Transgressing Theological Shibboleths

Transgressing Theological Shibboleths

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PNEUMA 36 (2014) 432–446

Transgressing Theological Shibboleths

Culture as Locus of Divine (Pneumatological) Activity

Néstor Medina

Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia

[email protected]


Building on the proposals of Jennings, Bantum, and Carter toward constructing alter- native theological articulations that move away from racialized framings, this paper proposes a reinterpretation of the cultural dimension as locus of divine activity. This methodological shift requires that the historically-culturally specific event of Jesus be reinterpreted as opening the door for the celebration of other ethnocultural traditions, which, when coupled with the event of Pentecost, provides enough grounds for dis- cerning the Spirit at work at the level of culture. The two events of Jesus and Pentecost challenge us to reconceive the particular culturally bound ways in which the Spirit is involved in the process of divine disclosure, leading us toward the recognition of the contextual, plurivocal, and multicultural nature of theological reflection.


Spirit – culture – Jesus – pneumatology – ethnicity


In this paper, I argue that the interrogation of our racialized inherited theolog- ical traditions must result in the interpretation of peoples’ cultures as sites of divine pneumatological activity, concretely expressed in the specific historical Jewish existence of Jesus.1 I enter into conversation with the works of Kameron

1 By culture or the cultural I do not mean cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalism as label

creates artificial boundaries and disallows the possibilities for understanding diversity in

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03603046


transgressing theological shibboleths


Carter, Willie Jennings, and Brian Bantum.2 These three authors make explicit their concern with the theological framing behind the justification of “white” privilege and superiority and the imposition of the “white” racialized univer- sal messianic views as the telos and orientation for the rest of the world. By subsuming people’s ethnocultural identities under the divine covenantal rela- tionship with Israel as enacted in the Jesus event, however, they run the risk of reinscribing the “white” “pseudotheologies” they are trying to dismantle. I sug- gest that the focus on the particularity of Israel should not necessarily lead to valuing one ethnocultural tradition at the expense of all others; rather, it must result in the celebration of the multiple ethnocultural traditions of the world. Writing from a Latina/o theological perspective, I insist that the Jesus event must be interpreted instead as the inclusion and upholding of other distinct ethnocultural horizons as spaces of divine activity and disclosure (the cultural as locus theologicus); the divine act of incarnation thus embodies the possibil- ities for the creation of a pentecostal pneumatological interculturality.

Setting the Context

J. Kameron Carter engages in a lengthy analysis of what he considers the fun- damental problem facing theology today: the future possible direction of theo-

humanity. My use of the cultural is in fact more elementary and specific. I define culture or

the cultural as that all-encompassing set of codes and segments of codes (rules, conventions,

costumes, traditions, epistemological structures, and so forth) that shape, condition, and

provide the interpretive frame and structures for understanding human experience of reality,

and provide the material know-how for engaging their immediate context, other human

beings, and the rest of creation. I do not only mean culture in the traditional configuration

that privileges specific elitist expressions of the arts, music, literature, and specific rules for

social interpersonal protocol. Rather, my description is much more basic, pointing to the

complex interwoven networks of meaning and meaning making, configuration of human

agency, and understanding of the world and cosmos, including the religious dimension.

Admittedly, culture and the cultural are imperfect human constructions, and in them we can

see expressed multiple forms of human brokenness. So, of course, there is need for discerning

those cultural aspects that more truly agree with the divine creative intent of dignification

and enhancement of life. Even and particularly in religious traditions it cannot be set aside

as it deeply shapes and affects the human experience of reality and of the divine. 2 J. Kameron Carter,Race: A Theological Account(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Willie

James Jennings,The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race(New Haven and

London: Yale University Press, 2010); Brian Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race

and Christian Diversity(Waco, tx: Baylor University Press, 2010).

PNEUMA 36 (2014) 432–446




logical reflection in ways that overcome the racialized nature and character of (“white”) inherited theological frames. He distances himself from cultural the- ologies, arguing that the solution to the problem is to resituate and rearticulate (ethnic and cultural) identity and distinctiveness within the Jewish covenan- tal existence and relationship epitomized in the Jewish Christ. For Carter, the central problem with current theological articulations is that they fall outside or attempt to distance theology from its inherent Jewish covenantal connec- tion and roots. The future theological direction must be one that locates itself within a christological perspective that does not seek to separate Jesus from its Jewish roots and Christianity from its Jewish heritage. What he is describing is not just the present theological problem of race but the racialized problematic of articulating a theology that does not baptize the accomplishments of the “white” “race” as Christian.3

Carter provides examples of the separation of Jesus from his Jewish roots and Christianity from its Judaic heritage that go as far back as the Gnostic decou- pling of Christianity from yhwh, the Abrahamic God, which enabled them “to imagine Christian identity in protoracial terms that supported the supremacy of the pneumatics (or Gnostics) over the other species of humankind.”4 For him, what caused the rupture and therefore the present corruption of our understanding of God and of Jesus was the shift brought about by the Enlight- enment’s pseudotheology, which claimed that the white race was the superior expression of humanity and their cultural and industrial accomplishments as the expressions of true Christianity.5

Building on and exploring the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, Carter notes that both raise serious implications about the social dynamics of power in which whites determine the rules of interhuman exchange and interaction. Nevertheless, they fall short by failing to realize that the present racialized asymmetrical power structures rest upon a pseudotheology that needs to be challenged and unmasked.6 Finally, he revisits the works of Albert Raboteau and James Cone as two examples of scholars attempting to reclaim black identity by way of reconfiguring theology.7 Still, he claims, they fall short because they use the white imaginary construction of “black” as their starting point and space of analysis. Thus, Carter concludes, the only way to overcome dominant white racialized theological frames is by placing people’s identities

3 Carter, Race. 4 Ibid., 22. 5 Ibid., 117. 6 Ibid., 121. 7 Ibid., 160.

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in their proper christological context. In other words, it is in Christ that people find their proper identity and not in their culture; it is Jesus as Jew as part of the covenantal relationship that redefines peoples’ identities.

In the end, Cameron concludes that it is this kind of theological shift and reconfiguration in resituating Jesus within the covenantal relation of yhwh with the people of Israel that becomes the trope by which and in which all people find and enter into a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. He concludes that this new configuration demands the proclamation of the construction of a new society in which the poor and the disenfranchised find salvation in God.

Much like Carter, Willie Jennings states that present-day theology is in crisis because it has not come to grips with the racialized content and impetus inher- ent in theological ideas. For him, the racialization of peoples contributed to a replacing of the divine narrative of salvation and relationship with the people of Israel with corrupted theological notions of white chosenness and superior- ity, which were later imposed upon the peoples of the world during colonial times.8 The implications of this radical reconfiguration of theology were enor- mous on several fronts. Specifically focusing on later medieval colonial and imperial expansion and invasions, he shows how the initial encounter with and subsequent enslavement of people were already informed by the imperializing, universalizing notions of whiteness that permeated and therefore corrupted theological affirmations and developments.9

Jennings proposes that the theological production (and tradition) of the Middle Ages is unintelligible outside of the context of colonialism and the racialization of peoples. Furthermore, he appropriately claims that the ideal- ized and universalizing notions of whiteness shaped the various expansion- ist and colonizing projects and encounters of Europeans with other peoples. “Whiteness transcended all peoples because it was a means of seeing all peo- ples at the very moment it realized itself.” Whiteness was a global vision by Europeans, “a way of organizing bodies by proximity to and approximation of white bodies.”10

Theology was also heavily influenced by ideas of a coextensive relationship between the church and the imperial/colonizing forces. “Whiteness” became the prism through which Europeans saw the rest of the world and racial- ized it as inferior. As part of these clashes among civilizations, theology—and

8 Jennings,Christian Imagination, 33. 9 Ibid., 9.

10 Ibid., 59.

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Christianity as a whole—became an instrument in the consolidation of white privilege over other groups, and “whiteness” took on messianic overtones for the world. The identities of the conquered peoples were ruptured from their land and their own worldviews.11

In order to illustrate his point, Jennings mentions José de Acosta and John William Colenso as two theologians who have articulated theological justifi- cations for the abuses and atrocities done by the colonial powers.12 In con- tradistinction to de Acosta and Colenso, Jennings discusses Olaudah Equiano as an example both of the negative “civilizing” power of the colony and of its most dignifying traits in making the attainment of freedom possible. Care- fully following his journey as narrated, Jennings notes how Equiano is able to find people along the way who take him on as friend and “son.” He recalls the events of his deepest sorrows and experiences of suffering, but he also remembers the miracle of love that surpasses skin color. What is important for Jennings is that Equiano’s Narrative is presented with theological overtones; specifically, it is presented as a theological journey through which divine prov- idence is manifest. Equiano, argues Jennings, interprets his own personal saga as a clear example of the divine love made possible because he came to see himself within the story of divine salvation of the people of Israel.13 By way of comparison, what is characteristic about Colenso and Equiano is that both are invested in the process of translation. Colenso’s work is to translate African culture and language for Europeans while, at the same time, translating Euro- pean culture and religion for South Africans. Meanwhile, Equiano translates the experience and injustice of slavery for the English while at the same time translating the Christian faith for Africans. For Jennings, then, Equiano already shows the transforming and translatable character of the gospel to other cul- tures and language groups.

In light of this, Jennings makes some important connections in what he calls theological imagination: (1) The Jewish character of Christianity was displaced by a white racialized universal messianic view that needs to be challenged as theological corruption, and the specifically Jewish character of Christianity must be recovered and reclaimed. (2) Given the present economic globaliz- ing climate, there is a need to reconnect identity to place and geography. This reconnection is particularly important given the present displacement of peo- ples as they engage in the phenomenon of migration. It is imperative to counter

11 Ibid., 58. 12 Ibid., 97. 13 Ibid., 190.

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the commodification of land and place that are forcing so many to leave their countries. (3) There is need to rethink our theology and resituate it in God as creator in relationship with the world. Humans must be redefined as creatures intended for a relationship with the divine and in peace with one another. This means the rejection of segregating notions of nationalism; they are the result of the white project of racialization. We must dismantle the racialized theological strictures that do not allow us to think in a more communal sense. Alterna- tively, and in order to recover the Jewish character of Christianity, we must reclaim the christological directionality set out by the divine. It is in Jesus that Israel fulfills its task for communicating the divine intention of communion with the world; it is in this way that we need to reclaim Israel’s divine chosen- ness; and it is in Jesus that the Gentiles are chosen to be God’s people. Jews and Gentiles come together under Jesus.14 Jennings writes:

Christians are through Jesus brought into the story of Israel, which is indeed God’s story. What is at stake is not simply particularity and cer- tainly not the dialectic between the particular and the universal, but rather the scandal of particularity … Israel’s particularity bound up in Jesus means that his scandalous particularity is the means through which Christian faith acquires its social and political materiality.15

More specifically, in the Jesus event Christians receive their new identity, which ontologically sets aside their ethnoracial identity and replaces it with their new identity as children of God.

With a somewhat different approach, Brian Bantum takes the present real- ity of the racialization of peoples as his point of departure. Countering notions of purity, he adopts the u.s.-centered experience of the “mulatto” as the anti- dote to racialized “purity” and as the concrete expression of a new humanity modeled and inaugurated in Jesus. For him, the present social stratification in the country that places “whiteness” as the standard of existence is simply an expression of idolatry that promotes a performative discipleship to that reli- gious idol.16 Reigning notions of whiteness are built upon false ideas and myths of purity and apparent biological and racial purity. This mantra is repeated throughout the book in order to bolster the author’s affirmation of the mulatto: “biracial” children of white and African-American parents.

14 Ibid., 270.

15 Ibid., 160.

16 Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto, 17.

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In human terms being mulatto is a concrete manifestation of both the negative power of whiteness and the subaltern role of blackness. In theolog- ical terms, however, “mulatto” (which refers to intermixture/hybridity) is an ontological descriptor of the divine as manifest in the incarnation: the divine (purity) mixes with the (human) impurity, and by definition Jesus represents a divine act of intermixture and disruption at the same time. On one hand, the incarnation represents a divine act of intermixture that sets aside any notions or claims to purity. Jesus embodies the divine act of disruption by which God dismantles racialized claims to purity and redefines human and divine existence as mixed, a mulatto existence. Jesus—the mulatto par excellence— reconstitutes human existence as one that moves out of itself toward mixture, toward another who is not itself. On the other hand, Jesus, as the mulatto divine act of intermixture, represents a different kind of performative discipleship that goes beyond the strictures of race toward the creation of a new humanity free of racialized framings and limitations. He models the mulatto performa- tive discipleship, the expression of the human response to God that does not operate within the confines of racial framings.17 Similarly, “Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection performs us and performs upon us, inviting us into a life opened up into the possibility of participation with God.”18 In Jesus God establishes new patterns of human existence that go outside and beyond racial structures, freeing people to live the new humanity inaugurated by Jesus.

Ethnocultural Theological Implications

These three authors correctly identify and trace the corruption of theology by the use of false theological frames that resulted in the affirmation and celebra- tion of “white” privilege and superiority. They consistently try to move away from essentializing race and ethnicity, which for them would otherwise mean falling back into inherited “white” frames. The solution, states Carter, is the articulation of a “Christian theology of Israel” that “establishes the framework within which to overcome the theological problem of whiteness.”19 They agree that the corrective to these false versions of theology must be inclusive in char- acter. Carter insists that the covenantal relation of yhwh with Israel becomes the trope under which all people find and enter into relationship with God.

17 Ibid., 99. 18 Ibid., 134. 19 Carter, Race, 192.

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This shift toward a theology of Israel is crucial because “[t]he election of Israel was not for the exclusion of the world but their inclusion into the covenantal relationship with yhwh.”20 At stake is the resituating of the world under the covenantal story of Israel: “Afro-Christian existence is resituated inside Israel’s covenantal history.”21 Israel is the “hermeneutical horizon” that provides the interpretive frame in which people can understand themselves anew in a rela- tionship with yhwh.22 Jennings, however, makes clear that this does not mean thatallChristiansoughttoadoptJewishreligioustraditions.Rather,Israelhelps us orient our ideas toward the covenantal community as enacted and actual- ized by the person of Jesus. For Jennings this is not a “commitment … to an abstract idea of the universal or even of the universal applicability of Jesus, but to follow Jesus’ own trajectory toward the many in Israel and through Israel to the many in the world.”23 Along the same lines, Bantum adds that since the divine act of mulatto-intermixture is enacted in the incarnation and embodied in the life of Jesus, intermixture-hybridity-mulatto really point to the divine act of taking on humanity in order to raise humanity up to God: a kind of apotheo- sis in which all humanity, in all its diversity, is included. Following the notion of hybridity-as-encounter, he claims that “Israel’s promise was bound to the incor- poration of strangers, to encounters with the nations that amplified their own calling and demarcated those encounters.”24

On The Risks of Reinscribing “White” Pseudotheologies

From their three different perspectives, these authors attempt both to resolve supersessionist attitudes and to elaborate a theology that brings about the decentering of “white” pseudotheologies. They seek the inclusion of all peo- ples by way of recentering the Jewish covenantal relation with yhwh enacted in Jesus. By operating within a narrow binary black-white framing of the debates that privileges the “white” organization of intellectual structures in the u.s., however, they run the risk of reinscribing the very theological structures they are critiquing. Their proposal needs to be complemented by engaging those “other” ethnocultural traditions that have until very recently been erased, mar- ginalized, or simply absent from the public or private discursive map. Despite

20 Ibid., 262.

21 Ibid., 314.

22 Jennings,Christian Imagination, 251. 23 Ibid., 265.

24 Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto, 83.

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their best intentions, their insistence on the “disarticulation” of ethnic and cul- tural identity inevitably leads toward a “universal” rearticulation as children of the covenantal relationship ironically under the particular Jewish Jesus (Carter and Jennings). Their proposal, then, quickly and dangerously turns into a kind of universalizing theological shift within which people’s actual ethnocultural identities are neutralized if not disposed of, and are seen to bear no impact on their experiences and expressions of faith. Likewise, hybridity is conceived as providing the universal antidote to the “illness” of racism caused by notions of purity insofar as it promotes “reconciliation” among people groups, and because it escapes dominant racialized nomenclatures.25 But such call for rec- onciliation can easily leave unchallenged (historical and present) structures of injustice caused precisely by such racialization of groups and a focus on purity.

This narrow exclusionary binary is also at work in the proposal for hybrid- ity because the discussion remains abstract. I suggest that this debate could be further enriched if it engaged other ethnocultural theological communities, especially those that have been dealing with issues of intermixture, hybridity, mestizaje, miscegenation, métissage, metisagem, or créolization for some time now. From the context of Latin America and among Latinas/os in the u.s. the practical effects of these versions of pseudotheology date as far back as 1492. It was this pseudotheology that justified the invasion of the indigenous peo- ples of the Americas, their genocide, and their replacement by theCriollosand subsequent mestizos/as. It is this pseudotheology that welcomed eurocentric expressions of positivism (drive for development, incorporation of the scien- tific method, and cultural genocidal projects to de-Indianize the population) and turned the notion of mestizaje into a mechanism for the whitening of the population.26 Much like Bantum’s concept of mulatto, and Jennings’ and Carter’s use of hybridity,mestizaje(the notion of intermixture between indige- nous and Spaniards) has been discussed and debated by Latina/o theologians for over forty years already as the emergence of a “new humanity,” the future orientation of the world.27 Thus, Latina/o theological debates, and any other

25 Ibid., 186.

26 J. Jorge Klor de Alva, “Mestizaje from New Spain to Aztlán: On the Control and Classifi-

cation of Collective Identities,” in New World Orders: Casta Paintings and Colonial Latin

America, ed. John A. Farmer and Ilona Katzew (New York: Americas Society Art Gallery,

1996), 58–71; Alejandro Lipschutz, El problema racial en la conquista de América y el mes-

tizaje, 2nd ed. (Santiago, Chile: Editorial Andres Bello, 1967).

27 Virgilio Elizondo,The Future Is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet (Boulder, co: University

Press of Colorado, 2000); Jacques Audinet, The Human Face of Globalization: From Multi-

cultural to Mestizaje, trans. Frances Dal Chele (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

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“nonwhite” debates, must be included in this discussion. By implication, the affirmation of the Jewish Jesus, the “scandal” of particularity (Jennings) can turn into an effective erasure of actual historical ethnocultural particularities. The attempt at countering supersessionism and “white” ethnocentrism in its present configuration seems to have been replaced by another version of eth- nocentrism that is equally problematic. Instead, I would argue that the radical move toward a theology of the covenant should not center exclusively on Israel, but rather become universal precisely in its polycentricity; in its capacity to include the theologies, voices, and knowledge of other cultural groups, and by exploring the possibilities that emerge through engaging these other cultural groups we come to a better understanding of the divine disclosure. In light of that, I want to offer the perspective of Latina/o theology as one possible point of intersection toward the actual celebration of those particularities as well as their inclusion in this debate and in the human-divine story.

Culture as Locus Theologicus

For quite some time now, u.s. and Canadian Latina/o theologians have been engaged in rethinking the implications of our inherited pseudotheologies. As early as the late 1970s, Virgilio Elizondo proposedmestizajeas a critical herme- neutical lens that counters notions of racialized and religious purity.28 Latina/o scholars sought to emphasize, expand, and complexify the notion of mestizaje because of its profound theological import.29 Years before Bantum wrote about the mulatto Jesus, Luis Pedraja had already elaborated a sophisticated albeit brief analysis of howmestizaje-mulatez(the condition of being mulatto) helps us understand the incarnation of Jesus.30 Unlike Carter, Jennings, and Bantum, the purpose here was not to remove or neutralize the ethnocultural dimen- sion, but to celebrate it as central theological locus. The practical implication of this aspect of Latina/o theology is that to remove ethnic and cultural iden- tity from the theological equation is to engage in a kind of docetism that denies the impact of the human ethnocultural dimension and its contribution to our

28 Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise (Maryknoll, ny: Orbis

Books, 1983).

29 For a fuller account of the large voluminous trajectory ofmestizajediscourses in theology

among Latinas/os in the u.s. see Néstor Medina, Mestizaje: (Re)Mapping Race, Culture,

and Faith in Latina/o Catholicism(New York: Orbis Books, 2009).

30 Luis G. Pedraja, Jesus Is My Uncle: Christology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville:

Abingdon Press, 1999), 82–84.

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understanding of the reality of the divine and to our expressions and experi- ences of faith. Otherwise the historical Jesus is not historical at all. If Jesus was indeed fulfilling Israel’s covenantal relationship with yhwh, he did so as an eth- nically and culturally Jewish man from Nazareth.31 This fact should force us to rethink the way we articulate the incarnation and understand the role of the cultural dimension in religious faith. If Gregory of Nazianzus was correct in saying that “that which he has not assumed, he has not healed … that which is united to His Godhead is also saved,”32 then the cultural, as a fundamental aspect of our being human, must be reinterpreted as playing a central role in the way we come to understand and engage the divine.

From a Christian perspective, two important issues are worth noting here: one, the unique ways in which people perceive the reality of the divine, inter- pret divine disclosure, and express their experiences of faith, and two, the divine act of self-disclosure. These two aspects are interconnected and cannot be understood outside of the cultural context, as I shall now explain.

When speaking about the reality of the divine, the ubiquitous nature of the cultural must be our premise; the cultural plays a foundational role “providing the context [and structures] within which humans make sense of and give meaning to religious experiences.”33 In terms of faith experiencing the divine and people’s faith expressions, Orlando Espín tells us that these are

possible only through cultural, social, and historical means … when hu- man beings believe themselves to be encountering the divine, they are in fact encountering that which culture allows them to understand precisely as “divine.”34

It is for this reason that for Latina/o theologians ethnocultural identity is cen- tral to this conversation. For them, the intimate interconnection between expe-

31 For a discussion on issues on ethnic and cultural diversity among first-century Jewish

people see Richard A. Horsley, Galilee: History, Politics, People (Valley Forge, pa: Trinity

Press International, 1995); Elizondo,Galilean Journey.

32 Cited in Jennings,Christian Imagination, 263.

33 Néstor Medina, “The Pneumatological Dimension of Orlando Espín’s Theological Work

and Its Implications for Engagement with Pentecostal Communities,” Journal of His-

panic/Latino Theology(September 2010),

(accessed October 12, 2010).

34 Orlando O. Espín, “Popular Catholicism: Alienation or Hope?” in Hispanic/Latino Theol-

ogy: Challenge and Promise, ed. Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Fernando F. Segovia (Minneapo-

lis: Fortress Press, 1996), 310.

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rience of the divine and ethnocultural identity is such that the “God” expe- rienced by Latinas/os is necessarily culturally and socially contextualized in ways “possible only to them and expressive of the language, symbols, under- standings, and image(s) of the divine shaped bytheirculture, and bytheirsocial place …”35

While we cannot say that the divine is bound by the structures and param- eters of the cultural, the revelation or divine disclosure takes place precisely within those parameters. Because the human partner is intrinsically shaped and bound by the cultural, it is necessary for the human-divine dialogue/inter- action to take place in the sphere of the cultural.36 The content of such revela- tion is provided using cultural elements without which the interaction cannot be understood. As Espín would put it, “[the cultural provides] the necessary means, condition, and possibility of revelation.”37 Therefore, “the revelatory eventitself is intrinsically and necessarily cultural.”38

Culture as Locus of Divine (Pneumatological) Activity

In my view, the understanding of the central role of the cultural in the divine disclosure and the human response is the crux of the matter. The shift toward the centrality of the cultural has profound implications for our understanding of the Jewish Jesus. Jennings is correct in calling the Jewish Jesus the scandalous “particularity,” but I would argue that the scandal lies in both the acknowledg- ment of the historical and irreducible ethnocultural specificity of the Jewish Jesus and the understanding that his lived ethnocultural particularity opens the door for the celebration of all other irreducible ethnocutural particularities.

Carter, Jennings, and Bantum recognize that the Spirit is also involved in breaking down human created historical differences. But cultural differences are both irreducible and undeniable. Bantum highlights the failure of airtight racialized nomenclatures, especially those that privilege or promote purity.39

35 Ibid., 311.

36 Orlando O. Espín, “Traditioning: Culture, Daily Life and Popular Religion, and Their

Impact on Christian Tradition,” in Futuring Our Past: Explorations in the Theology of

Tradition, ed. Orlando O. Espín and Gary Macy (New York: Orbis Books, 2006), 4. 37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., 5.

39 For Bantum, Christ’s life “reordered the very foundations of our world, bringing to death

the claims of purity … deeply ingrained in humanity’s history” (Bantum, Redeeming

Mulatto, 191).

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Jennings points out that Gentiles were called into communion with the God of Jesus in the Spirit.40 Situated within the covenantal relationship, we see a kind of double metanoia: “It was the Spirit of God who was driving Israel toward the Gentiles in the space constituted by Jesus’ body. It was the Spirit who drove the Gentiles toward Israel and into the languages of other peoples.”41 Meanwhile, Carter tells us that in the crucified Christ a whole “new social arrangement beyond the arrangement of whiteness is inaugurated.”42 This new social arrangement brings about the reconciliation of those that were once socially, economically, and politically estranged. Since the flesh of Jesus is a social reality, the Spirit transfigures social reality by drawing creation into the space of Christ’s flesh. The Spirit of Christ is the architect of a new mode of life together, that of theecclesia, the church of Christ.43 At stake is the intention to articulate a theology that celebrates human equality in the sight of God without privileging any one ethnic group, which for them is notably a pentecostal move.

If Pentecost as an ecclesiological event, however, is to be understood as remotely related to the “scandalous [ethnocultural] particularity” of the Jesus event, then the coming of the Spirit means the unveiling of all “other” ethno- cultural groups as loci of divine disclosure and activity. According to Daniela Augustine, in the story of Babel (Gen 11:1–9) the tendency of the empire to reduce all differences is met with the divine response of diversity.44 Admit- tedly, the covenantal relationship established with Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 12 is intended for Israel to become the vehicle of transmission of this relationship to the rest of the world. But a radical shift takes place on the day of Pentecost, when those baptized by the Spirit are heard declaring the wonders of God in a variety of languages (Acts 2: 1–13), languages here being the quintessential cultural distinctive that counters any notion of the monopoly of the divine disclosure in any given ethnocultural group. If we can agree that anyone or any group can experience the divine, then it follows that “no divine self-disclosure can be conceived, understood, intuited, appropriated and responded to, but through the cultural tradition of that particular person and the ethnocultural community to which they belong.”45 It should not come

40 Jennings,Christian Imagination, 268.

41 Ibid., 270.

42 Carter, Race, 306.

43 Ibid., 338.

44 Daniela Augustine,Pentecost, Hospitality, and Transfiguration: Toward a Spirit-Filled Vision

of Social Transformation (Cleveland, tn: Center for Pentecostal Theology Press, 2012),


45 Medina, “The Pneumatological Dimension of Orlando Espín’s Theological Work.”

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transgressing theological shibboleths


as a surprise that the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 concluded that those new converts did not need to adopt any aspect of the Jewish tradition. The kenotic “dispossession” to which Carter refers, then, necessarily means the dismantling of any version of ethnocentrism and binary theological frames: no white-black, Jewish-Gentile, white-nonwhite analytical frames, but only contextual, inter- cultural,polycentric,pneumatologicalunderstandingsofthedivineactivity.No one ethnocultural group can claim to have a monopoly on the divine disclosure or understanding.

As to how the Spirit is active in bridging the human-divine encounter, I have already stated that it follows the parameters of the cultural. Elsewhere, I iden- tified the work of the Spirit in culture as the continuation of the divine kenotic act.46 The divine self-disclosure takes place because of the Spirit’s act of conde- scension at the level of the cultural; condescension here means the taking on and operating through the cultural. And humans can respond to the divine self- disclosure precisely because of the divine Spirit’s act of infusing the cultural with the capacity to perceive, interpret, and engage the reality of the divine. In other words, we must understand that all expressions of theology, including our inherited pseudotheologies, are series of local, contextual, culturally condi- tioned expressions of a specific group responding to their historical situations and the challenges of their time. There is no universally applicable theology for all peoples and for all times. Of course, this shift in thinking calls forth an active struggle against present structures of inequality and discrimination, including the refusal of any notion that prematurely promotes reconciliation without first dismantling and resisting present unjust systems, including the- ologies that privilege some while impoverishing others. This approach is also in line with the historical Jewish Jesus and with the character and identity of the early church: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32).

An Ongoing Conversation

In conversation with Bantum, Jennings, and Carter, I have insisted that the cele- bration of the Jewish Jesus must prompt in us the celebration of all other ethno- cultural particularities. The event of Pentecost points to the larger plurality of

46 Néstor Medina, “Jürgen Moltmann and Pentecostalism(s): Toward a Cultural Theology of

the Spirit,”Toronto Journal of Theology24, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 99–111.

PNEUMA 36 (2014) 432–446




ethnocultural traditions in the human ecumene, a kind of revelation polyglossa within which the divine is more fully unveiled. In other words, the coming of the Spirit unveiled the irreducible specificity of “other” ethnocultural groups as spaces of divine activity as a veritable locus pneumatologicus, the rejection of the Babel effect of homogeneity. Instead of subsuming and therefore neu- tralizing other cultural communities by emphasizing the importance of the cultural, I have argued against any form of ethnocentrism as well as against any abstract universal idea of the divine disclosure. As I have insisted, the divine self-disclosure takes place and is perceived and understood within the realm of the cultural. That the divine disclosure is possible for human beings/believ- ers to perceive is a pneumatological affirmation of the cultural as site of divine activity.

PNEUMA 36 (2014) 432–446


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