When one graduates from seminary and then enters into a long summer vacation with entirely too much free time, a lot of questioning begins to emerge. Since my concerns are always bent toward methodology, I have been giving a lot of thought to how Christians have, should, and do approach the task of theology.
Recently I've been asking myself what is the Gospel about primarily? Reconciliation? Forgiveness? Liberation? In dogmatic terms, I keep asking what office of Jesus Christ takes formal precedence - Jesus as prophet, priest, or king? It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence that the answer to this question has upon one's theology. But within western theological circles, especially reformed theology, Jesus' priestly office has been championed as the primary starting point. At the risk of offering arguments or questions that seem to lack in argumentation and offer nothing more than logical fallacies, I would like to say that I find this ordering suspicious. There is this enduring narrative that in order to hold an objective orientation within theology, the focus must primarily start with Jesus Christ's role as the agent of reconciliation of humanity to God the Father. I have heard it said repeatedly that minorities and other oppressed members of the world who are concerned with the understanding of the Gospel primarily as liberation are "subjective" in their orientation. It is almost as if these folks are treated like they use the Christian religion as a utilitarian means to further their own socio-political cause while the "real Christians" are those who are concerned about what happens in the more vertical dimension between Jesus Christ and God the Father.
But I keep asking myself if an objective orientation that is usually championed as orthodox can only be made possible or (more modestly) compelling if privilege is present. Is it any accident that those who led the way for orthodox theology were those who possessed power and control and held a privileged status in society? Is it an accident that the early Church, despite the substitutionary elements in Athanasius' theology, focused primarily (not exclusively) on Christ as Victor instead of Redeemer in their atonement theology?
Part of the reason I bring this up is because in evangelical theology, everything is about the reconciliation of the individual sinner to a holy God. To speak robustly about justice and liberation in relation to the Gospel usually creates instant suspicion and such an understanding is almost immediately dismissed (I have been woefully guilty of this same impulse in the past). Everything is about the vertical dimension since why fight for justice and liberation if the person's very soul is on the line? We'd rather the individual continue in oppression instead of risking their soul continuing in hell for all eternity. I don't say this in a disrespectful tone. Honestly, I have heard this reasoning constantly as someone who graduated from an evangelical private high school, an evangelical liberal arts college, and an evangelical seminary. I simply ask myself if this narrative is born only because evangelicals in North America primarily stand in a place of privilege. They have no real need for Jesus as Victor and Liberator. They only generally have a need for Jesus to be Priest and they then think that is what the rest of the world - oppressed or enslaved or not - needs this Jesus foremost. How can one say such things without serious self-critique when encountering the black community in North America, the oppressed women throughout the world, the patriarchy and poverty within Hispanic culture? I even ask this about Karl Barth's theology. Would his posture and orientation toward the task of theology be the same if he were not seeped in a life of privilege?
I think such an understanding is convenient and fails to identify with the least of those in society which the Son of God came to serve, liberate, and set free. Can we continue to champion this objective narrative without realizing that it is only made possible by our status as the masters of society? And should we not ask how our own privileged status has made our own objective theology that much more subjective in orientation?