About 2 months ago, I posted an article entitled, “That vs. The Gospel Coalition: An Unopened Letter to TGC.” In it I explained my frustration and disappointment in the use of this picture by The Gospel Coalition which was displayed to promote their project to see theological resources shared around the world. I also displayed an email I had sent explaining my thoughts and request for them to reconsider the implications of this image and to take it down. Little did I know what would happen next.
After posting the blog post, on July 22nd of this year, I was contacted by the Executive Director of TGC. He and I actually were in grad school together and have had a few brief encounters. In all my encounters with him, I have always sensed a genuine spirit and then in our conversation I could tell that he desired for good things to come from his work at TGC. We definitely disagreed on aspects of the Gospel among other things, but their was a shared concern for good things to come from the work we are both doing and are going to do. He expressed a desire to connect again and we hung up.
Since then, I haven’t heard from him. Yet, with all that said, I continued to follow TGC’s desire to distribute their theological resources to other parts of the world. Then it happened – I actually saw the title of this project – “Theological Famine Relief.” I was again frustrated and disheartened. I asked a few friends and colleagues about their impression of this project and the disconcerting use of the word “Famine” and was led to a blog post entitled, “Reformed Amnesia” by Vinoth Ramachandra.
Vinoth is from Sri Lanka and returned to minister there with IFES after earning a bachelor’s and doctoral degree in nuclear engineering from the University of London. Among his many published works are, The Recovery of Mission, Subverting Global Myths, & Faiths in Conflict? These are just a few that stand out. Interestingly enough, Timothy Keller, one of the founders of TGC, quotes Vinoth in his book, Generous Justice (pg. 6). In a blog post from March 2013, Vinoth articulated my concerns more aptly than I could formulate regarding TGC’s so called “Theological Famine Relief” project. So I leave you with this,
How strange, then, to hear some influential pastors in the US and UK laying claim to be guardians of a “Reformed orthodoxy” while demonstrating little of Calvin’s heart. For these men (they are always men), the church’s mission is primarily one of proclaiming a message of individual salvation. Pastors are exhorted to “contend for the faith” (which usually amounts to contending with other pastors, and damning all who disagree with them), and “the faith” is taken to be a set of timeless “doctrines” rather than any distinctive Christian way of living.
But perhaps not so strange, once we recall that our personal experiences, social and political contexts, profoundly shape the way we read both Scripture and the world. That is one reason why we need to listen to each other in the global Body of Christ. Authentic Christian witness has to be ecumenical and trans-cultural.
We have a long way to go in developing such theological maturity despite all the deceptive language of “partnership” and “equipping”. Below is one example of the huge obstacles we face.
A group of North American pastors calling themselves The Gospel Coalition of International Outreach is engaged in what they call “a mission of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church”. They state on their website: “We are partnering with translators, publishers, and missions networks to provide new access to biblical resources, in digital and physical formats. Our goal is to strengthen thousands of congregations by helping to equip the pastors and elders who are called to shepherd them.”
Sounds loving, until one asks: who decides who is theologically famished and who is not? who selects what “resources” to send the famished? who decides what constitutes “equipping” and who should be doing it? The answer is always the same. A small group of white, well-to-do American or British males. We have experienced such paternalistic, colonial “mission” before- others deciding what is the “Good News” for us, what is “sound doctrine”, which authors to read and whom to avoid, etc. They have exported their theological blind-spots and sectarian rivalries, reproducing carbon-copies of themselves in the global South rather than nurturing real leaders. The learning and theological traffic is all one-way.
Perhaps a day spent with leaders like Pope Francis or Desmond Tutu may be more useful for African pastors than all the “resources” from north America.
For an extremely helpful and more detailed critique of the make-up of TGC resources and their contributors, visit Multivocality’s reblogged post about Vinoth’s critique. There, the author researches the background and resource list that TGC is exporting and the results are nothing short of disconcerting. It’s a short read and well worth your time to understand this issue more fully.
One thing we shouldn’t worry about is the white man’s burden to protect the Indigenous at all times. This conversation has thrust me into realizing my own paternalistic desire to protect indigenous communities overseas from the sectarian rivalries that influence the formation of organizations like TGC and their base of resources from the West. These communities need as much help being protected from TGC as they need organizations like TGC deciding for them what they should and shouldn’t read. We can trust that whatever comes of these efforts, the church universal has the resources and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to delineate for themselves whether a theological resource from the West is helpful, sectarian, factional or not. I only wish they didn’t have to.