7. Caribbean Theology and the Gospel, Pt. 1

How do we introduce Caribbean Theology (CT) to our church communities? We must first keep in mind several realities that militate against us seeming to tamper with the “Word of Truth.” For instance, there is the perception that CT tries to get the Bible to say what it wants it to say – it distorts the scriptures. Another is that it is too taken up with earthly things, and that it is too concerned with things political. Perhaps another would be that it is too “vengeful,” attempting to get back at people who once did bad things to us. In short, CT is much too temporally concerned that it ignores eternal realities.

The 1964 musical classic, Mary Poppins, reminds us that “just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down,” a piece of advice we ought to consider when introducing CT to the common man. Instead of seeking to address head-on the misconceptions highlighted in the first paragraph above, how about showing that the Gospel deals directly with the concerns raised by CT? Of course this will mean that in many of our traditions we will have to be teaching things that were previously ignored. But it is not so difficult, it seems to me. Here I want to restate the Gospel Biblically, showing how it speaks to the concerns of CT without making too much of a fuss.

The word “gospel” means “good news.” The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are called Gospels as they speak of the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus himself tells us more about the content of the Gospel when he is reported to have said, “The kingdom of God is at your doorstep. Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15).” The good news is that the kingdom of God is so close at hand that we can experience it, if only we change our attitudes and actions (repent and believe). It is when we think and act in the way that God wants us to, that we participate in His kingdom and experience firsthand the good news. But how is that done? Let us seek to make that clearer. In this post we will discuss our first two points:

1. The kingdom of God is “not yet” but “already”

The message of Christianity as preached in Jamaica for the last two centuries has emphasized the reality of heaven in the after-life. There are enough passages in the NT to show us that the rewards of the after-life are indeed a reality to be celebrated and promoted by the church. Take for instance the idea that we have a living hope, kept for us in heaven, which will never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:13). The idea is that of a decidedly future reality which ought to spur us on to remain faithful to our commitment right now. In this sense we continue to “set our minds on things above, which are eternal and not earthly things, which are passing.” But the same idea can be related to pursuing the realities of the kingdom now. In the passage we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, “…thy kingdom come…” When we set our minds on heavenly things we reap some of the benefits of the kingdom right here and now – “The kingdom of God is… righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:16-18).” Though not yet in heaven it is quite possible for us to experience some of the blessings of heaven. Indeed, the kingdom of God is at our doorstep, and sometimes we see that dramatically manifested through the answer to prayers and events we can only call “Godincidences” (thanks to Joanne Richards). There is nothing in this message so far that we cannot preach in our churches.

2. The kingdom of God is the doing of God’s will now.

“…Thy will be done on earth as in heaven…” is not a mere longing for the future. It is the decided teaching of the Gospels that God’s will be enacted right now, and the onus is on God’s people (especially) to do so. This involves a personal decision to do right (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:7-14). But even in these passages speaking of our personal decisions, it is patently clear that such behaviour does not speak of a personal sort of piety as often expressed in our churches (like personal prayer, fasting, tithing and devotions). In each case the commitment to doing what is right involves how we live with other people, especially those we have “power” over. This is made extremely clear by Jesus in Matthew 23:23:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Though there is very little controversy about this teaching, it may prove harder to sell in our churches than the first point, because in it is perceived a discarding of particular practices that have become an essential part of our understanding of Christianity. Personal devotions, tithing, keeping one’s self pure, etc. are essential to much of our concept of holiness and so anything that seems to threaten these will be suspect at best. But the message of the Gospel of the kingdom of God does not say that these are of non-effect. It shows that the value of these are contingent upon things viewed by God as more essentially in keeping with the spirit of His kingdom – the showing of love, the pursuit of justice and the demonstration of mercy. The kingdom of God is best seen in how we relate to others, especially those in dire need of God’s presence in their lives. These are usually people on the margins of society, whose lives and experiences border on desperation in this reality, whether they understand it or not. It is how we live with and for these people that truly manifests God’s kingdom here and now and mirrors the incarnation of Jesus on behalf of the world. This starts with our responsibility to the “household of faith” but also stretches to the wider world. The Gospel of the kingdom then speaks of “spiritual realities” but is often demonstrated more clearly in our concern for “practical realities” that threaten to distort its essence. If this is so Christians must be concerned with challenging all realities inimical to God’s kingdom. For instance, wherever injustice of any sort exists, this must be a concern for the people of God, and not just one they ponder on but which they actively strive to reverse.

Implementing this message in our churches will not be easy. But if we make the scriptures speak for themselves, or churches which claim to be Bible believing will have to grapple with the realities of those teachings. At this point we do not have to call it by any name (CT or otherwise), but in laying such a foundation we are making the concerns of CT the true concerns of the church. In our next post we look at an essential third element.


About contextualchurch

Looking theologically at what's happening in community development...and very disturbed at what I see.
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11 Responses to 7. Caribbean Theology and the Gospel, Pt. 1

  1. Carrean Cruickshank says:

    Hi Blog,
    I can sense the difficultes we are facing to revolutionize the Caribbean Church on the truth of the gospel. Our realities have suggested that we are a people that “came by the boat” and we love to live by the boat. Hence, we prefer to eat, wear, sing, preach, teach, ect. the inferior product of the boat. Since we are aware of these realities and the continuous appearances of modern days Pharisees and Sadducees, and nodoubt their motives are a direct effort to keep us bind to foreign theology and the rigidness of capitalism. Subsequently, we are still at the cross-road, and the question is how do we continue this Caribbean Theology quest? I say let us try the Master of the gospel method, start with a few disciples, without neglecting the mass of the people. Jesus started with only twelve trained men to preach and teach the truth of the good news of the gospel.Today the method has paid off, and the result is phenomenal.

  2. Dave Nelson says:

    I love that presentation. A message for the Caribbean and the world. It is so important that we see the gospel as the means of saving man’s soul, allowing us to be forgiving and true to God’s expectation, instead of blaming others for our misfortunes and seeing us inferior to them. Living the Gospel now, enjoying the kingdom here and pulling our people to see from God’s eye, will really be a move that not only the Caribbean will benefit, but the entire world.
    Remember, Caribbean people love to travel all over the world, and the Gospel should travel with us while we ensure that we are being identified with our Lord Jesus Christ- most constantly.
    But, is the Caribbean people ready to drop the burden of history, and forgive in order to be forgiven? May the gospel help us.

  3. Gladstone says:

    The reality is it is not a walk over introducing Caribbean theology to the Caribbean churches. Many people love to talk about old time religion, and old time religion for them is the religion that they actually grow up to see, and not the one that is base on sound biblical principle. Many christian are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good,their greatest desire is to go to heaven where all the blessings are. The reality is there are blessings here on earth for us to benefit from as well as the after life blessings.

  4. Hopelyn Richards says:

    It is rightly said that we must first keep in mind several realities that militate against us seeming to tamper with the “Word of Truth.” on how we introduce Caribbean Theology to our church. It is possible that we can stray from what God and the Bible intends for us as christians and followers. No wonder we have so many different religions today, and they all believe that they are the truth and the others are wrong. People must realize that it is not about them, but about the things of God.

  5. Dion Mitchell says:

    Indeed, Caribbean Theology is a must taught throughout the churches in the region and in particular in this Jamaica land we love. Having examine the role and function of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as he traversed the earth, one can conclude that justice, peace, mercy and love was a hallmark of his ministry. I must confess that one of my initial thoughts about this concept was that it borders on the line of socialism and that it was just another ploy to introduce this practice on our Caribbean people. This notion was however quickly dispelled as I became more expose to the realities of the scriptures from a Caribbean perspective.
    I find that the whole issue of injustice in our society is not a major concern to christians and that they do not seem to be actively in pursuit of eliminating the same. One of the possibly reasons for this thinking can only be based on our socialization from the scriptures. We are more concerned with the heavenily things. Some would indeed argue as was stated in the blog, that it would give the impression that this is a political thing or that too much emphasis is being placed on earthly things. I hereby submit that we must find a way to bring this noble teaching to our churches. It is vital and will only enhance the growth and development of not only our churches but the society at large.

  6. Marcia Buchanan says:

    Caribbean Theology is coming to bring realities to the Caribbean people, it removes the curtain of darkness and ignorance. I believe it is in our time that this theology will sour. I however agree that it will be counteract by many oppositions within the church and outside. this should not deter us because change is not readily accepted.

    In order for us to effect change with this theology we must began with the youth, but also in wisdom present from a scriptural position. Jesus cared for the people’s concerns their hurts their hunger, their sickness. Jesus addresses the oppressors of his day, and educate the people using things that were familiar to them. we must lovingly share the importance of the CT. with seniors showing theological evidence of this in Scripture.

  7. Hopeton Suthreland says:

    Introducing CT is not going to be a easy task especially to those who have been indoctrinate in a particular way. In this I mean that the bible have been read in a context not to see the social ill of societies. I was talking with someone the other day about CT. He referred me to a scripture where Paul told Timothy not to depart from doctrine which was given to him. One as to understand that the bible speaks to what happened in the pass it reflects our realities today such as struggles, political oppression and social injustice. We have to reengage our minds as to how we read the bible. If we understand the bible from Caribbean perspective then it will force us to get involve and not just sit in the four walls waiting on the Lord’s to return.

  8. Richard Jarrett says:

    One of the surprising things I am learning of in Jamaica today is that there is a generation of children coming up who have no interest in church or the gospel for that matter. Whatever the reason for this is, the gospel must be more than just about the “personal piety” mentioned in this blog. It must be presented in a way which the common man, woman and child can easily accept and assimilate as their own. Regarding what the person Hopeton spoke to, a CT I believe is not so much about changing the core doctrines or the Word of Truth but some of the church practices which have been taken as doctrine and filter them through the lens of a Caribbean perspective. A friend of mine shared that she recently had the opportunity to share the gospel in patois at a prominent Kingston school, it was well received but it highlighted the lack of interest in the other Bibles and the stories in it, the concept of a God willing to forgive all their sins was far from them, so how can we make Christ real to them?
    The church must remove the insulation from the wider society with all its atrocities and present a message which depicts the message of Christ to those who are unfamiliar with things such as peace, justice, mercy and faithfulness.
    In presenting CT to our local churches we must seek to clarify the myths that surround it and remove the barriers which impede the presentation of the gospel to those who are so desperately in need of it. Maranatha

  9. o'Niel Scott says:

    Surely it is going to take a revolution to create a change whthin our churches, the society and the caribbean at large. But like everything else, it takes a process. I like Carrean’s suggested approach to start with a small number and get them to understand the relevance of it and that it is not new scripture, but a new approach to scripture in a caribbean setting. this I am sure will stand the test of time because even though this move is unique to thr caribbean people, it is the work of God.

  10. Alston Reid says:

    Caribbean Theology has become one of my favourite subjects. My introduction to this wonderful course has taken me to another level in terms of my ability to intellectually analyze and reason the scripture from a better perspective from that which i have been socialized into. There are a nunber of issues that I have grown to appreciate though it was difficult to initially. I have to agree that some may deem it as a means to distort the scrptures or to tamper with the word of God. I also agree that the implimentation of this new phenomenon is going to be very challenging as some or most of our people are set in their own ways. In my church, there are some people who are very skeptic and protest against the reading of the NIV as well as other translation in the church. “Give me mi King James” one elderly brother argued. So, can you imagine the kind of feedback and the negative reaction that will be coming from my congregation if I were to introduce to them the entire issue as it relates to caribbean theology. They would probably form the view that we are trying to politicize the church. Overall, caribbean theology can only augurs well for not only the church but also the entire society. I recently went to a church function where the theme was, ‘Let the word do the work.’ My advice to all of us as church leaders is that we should let the word do the work.

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