04/01: Clusters of Diversity: A Study in Evidence by Literary Design
Humans have found many ways to gain an understanding of that which is meaningful to them. By taking a look at humanity’s attempts to understand meaningful things, we can better comprehend how our God has equipped and provided insight to humans as relational images of Him. One of the most important ways we gain a better understanding of God, our world and ourselves is by developing numerous perspectives on a particular theme. Within the bounds of our own human attempts today, it is granted that some attempts will be erroneous; but some perspectives provide wonderful insight and meaning for our Christian lives. By approaching a subject or object from different angles, we are able to gain greater understanding about that which is being observed.
However, I believe that our current American evangelical theological enterprise does not reflect all the voices that were and have been shaped to provide meaningful perspective on God, the world and mankind. Put plainly, our American theological enterprise does not contain ample diversity (not divergence). However, this diversity is not merely gained by listening to a brother of another hue; this diversity is gained by actually listening to another who actually has a complementary but unique thought pattern and approach on a matter.
Regretfully, our evangelical theological enterprise is void of important and necessary angles on God, the world and mankind. Although the American evangelical theological enterprise will never be complete or perfect because it is man’s attempt to conceive of God and a complex world, it yet lacks substantive and meaningful contribution which ultimately proves neglectful toward the growth and maturation of the body of Christ.
It may be that we lack the necessary thoughtfulness toward “diversity” and “perspective” because we as evangelical Christians inherently question the nature and role these concepts. Against this familiar backdrop of speculation, this work looks at the Biblical nature of diversity. This brief and modest work takes the opinion that literary design and specifically the author’s use of perspective and diversity are contributing factors in the writer’s development of meaning. Perhaps such evidence as literary design can provide insight within the national evangelical move to reassess our American theological enterprise and the way we do theology.
Cluster in Hughes
Langston Hughes wrote a poem to W.E.B. DuBois titled, The Negro Speaks of Rivers. This poem is interesting in the context of my work because it presents a “cluster of diversity” or a group of perspectives placed together to enhance and illustrate the meaning of a particular topic. A cluster is an author’s attempt to bring together different angles or perspectives of a common theme for the purpose of developing that particular theme. One may be able to recognize the main theme and the cluster in Hughes’ poem below.
I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans and
I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
What is the theme of the poem? Can you locate the cluster of diversity? The broad theme is the relationship between Hughes’ soul and rivers. Hughes’ 4-point cluster can be seen in his focus on the Euphrates, Congo, Nile and the Mississippi. Hughes’ brief development of these 4 angles develops the meaning of rivers and his relationship with them.
Biblical authors also used clusters to convey and enhance meaning. Literary perspectivalism fills the whole of Scripture. One example: King Solomon was the wisest man ever to live (1 Kings 3:10-12). The author of the book of Kings thought that a good way to convey the wisdom of Solomon was to use perspectives-4 to be exact. The author thought that one of the best ways to convey the greatness of Solomon’s wisdom was to approach the theme from 4 different angles.
To understand this text, we must take the author’s thoughts and technique into account. He sets 4 perspectives of Solomon’s administrative wisdom alongside each other in 1 Kings. Solomon was wise in court (3:16-28), in political organization (4:1-19), in economic policies (4:20-28), and in comparison with other wise men (4:29-34). We can understand the greatness of Solomon’s wisdom as we take each perspective into account and each perspective adds to the meaning of Solomon’s wisdom.
Cluster in Theology
I was once talking with a friend who also is a professor at an evangelical seminary and he noted that within the past year, he has begun introducing theological works by Africans and Asians as perspectives for his students to read. Just as the author of Kings and Langston Hughes, my friend realizes that various perspectives add meaning and enhance our theological enterprise. Perhaps, mainstream evangelical America may slowly realize this basic truth as well.
Attempts at “diversity” and “perspective” are like our minds in thought-when performed wrongly, they can be deadly. But when used rightly, they can bring meaning to our view and realization of God, the world and ourselves. In our American theological enterprise, “diversity” and “perspective” have been deemed “savior” by religious liberals and “satan” by religious conservatives. I recently read this remark from an evangelical pastor whom I highly respect: "Finite humans have finite perspectives. Only omniscience can avoid the limitations of perspectivalism." I sense this statement is a misunderstand of perspectivalism and the fact that literary perspectivalism is at the core of Scripture and God's revelation of all things. It’s time for believers to bring renewed meaning and approach in seeking to understand the value of diversity and perspective. What some mean to use as evil or denounce as evil within religious circles, God meant for good.
By Co-Founder Michael Mewborn