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Why Diversity Matters

April 27, 2011

Christianity Today has called world Christianity scholar Andrew Walls a “historian ahead of his time” and “the most important person you don’t know.”  I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with this gentle Scottish man and my colleague Emmanuel Katongole during Walls’ recent visit and lecture at Duke.

Just nine pages long, Walls’ article The Ephesian Moment: At a Crossroads in Christian History is among the most compelling theological reading on why diversity matters.

Few ask “diversity towards what?”  Usually there are two alternatives: diversity as an end in itself (and nobody seems to be against diversity these days), or culturally homogenous churches accepted as normal (“I have my tradition, you have yours, what’s wrong with that”).

For Walls, authentic diversity is about radical conversion, the terrain where Christ shapes us into maturity.  There is much at stake in whether or not Christians embrace their true DNA. Over dinner, Walls quietly and slowly explained that Jews and Gentiles coming together for the first time in the church at Antioch (Acts 13) is where the term “Christian” was first used.  No one had needed such a term when there were only Jew and Gentile.  The two groups together constructed one community, not two communities.  “This is the natural condition of Christianity,” he said.  “Bi-cultural is the authentic nature of the church.  For each is partial without the other.”  The “test [of Christian authenticity] was the meal table,” said Walls.  The test is a life of intimacy across a social divide, correcting and enlarging one another.  The coming together of cultures into one body matters for being transformed into the “full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4).

“The most pressing issues in 21st century Christianity are ecumenical,” argued Walls in his lecture the next day.  Yet he said this has little to do with Lutherans getting along with Methodists.  It is about Christians in Africa, India, China, east and west, north and south expressing a common life of faith, living together to correct and enlarge one another.

If you get a chance to read The Ephesian Moment: At a Crossroads in Christian History, tell me what you think.

About the Author: Chris Rice is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals.  He currently serves as co-director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation, and writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

See Also:    The Expansion of Christianity: An Interview with Andrew Walls in Christian Century

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 3:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing this article. Very useful, indeed! It took a little time to get to the aspects of diversity, but was rewarding once it was all tied together. His emphasis on interpersonal interaction (joint fellowship, sharing meals) is so key. ‘Hit and run’ diversity encounters just don’t cut it–not even close.

    The image of the body of the church (Eph. 1:19-23) is often used in the context of church diversity, but Walls does a particularly solid job of emphasizing our culture-specific perspectives on God as necessary to our complete understanding of the Father, and our requiring one another in this way for the sake of our salvation.

    Minor point: the one moment that sat wierd with me was “poor peoples, with few gifts to bring except the gospel itself.” I get what he is trying emphasize in a ‘little drummer boy’ sort of way–that money often gets in the way of the gospel and that, without clutter of privledge, the poor are at an advantage when it comes to understanding and conveying passion for the gospel. But it felt a bit like he was back handely suggesting that, in general, the poor have nothing to offer. I honestly don’t think this is what he is trying to say–it was just an awkward way of phrasing the point that could perpetuate the perspective that when we hang out with folk with fewer dollar in their pocket, WE are the benevolant benifactors rather than mutual edifiers. Maybe I am overacting, though, as it is something about shich I know I am hypersensitive(

  2. July 18, 2011 6:53 pm

    Yes, yes, yes, yes! I have been struggling to communicate to my own church that diversity does indeed matter. Thank you for affirming this idea.

  3. Chris Rice permalink*
    August 1, 2011 10:24 am

    you have my approval katelin and thanks for connecting! chris

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