“Evangelical Faith Is Theologically Immature & Eurocentric in Origin." Your Response?

Once, during my visit to “CERESO” prison in Chihuahua, Mexico (to preach), an inmate boasted that while his Catholic Church is 2,000 years old, my Protestant Church, in comparison, was a child—meaning theologically less mature—since it has been around a mere 500 years.  Some years earlier, a Filipino-American, visiting my Sunday school class, voiced his objection over studying the Nicene Creed.  He quipped, “How can you, as an Asian, still be a Christian in light of the fact that it is a white man’s religion, and its doctrines are so Eurocentric?”  While this remark and the inmate’s comment appear unrelated, they agree on this: the Protestant faith (of evangelicals) proceeds from the Reformation of European whites, such as Luther (Germany), Calvin (France), and Knox (Scotland).  

This is not without reason since evangelical Protestants typically assume that their faith was birthed on October 31, 1517, when Luther nailed his 95 theses against the Catholic Church on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany.  The promoters of this view do so out of their desire to distinguish the Protestant faith from the Catholic Church whose various doctrines became corrupted down through the ages.  Nevertheless, while their intent may be noble, it unwittingly makes evangelical Protestants vulnerable to the charges that their church is theologically immature and Eurocentric in origin.  That said, it is patently false that the faith of evangelical Protestants was born on European soil some 1,500 years after Jesus died, resurrected, and ascended.  

First, in light of that, it is important know when to separate the faith of evangelical Protestants from the Catholic Church: 1517 is way too late.  One key reason is this: Two essential doctrines of the historic Christian faith were officially articulated in the first four ecumenical councils in the 4th and 5th centuries held in Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), respectively.  It is a mistake, therefore, to ignore or mitigate the importance of these early councils, which some fundamentalist Christians do, on account of their historical ties to the Catholic Church.  

For instance, the Nicene Creed (325), affirming the divinity of Christ, states, “Very God from Very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.”  The council, rejecting the term "homoiousios," which implies that Jesus was like the Father in divine substance, chose "homoousios" to declare that Jesus was one and same substance with Him.  And the Chalcedonian Definition (451), which Leo I, bishop of Rome, articulated, settles the matter of the dual nature of Christ once and for all: “Christ . . . while he remained in the form of God, was himself made man in the form of a servant.  Each nature preserves its own characteristics without diminution so that the form of a servant does not detract from the form of God.”  Note that these are two of the bedrock doctrines of evangelical Protestants.

These creeds, of course, were not invented out of thin air; instead, the ecumenical councils gave concrete theological expressions to proto-orthodox beliefs held by even earlier church.  For instance, consider a ministry manual called "Didache" (teaching or doctrine), produced at the end of the 1st century, which “is thoroughly orthodox in doctrine, with a high Christology and a clear affirmation of the Trinity” (Varner 2006).  The manual instructs that baptism is to be done “in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (7:1-3).  

However, sharing our doctrinal root with the Catholic Church becomes tricky once church history enters the 6th century because of Gregory the Great (540-604), who, despite being a humble, wise, and mission-minded pope, introduced unbiblical ideas that would define the medieval Catholic theology.  “He . . . emphasized the idea of purgatory as a place where souls would be purified prior to their entrance to heaven” while giving “tradition a place of equality with the Bible.”  Furthermore, Gregory emphasized good works to merit God’s grace and the invocation of the saints in order to get their aid (Cairns 1980:184).  For this reason, I wouldn’t tie the faith of evangelical Protestants to the ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church beyond the 5th century until the Reformation.

Second, it is also important to know where these ecumenical councils were held, particularly in light of postmodernism’s tendency to denigrate the merits of anything produced by European whites.  So, to the charge that Christian doctrines, like the Nicene Creed, are Eurocentric, I asked the visitor whether he considered Turkey and Northern Africa as part of the European hegemony (consisting of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain).  When he said no, I told him, “All the seven ecumenical councils of the early church from the 4th to the 8th century, from which all the major Christian doctrines were officially expressed, occurred in today’s Turkey.”  The dominant majority of the participants came from the East (to the east of Alexandria, Egypt), not the West.  For instance, “of about 300 hundred bishops present only six were from the West” (Walker 1970:108).  I then added, “Two of the greatest theologians in the early church were from North Africa: Augustine’s parents were Berbers, and Athanasius, who articulated the Nicene Creed, was from Alexandria.”  In fact, “Calvin frequently referred to and quoted Augustine in his writings. Augustine undoubtedly exerted an influence on Calvin’s views and arguments” (S. J. Han).  Conclusion?  We may call Christian doctrines "Eastern centric" but certainly not "Eurocentric."

One day, Jesus’ response to his detractors, who were trying to “trap him in what he said,” left them “astonished by his answer [and, as a result,] they became silent” (Lk. 20:26).  I don’t think the visitor was astonished by my response, but he certainly became silent. Taking advantage of the moment, I told him about God’s ultimate love expressed in and through Christ.  This goes to show that a correct understanding of church history can help us to defend our faith against those who seek to undermine it based on false beliefs that the church of evangelical Protestants is theologically immature and Eurocentric.  To the contrary our church stands on the solid ground of God's eternal word.