We were both working through the philosophy and religion section at the bookstore. We courteously attempted to give one another space despite the fact that the same books were sharing our glaze. I knew by our similar perusals in philosophy and theology that we could probably enjoy a conversation, but I decided to avoid starting one. Then he reached over and pointed to a Timothy Keller book defending theism and said, “This is a good one.” Needless to say, I did not buy a book last night; instead, I had the honor of meeting and chatting with who appears to be Ethiopia’s most prolific Christian author: Tesfaye Robele.
Encountering thinkers like Tesfaye can be quite a rewarding experience. We intelligently discussed middle knowledge, process thought, open theism, Whitehead, Molina, Pinnock, and Boyd, and in so doing, we probably annoyed more than a few people within earshot. When I enter into a conversation with someone that I know I disagree with, I try to negate myself; I try to take in what the other person is saying and to put my agendas aside. This for me is a spiritual-humanitarian discipline, and I find it enables me to humbly and genuinely encounter the mind and perspectives of another. Tesfaye’s gentle and attentive manner suggested to me that he was doing similarly. But, why is it good to rub shoulders with those who differ in perspective? Why—it enables me to feel and perceive the limitations of my own thinking, perspectives, and presentation.
Tesfaye asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I hesitated. He had already shared with me his background and education, and I knew that answering in the affirmative would have been diplomatically easier. In many ways I do identify as Christian. Culturally and theologically, I am profoundly influenced by the full spectrum of Christianity, but, in my estimation, I would not qualify as Christian in the way he meant. I mean, I have a multi-spiritual identity, I advocate for religious pluralism, I am atheistically agnostic about the existence of the God of classical theology, and I take issue with many fundamental Christian doctrines and ethics. I answered in the negative and went on to give a four-point, two-sentence outline of my religious identity: “I was once Orthodox Jewish, and then I identified with Messianic Judaism. Later I became atheist, and I find aspects of process theology appealing.” I could have spent a lot more time qualifying any one of the points above, but I decided that this would suffice.
When I said the above my heart sank. I felt the powerlessness of an absent identity confession. In hind-sight I would have felt better asserting a positive identity, “I am [fill-in-the-blank].” I would have felt better offering a compelling, positive identity. Tesfaye then asked me, “Why do you find appealing about process theology?” I am taking away several benefits from this conversation, but this question might be the best. Aside from my ongoing attempt to construct confessional identities (a repeated theme in my writing), I am seeing that I will feel better about my thinking if I have ready, coherent answers to questions like, “Why aren’t you a Christian?,” “Why do you find process theology appealing?,” and, “Why don’t you believe in God?”
So, for example, “Why do you find process theology appealing?” Let me practice:
-- promotion and acceptance of religious pluralism
-- discursive methodology
-- absence of dogma
-- ability to look its own impossibility in the face
-- acceptance of naturalistic science
-- use of dysteleological evolution
-- placement of moral reasoning in the realm of humanity
Now, will I remember this the next time I am asked in person?