Commentary

As I roam the halls of my seminary, observing the racial and sociopolitical divide that exists, I am disturbed by a sad but true revelation — though most of us claim to serve the same God, and are here with the same missional vocation, we have been complicit in racial and social class divisiveness. Lost in a reality of white supremacy, Christian supremacy, black accommodationism, and microaggressions, the reality occurred to me: Jesus is simply not enough.

Though Jesus prophesized division, this divisiveness was not centered upon race or color, but division created between belief and unbelief, not for those who serve the same God. Sadly, as the country continues to fracture, we cannot even uphold the God many of us profess as the cornerstone for change.

Nowhere is this more evident than in prestigious white seminaries that feign an environment of diversity and inclusion, yet continue to uphold and construct policies that perpetuate divisiveness in the shadow of white supremacy.

In my experience, seminaries have perpetuated the notion that Jesus can be molded into the salvific order of the day. While the debate regarding Jesus, his nature, his relationship to the Creator have been the source of debate for millennia, we neglect to account for the debate’s effect on believers. For some, Jesus is an activist intentionally resisting empire. To others, he is ethereal and the God of a few. Others see Christ as the leader of a militant, anti-establishment sect. And to a select few, Jesus is simply “their homeboy”. Seminary education has aided in creating a contortionist Christ that miraculously is everything we need him to be to be happier on Earth. Jesus is no longer our example of suffering, he is the vehicle to ensure that we do not suffer. Liberal Jesus, conservative Jesus, liberationist Jesus, Post-Christian Jesus were all at one time, interpretive creations constructed out of necessity, but divisive nonetheless. What many fail to realize is that most attempts to place Jesus in exclusive solidarity with one group, oftentimes excludes other groups, thereby distorting the Gospel message.

Seminary’s commitment to biblical criticism has offered us a greater understanding of the historical Jesus. It has also relegated the identity of Jesus into an epistemological framework. The dismissal of the divine mystery as scientifically improbable is an arrogant position held by some who are tasked with cultivating the minds of future church leaders. While I wholeheartedly advocate for a historically and doctrinally accurate uncovering of the true natures of Christ, I am also compelled to remember what I believe to be the words of Christ himself.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples who people thought he was. The people who interacted with the disciples only saw Jesus as a prophet. I can imagine this same conversation in seminaries across the United States. Who do you say Jesus is? Liberal seminarians would say he is a social justice warrior. Their conservative counterparts would say he is the holy transcendent ethereal God of a few. Members of the liberationist cohort might proclaim that Jesus is a socialist revolutionary.

In some ways, seminary education has allowed anyone with graduate-level competency to mold Jesus into whomever we need or want him to be. As a result, we have neglected his authentic testimony as to who he truly is. The danger of deconstructing the Jesus of Christian faith and reimagining him as the Jesus of academic satisfaction, is presenting a Jesus whose humanity is inherently prioritized over his divinity. The strength of Peter’s recognition of Jesus as Messiah allowed the church to be built with the strength to stand against discreditation. While the divine mystery prevents us from obtaining the fullness of knowledge of the Son, for Christians, the Scriptures allow us to obtain a semblance of the knowledge of our Savior.

Seminaries must be cognizant of how they are training future church leaders to think about Jesus. Simply regurgitating the reflections of people speaking to a different time or by contemporary scholars unfamiliar with current church culture is performing a gross disservice to those who are tasked with bringing people to Christ. If one of the goals of seminary is to prepare those called for pulpit ministry, it must offer more than historical deconstructions based upon scientific evidence and educated hypotheses. Christological pedagogy should consider the current state of the church on the local, national, and global levels. An assessment of the needs of the church and unchurched alike must be included when constructing syllabi. If not, we are graduating church leaders who are more adept at deconstructing Jesus than offering Jesus as the balm to the deep wounds of the community the church serves.

Richard Williams is a second-year Honors Scholar MDiv candidate at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is also the Minister to Men at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. You can find him on Facebook here

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