This is such a rich conversation. Dr. Willie James Jennings is an incredible theologian who teaches Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School. Dr. Jennings has written influential books like, The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, and a groundbreaking commentary on the book of Acts, among a number of other books. Dr. Jennings is a treasure to the church and we loved chatting with him. We spoke about theology, race, whiteness, the book of Acts, LGBTQ+ inclusion and much more. Enjoy!
The whiskey we tasted in this episode is Old Fitzgerald Bottle in Bond 16 Year. Good luck finding that.
To skip the alcohol tasting, skip to the 8:10 mark. You can find the transcript for this episode here.
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NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.
I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.
We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.
Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. There's certain voices that when you hear them, instantly, you're stopped in your tracks. And you realize that there's a weight to these words, there's a there's an authority here that needs to be listened to. There's a deep wisdom that is being spoken that I need to pay attention to. And that's what happened to me the first time I listened to Dr. Willie james Jennings, I don't know about you, Kyle.
Similar. Yeah, I mean, I approach everything more critically than you do. But he was definitely somebody that I was primed to, to trust based on friends who really were into his work and prints that I respect a lot. Yeah, diving into his books for this interview was really fun and challenging. Yeah,
Dr. Willie james Jennings is a theologian at Yale Divinity School. He teaches theology and Africana Studies, he also was at Duke Divinity School for a long time. I don't know how long he's written a number of very, very influential books after whiteness is one of them. The Christian imagination, there's another I mean, there's, he's written a number of really, really heavyweight books. He also wrote a commentary on the book of Acts, which I think might be the best commentary in the book of Acts and really revolutionizes the way we can look at the church. What it means to be Christian in the world. It's brilliant stuff.
Yeah, I'm gonna have to read the X thing because I stopped reading x in college because it was like abused by the Pentecostals surrounded by Yeah,
no, you need to see what Dr. Jennings has to say. So today, we're gonna be bringing you a conversation with Dr. Willie james Jennings and I'm super excited to share Dr. Jennings with you friends.
So on the show, what we'd like to do is have a tasting of some kind of alcoholic beverage at the beginning of each episode, because we're pastoring phosphor walk into a bar and it sets a good mood. And so what we've been doing for the last episode, and this one and a few more in the future is having our friend Tim on to walk us through some bourbon that he says, Yeah,
Tim is with the power of bourbon. If you're into whiskey, if you're into bourbon at all, check out their YouTube channel. It's another podcast. Is it Tim?
No. We've dabbled with podcasts with my wife, but it's a lot to keep up on. I don't know how
it is. Well, again, thank you for your generosity, Tim sent us a bodacious box of mystery whiskies. And this is the second one we're trying. So
let's do it. I've never smelled it whiskey smells like this. Oh, I get pineapple. Is that weird?
Now this is the dusty books for me.
I'm wondering if this is bourbon. If it must be something else.
Yeah, I get a lot of oak on this one. A lot of oak
like sawdust. But then there's the bright notes on top of the of the nose as well. I also want to tell you listeners, these tastings will just be longer. For tasting really good stuff with a person who is really generous and really know this stuff. So sorry, but not sorry.
Smells like laundry detergent.
Get out of here.
I couldn't go there. I can go
Anything's fair game right. anything
is fair game. I bought forgive me for my SAT.
I don't know about laundry detergent, but like definitely like you walk into a laundry mat. Like yeah, maybe because fresh all that type of stuff. fresh
clothes. Yeah. That that is because
a lot of laundry detergent has like nature scents in it. And I'm getting I don't know if I'm tasting
I mean, I'd be completely okay if my laundry smelled like this all the time. Yeah. Oh,
wow. Oh, dang. Oh.
Oh, that's has layers layers,
layer upon layer. And it's subtle. This can't be bear for now. I
don't think so. 45 business Max.
I want like three times as much of this.
So yes, I get a lot of like caramel and vanilla. Very traditional bourbon notes, but then meld it in with some oak and cherry.
I love this.
I love it. Lemon. It's really bright.
Mm. I'm gonna say pretty old. So the last time he tricked us with a bottle that was old, but not in the normal sense of old. I don't think this did that but I do get a lot of wood on it.
This, whatever it is, I don't know if it's expensive or not i i would i would buy this this is if it's not $800
Yeah, and it's, it's another fun one. It doesn't coat your mouth as much. It never hits the jaw line. It definitely stays.
It reminds me a little bit of one of my favorite bourbons, which is Elmer T. Lee. Yeah. Which would suggest this is maybe slightly high rise. mashbill That'd be my guess you cut him off though. I'm sorry. What were you saying?
You're good. I just that it stays mid tongue. It doesn't spread out as much. So it's not as oily or viscous as some other bourbons.
Okay, Tim, here's the reveal. What are we drinking?
Oh, Gerald, bottled and bond 16 year distillery only release 16
Yeah. So I recently had there. Was it a 14, something like that? They have so many different age releases. It's hard to keep track. And then I had one that was a bit younger than that, a year or two ago. And I'm trying to locate the 19. Yeah, actually. Yeah. And they've all been really consistent. And I'm very similar wheelhouse.
So tell us, I include myself in the I don't know, Bourbon is well enough to know old office, Gerald, bottled and bond 16 years. Is this a highly sought after? Or what did the bourbon world think of this?
Yeah, so this is so heaven Hill owns the old Fitzgerald line. And they started the decanter series. So it comes in a really pretty decanter and everything like that. But they do two releases a year one in the spring one in the fall. And then there is the 16 year old red label ones that only get released at the distillery occasionally. So it's been over the last I want to say three or four years that they've been doing this and so they're really sought after people line up and go crazy for him and everything like that one because the bottle looks amazing. And two, it's some really good, really old bourbon and it
doesn't taste like it. But it reminds me of the story reminds me of old photos birthday bourbon. Yes.
Cuz it's heaven hills, kind of response to that. So as bourbon has gotten really popular, everybody's coming up with limited editions that are, you know, one offs. And so this is their response.
So you waited in line for this?
Yes, we were we had a distillery tour. It was Chuck and I and we walked up and I saw him I was like, Well, I may get in trouble with the wife today. But you can't say no to that bottle.
Yeah, when I saw them announced the 19 year I was legitimately tempted to drive to Kentucky, just to camp out for that. Yeah. Wow. Wow. This is extremely generous. Tim.
Thank you so much. One more time. What is this Tim?
This is old Fitzgerald bottled and bond 16. Year. Cheers. Cheers, delicious.
Dr. Willie, James Jennings, thank you so much for joining us on a pastor and philosopher walk into a
bar. Glad to be here with you, gentlemen. Kyle,
ask your first question, which is a very simple question. Yeah, it's
simple and not at all simple at the same time. So every time we interview a theologian, I'm a philosopher by training. So I always like to ask the theologians, what is theology and always get a totally different answer. So how would you how would you approach that? Well,
the question is, what is theology? The answer I always give is that theology is a practice of trying to think after God. And that's where all the fun begins. After in what sense? After God has spoken, after God is becoming flipped become flesh, after God has died and risen again. And then the fun starts
in theology, is that fun? When is Stanley, your former colleague, Stanley Hauerwas, this and he, he had a fun answer. I asked, What's the difference between the work of biblical scholarship and theology you have a unique kind of vantage point on that because you do biblical scholarship and theology? And I'm going to ask you about your work on on the book of Acts in a little bit. But when we asked Stanley, this, he said, whatever the difference is, it's been a disaster for the church. So what would you say Dr. Jennings is the difference between biblical scholarship and theology?
Well, the to be kinder to local folks. I would say the difference is that a group of us spend much more time listening to how people hear the Scripture and and others of us spend more time listening to how the scriptures are presented. And so the theologian is that first group, the biblical scholars that second group, and at their best at their best biblical scholars pay closer attention. And by closer I mean, more sustained attention to the text, then we theologians tend to not because we're doing something wrong, but because we have other matters to look at.
Yeah, we could do a whole episode,
you're gonna find that there's so many things that we want to talk to you about. We're just kind of just be jumping all over the place. Hopefully, it will sound cohesive when it comes out. But there are several topics that we're going to jump to. So
listen, I love the jujitsu. So work, let's go.
Excellent. So, so you've argued in the Christian imagination, that modern Christianity operates with a diseased social imagination, I think is how you put it. Can you explain what you mean by that? And how do you think that arose?
Yeah, so we do operate with a diseased social imagination. And it's because of the formation of modern Christianity inside what I call the racial condition. There is, in our moment, the reality that we are inside, two things that are unfolded, modern Christianity has a racial architecture, and modern racial reasoning, as a Christian theological architecture. And so the intertwining of those two things have created for us, a social vision that is, in many ways is already infected is diseased. And we have learned how to function inside of the disease, even though it's killing us.
Wow. Okay. So we're gonna have to unpack so we had questions on this later in the outline, I'm pulling them forward, as as we speak. Okay. So in what sense then does? How did you put it there's a Christian theological architecture to race. Is that what you said? There's a racial architecture to it goes both ways, I guess, goes both ways. Yeah. Can you unpack that a little bit more, and then I'll have some
fossils. So on the one side, there is a Christian architecture to modern racial reasoning. What do I mean by that? So modern racial reasoning comes out of the way in which Christians understood who they are in the world, over against other peoples, especially Jewish peoples, especially the people of Israel, biblical Israel, and Christians understood themselves to be the replacement of Israel. So in theology, this is the idea of supersessionism, that we replaced Israel, as the people of God. And so once we have positioned ourselves as the people of God, then a number of bad effects come into play. Most importantly, for what I'm talking about now, is the idea that we, as Christians, represent divine election, God has elected us, those of us who are Christian, becoming Christian and will become Christian. And then that election can then be seen, it can, its materialized, not only in what we do in the world, not only in what we believe in the world, but how we look. And what we build, are all signs of our election are chosen as by God. And this think of this as a bed of rice upon which you're going to put some other things that you'll have to eat. So up on this bed then emerges. Ideas of difference, ideas of difference that are calibrated by Christians coming into contact with other peoples that heretofore they had not imagined. And, and starting to imagine that difference inside of the recognition of their chosen this, out of that comes the racial architecture of the Western world. And now, so let's flip it into that other part of what I just said. So that there is a racial, there is a racial architecture inside of modern Christianity, so that Christians began to see themselves inside of this racial division of difference, rooted in what it means to be chosen what it means to be elective God. And that's, that is, in many ways, the energy out of which modern racial thinking and racial reasoning and racial vision comes to be formed.
So you say in the roots of our faith of Christianity, we saw our faith as replacing Israel. What What would the the inverse of that be like? How could we have not been going wrong in that
we will remember with Ephesians two now says one of you is a pastor, one of you is a philosopher, probably neither one of you know the Bible to a theologian it says, the beautiful palaces, you Gentiles remember. And remembering is really important. Remember that you were outside the covenants of promise that you were estranged from the commonwealth of Israel, and that you were without God in the world and hopeless. But now, in Christ Jesus, you who are far off have been brought near what what would have been the case is an ongoing Gentile remembering that we have been brought into the story of another people, we have not kicked the other people out of their story we've been brought into their story. And so that very idea, had it had been allowed to do is work throughout the history of Christianity would have created a different sense of what it means to be a Christian, what sense would that have been, it would have been a sense of the kind of deep humility in which we never saw ourselves as the host inviting everybody else into us. But as the guests entering into another people's reality, and that reality of entering in becomes a mode of living, a mode of being, that we are always in humility, entering the lives of others, in hopes of building life together. But that's not what emerged, what emerged. What emerged at the sight of the surprise, especially in the book of Acts, the surprise of Gentiles, believing in the God of Israel, and Jewish believers, and Jewish folks who were not believed was trying to make sense of these Gentiles, worshipping the God of Israel, that that that incredible new dynamic that unprecedented mammy mutated into Gentiles imagining that they were the whole point. And so instead of, instead of the Gentile question, being out being the reality out of which our faith emerges, what emerges is something that will soon become the Jewish question. What do you do with those people who don't believe correctly? Yeah.
Would you say real quick? I'm sorry, your net worth would you say? Because we think maybe I was gonna say we think Paul wrote Ephesians, but probably not but somebody, Paul line, would you say, Paul? had this idea of Gentiles being grafted in? Or was Paul partially responsible for this idea of this kind of Gentile colonialism? No,
you know, here's the thing about it. I always say that. Paul may have been the father of it. But the what I always say is that it was by accident. He didn't use any protection. They gave birth to an idea. Okay. He didn't imagine would be taken by the Gentiles in
Russia that it was taken. Okay. You think now in the Romans, right.
And so that and what is and what is that idea that Jintao inclusion meant? A new reality, full stop. But then Gentiles came along and said, Okay, we have two more sentences. It only means a new reality. It means eradication of Jewish of Jewish election, and then it means replacement. Those were the two sentences poured in, right, but you could say that, those those who came after let's write these in.
Yeah, Paul, maybe should have us more protection on several other occasions as well. Gender slavery, etc. Okay, I'm gonna if it's okay, I'm gonna read a thing that you said in a different interview, because I think it's brilliant. And I want you to unpack it a little bit. It's long ish, but but not too long. Right? And it's right on the same thing. So you said, quote, the fact that Christians came to identify themselves as the chosen people is already a profound distortion of the story. But this is where they are when we come to the colonial moment. They believe that they are at the very center of what God wants to do in the world. This belief is in everything they do and say the way they read the Bible, the way they form, their theology, the way they teach the way they carry out their Christian lives. As they begin to realize their power. They also realize the power to shape the perceptions of themselves and others. That is they begin to understand that not only do they have the power to transform the landscape and the built environment, they also have the power to force people into a different perception of the world and of themselves. This is what we came to call European, the power to transform the land and the perception of the people around racial divisions started to emerge, it floated around in many places with many differences in body type, skin color, and so forth. It didn't come out of nowhere. But now inside this matrix, it starts to harden, it starts to become a way of perception, not simply of a conjecture, this is where whiteness begins. love that quote. And I want you to unpack it, and then I want to make a philosophical connection, if I can. Sure.
So and the last part of it is the key to it, when so many people try to understand what whiteness is. They too quickly misunderstand whiteness, as phenotype as biology, without realizing it forms precisely in this reality of centeredness, that Christians coming to the new world who will later we would call Europeans operate out of and how else would you operate it once you realize that you are in a place that you hear to foreign out imagined, and you are trying to make sense of yourself in that here too, for unimagined place? Join on your theological vision in which you've already replaced Israel, then you then you come to the conclusion that many would come to, which is to say, God brought me here to set this thing in order. Brought God brought me here, not only to clarify, to all those who I am encountering the truth of the world, but to clarify myself in that truth, and to clarify myself as the one who knows the truth. All those things are, and all those things are imagined, inside a kind of sick humility. I'm just doing what God has enabled me to do. And I do it with God's help. And so out of that, forms whiteness as a way of being in the world, a way of seeing the world with analyzing, shaping projects, projecting the world and having that power. That's the key to having the power to realize that imagination.
Yeah, so apologies in advance for comparing what you said to a white German philosopher. But it reminded me so much of my experience reading Nietzsche for the first time, because it is almost exactly his critique of Christianity, specifically, the bit about they began to realize their power to shape the perceptions of others. And for him, that critique goes all the way down. And there simply is no Christianity leftover after that critique is acknowledged, obviously, you're a Christian theologian, and so you probably disagree with him about that. So how deep does it go? Because I find it personally difficult. I mean, I really resonated with Nietzsche back in the day. And I still do like when I survey the history of Christianity, and when I talked to Catholic theologians, for example, and they described to me how their decisions have been made historically. I see that critique way back. And it's difficult to imagine outside the New Testament itself, that there has ever been a kind of Christianity that didn't suffer some level of that critique. So I want you to tell me how deep you think it goes, I
think was always I think it goes to the bone into the duras like to say, but here's, here's where what I mentioned earlier is so important. The The point is that there is a shaping, not that we generate. But there's a shaping that we enter into. And that is, that's what's a part of entering Israel story. We are entering the storm and other people. And so there is that reality of of coming to that crucial moment that we've seen the book of Acts, and what is that moment, these people, these Gentile peoples who who know that they are not Jewish people, they are not those those Jewish people they know they're different. But in this moment, that is established by the Spirit through the witness of the life of Jesus, spoken by presented by these Jewish followers of him. here's the here's the thing, that they must not wrestle with. Everything I've been taught about who I am in my people, how we were created, who created us, who we are, those things are not wrong, but now I have to factor in this new reality. The God who actually created me and who loves me, is that people's God. And so now I have to wrestle with how do I make sense of what I know in this place in this space? With this ground this dirt this water this these ways this way of life? When I realized that the God who created me is over there, but it was also here, now. So that that means that it goes all the way down. And it is inescapable if in fact, we are convinced that over there, now brought to us is someone who's always always been here. But we didn't fully know who this was until that moment, right? Now, of course, once we have the colonial rejection of that, and once we have the super sessions rejected, then that becomes a kind of rejection of that, then the Nietzsche then the Nietzschean insight is true. When Christians imagine that they are the bearers of the story. It's ugly, all the way down. Well, there's still a story to be told. It's just not the one that we've been telling.
So that reminds me of Do you have any follow up questions? So you're speaking of the ground, the dirt, the water? You wrote also in Christian, the Christian imagination that Christian theology lost its way when it was yanked out of a particular place, particular moment to particular people? What do you place in land and even belonging that you've talked about have to do with Christian theology,
everything. So every, every problem that emerges with a racial condition emerges because Christians imagined people separate from place. And turned, and two things form the exact same, the exact same reality. People encased in their bodies in what we would call racial identity. And the ground transformed into something we call private property. Those two things form together. And so the Christianity that was meant in terms of a similar trajectory, to join people in the dirt, joining people through the dirt. By the time we come to the club and call them attorney, that gets blown apart. Now, where does that begin? It begins in x 10. begins at x 10. What's an X 10? And again, for those of you,
Randy, what's next?
Remind you? Yes, yes, x 10. That sheet is lowered, that sheet is lowered down to Peter Peter, who is on the roof waiting for something to eat, the sheet is lowered. And it is filled with animals that no pious, no committed Jewish follower of God, especially for all of us would ever touch. And so and so the sheet comes down and you know, make the long story short, there's, there's a struggle. And Peter says, Keep saying, No, God, I'm not going to, I won't do that. And then God says, what I've made clean, you eat. And the revolutionary character of that passage, continues to elude so many of us, because in Peters day, and for so many people still in the world, people identify with their animals. And so to lower the sheet with animals that anyone knows that they wouldn't eat, is, can't be misunderstood as anything other than also saying, become a part of the people who eat these animals. And so, to be joined to people, at the sight of the animal to join the people inside the dirt, is precisely the way God was imagining, dreaming of the moving forward with God's disciples through Jesus, that that is what's at play. And so what we find in Acts 11 is the crucial question, the crucial question that we have forgotten. Peter returns to his Jewish colleagues in fury and anger, they asked him, Why did you eat with Gentiles? Why did you go among them and eat with Gentile? Peter gives the Great answer. I didn't want to do it. But God told me I had to do it. And And then Peter retells the story then, in Acts 11, that great moment where it says and they and they were, they were reduced to silence. Then after the silence, they rejoice because now other Gentiles have been included. But the inclusion is at the site of the dirt side of the animals side of the land. That's where it works. So it points to a deeper, intertwining and deeper. overlaying, if you will, a different kind of grounded assimilation of one into the other. That is fundamental to the trajectory of where Christianity should go. But of course, that's not our history.
Yes. So I'm hearing you say when you when we feel our theology, delving into the abstract and moving more towards the abstract, that's more of a comfortable, easy theology rather than a theology route in the particularity or maybe even an incarnational theology. How much of the incarnation can teach us about this particularity are the theology of particularity everything.
And we have to we have to take the Incarnation all the way down to the dirt. In the book I'm working on right now I spend this time thinking about Mary and Jesus, and how Mary is not only in, in Christian theology, Mary is called the Articles, which means God bears she's the bearer of God. And, but we also think of a Mary as the pedagogue of God, the One who teaches God, how to touch the dirt. And God comes all the way down to the dirt. And it's precisely that life of living and learning in the dirt. That is crucial to our own discipleship. And this is why for so many, for so many Christians, our Christianity continues to hover above the Earth, yes, yes, it does. It's not really grounded in the ways in the way it should be grounded in the actual Earth, in the dirt and in life together, on land in lane.
So help me understand how this changes, theological education. This is the focus of your book after whiteness. And you say there that theological education works against a pedagogy of belonging. You know, what does that mean? And how can we do it differently?
Well, the pedagogy of belonging that we are given a glimpse of in the New Testament begins with one beautiful image, Jesus and the crowd. Jesus gathers a crowd. And here we run past the significance of this. It's there, but we've run past it. What is it about that crowd that is so amazing, the crowd, I mean, for people who don't like each other? Gentlemen, these are folks who are not friends. These are strangers, and many of them are enemies. And you know how Jesus had been there. First of all, they wouldn't be together without Jesus, but had Jesus had been there, they would have killed each other. These are not these are not a group of high and like minded folks who happen to be with Jesus they are, they are there for all manner of reasons desperation, hope, fear, curiosity, but they are together. Because of Jesus, again, Jesus gathers a crowd. Now the crowd is not Christian, I was like, This crowd is not Christian. But it is the it is the ground upon which a Christian could form. It is the ground upon which the crowd might become some of them. Many of them we hope, congregation, but they begin as crowd, they begin a stranger enemy, some friends estranged and new there that that crowd is crucial. And so theological education should have as its center, cultivating people inside the life of Jesus, who gather a crowd. Now that that ability to grab gather together people who ordinarily would not be together would not want to be together our enemies, but but they are gathered together by the one who was doing whatever work they're doing. That's what ought to be at the center and only a theological education. But I would argue it should be at the center of all Western education, to try to create, cultivate people who are able to do that no matter what they're doing, as opposed to what we have. Now, what do we have not putting this out in the after whiteness text? What do we have now we have the image of the very center of Western education that is constantly, though, has been constantly nurtured by theological education, through the colonial period up to this moment. And that image is of a white self sufficient man who embodies what I call three dismal virtues. possession, control Will and mastery, and is able to show his finish that he is able to show and how he does his work, those precise characteristics. And that image has shaped so much of the pedagogical and curricular vision of Western education, to show someone when they have finished their education, show someone when they are imparting knowledge, show someone when they are doing their work, who always exhibits the finished man. And as I point out in that book, the history and the reality of wounded and killed souls who have tried to become that man who are trying even at this moment to become that man. It feels could feel multiple stadiums. This is the this is the wounding that has been and continues to be a part of education.
I remember in after whiteness, you tell the story in connection with that point of, I don't know how, you know, close to the facts and have your stories in there were but being on a hiring committee, and there being two candidates, both really skilled, a black woman and a white man and knowing but just by the tenor of the conversation by the expressions on the faces of the other people in the hiring committee while the man was presenting, knowing that he was going to get the job, because he embodied those virtues that you just described. Whereas the black woman was more self referential, and presumably more in line with what you're calling belonging or creating of communion or, or something like that. So as somebody who I see a lot of life in that, and I definitely feel like I need to learn from that. But I'm also still, you know, I hail from the tradition that everybody else hails from, in the western educational system, which is that, you know, the way you prove that you have received the education, when I did my dissertation defense, right, you have to own the topic, and you kind of have to own the room in a certain way. And you have to send off all the objections, and you have to demonstrate your expertise. And the way that you do that is very much in the way of, you know, mastery, not of the people in the room, but of the points that they're making. And it's hard to see how belonging or communion could fit into that, or contribute to expertise formation, which is, as I understand it, the point of the academy. So help me to see what practically this means for listening,
you just you just the way you put it is so beautiful, because it can't fit into that, yes, it has to be broken open. So one of the ways that I think helps us imagine something different is to imagine an artist. And as I just say, if you go up to any really great artist, and you say to her, or him or them you say, Boy, you you have mastery over your instrument, just, you know, 99% of them will look at you like you have three heads. I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just trying to play my songs. Because when when we start to figure out, how does that how does that help help me? How does that actually help me? Do my art? How does it actually help me can conveyed to the world, what I see and what I experienced and what I feel, we realize it doesn't. And then but we have to but here's where it's crucial. Here's where we have to start to ask the question, whose dream? This is the question I say that every would be doctoral student and every young professor, whose dream are you living inside of as you seek to exercise mastery. And that and when you when you start to unpack the dream, which you realize that you inside the Masters dream for his children, the master of the plantation, what was his dream, that is his dream was inside answering that crucial question, as he looked at all that he had been given ie stolen, all that he had, and what was that? What was that question? Who must my sons, my daughter sometime but he was replacing more than his sons? Who must my sons and daughters become in order to inherit what I have been given? Ergo, their goal, therefore, they have to be trained to become white self sufficient men who show those virtues who can carry forward my legacy. And so we started unpack the dream that sits behind as the engine not only of aspiration but the engine behind curricular design, then we can start to unravel something that we really until the day we don't meet. Now, that doesn't change the the the joy of reading and thinking and talking and arguing even, I mean, all that's still there. But it starts to crumble all the stuff around it that's configured in a particular way that is built inside of classic European silver culture, no turn with knives to men with guns. fired, it starts it starts to unravel all of that. And we can start to see if we can put it together in a different way. So you know, you go sit in a room full of poets and they're, they're taking apart a person's poetry and asking questions and thinking about what they're doing maybe some arguments and maybe some other things. And none of that. None of that. At the end of that no one's going to say that you now have mastery over this Paul. Gonna say Okay, next, Paul.
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So maybe this is a good segue into this next question of thinking about how we think I've heard you quote from him, Sean Copeland, the Roman Catholic woman is theologian in her essay, the thinking margins. And so what might Christianity have to learn not only from people in the margins, but from or from living in the margins, and even trying to think on the margins? What does that mean?
It means that you are outside, you are outside not only of the decision making and the power that's inside the decision making. But in many cases, you're outside the quest for that power, and for being able to make those decisions. And you have to then imagine an alternative way of being when you're outside. Now, why this is so important. And Mr. Copeland and marvelous article is pointing to the way black women intellectuals, especially Christian electricals thought from the sight of the margins. And from that site, not only could they could they see the ways in which they were excluded, but they can also see with much more clarity, the way power works. And the way power to be able to see the way power works is a beautiful insight that being at the margins, helps you see. And on the question always is where we listen to those at the margins, who can actually see better than we can often see how power works, how power is working, how power is working to consider its own operations. And so what she is pointing to, not only is that that reality of sight, and that reality of resistance and refusal to operate inside those logics, but how to then propose an alternative way of being from the margins, that would reconfigure that very positionality. That for the Christian is absolutely central because we serve a God who was crucified. So that that already messes up a lot of people's minds, a crucified God, and to think, from the reality, not just of resurrection, but also crucifixion. As I like to say, one of the things that we have to recognize, especially for we Christians in the Western world, is that it's not at all clear that many of us, many of us Worship, Jesus's power, and not Jesus. There are people who love Jesus His power, they don't care. They don't care much about Jesus. They want to be on the winning side. And they imagine that's the winning side. But that crucified do thing. It's not that appealing that power thing, all that power. Yeah. And there are people who in the way they are, in a sense, executing, performing their Christian life. They're not worshiping Jesus, they're worshipping his power.
This is just a total aside, Dr. Jennings, but when I've heard you talk in these ways, I hear you a lot of times I heard I was just listening to an interview with you last night, and you were talking about the history of colonialism and Christianity, and you were using pronouns of we and our not they in them. Now, you are your you make a living of pointing these things out and trying to form and point to a new way forward that maybe looks more like the cross that looks more like incarnation that looks more like Jesus. And when I do that stuff, I usually say they and then because I don't want to associate myself with with that part of our history, Tell me Tell us why you use those pronouns. Why you say we and our so much,
because we we, the reason we, I say this is because at heart, we are in a shared project that many of us have really messed up. But it is a shared project. And so because I'm inside the life of following Jesus, I have to acknowledge that I, along with others are struggling to follow. And so it does, no, it does nothing helpful. It's not helpful at all, to separate myself from those who I think, are failing more poorly, and be failing more spectacularly, at following Jesus, than I am. But you know, I have two daughters, two young daughters in their 20s, and ones and ones in her 30s. And one of them was 27, they may look back and say, you know, you were failing spectacularly too. So, there is there is the, it is, of course, a challenge, because I have many Christian friends, they do not want to be associated with the kinds of Christians who are doing and have done such horrors in the world. And I accept that too. But here's what we all have to understand. For those who are not Christian. Anyone who claims to be Christian, is guilt by association. skewed by association, you're a Christian. What about those Christians isn't well. So that's the week the week is recognizing a shared project. That's good. And may or may not want to say shared sin, because I always worry about sin being used. As a theologian, I understand sin is an incredibly complicated tool, and has been used with precision.
It's often not. Can you explain that a little bit? Yeah,
people throw around sin too quickly. But sin, sin has to do with not only not only what we're doing, but the way in which we're can we conceal to ourselves the very things we do. And even when we think we see what we do that is sinful, that scene itself is also sinful. And so that means we have to, we have to work with such precision and delicacy when we claim we see sin in order to understand what we think we're doing when we say we see sin, even in ourselves.
One more question about theological education information. And then I think Randy wants to talk about x a little bit. So you say and after whiteness, you tell the story of two teaching assistants who have different but equally poor styles of teaching the students in their charge. And one of them has a kind of orthodoxy and one of them has a kind of anti orthodoxy, but they're both equally you know fervently pushing their own their own views here. And you say that this is a quote, teaching towards an orthodoxy or towards an anti orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not in fact, the problem. It is the exclusionary logic that attends these efforts that turns theological studies into a dismal science. draining of the surprises of love. Powerful. But the next line is one I want to ask about designing for intellectual affection requires a discerning love that knows how to perform an exclusion that does not isolate, but opens toward a more intense listening and learning from one another. Can you unpack what you mean by that exclusion that doesn't isolate? Yeah.
So you are showing in the teaching the paths that you think are fruitful. And the paths that you don't think are that fruitful, you are showing the things that you find beautiful and attractive. And the things you find? Let's, let's say, they don't quite taste, right, let's, let's switch that metaphor to eating metaphor, you know, my taste, right. And so, to show to show exclusion, at the point is not to say, don't look at it. It's to say, if you look at it, think about what I've just said in terms of it being less fruitful, and that tasty as well. And in doing that, you're heightening your heightening the reality of it all, that all of it is to be tasted. And that's what we want, we want theological education to bring people into the joy and the art of it all. And inside the joy and the art of it, all the the distinctions between what's helpful and unhelpful, we can even now layer, what's Orthodox and unworthy or heterodox, we can even layer what is helpful or harmful, all of those now can start to be layered in a way that doesn't separate us, but joins us let us know where to get into a shared project of learning. Right? That, and again, I like I like the image always of, of an artist, that particular techniques, particular artisanal movements may not be seen as just as good right here. That's not gonna work. That doesn't, that's not right. But at the end of the day, all you've done, you haven't put up or you haven't put up a hand and say, Stop, don't go there. Is it? Think about it, in terms of what is trying to do what you're trying to do? Yeah,
that's helpful. can do one quick. Yeah. Okay, I want to I want to pose an objection, that is not my objection, I don't actually think it's a very valuable objection. But it's one that might be in the minds of some of our listeners. All right. So I don't know if you're familiar with this organization that calls themselves the Heterodox Academy. And it's headed by people like Jonathan Hite, the famous psychologist, and they're very worried about, they call it the coddling of the minds of the American student. And what they're so worried about is that we're going to have campuses full of people, and I think this is already happening, who think that education is the point of education is to make you feel like you belong there. And that, in that effort, we're going to lose what's actually core to education, which is, you know, learning some skill, or some kind of expertise, or some kind of, I don't know how they would put it, but they, they want to reaffirm the value of being kind of tough, and being able to, you know, not need a safe space, but actually, like grapple, you know, with the challenging ideas, and hear from all the speakers who are, you know, maybe a little bit controversial, instead of, you know, protesting against them, and whatever. So they have like very long book length cases about this and why it's so bad.
I don't know those particular people, I know this argument. And I can understand it, and you can hear a bit of frustration in it. And the frustration you hear in it is the the lack of clarity that we've operated in for decades, maybe even centuries about what are the ends of education. And part of that it gets back to what I mentioned earlier, the end was always there was the Masters dream. That was the people who either didn't know or forgot about that. But here's what I always like to say about this is that many people imagined inside of the quest for the white self sufficient man when those in those virtues, they imagine that there there is a prerequisite of a certain kind of brutality necessary to achieve those ends. And that brutality, was really aimed at cultivating one fundamental thing inside of all of this. How to Pay attention How to see precisely clearly and sustain one's view into a thing that then opens up a depth of articulation and understanding. So I, I just want to do inlet after having been in the academy all my adult life, I'm just gonna do an end run around all that and say, we can get there a lot easier and a lot better, but a lot with less blood on the floor, less body parts cut up. If we come to the question, what does it mean to cultivate attention? How do we help people pay attention. And I submit that we do not need brutality, to help people learn how to pay attention, we do not need to think in terms of a vision of rigor that is imagined with a kind of cool T. But I ignore your would you ignore whatever, just focus on this, because we don't need that. But now here's the problem. Attention can't be limited. Attention is expansive. And the problem with the with the way our educational system is established, is that it wants to narrow and squeeze attention into one thing. And that myopia is damaging to helping students not only see them, see their world, but at the same time, see each other and see themselves and see each other seeing each other. That, as we all know, is what we are always trying to recover when someone has been educated. So here's what we want it, here's what we want to overcome. We want to overcome this statement that with that said, that said all over the world. And let me tell you, after I wrote every whiteness, I've heard from people from all over the world, but we want to correct this thing that said all over the world. This brilliant scholar, this brilliant person is has no interpersonal skills, they are mean they are horrible. They're a terrible person, but they're brilliant. This person who says horrible things that people who hurts people, but but they're brilliant. We excuse in humanity that has been cultivated, formed, rewarded, because a certain kind of attention has been cultivated with it that we accept. Now, I want to make it impossible for someone who winds up in a position of teaching or leadership who has the one, but also brings the other and then everyone who around that person has to suffer and compensate and rethink life. Because of that one. Think about how much suffering is in this world. Because we excuse someone who has been formed precisely in that way. I'd
love to spend the next 10 minutes or less 10 minutes on the book of Acts. I'd love to have a whole hour but I get 10 minutes. Maybe we can go Lightning Lightning round here. Because the so you wrote the book commentary in the book of Acts and you see the book of Acts, I'm going to be butchering your tech but as a revolution of inclusion perhaps, which is completely changed the way I see the book of Acts. One of the main themes that you cite, you cite three main themes in the book of Acts. But one of those that just arrested me is you say the book of Acts is about a God restless in the world through the Spirit. Tell us what that means.
It means it's God as a radical, revolutionary, even obsessive community organizer, who was trying to draw people together, who would not want to be together, as I could say, the the one that crucial theme, the runs to the book of Acts, is that when the spirit comes, the spirit is almost always I dare say always asking people to do something they don't want to do. And what is it that they don't want to do? They don't want to go and be with those people over there. As I always like to say my favorite story in an is when the angel comes and says there's a guy named Saul. I want you to go go to him. He says to you says the rumor has it please don't tell God this rumor. Rumor has it this man has a killer app. Money is so funny. You say that. God may not be aware. But this is a killer. And I don't want to go hang out with a killer.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, as you're laughing, I'm reminded of the Spirit telling Philip, go stand in that chariot with that Ethiopian eunuch and talking about the scriptures together. That wouldn't be something that Philip would choose, I'm guessing. So, when we talk about life together, live together, often we embody it and romanticize it and acts to how everyone was sharing with everyone. And we're all one big happy family. It's really great. And I think you probably say that we divorce x two from x one what was happening and x one, can you tell us what life together looks like in a less of a Pollyanna type way?
Yeah, it means we bring into smaller spaces, all of the struggles that are in larger spaces. And in those smaller spaces, we work through them. Knowing that because we are in those smaller spaces together, those in the wider spaces will see us all as betrayers of our peoples, because we are together trying to work this thing out. And because of that, the most revolutionary thing that is present in among these followers of Jesus, is that they dare to be together. Remember, forget Antioch, schools, Jerusalem.
So this is a particular question that you don't have to answer if you don't want, but I just want to, it's been on my mind ever since I've heard you talk about x. And Reggie, does the book of Acts help us at all and trying to figure out particular modern questions like queer inclusion in the church core reformation in the church? And if so, how?
It does, because what what it what the book of Acts, does more than anything else, it shows the undomesticated reality of the Spirit. And of the gathering, that the spirit is facilitating, bringing together people who are not only do they not want to be together, but there is no protocols, there's no plan of action, there's no blueprint for how they could be together. And in doing that, it's calling to question how they understand themselves. You know, that wonderful, that wonderful? It's wonderful in terms of, I think, what it means all three, but not wonderful, and what happens, and in essence, a viral, you know, that what what is being what is being killed there? Fundamentally, not just these two people. But what they represent, and what do they represent, they represent the the couple imagine itself as more important than God, the couple, making the decisions about what's best for them in the face of God. And so there's a fundamental reordering of life together. That gets back to the question you just asked me a moment ago about what what is it about? This thing that's not pollyannish is that these people have very different ways of life. And all of them now are being called into question inside of a new configuration, and not only their ways of life, but who they are, how they understand themselves. So as one person said to me, while by so it sounds like you're saying that there's a fundamental queering that happens with this with the spirit or the yeah, that's, that's right. But, but there's also a kind of queering of the query. So that what the Spirit is creating are new patterns of life together, that are actually life together. That's the thing. It's, it's a moving forward now with people who, I, I don't think anyone outside of this reality, can fully appreciate our how we are working to move together.
So in that I, I'm just saying this because I want we're just talking now, right? I remember you saying something to the effect of gay marriage maybe should be celebrated in the church as much as heterosexual marriage, because what the culture wants tolerated once the spirit touches it, it changes. Can you can you? Can you clarify that for me?
Yes, that two things I always say there. So what, what marriage will mean now is that no marriage, no marriage can claim the community the church, as its servant, and for some for so many The churches, they think they exist to promote marriages and families when important, in fact, is the case is that all coupling? Gay or, or cisgender coupling is now in service to the church. And so what what is being said, fundamentally, is that our love is now inside of discipleship and not saying the church is a servant to our love. Allah love. Yes. is in service to the church. Yes. And so that means that same loving couples, like heterosexual couples, when they come to the church and say marry us, they are presenting themselves as disciples in service. That's, that's the first thing that's being said.
Sheesh, you got anything?
We're unfortunately out of our time. Can I ask like one quick closing quick hope? It's a quick closing question. Is that alright? Oh, God. It's changing a little bit the focus here. But I heard something really powerful that you said after George Floyd's murder. This is back in 2020 20. And you said you drew this distinction between anger and hatred. And you said that there are two criteria for when anger is I don't know if you know justified or what but when, when you can't, when it's safe to say that my anger represents God's anger, and avoids sliding into hatred in your two criteria where life is being destroyed. And the anger is shareable. And I want to know, where you got those? How How, how should we? How should we derive criteria like that? Because you know, I trust your voice. And when you say that I'm inclined to listen. But I can also imagine hearing similar criteria from other voices that I don't trust. And I would want to know what their method was. Yeah,
it's, it's, it's straight from the prophets. And if you want to read someone who beautifully lays it out, as the great Abraham has shown, as he talks about the prophets, and so the prophets, they are inside God's righteous indignation, right. And because they're inside God's righteous indignation, they're sharing and God's anger. And that anger is aimed at the destruction of creation in our people. And the the constant refusal to see that destruction. And because the Prophet shares it, it points to what that only God is angry about. The only was a prophet is angry about what you should be angry about. And those, those are the criteria that makes sense to me. Because at the end of the day, God's anger is aimed at our return. Aim at our returning to right relationship with God, to making right what is clearly wrong, and what is the thing that is wrong. I mean, when we come back to what you just said a moment ago, you're destroying what God is trying to cherish.
One more thing to just read us in the present moment, as we speak, there's a war happening right now in the Middle East, between Israel, Israelis and Palestinians. Tell us how we should think theologically about what's happening in the world, how we should think about the violence that we see how we should think about and use our voices to advocate for a different reality.
Yeah, I have dear friends who are Palestinian Christians, who are suffering painfully right now. And when all this broke out, I was I was in Rome at a conference of Christians and Jews, looking at the Pope's release of the documents of Pope Pius the 12th. And so all this broke out at that moment. You know, I say to my Christian friends, my and my Christian siblings, that at this moment, what we must do is we must, of course, hate what Hamas has done, and despise the use of violence. But we cannot stop and then turn around and say, violence used in vengeance is okay, given the use of violence a long time ago. We know that violence as a option was taken off the table for us as Christians. And that means we can, we can never, ever imagine violence as doing anything other than beginning more violence. And so we have to stand against the use of violence as a way to try to bring peace because we know that that's fool's gold. But that means in this particular moment, we must do like so many people are doing. We can we can be continue inside of the logic of Christians, the logic of Christianity, to stand with Jewish people, and not stand with the deployment of violence by the nation state of Israel. And we should also at the same moment, mourn with those who have been who those who have suffered loss and suffer the loss of their family and friends, and stand with the Palestinians who are suffering, loss, and also inside of the operations of a nation state that continues the colonial practice of occupation. I don't think anybody would deny that truth. But I would hope more than anything else, Christians would be very careful before they sign on to the appropriateness of the operations of any nation state, especially with the use of violence. Because we know we know. Once you give in to violence, you have made yourself an agent of death. We'll stop.
Well, Dr. Willie, James Jennings, thank you for bringing yourself and your wisdom to us. I'd love to talk for another couple hours, we'll have to do that another time when your next book comes out. What is your next book? Do you know when it's coming out?
And my hope is that sometime in 25, my book on race theology and the built environment will be out. That's my hope. Sometime I've got my doctrine creation book will be out I hope.
We'll be emailing and getting you on the schedule again when those come out. But thank you for your time, Dr. Jennings, it's been a pleasure.
My pleasure. Great to talk with you.
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