Dr. Carl Ellis - Emancipating Our Theology from Western Culture

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
This article was shared with me a week or so ago, asking for my thoughts and frankly, I found several things in it profoundly disturbing if I am understanding it correctly. If my concerns are justified, I am also concerned about the influence and spread of these views (including at RTS where I studied). However, I do wish to make sure I am understanding the author correctly (tough to do from 1 article).

I would be interested in hearing from the board here to see if we share the same concerns or if my conclusions are based on misunderstanding:


Edited to make my thoughts clearer.
 
Last edited:

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Dr. Ellis has been writing about this theme for a long time. I think he carefully nuanced the argument here and stayed within bounds of Reformed theology and keeping Scripture the final authority. He's basically calling for a most consistent application of our Reformed theology to the ethical and cultural concerns of today. I'd like to see what direction he takes this eventually. But he is far more constructive and biblical in these areas than the more radical "woke" or CRT influenced thinkers. I appreciate that he's trying to stay within explicate biblical categories of thought.

What particular areas did you have trouble with?
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
He has quite a hole to fill to make his case. I’d be waiting for the next 20 parts of this blog article for him to get into the specifics of the failings of Reformed Theology and what the replacement components look like. I think he wildly overstates his case. He should run it by Voddie....
If the Bible is ultimately not about ‘us’ , a theology that is too ‘me’ centered will be a problem. Reformed Theology speaks to what we are spiritually lacking above all else. That trap of placing a people in a box by their outside characteristics needs to be done away with as an ultimate identifier.


Reformation Theology—Sound, but Wanting?
Indeed, reformed theology is true and robust as far as it goes, but the reformed community’s failure in the area of justice goes a lot deeper than one would suspect. It was not only due to our depravity, it is also due to the inadequacy of reformed theology as it has been handed down to us in its present state. It is unacceptable to say that one can be “theologically sound,” yet be errant on the issue of social ethics.

The problem goes to the very foundation of our theology itself, namely, a weakness on “Side B”—a weakness that has tainted our understanding of the character of God, Christology and “imago Dei.” This has rendered our theology deficient at the core, allowing much of the reformed community to peacefully co-exist with slavery, Jim Crow, racial discrimination, maltreatment of immigrants, cruelty toward first nations, etc.

It is unacceptable to be “theologically sound,” yet be errant on the issue of social ethics. CLICK TO TWEET
Emancipating reformed theology from this deficiency will require us to do some serious “Side B” theology without neglecting “Side A” (Matthew 23:23b). In order to make this a reality, we must humbly recognize that what we have perceived as the “whole counsel of God” falls short of the biblical standard. Our vaunted theology has only scratched the surface of the full application of biblical truth. Teaching about the “whole counsel of God” does not equal the application ofthe “whole counsel of God.”


The Final Say

God Himself must have the final say in all of our theology. We must remember that the Scriptures must always inform and critique our theology and not the other way around. The Scriptures are “God breathed,” our theology is not. It is the Scriptures that are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).

Our theology must always serve Scripture. If we make Scripture serve our theology, we “suppress the truth by our wickedness” (Romans 1:18).

On the other hand, to be faithful to Scripture, the man-made categories we employ must always serve our theology. If we make theology serve our categories, we produce an enslaved theology—one that will incapacitate us from proclaiming and practicing the “whole counsel of God.” Such a “theology” will never be a true theology as long as it is bound by man-made categories or limited to them.

Furthermore, philosophical categories are not the only ones that can serve theology. Other categories will serve theology just as well or better in various cultural contexts—categories including historical, sociological, anthropological, etc.

Let the history books say that early in this century, we began to work toward a fully functional and robust theology—a theology seamlessly encompassing “Sides A and B”—a theology committed to the “whole counsel of God” as revealed in Scripture. I believe that this can be the basis of a new and powerful reformation, all to the glory of God.
 
Last edited:

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
So how would we structure our theology for a non-American black(and/or African) audience? How will that look? Are there black Reformed churches and communities outside of our country? Where and how would they fit? I think his categories are both too narrow and require so much nuanced accommodation that it will become too varied and convoluted and lose its theological value entirely. I’m sorry, it sounds like CRT (lite) repackaged.
 
Last edited:

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
If the Reformed Confessions developed in the East and not the West, let's say among the Chinese, there'd probably be a section on ungodly ancestor worship versus respect of one's ancestors. Of course culture affected how theology developed in the West.

I'd be interested where he is going to take these articles. But yes, all historical theology has developed in a cultural context.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
A few thoughts:

1) I find it difficult to understand how someone who claims to subscribe to the Westminster Standards can say with a straight face that there is an "inadequacy of reformed theology as it has been handed down to us in its present state" with regard to ethics. Anybody who has ever read the Larger Catechism's exposition of the Ten Commandments knows this isn't true.

2) If it is true that Reformed theology is not deficient in the area of ethics, then Ellis is barking up the wrong tree. The blame for moral failure in the Reformed community is not because the problem is at "the very foundation of our theology," but because we just don't live by what we say we believe.

3) I have always been skeptical of the notion that our theology is, as it is often made out to be, just a product of white Western colonialism. One of the fathers of "Western" theology was an African, and some speculate he was even black.

4) It seems to me that people who write articles like this don't understand that there is really no such thing as "emancipating" our theology from our culture without at the same time simply filling that void with another cultural influence. Ellis oddly enough confesses this himself by saying that "all theology is contextual." So, as soon as I read the headline, my immediate thought was, "And replace 'Western' with...what?"

In the end, I found the article unhelpful at best. At worst, it seemed to me to be yet another attempt to shift our focus away from glorifying God and enjoying him forever and doing everything we can to know what to believe concerning God and to do the duties he requires of us, and to encourage us to join this endless cultural "whodunit" which, in my experience, almost always has as its endgame Wokism.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
The article is a bunch of clever-sounding nonsense. The man who wrote it is dangerous. "Paradigm Theology" is just a nifty sounding way of saying "Wokeology". He pays lip-service to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture while advancing ideas the undermine them.
 

augustacarguy

Puritan Board Freshman
Ellis is paid by our church to be our “Pastoral Advisor for Strategic Initiatives.” Basically a diversity advisory.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
Ellis is paid by our church to be our “Pastoral Advisor for Strategic Initiatives.” Basically a diversity advisory.

If you feel comfortable doing so, can you provide any insight into his views as stated in the article or if we are misunderstanding him in any way in this thread? I wish to fairly understand and represent his views and freely admit I am only familiar with that one article.
 

augustacarguy

Puritan Board Freshman
He’s only been to the church a few times, so I’m not sure I’ve got a very good read on him. I’m of the opinion that he’s mild compared with Tisby, Mason, etc, but does someone who leans that way ever stop drifting?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
These are more political issues. The Justice he’s promoting is lip service and virtue signaling short of government programs. Ron Paul is a proper retort. Any programs proposed will result in further segregations and universal enslavement. ‘Diversity’ is a gateway to separation and segregation not liberty which is the greatest pursuit of progress for the minority or the formerly oppressed.

I acknowledge that the oppressed and enslaved have turned to God for mercy and He is a God that hears them. Jesus died for them in particular. But he also saves the repentant jailers, centurions, tax collectors and even former slave traders - God has a Big Tent. Empathy and sharing in the sufferings of others is important. But we all have a story and personal adversity - not everything can be a program, religious, political or otherwise.

Ron Paul:
  • Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called 'diversity' actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups. Conservatives and libertarians should fight back and challenge the myth that collectivist liberals care more about racism. Modern liberalism, however, well-intentioned, is a byproduct of the same collectivist thinking that characterizes racism. The continued insistence on group thinking only inflames racial tensions. The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity. In a free market, businesses that discriminate lose customers, goodwill, and valuable employees- while rational businesses flourish by choosing the most qualified employees and selling to all willing buyers. More importantly, in a free society every citizen gains a sense of himself as an individual, rather than developing a group or victim mentality. This leads to a sense of individual responsibility and personal pride, making skin color irrelevant. Rather than looking to government to correct what is essentially a sin of the heart, we should understand that reducing racism requires a shift from group thinking to an emphasis on individualism.
 
Last edited:

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
"We need to add one Asian, a Black, and a guy in a wheelchair!" --- Diversity Committee in Progress.

Sounds like a Democratic National Convention..... you forgot the transgendered.

When does wokism become.....

Tokenism?
  1. the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.
    "the use of gay supporting characters is mere tokenism"
Justice is losing its true meaning.
 
Last edited:

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Seriously, there is a way in which we can write a series of articles about the Gospel being unshackled from Western culture without falling into Wokeism. There is balance. Most missionary students receive training on how the Gospel may look a bit different in different cultural contexts. In the West we approach the Cross from its legal/forensic aspect, whereas one group I preached to in another country wept over the fact that they plucked out the beard of Jesus and stripped him naked (the shame that He bore for us stood out foremost). American concerns are not the same concerns of a Melanesian, for example. And a Scotsman and an African may worship a bit differently without either being wrong.

If this is ALL that is being taught, then good. But I doubt it.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
There's a reason why they say "All heresies begin on the mission field," or something to that effect.

As others have pointed out, if we want to "unshackle" theology from little "c" culture, that's fine. But usually these people mean much more than that. Instead, we're told that people from different places and cultures "understand the Bible differently" in ways that we never could.

An interpretation of a passage of Scripture (e.g., the woman at the well) is provided, and we're told how some African tribe somewhere sees it differently from us. Then it's explained how they see it. It's usually interesting. Sometimes insightful. But they just explained it to us, didn't they? And we understood it? Something of a logical contradiction here, I think.

Furthermore, one of our cultures is usually understanding the text properly, depending on the original meaning of the text. That is, either we're reading it wrongly or they are. If it's something open to multiple interpretations, then you get those points of view already within Western culture and its long history of interacting with the text. The intracultural diversity is usually greater than the intercultural diversity, when it comes to theology and textual interpretation.

Finally, I've read homegrown Chinese theology before. It's usually hierarchical, syncretistic, and frequently heterodox, if not outright heretical (Watchman Nee, anyone?), even in its non-state run iterations. There's a reason they want Reformed theology over there.
 
Last edited:

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The article came across as elementary. That may be a problem.
I don't want to say he is spouting anything by reading between the lines but, I am awfully suspicious.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
There's a reason why they say "All heresies begin on the mission field," or something to that effect.

As others have pointed out, if we want to "unshackle" theology from little "c" culture, that's fine. But usually these people mean much more than that. Instead, we're told that people from different places and cultures "understand the Bible differently" in ways that we never could.

An interpretation of a passage of Scripture (e.g., the woman at the well) is provided, and we're told how some African tribe somewhere sees it differently from us. Then it's explained how they see it. It's usually interesting. Sometimes insightful. But they just explained it to us, didn't they? And we understood it? Something of a logical contradiction here, I think.

Furthermore, one of our cultures is usually understanding the text properly, depending on the original meaning of the text. That is, either we're reading it wrongly or they are. If it's something open to multiple interpretations, then you get those points of view already within Western culture and its long history of interacting with the text. The intracultural diversity is usually greater than the intercultural diversity, when it comes to theology and textual interpretation.

Finally, I've read homegrown Chinese theology before. It's usually hierarchical, syncretistic, and frequently heterodox, if not outright heretical (Watchman Nee, anyone?), even in its non-state run iterations. There's a reason they want Reformed theology over there.
You just can't trust those missionaries.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
You just can't trust those missionaries.
The worst part isn't the missionaries; the worst part is their kids.

Scene: The Pastor's Home
Cast: Me (Pastor's Kid); "Frank" (Missionary Kid)


Me: So Frank, you, eh, wanna play some computer games?
Frank: We already have all those games in Gumbinawa. I beat them a long time ago. We've got much better games now.
Me: So... play outside?
Frank: Our Gumbinawa outside is much more interesting and fun than yours could ever be.
Me: ...
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The worst part isn't the missionaries; the worst part is their kids.

Scene: The Pastor's Home
Cast: Me (Pastor's Kid); "Frank" (Missionary Kid)


Me: So Frank, you, eh, wanna play some computer games?
Frank: We already have all those games in Gumbinawa. I beat them a long time ago. We've got much better games now.
Me: So... play outside?
Frank: Our Gumbinawa outside is much more interesting and fun than yours could ever be.
Me: ...
I know. Where can I dump mine?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Kosuke Koyama wrote Water Buffalo Theology a long time ago, which can be helpful for highlighting how different cultures have a frame of reference for particular ideas. With care, people can learn more than one frame of reference and enrich their views.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
This concerns me the most:

"Most would define it [theology] as 'the study of God.' While this is true, Dr. John Frame’s definition fits the bill better, 'The application of God’s Word by persons in every area of life.”

This shifts the focus of theology from God to man. After that, you can fill in the blanks anyway you please.
 
Top