Friday, April 27, 2007

post-Christendom, black theology & black power, and Jesus Camp

Well, it seems like the schoolwork never ends, and honestly, the overwhelming number of powerful books with rich perspectives and deep theologies of hope and prophetic voices keep finding their way into the house. I just finished Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective by Craig Carter this morning en route to Black Theology & Black Power by James Cone for my Theology and Culture class. We've been reading some great stuff in this class, and we are finishing up by choosing a theologian of our choice and finding out how their culture informs and invites their theology and perspective. I have chosen James Cone, author of the above mentioned Black Theology & Black Power as well as a number of other books, including A Black Theology of Liberation which I will also be reading for class. Race, racism, race relations, history, and liberation theologies have been forever knocking around in my mind, and so I thought that it would be good to start close to home before striking out into a more global perspective (thus I'm starting with Cone).

Last night, Shey and I watched Jesus Camp, a documentary that focused on a fundamentalist and pentecostal prayer and evangelical camp for children (with some young pre-teens, e.g. 12 years old). It was a hard movie to watch, not because I don't think that such radicalism is capable of happening, but because I have finally realized the primary location of my frustration with the majority of the political endeavor as typically understood by evangelical Christians: Christendom is assumed to be both necessary and the primary means of the kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

In Rethinking Christ and Culture, Carter points out, that the downfall of H. Richard Niebuhr's work Christ and Culture is the assumption that Christendom, i.e. the alignment of the nation-state and the church, is the primary (and necessary) means of God's will being done on earth in coordination with the church. Jesus Camp highlighted this thinking clearly, when the leaders of the children's camp highlighted that these young ones would become part of God's army to bring America back to its Judeo-Christian roots and lead this nation in the fight against abortion and radical Islam. My question isn't whether necessary changes should be made to highlight the significance of human life in all places and the dangers of radical fundamentalism in any religion, but rather this: have Christians, of either the liberal (who hope that by co-opting the state for its own tasks, e.g. taking care of the poor) or conservative (who use the state to legislate its own moral views, e.g. abortion and homosexuality) stripe, placed their hope and power in the hands of a fundamentally distorted power which wields and controls its power by the sword, and is at its roots incompatible with the radical call of Jesus to nonviolence and discipleship?

I think that Carter's book offers a prophetic critique of the notion that Christendom was a profitable experiment for the church, and I think that Jesus Camp highlights the seriousness of the loss of perspective in the church and uncovers the uniqueness in the message of Jesus that finds hope in the Lordship of Christ, rather than the powers of this world. Just in case you haven't heard about this movie, which is very fairly done and has been well received by those in the documentary itself, below is a trailer. I highly recommend you watch this movie at some time. The filmmakers (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady) also directed Boys of Baraka, which I have posted on before, and which is an extremely powerful look at the state of the school system in Baltimore City and the long-lasting effect of racism. Below is a trailer for Jesus Camp.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Good stuff Josh. Check out Gregory A. Boyd's "The Myth of a Christian Nation." Very powerful critique of political power and church and I think it speaks to your question: have Christians, of either the liberal or conservative stripe, placed their hope and power in the hands of a fundamentally distorted power which wields and controls its power by the sword, and is at its roots incompatible with the radical call of Jesus to nonviolence and discipleship? Simply and sadly, the answer is "yes we have".