Read more here: Anthony Roberts: Explore Everything
How does one who is a bishop in an evangelical and conservative denomination like the Church of God, fit into the fabric of a progressive theological institution, like Iliff School of Theology? Bishop Anthony Roberts, a student in Iliff’s Joint PhD program, has found Iliff to be a perfect fit.
Roberts is attracted to Iliff because it exemplifies progressive theological education. He describes Iliff as “a progressive thinking community throughout the theological spectrum.”
Roberts has felt comfortable at Iliff, in part, because his Ph.D. advisor, Professor Ted Vial, has always encouraged him to bring his story and his worldview to the table. “[Ted] said it was okay for me to be evangelical Pentecostal. He said, ‘the key is to keep being you. You can’t be somebody else.’”
According to Roberts, the welcomed diversity of perspectives is also reflected in every day encounters on campus.
I have always appreciated the culture of conversation that occurs here. I have had long conversations that were enriching with people, even though I haven’t scheduled those conversations. This culture is deeply rooted in the ethos of Iliff. It embodies the reason why Iliff was founded. No stone unturned. Nothing is off limits. Explore everything. For a doctoral student, that is important.
Roberts has also found that Iliff teaches students how to have critical conversations. “No conversations are surface-level or one-dimensional. They allow you to come at conversations in multiple ways. The issues that we face are not as simple or easily solvable as we think they are.”
This has, perhaps helped Roberts have conversations both inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to being a doctoral student, Roberts is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Southeastern University (Lakeland, Florida), an adjunct faculty member at Iliff, and a pastoral intern for a local, largely Anglo and professional-class, Denver evangelical church. “Primarily, I act as a theologian-in-residence for their outreach program.”
Roberts even uses part of Iliff’s groundbreaking social justice curriculum in helping this congregation to gain better understanding of its place in gentrification. “They desire to be a city church but I help them to consider that the Church can be an incubator of racism. We ask questions like, ‘what does it mean to help?’ We talk about
‘savior complex.’ We talk about how standing in solidarity may also contribute to oppression.”
Roberts attributes a Native American Religions class with Iliff Professor Tink Tinker as having a particularly transformative impact on his education.
I do Christian Theology but I had never seriously considered how people who were Christians may have been very complicit in eradicating the people whose land we now live on. It was so hard, week after week, to hear what Christianity had been responsible for. Tink got to one point where he said it was ‘genocide.’ It
forced me to critically evaluate who I am as a Christian. I have to own that it is a part of my history and to find strategic ways to live very differently. I have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community.
Roberts experiences Iliff as educating theological leaders to not only be “willing to push the boundaries of their faith traditions,” but to also do so as “a form of faithfulness.” Roberts adds,
Iliff has a tradition of producing people engaged in theological reconstruction. In today’s society, we need people who are willing to rethink by reordering in order to address the issues that are before us in 2017. Iliff teaches us to question structures that appear to be immutable; to view life in the U.S. through a post-colonial lens. We bring new ways to engage religion as a result of our experiences in the program.
Special thanks to Caran Ware Joseph for this story.