One question that I have long wrestled with is what role (if any) does culture play in how we do theology? I’ve often heard well-meaning people say, “all I need is my Bible” and to some extent, I can understand the intent behind this statement. I wholeheartedly affirm that Scripture is the final authority in matters of faith and practice; however, affirming such does not mean we should do theology in a vacuum. As image-bearers of the triune God, we have all been uniquely created in a cultural context. Our respective cultures allow us to experience God in a variety of ways and also makes room for us to express our experiences in a variety of ways. Culture does not in any way subvert the authority and primacy of Scripture, but when leveraged properly, culture helps us to conceptualize and articulate the ways in which we come to know and experience God. Below, I have outlined just a few ways that my perspective as an African-American woman benefits the Church and helps to shape a right understanding of Christianity.
1. Dispels the Myth That Christianity is a White Man’s Religion
American history does not paint the prettiest picture of Christianity. In fact, many men who endeavored to establish what we now know as the United States (while claiming to be Christian), were the very people who affirmed and fought to uphold a system of oppression and slavery. These men attempted to use the Bible as a means to justify their actions and as a result, many people of color began to embrace the idea that Christianity was only a scheme created by Whites to oppress people of color. But this could not be further from the truth. Although many have misrepresented Christianity, that does not change the fact that Christ offered himself up for ALL who believe. As a woman of color, who is completely enthralled by the triune God, I am humbled to say that I am Christian. Furthermore, I realize that through my profession of faith, God has also given me a voice to speak directly against the wrong assumptions regarding Christianity by declaring the truth of the Gospel to all who will hear. The sins of man do not change the power of the cross. The Scriptures make it clear that Christ has purchased people from every tribe, language, and nation by his precious blood (Revelation 5:9).
2. Dispels the Myth That Christianity is the Black Man’s Religion
Satan is crafty and every minute he seeks to find new ways to separate people from the truth. Many “religious” anti-Christian groups (i.e. Black Hebrew Israelites) have gained momentum by preying on the biblical ignorance of Christians of color. Unfortunately, many are ill-prepared to make a defense of the faith and cannot fully, factually, and faithfully engage with those who promote these anti-Christian views. As a woman of color with a knack for Bible literacy and apologetics and a heart for faithful Bible exposition, my perspective is useful in strengthening the body of Christ. We need to know what the Bible says and we also need teachers of color who can effectively communicate what the Bible says with respect and clarity in light of one’s culture.
3. Diversity on Display is the Essence of Unity
The essence of unity is not found in ignoring differences and pretending that they do not exist, but rather in acknowledging those differences and working to edify one another across our varying backgrounds. My culture, socio-economic status, or ethnicity do not in any way change God or Scripture. But these things do provide insight and context on how I have experienced God. As a minority, I am very much aware of how the poor, oppressed, and ostracized have experienced God. I have studied many texts of the Bible that are so dear to me that I believe I could have penned them myself. The truth of God’s Word is just as personal and real to me today as it was to the people who heard, read, and even experienced those truths many years ago. The Church, on the whole, benefits well when we are open to sharing and hearing how God has shown himself to be consistent and faithful through our varying cultural experiences.
My point here is simple: Culture is important. Of course, it is not held to a higher authority than Scripture, but the impact of culture is to be recognized and readily engaged. Ultimately, God is the creator of our varying social and cultural contexts. Although sin has marred God’s original design, this does not mean we should avoid and ignore culture on the whole. When we view culture as an obstacle to our faith, we miss opportunities to highlight the goodness in God’s design as well as opportunities to conform to our various cultures to the image of Christ. Today, I invite you to engage other brothers and sisters in Christ who are from different cultures. Use the insight gained from your engagement to generate a meaningful theological framework that is faithful to Scripture and also appropriate for specific social and cultural contexts. Use what you learn to edify the body of Christ. And may God be glorified all the more!