Tag Archives: bad theologians in Christian history

tw: perhaps all theologians should come with trigger warnings

a serious proposal

This blog post is two months in the making.  When I first got wind of the story of the MennoMedia’s decision to include a statement in Yoder’s published works, I wanted to post my thoughts, and I still plan on doing so in a “Your Fave Theologian Is Problematic” series that will include guest posts too.  The statement simply reads:

“John Howard Yoder (1927–1997) was perhaps the most well-known Mennonite theologian in the twentieth century. While his work on Christian ethics helped define Anabaptism to an audience far outside the Mennonite Church, he is also remembered for his long-term sexual harassment and abuse of women.

“At Herald Press we recognize the complex tensions involved in presenting work by someone who called Christians to reconciliation and yet used his position of power to abuse others. We believe that Yoder and those who write about his work deserve to be heard; we also believe readers should know that Yoder engaged in abusive behavior.

“This book is published with the hope that those studying Yoder’s writings will not dismiss the complexity of these issues and will instead wrestle with, evaluate, and learn from Yoder’s work in the full context of his personal, scholarly, and churchly legacy.”

When it comes to studying the impact of theologians, I believe complexity is something that we should shoot for. Unfortunately, the field of theology as I see it now, has a problem of making theologians into unassailable figures with squeaky-clean, whitewashed histories. Just as the biblical figure Jacob wrestled with God, so are Christians called to wrestle with the histories and theologies of persons who have chosen to study words about the divine. The usefulness of trigger warnings on blogposts is to place the experience of victims in society first. It is very much consistent with Liberation Theology’s preferential option for the poor. Lord knows that on my own posts in the past I should have used trigger warnings or content notes.

Last year, Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes suggested that television shows should have trigger warnings after public outcry for one of the show’s episodes. If there are Christians who are claim to be concerned with the well-being of the oppressed, I believe that one of the best possible practices could be to extend trigger warnings to all forms of media. To take a non-theological example, I believe the Hunger Games trilogy would have benefited from trigger warnings related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so that parents or teachers could have been better prepare to explain to elementary school children what was going on in one of the novels. Trigger warnings or even just merely content notes can help readers in theology not read texts in a vacuum. For example, a long time ago, one Joel Watts (before he went Super-Wesleyan) was singing the praises of Jonathan Edwards and I chastised him because Edwards endorsed the enslavement of Africans in his personal letters.

Do I believe we should just dismiss Jonathan Edwards and his whole body of work? No! But what I was saying was that we need to look at his (and other theologians’ truth claims) and examine the concrete practices they themselves preferred. With a topic as abstract and theoretical and highly philosophical as theology can get, it (theology) has to take on flesh in the end. Part of doing theology that resists and emancipates is to theologize with those on the underside of history. What would peace theologies look like if they started with the stories of the 80 women that John Howard Yoder sexually harassed?

So, what do you think? Should theology books have trigger warnings or content notes? Why or Why not?

A Few Comments on Thomas Nelson Dropping David Barton

Welp, that didn’t take too long did it? After a number of conservative evangelical websites started critiquing Barton, with real scholars who used all of the facts available to them, Thomas Nelson has stopped publishing Barton’s propaganda on Thomas Jefferson due to a “lack of confidence.

Thomas Nelson Stops Publication of David Barton’s Book

I would like to add a few comments to this moment: Ha. Ha.

Letter to a Confused Young Christian

The following is an e-mail forwarded by my brother Ryan to me late last night; he was unable to answer it because he is on a church retreat right now, so I decided to take the time to answer this morning.

The email:

Subject: European History and Faith

Hey Ryan,
I know you’re busy on a retreat so if I don’t get a response soon I’m not too worried. In European History we learned that the plagues happened over the course of a century or two, also, the Israelites had political control in Egypt thereby making Exodus a lie. Also, Pope Benedict 17th made concessions to evolution and the Big Bang thereby making Genesis a lie. There has also been no documentation of King David whatsoever and that would make the guidelines for Jesus Christ (and thereby his messiah-ness) false. As you can imagine this shakes my ENTIRE Christian foundation. With the Pope making concessions which would falsify Genesis and the archaelogical and historical evidence making Exodus and King David false. Just wondering if you learned anything in your theological studies at TCU that would help restore this because I’m just shook up right now over this.
Thank you,
Confused Young Christian
My re:
Greetings Confused Young Christian,
This is Ryan’s brother, Rodney. We both had similar education experiences but since he is on retreat right now, and since I had a course on the Exodus story, I think it would be appropriate for me to respond.

1. First,  I would like to address the book of Genesis. Genesis, chapters 1-11 are not histories of how the world was created. I repeat: they are NOT histories. In fact, Job is the oldest book in the Bible, and even in Job, funny thing is, God asks Job at one point, were you there when the earth was created? Of course, the answer is no. So, Genesis is a story, more likely an allegory, much like other creation stories which existed with the peoples surrounding the Israelites. Genesis 1-11 cannot be proven or disproven to be “true” to the modern scientific mind. Genesis 1-11 is about THEOLOGY and not historical events. It is to tell us what our purpose is, why God created us, not how. Creation is a mystery, and if we want to know creation the way God wants us to, then we must first love the One true God. That is what separates Genesis from other creation stories in every other religion. It is not about what humanity discovers or what is revealed to them but who God reveals God to be.  Now,  while evolution can be reconciled with the Bible’s story and not contradict it, evolutionary scientists are unable to tell all of God’s story.  Evolution can only go so far to tell nature and humanity, but it cannot tell the whole story and nor can it complete the story: only Jesus can. For the record, I lean on the side of affirming Adam and Eve as historical persons, but at the same time, I believe that other people were on earth (but not the garden) with them. Its complicated, but you know how the priests work in the sanctuary of the temple in the Old Testament? Well, that is how Genesis 1-3 works. There are people outside the Garden (the temple) and then there are 2 priests, Adam and Eve who work for God, and once the two priests fall, well, all of the rest of humanity falls with them. From my readings, the language of Genesis 1-3 and texts about priests point in this direction. Again, Genesis is about theology, not history (well not in the way we understand history). I think this is the importance of why ALL Christians should learn the original languages of the bible, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Also,Christian leaders should take the time to teach laypersons important elements of Ancient Near Eastern history. The ANE is the context that the Hebrew Bible refers to, and without it, one cannot begin to comprehend the Jewish Scriptures.

2. Second, Let me address the book of Exodus question. I do not know what it is meant by “political control of Egypt” but that assumption or idea I have never come across. Maybe they had political agency in some form or another, but archaeological evidence does point toward an Israelite flight from Egypt.  There are written accounts from the reign of Ramses II, and also, like a few other stories in the ANE context, like King Sargon of Akkad, (2300 BC), there are elements that the ancient Near Eastern mind would know better than the 21st century Western on.  I would hesitate to say that the Egyptian enslavement of the Israelites was the same as the white enslavement of African Americans.  I believe that the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians, but perhaps on a smaller scale. But like Genesis, Exodus is much more about theology than history (history, the way we see it, that is).  It is an interpretation of the central event in the Israelites’ history and how God intervened. Some people say it was written and recorded by Moses, others do not, but the authorship is NOT important. The important thing is the message: God saved God’s people from Egypt, and God’s people should always remember that, and when God’s people forget that fact, they will pay a price. It’s a theme throughout the writings of the Prophets, especially Jeremiah.

3. Thirdly, on the king David issue, first let me say, it is a mistake to say that Jesus’s messianship is grounded in his relationship to the Israelite monarchy. With a close reading of Judges and 1st Samuel, one realizes that the monarchy was NOT God’s perfect will. YHWH God alone desired to be Israel’s king. To make the Israelite monarchy the foundation of Christ Jesus as Messiah I think is erroneous. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah because God chose him (Christ means annointed one in Greek). Historical evidence does not disprove the existence of King David. What scholarship says is that the Israelite kingdom was not as powerful as Christians imagine it to be.  That, much like the Exodus, it was happened on a much smaller scale.  The Dead Sea scrolls have the first 2 books of Samuel but other than that, there is not enough suffice archaeology to deny David’s reign. In the Christian imagination, we like to think of the time of the Israelite kings as this big great classic empire, and when text and the facts tell us differently, we may have trouble with that.  As believers, I think we should be relieved that Israel was NOT like Babylon or Egypt or Rome or Greece.

Thank you for your questions. I know that there are many other young Christians such as yourself that go through similar situations and do not know if they should ask these questions, but it is okay to ask.  I hope this helps.

Truth and Peace,

Rodney A. Thomas Jr.

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