Biblioversity: Is Your Library an Echo Chamber?
The word diversity tends to be solely allocated to ethnic identity. Ironically, that limitation inherently contradicts its very definition. In other fields the term diversity is used to describe investment portfolios, design color wheels, and numeric demographics. But what about our libraries? I’m not talking about the public library downtown. I’m referring specifically to your personal bibliography. Have you ever paused to consider the diversity of your bookshelf? Is your library diverse?
I remember sitting in a dimly lit, yet extravagantly decorated wine bar in Chicago last year (it out-hipstered my millennial affinities by a long shot — which is saying a lot) with a couple acquaintances. One of the guys searching the menu with me for something under $18 was a church planting peer. The other was a grant processing manager for a non-profit organization and a member of the newly forming launch team. To their credit, both vocalized a desire to plant with diversity in mind. As a multi-ethnic church planter it doesn’t take much prodding for me to dive into the deep end of intentional heterogeneity. As they began asking me what books I was reading, and if I had any recommendations, I quickly realized that we weren’t on the same page. I came to the epiphany that not everyone has a diverse library.
The church body I belong to (the LCMS) is historically an ethnic church body - tied to the German roots of the Lutheran reformation. With that said, we cannot use this as a crutch to avoid diversity. For Lutherans (and arguably every other Christian denomination) our theological bibliography is incredibly homogeneous. From Luther to Walther, Pieper to Kolb, Bonhoeffer to Maier there’s an overwhelming number of -ers authoring our most formative works. Is it simply because all Lutheran theologians happen to be white men? I hope not! Is it because we can trace our Christian heritage down the very narrow branches of a European, Protestant tree? Certainly not, otherwise we’d be guilty of whitewashing Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch. I think our lack of biblioversity is a result of fear, particularly when it comes to female authorship.
We are afraid of what threatens us — what explicitly or subliminally threatens our patriarchal theological, political, socio-economic status quo. This is not a passive aggressive left hook. Rather, I'm pointing out a serious fault of the sinful human condition evidenced across Christendom. We fear the unknown, the uncomfortable, the contradictory, the other. But, what if the threat we perceive is actually something that will make us safer, stronger, and wiser? I can personally attest that intentionally diversifying my library has made me a better theologian — a more Lutheran theologian. I am convinced Lutheranism is the best kept secret for urban, multi-ethnic ministry. However, I only came to that conclusion by diversifying the books, articles, and blogs I was reading. I gained insight into Scripture that enhanced my attempt to understand the mysteries of God. My Sacramental identity was affirmed through reading contradictory theologies and approaching the perspective of others with healthy respect and humility.
Avoiding Echo Chambers
Diversity should never be a source of fear, but instead a source of cultural and Kingdom knowledge that results in growth, pushes us out of comfort zones, energizes thinking, and provides healthy perspectives in theology. Diversifying your library will prevent echo chambers - intellectual inbreeding that leads to generational breakdown of strong theological DNA. Quite the opposite, we might actually glean things from our brothers and sisters in the faith much like the early church. Consider the creeds that are universal to the catholic Church. Representatives from around the known world came together with nuanced understandings of the faith to develop powerful confessions that have stood the test of time. Yes, there was conflict. To be sure, there was heated debate over right, wrong, and adiaphoron. Yet the result of these councils was unity birthed from diversity.
Our world is larger than that of the early church, but also smaller because we have almost unlimited access to every single point on earth, as well as every people group and their histories. We sell ourselves short if we operate as if our libraries are limited to the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. In the LCMS, we have begun to address this issue with authors like Leo Sanchez and Won Yong Ji, but is this enough? I wish we could do more! Why limit our spiritual formation to what ensures our comfort? We have an inadequate amount of diversity within our tribe. To some degree, I’m not significantly challenged by the few diverse authors we have in the LCMS because I agree with their theology and perspective. How can we facilitate global voices in order to confront our own theological, political, patriarchal, and sociological framework? Our faith values tension and paradox. We must also value biblioversity - an excellent environment to encounter such things. I'm not saying I have all this figured out. But I do invite you expand your library. I'm all the richer for it, and I'm sure you will be as well. Here are some diverse resources that I have found helpful:
Blogs and Websites
raanetwork.org (Reformed African American Network)
wiconi.com (Wiconi International)
ellisperspectives.com (Carl & Angela Ellis) they’re from Chatt! and reformed (PCA)
The New Global Mission, Samuel Escobar
Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith, Marla Frederick
Shalom & the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Randy Woodley
Liberating Black Theology, Anthony Bradley
Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah
Roadmap to Reconciliation, Brenda Salter McNeill
Daughters of Eve, Virginia Stem Owens
Faith in the Face of Empire, Mitri Raheb
Rescuing the Gospel from Cowboys, Richard Twiss
Faith-Rooted Organizing, Alexia Salvatierra & Peter Heltzel (Alexia is Lutheran!)
A Journey Toward Home, Kristin Carroccino & Christine Sine
Thin Places, Tracy Balzer
A Royal Waste of Time, Marva Dawn
Rev. Josh Woodrow is the founding pastor of Bridge City Community in Chattanooga - an urban mission humbly pursuing reconciliation, justice, and mercy. He is married to his wife, Jenny, and together they have four wonderfully wild children - Harper, Rose, August, and Silas who love to keep them busy with creative chaos. Josh has too many hobbies, but loves to roast coffee, build stuff with wood, and try to keep his 1972 Triumph motorcycle running.
You can listen to more of Josh Woodrow's thoughts here.