Stay with me for a moment as I get a bit esoteric, but recently, I have been researching decoloniality and decolonial theology. It is a dense topic, and, for your sake, I will not get too far down that rabbit hole now. But, in sum, decoloniality seeks to confront Western/Global North epistemologies (theories of knowledge) that have dominated for the last 500 years in order to center the epistemologies and theologies of those in the Global South. In the conception of one decolonial theorist, 500 years of colonial power, the assumption of superiority rooted in that power, and the often violent and unjust systems created to perpetuate that power established a “colonial matrix of power” (Mignolo, Politics of Decoloniality, pp. 36) from which we must all delink.
For decolonialists, we can no longer ignore, justify, or downplay that the dominant culture of the Euro-centric/Western/Global North world has contributed to the oppression and marginalization of countless people groups. Plus, in its implicit and often explicit collaboration with colonial powers, the Church of the Euro-centric/Western/Global North world has impoverished its theology, developed a pride-filled superiority complex, and justified using colonial tactics in evangelistic/missional efforts. As a result, decolonial theologians insist that we must “delink” from epistemologies and theologies that allowed for the grave injustices and assumptions of superiority in the West.
However, the issue with decoloniality is that in rightly confronting the ways Western/Global North power and domination have shaped the world, everything in the Western/Global North is questioned, including much of the theology developed over those 500 years. While some theorists are more careful than others, some regularly flatten Christianity and/or conflate Western Christianity with the colonial matrix of power. Instead of attempting to use a surgeon's scalpel to remove cancerous aspects of Western theological reflection and development, many are satisfied with using a sledgehammer against the whole Western theological project. In the end, biblical fidelity, orthodoxy, creedal development, claims of objectivity, and more are viewed simply as tools of the colonial matrix of power.
Again, while what I am describing might sound esoteric––and to be fair to decolonialists, I am also being very concise and lacking nuance––there is a growing trend of those questioning biblical fidelity, orthodoxy, creedal development, and claims of objectivity. For many, appealing to the Bible, church history, or objectivity are power moves rooted in Western captivity. Such a trend might not have the title of “decolonialism,” but it nonetheless is coming to similar conclusions.
But here’s the thing: for us at Until Zion, we value much of what decolonial theorists propose. Our first value is “centering the margins” because we deeply believe that not only is God at work amongst the marginalized, the forgotten, and the silenced, but that “Centering, not those with power, but those on the margins, reveals much about the restorative power, justice, and healing in Zion.” It is true that too often, Western/Global North Christianity, and in particular the Reformed tradition, has an impoverished theology, has a pride-filled superiority complex, and has justified using colonial tactics in evangelistic/missional efforts (And for what it is worth, we critique and assess this tradition because it is our tradition. Others are better equipped to critique their own).
However, the reason we believe that to be true is that we also convictionally hold to the “theology of the reformation,” which emphasizes the five solas: sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). We labor to keep in tension a commitment to biblical fidelity and the Church’s history of interpretation with the conviction that we must also confront where the church has been more influenced by the assumptions of Western superiority than Scripture. We desire to honor what the Spirit of God has developed over the last 500 years of Christian theological reflection while also recognizing the syncretistic idolatry present in aspects of Western theological reflection.
In fact, being deeply rooted in Scripture, resting in the centrality of Christ’s gracious work to restore individuals who come in faith, and trusting that all of creation will be restored and renewed is what allows for an incisive critique of the failure of God’s people, wherever such critique is necessary. And, lest we assume ourselves enlightened, such rootedness also allows us to be critiqued when we fall into error.
Our commitment to centering the oppressed, marginalized, and silenced, as well as our desire to confront the syncretism in aspects of Western Christianity, does not flow from decoloniality. Rather, it is rooted in Scripture. Additionally, our commitment to Scripture, the creeds, and the historic church’s teaching on various topics is not due to being co-opted by the colonial matrix of power. Rather, it results from trusting the Spirit's divine revelation through Scripture and the Spirit's work throughout church history. And trusting the same Spirit will empower us to use a surgeon’s scalpel to remove our self-inflicted cancers, instead of attempting to take a sledgehammer to all the Spirit has previously accomplished.
And lest we assume such commitments are new or unique, those on the margins of power have modeled such tension for generations. In particular, the theological reflection of the Black Church in the U.S., the anti-apartheid Reformed churches in South Africa, and the Integral Mission movement in Latin America all present an orthodox, historic Christianity that also centers the marginalized, the forgotten, and the silenced. (In recent years, I have learned much from those in Integral Mission, especially Orlando Costas. For those who are interested, I have listed some essential books by those in Integral Mission, as well as those shaped by them).
Why this post? Because we at UZ often have conversations with people desiring to hold the tensions I’ve presented, yet they get weary of how few places value the tension. The consequence, at times, is some give up on the tension and get swept in one of two directions. They either start to loosen their commitment to biblical fidelity and historic church teachings, or they start to lose interest in confronting the ever-present syncretism in their context/tradition. So, for those who are weary, be encouraged. We strongly believe that the tension is where faithfulness resides and that the Spirit of God will empower us to hold that tension.
And may the Spirit continue giving us sight in areas where we are blind so that we might be a faithful people who live and think in God-honoring ways.
Christ Outside the Gate, Orlando Costas
The Church and Its Mission, Orlando Costas
Liberating News, Orlando Costas
The Liberating Spirit, Eldin Villafañe
Mission Between the Times, C. René Padilla
The Hispanic Challenge: Opportunities for Confronting the Church, Manuel Ortiz