Does the church need a multicultural epistemology?


I’ve been thinking about the question of epistemology quite a bit since beginning my minor in critical theory, or women’s studies. What to do with the poststructuralist critique? My thinking has been that reading scripture for God’s people is something quite different from reading other texts. With other texts we are cut off from the “true” meaning of the words in a significant way. As Paul says, “Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of that man that is within him?” Words are not a sufficient tool to communicate one mind to another. On the contrary an incomplete and imperfect communication is the very best that can be accomplished. But Paul goes on to say of God’s people, “But we have the Spirit of God.” In other words the Holy Spirit, who wrote scripture by imparting it to men to be written, is within us as our teacher. We can have the mind of God, Paul seems to say, because His Spirit is within us. In another place Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”

This distinction between the rationalist who reads a text by the power of his own mind, and the Christian who has the mind of Christ in his reading of scripture has been the main theme of my epistemological thinking for a couple years.

I had a new thought yesterday. I noted that Donald Hall, in his book “Queer Theories” seems to suggest that the body of knowledge he calls queer theory would be essentially unchanged if it ceased to be a primarily white upper-middle class phenomenon and a plurality of voices were included from other cultures and classes. The choir may grow larger but he seemed to suggest that the tune would be unchanged. I pointed this out to my classmates as a major epistemological failure. The church, I was thinking, was composed of people representing all the world’s cultures. Her doctrines are framed by members from all eras, nations, cultures, classes, etc. I had the sense that the church had wisdom epistemologically that was lacking in the “queer theory” of Mr. Hall. I, as a white upper-middle class American member of the church understand that I have a theology that must be changed through an encounter with my fellow members whose cultural, national, gendered and class background are different from mine, and who are able to see things I miss. Hall seemed to acknowledge the need for “diversity,” but missed its epistemological significance. I pointed this out to the class and folks agreed.

After the fact, I realized that my understanding of “having the mind of Christ” left no room for other church members from varying backgrounds to teach or sharpen me or my white American church. What do third-world theologians, for example, have to offer me if I already have the mind of Christ?

Is it possible that it is not I, but we the Church universal, who have the mind of Christ? That we need to sharpen and lovingly share our wisdom with each other in order to participate fully in the blessing of receiving the mind of Christ? Is it possible that my personal theology or that of my church is not the mind of Christ, but that in the collective scriptural learning or those who are and have been truly members of Christ’s Church we have the mind of Chrsit?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.

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