Embracing diverse Christinaity my mean embracing “weird Christianity”

Nathan Tudor, Staff Writer

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There’s a lot of lip service given to the idea of diverse Christianity these days, but a truly diverse Christianity would probably make a lot of its supposed advocates very uncomfortable. Many (if not most) Christians beyond the Western world hold highly supernatural worldviews, believing that our world is regularly influenced by angels and demons — much to the chagrin or embarrassment of rationalist, Enlightenment-formed Christians. And what’s more, this heavily supernatural perspective aligns more with the biblical authors and their contexts than the dominant light supernaturalism in Western Christianity.

As a result of the Westmont White Jesus controversy, our community started to have more conversations about the diversity of the Christian faith, specifically regarding the ethnic identity and portrayal of Jesus. This is a good thing because Christianity has looked very different across time and space. A more diverse appreciation of Christianity is a more faithful appreciation, and one that can better connect us to our past and present brothers and sisters in the faith.

However, the conversation rarely seemed to go beyond ethno-racial diversity. Diverse Christianity is not merely diversity of Christians, it is diversity of Christian perspectives — perspectives that often run quite strongly against dominant cultural assumptions that many Western Christians implicitly accept, whether they’re ‘woke’ about diversity or not. 

Setting aside some more charismatic denominations perhaps, there seems to be a general discomfort — maybe even embarrassament — among Western Christians regarding the existence of the supernatural. Of course there is belief in God and the afterlife, and maybe some vague ideas about angels and demons and spiritual warfare, but certainly nothing on par with the intense supernaturalism present in Global South Christianity. Many of our brothers and sisters believe their daily life is part of a cosmic conflict wherein “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12). Unfortunately, many theologians have stripped away (‘demythologized,’ in scholarly parlance) St. Paul’s robustly Jewish sense of spiritual enemies and have left only the sense of political entities.

The New Testament authors were the inheritors of a rich — and wacky — framework of reality (courtesy of first century Judaism), hashed out by the Hebrew Bible’s authors and their own cultural heritages. Theirs was a framework of demonic tormentors and angelic intercessors, of visionary ascents and vile conflicts. That framework is not just non-Western — it formed before Western civilization and thought even existed.

Early Christianity ran with a lot of those Jewish concepts. Many of the early Church’s most influential thinkers — Irenaeus of Lyons and Justin Martyr, to name a couple — had a robust theology of the angelic. To give you an idea of just how ‘weird’ their theology was: both Irenaeus and Justin believed that demons had sex with women to produce giants (an interpretation of Genesis 6 found in the popular Second Temple Jewish book 1 Enoch) — and that was the dominant view in the Church for centuries.

The Christian heritage is, by all means, a strange one. In worship, we drink the blood and consume the flesh of our God who became human. We live for the hope of things unseen. We pray, of all things. And historically, we have believed that our world is not hermetically sealed, but permeated with windows through which myriad unseen spirits move. I’m not advocating for everything the Church has believed about the supernatural, but if we are going to seriously pursue the diversity of Christianity, then we cannot blindly assume a Western, post-Enlightenment framework of reality. We need to admit that our faith is, and always will be, pretty weird.