Review: Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview, Randy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022.

Summary: A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus.

Until recent times, not only the history of our relations with indigenous peoples, but also our theology has been written by Euro-Americans. Randy Woodley, as he introduces himself in the beginning of this work is a mixed blood Cherokee who grew up in a Detroit suburb where his father worked in the auto industry. He came to faith in a revival meeting in a Baptist church, delivered of a drug habit. Educated from a Western perspective, he engaged in missions and pastoral work among indigenous peoples, learning their history and spiritual outlook in his efforts to communicate Christ, and became convinced in many respects, that the indigenous worldview, in many respects was closer to the way of Christ than the Western worldview.

In this work, he engages in three conversations, in indigenous fashion, telling stories and answering questions that contrast indigenous theology and the Western worldview. The first discusses the Western, progressive narrative of history versus the high civilizations of indigenous peoples that existed for centuries before they were “discovered,” likening the encounter to the story of the wolves (indigenous peoples) and the terrapin (the discoverers). They failed to understand the covenant Jesus had with all peoples and the strong indigenous sense of relationship between creator, people, and land.

The second conversation contrasts Western dualism and the much more integral understanding where all of life is both physical and spiritual, where the life of a people is integral with the land they inhabit, and one seeks to live in harmony (shalom) with creation. Western thought “othered” indigenous people, marginalizing and killing them. Healing this begins with acknowledgement, recognizing we are latecomers and usurpers, and working together to repair the damage.

The last conversation gestures toward a decolonized, indigenous theology rooted in what he calls the “harmony way”–ten indigenous values held in common by a wide representation of indigenous groups;

  1. Tangible spirituality/our spirituality must be practiced. Respect everyone. Everything is sacred.
  2. Our lives are governed by harmony. Seek harmony.
  3. Community is essential. Increase your friends and family.
  4. Humor is sacred and necessary. Laugh at yourself.
  5. Feeling of cooperation/communality. Everyone gets a say.
  6. Oral communications and traditions. Speak from your heart.
  7. Present and past time orientation. Look forward by looking back.
  8. Open work ethic. Work hard but rest well.
  9. Great hospitality/generosity. Share what you have.
  10. Natural connectedness to all creation. We are all related.

What connects all this to Christianity is the idea of shalom, and the healing of creation in the vulnerable shalom of the cross. Woodley contrasts this with Western ideas of conquest, control and power.

Is this orthodoxy or syncretism? Woodley would contend that this is for indigenous believers to work out among themselves. Others are interlopers who might better listen to the stories and reflect where they are being invited to walk more closely in the way of Jesus rather than in the distortions of the Western worldview. Does that mean Western Christians have nothing to offer? Woodley would affirm that they do, owing his faith at least in part to Western Christians. But he would resist any efforts to control from the outside as opposed to engaging in the way of harmony, where growth comes in community, as we engage from the heart in sharing our stories and listening to those of others.

Other indigenous writers like Robin Wall Kimmerer invite us to listen to indigenous wisdom in books like Braiding Sweetgrass. What Randy Woodley adds to this is the opportunity in listening to indigenous believers, we might not only gain insight in living wisely on the land that was once theirs alone as a gift of the Creator, but may also walk more wisely with the Creator of the land and with one another.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

One thought on “Review: Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: July 2022 | Bob on Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.