10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Will the emerging church be able to resist the historic “normative gaze” of a particular Christian culture that assumes the normativity of European culture and theology?
This is a question that has been on mind as I reflect on the idea and practice of the embracing church within the emerging church. What is the “normative gaze” and why should it be resisted?
The “normative gaze”, to borrow from Cornel West, is the idea that white culture (for the purposes of this discussion, Evangelical culture) is the norm for Christian theology and practice. Typically, this is made evident in discussions when the Protestant Reformation is talked about in a way that leaves those in the conversation thinking that the Reformation was the first and only Christian movement in church history. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. There is much that I appreciate about the Reformation. It is a part of my Christian world. Every Christian tradition I have been a part of has been deeply influenced by the Reformation. From my early days as a Pentecostal to now. I guess I could write my own “generous orthodoxy”. Why I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic/Calvinist/Evangelical/Anabaptist/Liberationist Christian. But back to this idea of the “normative gaze” of Evangelical culture. Where does this come from? This is why I think the emerging church and prophetic liberationist theologies and praxis narration of modernity is key. The “normative gaze” in some forms of Evangelical theology, according to Cornel West, comes from the Enlightenment. Specifically the re-birth of classical greek culture and the emergence of scientism. The Enlightenment aided in the building of a culture, a presupposed universal culture, that would be the norm in philosophy, theology, economics, politics, etc..
“I will try to show that the idea of white supremacy emerges partly because of the powers within the structure of modern discourse – powers to produce and prohibit, develop and delimit, forms of rationality and scientificity and objectivity which set perimeters and draw boundaries for the intelligibility, availibility and legitimacy of certain ideas.” (West, p.49)
For the purposes of this post I want to suggest that Modernity is more than just responsible for absolutist forms of government and theologies. It is also partly responsible for the emergence of the idea of “normative” white Christian culture.
In other words.
When you look upon me do you see an inferior culture? When you see me reading James Cone or David Walker do you see me doing “weak” theology? or “compromised” theology? When you see me shouting and running around the church exercising my existential bodily freedom in the context of black worship in the shekinah glory of Yahweh do you see me engaging in frivolity, catharsis, and emotional absent mindedness? When I say “amen” to the preacha do you see me as one who has ejected “reason”? When I say, dare I say it, “I feel the truth” am I somehow engaging in a less reasonable theology and praxis? When I say God showed up in my prayer closet and spoke to me in a still small voice am I engaging in “heresy”?