Social Transformation without “Us” versus Them” -- Transforming Christian Theology, ch. 17

Transforming Theology Project
Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.

Social Transformation without “Us” versus Them”
Chapter 17

The world is easier to understand if we can simplify our context into black and white, us versus them, Good Guys and Bad Guys. In the old westerns I grew up with – but which were filmed much earlier – you could always tell. The good guy wore a white hat and the bad guy a black one. Reality, however, isn’t so black and white. You can’t always distinguish on first glance who is who. After all Romulans and Vulcans look pretty much the same!

The world we inhabit is a complex place, and its becoming increasingly complex. Although America has never been truly homogeneous, it has become increasingly less so – especially religiously – in recent decades. In this new world, the church no longer stands at the center of society and what happens on Sunday morning may no longer serve as home base for what we do in the world. The lines between church and society are blurring. We may be living our faith outside the context of church – at least the building and its programs. Social networking sites and other technologies are creating new space for community and conversation – though I’m reminded by what Jürgen Moltmann said – you can’t have the Eucharist in cyberspace. Well, I suppose you can, but it’s not truly an embodied sacrament.

As a recent poll revealed, we carry plural identities – including our religious identities. We carry these identities based on birth, encounters, experiences. We can’t separate our faith from these complex identities. Once we recognize and acknowledge our own contextual identity, it’s time to consider the identities of our neighbors – and the complexities of their identities.

These complexities influence the way we do our theology. It also requires that we, as people of faith, learn to articulate our faith in these contexts. Philip Clayton acknowledges here that conservative Christians – evangelicals – have usually begun their consideration of work in the world with theology in mind. Textually, they have engaged missionally on the basis of a key text like Matthew 28:16-20. The problem here was that the conservative perspective didn’t leave room for listening to the other. It was one way conversation.

We read about other religions in order to show why they were wrong and we were right, or in order to find “redemptive analogies” (as Alan [actually it’s Don] Richardson put it in his 1975 work, Peace Child) that we could use in missions and evangelism (p. 134).
For those who might not know, Richardson believed that one could find analogies in other religious traditions, through which one could then share the gospel. It was as if they were planted there by God so as to prepare the way for the gospel. This analogy, essentially becomes the kernel that can be taken from the husk (chaff), which is then expendable.

Evangelicals had their vision and their texts, but in an earlier age, so did the liberals. Thus, these liberals built their social justice work on a theological foundation – consider Walter Rauschenbush’s Christianity and the Social Crisis or H. Richard Niebuhr’s Radical Monotheism and Western Culture. Martin Luther King rooted his efforts in the biblical story. And yet today’s social justice ministries tend to shy away from theological foundations.

One of the points that seems to be carried through the book, and is reiterated here, is that Progressives – Clayton’s intended audience – need to reclaim their theological foundations. Evangelicals have sought to retain this grounding, but Liberals have shied away. Indeed, they have lost the ability, or so it seems, to speak of what they do in terms of faith. Now, that may be due in part to a desire not to sound exclusive. Such a fear is unnecessary, however.

So, what should we do? Clayton offers three points to guide us in our efforts to engage the world in all of its complexity. As we learn to tell our story we must recognize three things.

First, telling our story can be difficult, because our identities are complex. Second, we need to recognize that our story isn’t just about us, but includes other stories.

Your story may start as a personal narrative, an autobiography. But it’s also the story of your family, your ethnicity, and your country of origin. As it expands outward, it also becomes the story of your age, the history of your religion, the narrative of your religion intersecting with other religions. For believers, it also becomes the story of God’s self-revelation; and for Christians, our story is also the story of God’s redemptive work in Christ. (pp. 136-137).

Finally, we can’t tell our story without reflecting on deeply held beliefs – even if such beliefs are subconscious/unconscious. We act upon those things we most deeply hold. As Christians, we need to reflect – perhaps using the “seven core Christian questions” – on what we do and why? It affects our work, our voting, our social networks, and more.

As we reflect on our calling to evangelize or engage in social justice – what do we believe? The central question that we must ask in considering our place concerns the possibility of stating “what we believe in such an effective and vibrant way that it will motivate powerful, transformative action in the world” (p. 137). This is, our author believes, our primary question – on what basis do we engage the world?


Anonymous said…
If you can't beat em' join em'
The Missions Director

Dear Sir or Madam,

Sub: Mission 2010/ Sports Evangelism Volunteer Opportunities:

Calvary Greetings from Africa Youth Ministries. I am writing this mail to invite your Church/Ministry to partner with us in our Sports Evangelism and Mission 2010 program. We have various short & long term volunteer opportunities in the above mentioned programs mainly in areas of Boys & Girls Soccer, Volleyball and basket ball, netball, tennis, table tennis etc. For further information on these programs, intending volunteers can visit the program links below:-

Sports Evangelism & Mission 2010

Sports Photo Gallery

Those interested in volunteering with us can apply online on our website at or send in your CV to

Online Secure Donations can be made to our sports projects our Global Giving project page option (Tackling AIDS Through Sport) You can also make a material donation of sports equipments e.g. soccer balls, basket & volleyballs, soccer uniforms, running shoes, sheen guards, socks, soccer shoes, volleyball and basketball uniforms etc. Likewise we badly need Bibles and tracts for this program and they can be mailed to the address below. You can learn more about all our Sports For Social Change programs at our main website sports link Looking forward to hearing from you.



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