Why study another dead white guy?

Kornelis Heiko Miskotte was (yet another) twentieth-century white guy theologian. As such, he lived in a male-dominated and colonial society: his mentors, interlocutors, and students were men; the question of women’s ordination arose only at the end of his life. Similarly, it wasn’t until the years after World War Two, when Miskotte was in his 50s, that Indonesia wrested independence from extractive Dutch rule.

The question of why twenty-first century Christians—especially those oriented towards equity, decolonization, and antiracism—would benefit from studying Miskotte is therefore a live one. It is even more pressing given how thoroughly white men such as Barth and Bonhoeffer already populate mainstream Christian theology. 

We believe that engaging Miskotte is timely and worthwhile for these reasons.

  • Miskotte’s theology is basically dissident. It faces towards the societal status quo and the doctrinal defaults, and it insists that all Christian talk about God take departure from the particularity of God’s self-revelation. This means that although Miskotte himself did not address, say, LGBT+ inclusion, his posture toward the classical tradition, especially insofar as it appeals to general and regular features of creation, is critical.
  • His dissident theology generated several social and political critiques. For example: Miskotte sensed the danger of the totalitarian state (totaalstaat) from as early as the 1920s and actively challenged all forms of totalitarianism. He advocated for Indonesian independence from even before World War Two, and in 1950, he proposed that the church should joyfully receive the gift of women’s ordination.
  • Miskotte’s theology shares much in common with Barth and Bonhoeffer, but Miskotte pursued the status of Judaism far more intensively than they did. His work thus offers a more direct resource for post-Holocaust theologies of Judaism and Jewish-Christian dialogue.
  • Miskotte’s theology prioritizes the Old Testament. Barth valued the two testaments of the Christian Bible as co-equal witnesses to Christ. Bonhoeffer in his prison writings turned to the Old Testament in its this-worldliness. Miskotte, however, makes the Old Testament theologically primary, emphasizing what he calls the “surplus” of the Old Testament: theological elements that the Old contains and the New does not, elements such as its anthropomorphic god, or its experiences of suffering and pathos, or its explorations of politics and eroticism.
  • Barth called Miskotte the “seer and poet among my friends.” Miskotte was deeply involved in contemporary art and literature, and his aesthetic interests inspired him to articulate a Christian approach to the arts that is still helpful, given the lingering dichotomy between Christianity and the arts.