April 07, 2014

Affirmative Action in the Seminary Classroom

The following is a response to this post by Leon Brown: What I Wish I Had Learned in Seminary

I have learned a tremendous amount from those in the reformed tradition. In particular, I am grateful for those American theological giants who helped mold me. Although dead, their words live. B. B. Warfield, Charles and A. A. Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, J. Gresham Machen, and many others were instrumental in my theological outlook both while in seminary and now, but what do these men have in common besides their theology and American citizenship? They are all white. Is that a problem? Absolutely not! Again, I am grateful for these men. They have shaped my understanding of the Bible. In fact, I still read their literature. I wonder, however, if others, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, have contributed to reformed thought in an influential manner much like the men listed above? 
. . . 
The vast majority of the time when an African-American or Latino was highlighted in my theological education, they were associated with liberation theology (of the negative fold). Is that all people of color in America have contributed to theology, or reformed theology more specifically? I would have never questioned this until I graduated from seminary and began reading more broadly. (emphasis mine)

Should we expect professors of historical and systematic theology to give equal time to theologians from ethnic minorities? No.

While there have, of course, been Black and Hispanic theologians who have contributed to Reformed thought, there certainly haven't been any on the level of the theologians Brown mentions. That's to be expected, though. Men like Machen, Warfield, and the Hodges are giants of the Reformed tradition. There have been relatively few men throughout the history of Reformed Protestantism (and church history in general) to have the kind of impact that these men had. The odds of finding comparable figures among any minority group are slim. Take Baptists, for example. Yes, there have been great Baptist theologians in the Reformed tradition. I'm thinking of men like Boyce, Dagg, and, perhaps most notably, Andrew Fuller. But, their greatness was only relative. They stood on the shoulders of men like Charles Hodge and Jonathan Edwards. It makes sense, then, that one would not give these men too much attention when focusing on the broader tradition of which they only represent a subset (Calvinistic Baptists, in this case).

In fact, when focusing on the broader picture, I would probably expect the most notable Baptist contributions to be something negative, like say the heresy of Crawford Toy, the liberalizing tendencies of E. Y. Mullins and A. H. Strong, or the populist, pragmatist, pietist, and revivalist streams so prevalent within the Southern Baptist Convention. The positive aspects of the the Baptist tradition (at least from a Reformed perspective) are mostly unoriginal restatements of the received Calvinistic orthodoxy. In other words, the best representatives of this minority tradition within the broader Reformed tradition were simply building on the more important and original work of men like Hodge and Edwards. It's no wonder, then, that Boyce and Dagg receive so little attention (outside of Baptist circles). I wouldn't expect anything different. I would expect that the same thing could be said of virtually any other minority within the broader Reformed tradition (like Reformed theologians from ethnic minorities, for example).

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