Brother Maynard recently quoted Brian McLaren as saying, “I have become more convinced that a better word than postmodern is postcolonial” and similar words to the effect that the emerging church is about much more than epistemology.

I recall Brian expressing similar sentiments when he was last out in Australia. The niggling concern I have and which I expressed to Brother Maynard was “And yet I don’t see a lot of engagement with non-Western Christian thought within the emerging church”

My querying of McLaren runs deeper however, because I have yet to hear McLaren articulate the fact that there are at least two forms of post-colonialism that we need to come to grips with if we are serious about engagement with non-Western Christian thought. In “Globalizing Theology” Harold Netland summarizes Paul Hiebert’s distinction between the anticolonialist and globalist alternatives to colonialism as follows:

“Hiebert calls for the church to move beyond both the colonialist and the anticolonialist approach to embrace a responsible, global perspective that acknowledges both commonalities and differences among peoples and that admits both positive and negative elements of local cultures and religious traditions. The arrogance of the past is to be replaced by an incarnational witness that lives out the unchanging truth of the gospel in local settings. Moreover; the privileging of the West in the colonialist paradigm and the prioritizing of non-Western local contexts in the anticolonialist perspective are to be transcended by recognizing that all parts of the global Christian community have contributions to make to the rest of the body of Christ. Hiebert argues that while God’s revelation is true and does not vary with cultural differences, our understandings of this truth are partial and incomplete, and thus any particular expression of Christian truth should be open to revision in light of God’s Word and the corrective insights of others in the body of Christ.”

Here is my contention. Not only is McLaren far from unique in calling for a postcolonial shift, but from what I have seen and heard so far he actually seems to be well behind missionaries within the established churches in his thinking about postcolonialism. In saying this I do not seek to be overly critical of McLaren, but I do seek to highlight that he is hardly the lead thinker in this area.

The challenge I lay down is this, as a praxis-orientated movement should we not be more seriously engaging with non-Western theology and non-Western theologians? If not, why not?

6 thoughts on “Emerging = Postcolonial?

  1. Natanael Disla pointed me here after my post on black bloggers.
    Mclaren said the same things when in South Africa. But I got the idea that he used postcolonialism as a term to incorporate non-western people into the conversation. Postcolonialism is not Mclaren’s issue, whether he’d admit it or not, it’s rather postfundamentlalism and postmodernism. Still I think we should appreciate the fact that he also take part in the postcolonialism conversation.
    I would rather say let’s open ouselves to also learn from third world theologians. I fear that if we consider the likes of Mclaren to be speaking about postcolonialism then we’d soon again get to a point where western theologians provide answers for third world problems without listening to third world theologians.
    However, if Mclaren admit that we need to listen to theologians from a postcolonial context, and take part in the conversation from his perspective, then something beautiful might just happen.


  2. Matt,
    Yes, I agree with you — the big shift is to begin engaging with non-western theology/theologians. Last year I shifted my church and mission class from missional church authors to post-colonial authors. What was a sleepy class became engaged and full of energy. I’m on a steep learning curve, but it has been worth the effort.
    On another note, thanks for your thoughtful blog!


  3. Good point, Cobus. There is a plenty of thought in ‘third-world’ countries. That’s why I started a series of Asian theologians on my blog. We have not take time to learn from these theologies in Latin America, too.


  4. Readers, you can translate Natanael’s blog from “spanish to english” via And thank’s for bringing your blog to my attention Natanael. I have decided to link you.


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