Frequently Asked Questions

See below for responses to theoretical and practical questions about diversity in theological education, as well as common objections.

Theoretical Rationale

We all come to the biblical text with certain assumptions and blindspots (cf. Acts 18:26; 1 Cor 3:1; Eph 4:14). Good exegetical methods help us read the biblical text in a way that can challenge and reshape our assumptions. But sometimes we can only begin to see our blindspots when we view the text from a different perspective. Diverse voices provide us with new vantage points that can illuminate aspects of the text that we may have missed and/or draw attention to ways that we may have misinterpreted the biblical text by importing our own theological or cultural understandings into it. If we’re only hearing from certain parts of the body of Christ, then we’re missing important gifts and perspectives (Rom 12:4–10; 1 Cor 12:14–27; Eph 3:18). Even when we ultimately disagree with someone who comes from a different viewpoint, engaging with their ideas can help us sharpen our own (Prov 13:20; 27:17). Additionally, diverse readings can make minority students feel more at home in an atmosphere that can sometimes feel alienating, and they can also help prepare majority-culture students to do ministry in an increasingly global context.

Traditional pedagogies were developed primarily with majority cultures in mind, and they were designed before the recent explosion in technological advancement, which has changed how people take in and process information. Although these pedagogies have worked well for many years, as student bodies become more diverse and student needs change, pedagogies must be updated to work more effectively. As Christian educators, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore equal (Gen 1:26–28), yet traditional pedagogies often privilege students who conform to a certain ideal. Inclusive pedagogies offer greater flexibility to serve a wide array of students—both minority and majority-culture. They also help students move beyond simply memorizing information to integrating and applying what they’re learning. In other words, they’re not merely informative but transformative, so they’re particularly well-suited to theological education, which should seek to form people into the image of Christ (see 2 Cor 3:18). See Inclusive Pedagogies for examples.

Practical Concerns

This is one of the problems that professors face in virtually every area of teaching: what can fit into a class within the time constraints? This is particularly difficult when diversity is being incorporated into a program from the top down rather than organically introduced by the faculty themselves. Our Database of Works by Scholars of Color can help you find multicultural resources that address topics you were already planning to cover. But it’s also important to remember that no class can be comprehensive: we are always leaving out much relevant material. With this in mind, it can often be beneficial to provide a deep dive into a particular topic, combined with a summary overview, rather than attempting to cover everything in equal measure. As educators, we generally want to teach students skills, rather than simply a body of knowledge, so these deep dives help the students learn how to learn.

This is one of the major reasons why this center exists! For some suggestions about where to start, see our Examples of Scholarship on Diversity and Biblical Justice by Authors of Color. To find sources about a particular biblical text or topic, see our Database of Works by Scholars of Color

Inclusive pedagogies seek to serve the diverse needs of students who come from various backgrounds—including those from minority cultural contexts—and have differing abilities and learning styles. As 1 Cor 12 observes, “the body [of Christ] is not made up of one part but of many” (NIV), with each part having different gifts and abilities. Inclusive pedagogies help us recognize the gifts that each student brings to the learning environment and support their individual needs by offering multiple means of instruction, including diverse perspectives, and providing a variety of modes of assessment. For more on what that looks like, see Inclusive Pedagogies.

Even if your course readings and assignments have already been chosen, you can still use a variety of instructional methods (see Inclusive Pedagogies), incorporate diverse perspectives into the material you teach, and suggest resources by scholars of color. You could also add an extra credit assignment asking students to read a book by a scholar of color (for suggestions, see Examples of Scholarship on Diversity and Biblical Justice by Authors of Color) and reflect on what they found helpful in it.

Community-building exercises, such as small-group discussions and activities, can help to create a more inclusive learning environment, and small groups can also encourage participation from students who might be hesitant to raise their hands and speak in front of the whole class. It’s also important to convey appreciation for the diverse experiences and perspectives that students bring to the learning environment and to set clear expectations about how students will participate in discussions (particularly when covering difficult topics). And making yourself available for students outside of the classroom and demonstrating an interest in their lives can go a long way toward developing a communal atmosphere.

That depends on your role. See Action Steps for Theological Educators for suggestions geared toward faculty and administrators.

When there’s pushback, it’s often helpful to patiently ask questions to discover the underlying issues that are driving it. Seeking clarity allows professors to meet their students where they are. By listening attentively to the concerns that are prompting pushback, we can demonstrate that we value every student in our classroom, while also holding up God’s Word concerning his diverse and global church. We hope that these FAQs will give you tools to speak to some of the concerns people might voice. If there are other issues you’d like us to address, contact us here.

Every Christian is called to love one another (John 13:34–35; Rom 12:10; 13:8; 2 Cor 13:11). Part of loving our minority students is recognizing that they may face challenges foreign to our own experience. Thus, it is crucial for White educators who seek to mentor minority students to be good listeners and be willing to help carry their burdens (Gal 6:2). They should also take care not to assume that their mentees’ experiences will be like their own or try to make mentees into their own image. And it’s important to seek to become more self-aware, particularly concerning how they’re experienced by mentees as well as their own racial formation. For helpful stories about mentoring experiences written by minority students, see Voices of the Mentored: Scholars of Color Speak.

In the academic world, we’re accustomed to thinking in terms of competencies vs. deficiencies. However, inclusive pedagogies challenge us to reorient our thinking to focus on the gifts and experiences that each student brings to the learning environment, valuing each student’s contribution and allowing them to use their gifts to engage with the material we’re covering. They also encourage us to provide students with opportunities to build new skills, rather than assuming that they come to our classes already having acquired the skills we’d like them to use. In some cases, we may be able to partner with institutional support systems (such as a campus writing center) to help students develop these skills.

Common Objections

Teachers need to decide what to prioritize in their classes. Ideally, diverse readings will serve multiple purposes and help students develop these other skills. However, some teachers will want to give significant attention to diverse contextual readings and will need to find ways to balance this with other aspects of and approaches to the interpretive process.

Certainly, good exegetical methods are essential. They can help us attend carefully to what the biblical authors sought to convey in their ancient contexts, rather than merely reading our own perspectives into the text. However, the idea that interpreters can attain an objective stance is a myth borne of Enlightenment rationalism. We all come to the biblical text with presuppositions and aims that derive from our theological and cultural contexts. The history of interpretation has evidenced this in countless ways. Engaging with other perspectives by reading with the universal Church—both throughout history and around the world—can make us more aware of the ways that our contexts are shaping our interpretations and perhaps leading us to misread certain aspects of the text.

For ways that the Bible has been misread from a Western perspective, see:

Marbury, Herbert. “The Importance of Diversity for Bible Translation.” Bible Odyssey.

Richards, E. Randolph, and Richard James. Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020.

Richards, E. Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

While traditional pedagogies have often worked well for majority-culture students, inclusive pedagogies are effective for every population, encouraging a more holistic approach to learning. Multicultural education, in particular, offers majority-culture students the preparation that they need to serve in a global church.

One of the helpful aspects of inclusive pedagogies is that they lead us to question whether our educational standards are measuring the right things. In some cases, these standards are still helpful, but in other cases, they may be remnants of a previous system that no longer represent the best way to ensure that students are meeting learning objectives. For example, does a student preparing to be a pastor really need to become an expert in footnoting for research papers, or would they be better served by learning to write sermons and develop teachings for people in their ministry context? These kinds of changes do not amount to lowering standards, but rather modifying standards to better reflect educational priorities. And while more creative types of assignments (especially involving art or poetry) can be difficult to assess, professors can evaluate the extent to which they reflect deep and thoughtful engagement with course material.

Diverse readings can certainly lead to relativism and the denial of absolute truth when they are presented as all equally authoritative. As followers of Christ, we are called to hold firm to sound doctrine (1 Tim 6:3; Titus 1:9) and avoid false teaching (1 Tim 6:20; Heb 13:9; 1 Jn 4:1). However, employing diverse readings does not need to begin with this presupposition; instead, a more responsible use of them is to encourage a more rigorous search for truth. Diverse readings can help us to avoid blindspots and get a better grasp of the truth God communicates in his Word and in the world. Ironically, the refusal to use diverse readings can lead to a form of relativism because it refuses to gather all of the relevant data and proceeds to conclusions that are based on only part of the information needed. We need Christ’s global body to grow “into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph 4:13).

If diversity is emphasized for political gains, then the educational process, from a Christian perspective, has been compromised. A focus on kingdom diversity does not stem from politics, but from God’s revelation in his Word. From the creation of the world in all its beautiful complexity (Gen 1) to the worship of the Lamb by people from every tongue and tribe and nation (Rev 7), the whole biblical story testifies that diversity is a part of God’s design in his creation for his glory. Therefore, we honor God when we seek to build unity with others in the body of Christ, listening to those who are different from us.

For more on the biblical vision for kingdom diversity, see:

Williams, Jarvis J. Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God. Baker Academic, 2021.

We respect that many institutions operate within a confessional and doctrinal statement of faith. Including diverse readings in no way necessitates violating these confessional documents. First, there are many readings from global perspectives that will reflect doctrinal alignment with particular institutions. Since these come from a different region or context, however, a professor may not be aware of them. Second, we believe it’s important for students to engage in readings that they may disagree with so that their own beliefs may be strengthened biblically, they can learn how to converse with others who hold different perspectives, and they can find their own blindspots. Professors are often eager to help their students think well, even in areas of disagreement. This is part of discipleship in the classroom. 

The call to be colorblind has the admirable goal of seeking to avoid the sin of partiality (Jas 2:1, 9), evidenced more clearly in the explicit racism of the past. However, avoiding reference to ethnicity and race downplays important aspects of people’s identities. Moreover, we must be honest that the perspectives of scholars of color have often been marginalized in the history of the church. And if we ignore race, then inertia will dictate that Euro-American readings will continue to dominate syllabi and footnotes. Therefore, we do well to seek and listen to voices that have been underrepresented within the Euro-American church and academy.

Taking a colorblind approach toward students can also mean requiring students of color to assimilate to majority cultural expectations, rather than allowing them to learn through their own cultural frameworks. And treating all students uniformly fails to take into account that students have differing needs and abilities. If our aim is to help all students flourish, then we should seek to help each student find the resources they need to thrive.

For further information on how minority and global perspectives have been marginalized and on Christianity’s early African roots, see:

Bantu, Vince. A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity. Missiological Engagements. Downers Grove: IVP, 2020.

Hays, J. Daniel. From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race. NSBT. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Keener, Craig. “The First Non-Jewish Christian Was from Africa.” Pages 57-74 in African Pentecostalism and World Christianity: Essays in Honor of J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu. Edited by Nimi Wariboko and Adeshina Afolayan. African Christian Studies 18. Eugene: Pickwick, 2020.

Tisby, Jemar. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.

If we fail to acknowledge and celebrate kingdom diversity, then our unity can quickly become uniformity, requiring assimilation to the majority culture. The astonishing truth of the gospel of reconciliation is that Jesus has broken down the barriers that divide us, joining people from divergent backgrounds and with different gifts together into one body and calling each member to exercise their unique gifts on behalf of the body (Eph 2:14–18; Gal 3:26–29; 1 Cor 12). Therefore, we should seek unity in diversity through the power of the Holy Spirit. May we be one as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:20–23), not in spite of our differences, but reflecting the wondrous complexity of God’s glory through our differences.

For biblical and theological perspectives on racial/ethnic reconciliation and unity, see:

Ince, Irwyn L. Jr. The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2020.

Keener, Craig, and Médine Moussounga Keener. Reconciliation for Africa. Bukuru, Nigeria: Africa Christian Textbooks/Oasis, 2007. Online version.

Waters, Kenneth L. Sr. “Eucharist and Global Reconciliation: A Liturgical Vision of Social Transformation.” Quarterly Review 22 (2002): 248–60.

Williams, Jarvis J. One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology. Nashville: B&H, 2010.

This is a legitimate concern. If minority scholars are pushed to write primarily on “minority” issues (social justice, policing, immigration, etc.) or their works are presented as “exotic” readings that function as “interesting” cultural specimens, then they will be left on the margins of theological discourse. But if emphasizing diversity leads us all to examine what kinds of voices we are influenced by and intentionally seek to hear from people who come from different backgrounds, then it has the power to transform our perspectives. As we do so, we should take care not to see minority scholars merely as representatives of their racial or ethnic groups but to listen lovingly and intently to them as individuals, created in the image of God with complex socio-cultural backgrounds and unique gifts, callings, and passions.