Jones, Jason Richwine, And Other Race Science Hustles | Political Jesus

    [...] response to Cristena Cleveland’s first post in her series, “Diversity Repellent” “We Have a better version of the Gospel than you: Diversity Repellent.” Jones complains that he was misquoted, he said “better” not “best”: good [...]

  15. revtexaspete
    revtexaspete May 17, 2013 at 2:10 PM |

    I guess my question for the global south pentecostalism is “why do hate my friends?” because almost every form of pentecostalism I have heard of, both in the north and south, thinks my gay friends should be jailed and that my non-christian friends are gonna burn in hell, and also that if they have a buddha statue in their house that statue has demons. is there a new movement of science-loving, glbt affirming christians in the global south? cause that would be great.

  16. Chris
    Chris May 17, 2013 at 2:26 PM |

    I have the best version of ultimate reality, hands down! Of course, I’m the only one I can convince of this, and only part of the time. :)

  17. revtexaspete
    revtexaspete May 17, 2013 at 5:12 PM |

    “We might say we want diverse people to participate in our group but we are often too enamored with our own culture (e.g., our version of the Gospel) to invite diverse people to influence it. Rather, than actively seeking input from diverse people, we require them to assimilate to and bow down to the dominant culture. ” —- i don’t know anywhere where progressive christianity is the “dominant culture” other than in a progressive christian church or in a seminary setting. —– What I saw at a liberal seminary where we had 12% african amercian students was a small minority of african american students willing to engage with what they were learning, and who were saying things like, ” hey! our just reading james cone is not enough to deal with AA experience.” and that was great and the professors listened and one changed her curriculum. but many AA students said something like, “seminary is a white experience, we don’t have to engage what white christians believe, that is not our identity, we are here to get a degree” and they never learned or engaged the concept of higher criticism because dealing with the idea that moses never wrote the torah/ there are 3 isaiahs was not important to their vision of the black church. They got an MDIV and went back to quoting TD jakes and Joyce meyers. My fellow students wondered why professors passed AA students who did not engage the material but failed white students who failed to engage material. again, we had some wonderful african american student/scholar/ministers who did engage, learn, challenge. and often, the white seminary culture was not adaptive enough. but I saw alot of minorities just ignoring what they were asked to learn because they did not see the value of it back in their home church. i am not saying they disagreed with what they were taught. i am saying they did not even engage it.

  18. Tony Jones and the Need for a Postcolonial Christianity | anthonybsusan

    [...] blogosphere. Yesterday, Emergent theologian and pastor Tony Jones defended himself against recent accusations of racism by noted African American pastor and psychologist Dr. Christena Cleveland. On her [...]

  19. matybigfro
    matybigfro May 24, 2013 at 8:36 AM |

    I find your post confusing Christena, is the problem that Tony said what he thought, or what he said was what he thought. You argue that Tony’s making of this statement from a public stage is the problem in that it is unfreindly to diverse voices and communicated that as different your voice was not welcome. While I think it’s important for Tony to hear that what you heard was him saying that ‘his’ or ‘Emergent’s’ Gospel is better than your Gospel or other Gospels including those held by other minorities and that this was a excluding experience for you. It is equally important for you to hear that what Tony was trying to communicate was that ‘We’ both those of you present at that conference and a wider we of diverse progressive coalition

  20. mike h
    mike h May 25, 2013 at 6:35 AM |

    Perhaps, it’s more than ‘better gospel’ that’s the issue. The very systems that allow me, or any privileged person, to speak with authority should be called into question. This is something that I’ve only recently, (within the last 5 or so years), begun to see. Being a member of the dominant culture indeed blinds us to ANY other point of view. Yeah, we can give lip service to diversity. But, in the end, it’s all about us. WE want to welcome ‘others’ to OUR church. WE want ‘others’ to believe what WE believe. If YOU would only think and believe like WE do, then all of YOUR problems will be taken care of. This isn’t known arrogance…it is unknown ignorance. We need your voice and the voices of ‘others’ to hold us to account for our privilege. Well, at least I do. Thank you for your voice.

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  22. Diverse voices: a defense of Tony Jones | The Molinist

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  23. Is My Version of the Gospel Exclusionary?

    [...] I am instead going to respond to the heart of Dr. Cleveland’s objection to my talk in Springfield last month: that claiming one version of the gospel is preferable to [...]

  24. The Gospel in Two Broad Strokes: Liberation

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  26. When dudebros protest too much
    When dudebros protest too much June 14, 2013 at 3:11 PM |

    [...] whinging post was a response to a piece by Christena Cleveland pointing out Eurocentrism and white privilege in a recent talk given by Jones. Relevant things to note: 1) Cleveland was speaking both as a [...]

  27. Margaret Aymer Oget
    Margaret Aymer Oget June 17, 2013 at 7:53 AM |

    Thank you for stating succinctly why I have never been drawn to Emergent Christianity. I can fight white male privilege in the PCUSA without having to do it there too.

  28. A Blog of Our Own
    A Blog of Our Own June 17, 2013 at 8:32 AM |

    [...] That it comes on the heels of his “I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist” post in response to this piece by Dr. Christena Cleveland over at her blog certainly affects the response I’m having.  (As does [...]

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