Brief Book Review: From Fragmentation to Wholeness

From Fragmentation to Wholeness: Race, Ethnicity, and Communion by Neville Callam

What’s the main point? A proper understanding race and ethnicity, which are social constructs that have been used to separate humanity, enables us to better understand and appropriate the “community-defining” and “solidarity-conferring” aspects of the Eucharist.

Why does it matter? In the author’s own words, “ecclesial inaction [on questions of race] has devastating consequences for the witness of the church and the integrity of the gospel it proclaims” (26).

Why is this book useful? Because the chapters were originally developed as lectures, Callam’s wide-ranging explorations of theories and theologies of race, ethnicity, and identity are accessible and hospitable to readers seeking an introduction to these questions.

What intrigued me the most? That a Caribbean Baptist ecumenist would claim the centrality of the Eucharist and a eucharistic theology to address questions of human identity and diversity.

What will get you thinking? Among other questions Callam asks: How a church / denomination should respond to congregations that support racism and provide a comfortable home for racists?

Where would I push back? Callam ends the book with a discussion of gender identity, which seems an afterthought. The question deserves fuller treatment, especially given his concern for the absence of women’s voices in Caribbean theology.

Two Quibbles. First, because these chapters were developed as lectures, Callam moves quickly through a range of historical, political, and theological material. His argument could have been strengthened had he developed, as companion chapters, brief studies of particular Caribbean theologians or contexts.

Second, Callam claims that his purpose is to enable Caribbean theologians to more fully account for the diversity of the Caribbean peoples and, thereby, to enable a more authentic contextual theology of liberation. His final chapter, describing the continuing dangers of the use of race and ethnicity, leaves us more with the problems of fragmentation than a proposal for achieving the wholeness he seeks. The book needs a more fully developed conclusion.

Two Kudos. First, although Callam’s initial audiences for these chapters were primarily Baptist, his development of a “eucharistic hermeneutic” draws clearly on contemporary historical scholarship regarding eucharistic theology and ecumenical documents produced by the World Council of Churches. In doing so, he provides a model for how other “free church” theologians might engage these materials. 

Second, his discussion of race and ethnicity focuses on their problematic construction in a Caribbean context, especially as these questions rise out of the experience of slavery in the Caribbean, but his approach makes it possible for even a white male North American (this reviewer) to better understand the issues and imagine constructive responses to social fragmentation based on race and ethnicity.

Neville Callam, From Fragmentation to Wholeness: Race, Ethnicity, and Communion. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017. 144 pages.

REVIEWER: E. Byron (Ron) Anderson

Ron Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

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