Jesus and Social Engagement (in Jamaica)

This Sunday afternoon (September 13, 2015 at 4:00 pm) my friend Dr. Eric Flett, Professor of Theology and Culture at Eastern University (in Philadelphia), will deliver the fourth annual Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecture at Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS), in Kingston.

Dr. Zenas Gerig was the founder of JTS (in 1960), and its first Principal (then, its first President). I got to know him when I attended JTS in the seventies, and he taught the first formal Bible courses I took at JTS (on the Pentateuch and the Historical Books). Not only was he a prime mover behind the Caribbean Evangelical Theological Association, but he founded the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology in Kingston in 1986. He was an amazing man who had a significant impact on the church and on theological education both in Jamaica and in the rest of the Caribbean.

Dr. Gerig passed away September 14, 2011 and I had the privilege of delivering the first Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecture in September 2012.

Like Zenas Gerig, Eric Flett is an American. But whereas Zenas lived 43 of his years in Jamaica, Eric’s knowledge of and love of the Caribbean comes from his marriage to a Trinidadian and his extensive travel in the region.

Eric accompanied me to Jamaica in January 2010 to participate in the Forum on Caribbean Theology, sponsored by JTS, at which I presented a paper entitled “Islands in the Sun: Overtures to a Caribbean Creation Theology.”

Although Eric’s participation in the Forum was limited to a panel discussion, he later wrote an invited essay that was included in A Kairos Moment for Caribbean Theology, the volume of essays from the 2010 JTS Forum that I edited with Garnett Roper.

Eric’s essay was entitled “Dingolayin’: Theological Notes for a Caribbean Theology.” Trinidadians will know what Dingolay means; but the rest of us might need to look it up.

In this year’s Zenas Gerig Memorial Lecture Eric Flett will address the implications for social engagement that flow from Christian orthodoxy, particularly the doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Flett summarizes his topic this way:

“Here is the argument I would like to make: that Christology and creation, salvation and social engagement, are all of one piece . . . , and are sustained harmoniously by a robust doctrine of the Trinity.”

In the context of this Trinitarian doctrine, the lecture will focus on the identity of Jesus, as:

  • The Son of the Father;
  • The Messiah of the Jews;
  • The Image of God; and
  • The sender of the Spirit.

Dr. Flett explains:

“When the doctrine of the Trinity becomes marginalized or misunderstood it threatens the intellectual coherence of the Christian faith and, subsequently, the effectiveness, faithfulness, and endurance of its social witness. There’s no divide here between orthodoxy or orthopraxy . . . .”

I wish I could be in Kingston this weekend to hear Dr. Flett’s lecture in person.

If you are interested, and in the area, I encourage you not to miss this opportunity to be engaged by this significant theologian in serious reflection on “Jesus and Social Engagement,” a vital topic for the Caribbean church and the wider society.

5 thoughts on “Jesus and Social Engagement (in Jamaica)

  1. I just dropped Eric off at the hotel. And now I am reading this, which only serves to increase my anticipation for his lecture on Sunday. Will share some feedback with you after the lecture.

  2. Thanks again Richard, for your advocacy with regard to this talk and my theological musings about contextual theology. I believe things went well this evening. I certainly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to further conversations that might result with those who were in attendance. Now I’m eating a little oxtail and rice, listening to some much needed rain coming down, and anticipating my departure tomorrow grateful to have had this opportunity. It was not just another talk for me, but an opportunity to give back, in a unique way, to a region that has brought immense goods into my life and has so much to celebrate!

  3. Had the privilege of attending the lecture yesterday. It was well received; Dr Flett cried a little, giggled a little (you would think he’s Jamaican!), and smiled sometimes. Most of all he cogently argued his thesis that a trinitarian approach should be employed to undergird a contextual theology of social engagement with a focus on the Son of God. I think the only thing with which I disagree is his drawing upon the views of a certain Biblical theologian (whose name will be withheld to protect the guilty) to explain the imago Dei. Apart from this forgivable lapse, he was probably the best presenter thus far, judging from the number of quality questions afterwards. Those were competently handled as well.

    PS I Had to burst his bubble when I told him that his wife married him because he bears the Christian name of the most famous PM of T&T.

  4. Eric’s lecture laid a strong foundation for a broadened understanding of a contextual Christian ministry. Anchored in the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, the lecture makes the point, among others, that the doing of God’s will (as seen in Jesus as the Son of God) ought to be concerned with much more than narrow sentiments, such as social revolution or the saving of souls. Perhaps due to Eric’s passion for music, a passion shared with many in the audience, the discussion at the end tended to focus on Christian music/worship in the Caribbean – foreign and decontextualized, speaking to few issues that concern the masses while leaving such to non-Christian and foreigners. The point was much bigger than music, however, and though Eric made it plain that he was in no place to make pronouncements about Jamaican issues, since he is a foreigner, the audience saw clearly the implications of the lecture that one serious issue of Christian theological reflection in the Caribbean is that it too often avoids speaking to the most pressing issues facing our people.

    Jesus was the son of God who made it a point of duty to obey His Father’s will joyfully (at no time coerced), understanding that those to whom he ministered were created in God’s image (noun), and so expecting them to live as those created in God’s image (verb). Thankfully, Jesus was also the bringer of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live among people, using His unique gifts (of which we must have a much broader understanding than that of the gift-lists in the Epistles) in contextually relevant ways.

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