The academic shares his unique background and theological work
September 2021 – We recently sat down with Chris Boesel, associate professor of Christian theology at Drew Theological School, to learn more about his global upbringing and theological work.
Boesel, who began teaching at Drew in the spring of 2002, received his MTS from Candler School of Theology and PhD in Theology from Emory University, together with a diploma from the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in Oxford, UK.
A child of missionaries, Boesel is originally from Tacoma, Washington, but grew up in Manila, Philippines. A member of the Presbyterian Church, his theological work is informed by evangelical and Reformed traditions, liberation theologies, and postmodern philosophies.
How did being a son of missionaries and growing up in the Philippines shape your views of the world and your role as an academic?
My particular experience growing up at a school for missionary kids from all over Southeast Asia was positive in many ways, but it was also problematic in many ways. On the problematic side, this community was almost wholly white, while materially supported by the labor of Filipino/as who were not fully included—not fully visible—as members of that community. That is, I was raised in a late twentieth century colonial context. This gave me an insider’s view of American exceptionalism and empire at work. Naming and critiquing this reality has become an important part of my work as an academic and a theologian.
Your Transforming Theologies class introduces first-year students to a range of theological lenses and perspectives. Can you tell us why the class is so transformative?
Well, we hope it is transformative. We try to help students “get inside” the theological logic of different views, along with their own view, in a way that allows genuine understanding. We believe this can be transformative because Christian communities—but not only Christian communities—are in conflict in ways that do a lot of damage. And those conflicts are brought into every classroom at the Theological School. If we can figure out how to disagree and contest in the classroom, then there may be hope for the communities of faith our students go into the world to lead.
You have two monographs anticipated in 2021, Reading Karl Barth: A Guide to the Perplexed Progressive Evangelical and In Kierkegaard’s Garden with the Poppy Blooms: Why Derrida Doesn’t Read Kierkegaard When He Reads Kierkegaard. Can you share what inspired these monographs?
I find the relationship between Derrida’s supposedly atheist work on deconstruction and certain forms of theology to be interesting and constructive. But I am dissatisfied with certain ways in which that relationship has been addressed. So, the Kierkegaard/Derrida book is my attempt to clear up a very particular confusion about the relationship between deconstruction and what I call a confessional Kierkegaardian faith. The Barth book is an attempt to reach a wider church audience about what has become my central interest: the possibility of rooting progressive socio-political visions in theologically traditional confessions of Christian faith. I see Barth’s theology as one, albeit imperfect, example of this kind of possibility.
Boesel is also the author of Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference: Christian Faith, Imperialistic Discourse, and Abraham.