A funny thing happened at the Faith & Order ecumenical dialogue two weeks ago. In the midst of a discussion about Justification and Justice, the group realized that the Reformed and Lutheran traditions were underrepresented. In order to supplement these voices, the group asked if those who had studied these perspectives might be able to pinch hit. The funny thing was that the most qualified members were from Holiness and Pentecostal traditions.
How ironic: the dominant protestant traditions were being represented by these marginalized, oddball theologians.
Even more ironic: these Holiness and Pentecostal theologians could quote Luther and Calvin by chapter and verse. At some points they were even more conversant with Luther and Calvin than members of the churches that claim these figures as their own.
In the wake of this ecumenical moment, I asked my fellow Holiness and Pentecostal theologians why it is that we know these traditions so well. Is it that we have an inferiority complex and so rely on figures outside our history for theological study? “No,” one of them quickly retorted, “Remember: it’s always the minorities who are bilingual.” Another one swiftly added, “We have to go to their schools, so we have to learn their language.”
At this point it dawned on me: a well-trained theologian from a marginal tradition can offer a special service to ecumenical dialogue. We do not need to simply represent our much-needed voice, but we can also speak intelligently and listen comprehensively to those who are different from us. We know how to dialogue because the dialogue is already going on in our own heads. We may be a key link in teaching the church how to become theologically multilingual.
Have you encountered any parallel phenomena?
Are there additional explanations?
Are there any dangers in developing our bilingualism?