Friday, December 10, 2004

Without Author|ity 5: Traveling Light

The two major theological movements in Protestantism in the 20th century (one might argue in all of Christianity) were neo-orthodoxy and contextual theologies. In the first, led by Karl Barth, there was a recovery of biblical revelation and of a "high" Christology.

In the second, people in "base communities" had a Luther-like revelation as they read the Gospels: "Hey," they said, "Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew) all the time!" That is, they realized that Jesus is not so concerned with his own divinity, defending the Trinity, or talking about the character of God. Instead, he is constantly talking about this present-future Kingdom.

As a result of this realization, "contextual theologies" sprung up around the world: liberation theology in Central and South America, Minjung theology in Korea, theology of hope in Germany, feminist theology in the U.S., and black theology in the U.S. and South Africa. All of these attempted to appropriate for a certain group the freedom that Jesus proclaims and brings in the Kingdom.

Nowadays, the bloom is pretty much off that rose. On the one hand, few want to go back to a universal, all-encompassing theology, but a different theology for every downtrodden group sounds a little like the Tower of Babel.

However, it is from this "Kingdom of God" move in theology that the emerging church gets its missional thrust (most in the emerging church have gotten it via Lesslie Newbigin, who was kind of a contextual theologian in reverse, bringing missionary sensibilities back to Great Britain).

To be missional means to be convinced that the Kingdom of God is about movement -- it's going somewhere. I'm often reminded of the American slave spiritual:

The Gospel train's comin'
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheel rumblin'
And rollin' thro' the land

Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There's room for many more

I hear the train a-comin'
She's comin' round the curve
She's loosened all her steam and brakes
And strainin' ev'ry nerve

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare

(A couple white guys turned it into a hymn in 1906 here; Waterdeep has a great version here.)

You see, there is both movement and urgency to the Kingdom of God in this conception. And it's not just about a message -- it requires action. You have to get on board or you will miss the train.

QED, Implication #2: The emerging church will be missional. That is, the emerging church will be developed in such a way as to be ready to respond with action to the call and movement of the Kingdom of God.

Subimplication: I contend that church hierarchies and bureaucracies diminish the ability of the church and of individual Christians to respond with action. You don't have time to get the approval of a committee or a bishop if the train is pulling out of the station. Thus, the emerging church must be wary of any layers of administration or authority that will temper our ability to respond with action.


Blogger W. Travis McMaken said...

Yes, hierarchical and bureaucratic layers slow down response time, but:

(1) In all reality, how much time do they take? A few weeks? A couple months? And this is concerning official sanction of activities, essentially, corporate underwriting. Individuals are free to function much more spontaneously.

(2) If you remove the layers, what happens to accountability? Is the small group accountable to the corporate body? Is the corporate body defined as one fellowship or a collection of fellowship? As with all non-denominational churches, there is extremely limited possibility for serious accountability at the corporate level.

Food for thought.


5:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the present leadership structure can and does slow down the missional process - it's not necessarily the time but the perception that someone else is in charge and it's their job to do such and such. The everyday church memeber doesn't respond in a missional manner because they haven't seen what it looks like - there needs to be more exampls...

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Tony, what ought people be reading to get a grasp on the idea of emergent churches as responding to the call of God to live out the Kingdom of God? What are your suggestions to folks for whom this is a totally new way of thinking? Can you give me your top 5 resources that would point one in this direction?

7:40 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

"I contend that church hierarchies and bureaucracies diminish the ability of the church and of individual Christians to respond with action."

I love your use of the word diminish to describe it, because my experience is that it is not necessarily true that it completely removes the ability of of individuals to respond. However, what I have experienced is individuals feeling squeezed by hierarchies and bureaucracies into feeling as if they need permission to act on the church's behalf. I think that creates all sorts of implications and the one I see most often is that individuals act or don't act based on fear, which is what systems and institutions want. There are things I simply won't do or say in our church because of the "powers that be" and because the system will shut it down if they don't like it. I hope that makes sense. I think it goes deeper than a time issue. Yes, some things need to be thought through a little more than others, but only some. I would say very few things actually. I'll stop rambling.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sub-insinuation #1: The apostles and the early church leaders, with their bureaucratic and bullying councils, were a bunch of ninnies.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tony
I hope to be at the iasym conference the day you are doing your blurb cos it would be good to meet up I suspect. Also hoping Selina is going to come that day - me her and pete just met up yesterday to think about spiritual direction for young people - she is doing her MA dissertation on it.

You are very welcome to visit us for a meal or use our flat for accommodation whilst you are in the UK. We live in south west london at the end of a tube line - Richmond Upon Thames (v upmarket beautiful place) - we live in apartment near the river with garden, that comes with my job for 3 anglican churches here.

Hope you have a great time here,

Moya Ratnayake

Chill UK

Listen and you will find

12:59 PM  
Blogger Fajita said...

I am loving the Without Author|ity conversation. Experience in church life tells me layers of hierarchy are addicted to killing time rather than using it missionally. In decorating our house, my wife is missional and I am a committee. Churches saddled with levels and layers of hierarchy use same process as my wife and I do when she feels compelled to get my opinion about something I am not good at, don't care about, and am not needed for in order for action to happen, such as, "How would you like to decorate the kitchen?" She has learned that if she wants to change something in the kitchen, my input is almost a guaranteed exercise in futility. Involving me wastes time, increases stress, and puts off what should happen. The bottom line is this: Unless she's going to use lead-based paint or spend fifty thousand dollars to do this kitchen, GO FOR IT!!!!!!!

Now, when she knows that she has the authority to improve the kithcen without passing it through my interior-design impaired brain, and she asks me to help her paint, lay tile etc, I'd better be there to help. I think sometimes things get "caught up in committee" because it is a systemic form of procrastination for which no one has to take responsoibility. Stated otherwise, too many committees exist (at least function in order) to have the power to stop progress rather than empower it.

If I do not want to (do the work) paint, lay tile etc, then I have a vested interest in creating a decision-making system that creates an environment such that me doing work is less likely.

Rather than permission giving entities, committees (and many other forms of the hierarchy) should be project (and time) limited work groups. Of course they would not be hierarchy then, but is that all bad?

I don't want to diffuse all church structure anymore than I want to end my marriage. I am so completely in love with my wife. At the same time, our love is not diminished because I am not involved in all of the micro-decisions of our life together. In fact, it is kind of exciting when she whips up another neat idea and invites me into making it happen.

2:53 PM  
Blogger James said...

"A couple white guys turned it into a hymn in 1906"

Stupid white guys.

I see the image of the church as an army in this kind of a discussion. A large army, say the U.S., works because of the system and the levels. They respond slowly, yet powerfully. They are not innovative, yet successful.

On the otherhand are small armies, like the PLO or the former Che Gueverra's band of guerrilla fighters in Bolivia. These armies move fast and are quickly responsive, yet are not as powerful.

That is, until the small army catches the hearts of the people. That is the advantage that the church seems to miss. At least from where I sit, the heart of the people is not favorable to the church. The small band of warriors gain the heart of the people through service, respect, love and mutual benefit. The church missed/is missing this. We must serve, respect, love and work for the benefit of all the people. Instead, we have become large and powerful....and hated.

Ironic that the U.S. tends to be resented around the world?

I think a couple of great books I've read on this are Carl George's Prepare Your Church for the Future and George Cladis' Leading the Team-Based Church.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Garbear said...

But, did Jesus ever intend for His church to be like the US Army? I really like the points made by Fajita.

10:48 PM  
Blogger James said...

No. Of course the church isn't supposed to look like the U.S. army. But it is like the U.S. Army. It is also capitalist. It also brags of it's political power.

Look at this, Maxwell and this, Grace Fellowship, look at the February preaching series title.

11:11 AM  
Blogger mark said...

in today's climate, we must be very careful to compare the church to a military group or even an army..this language should make us as a little uncomfortable. Perhaps there is more helpful imagery to use here?


8:37 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

Tony, you bring up some good points. You left out a 20th Century religious movement though...the rise of American fundamentalism. With some denominations you have to fill out a butt-load of paper work, with this group you have to believe exactly as they do. In general, I think that Baptists are more missional in their theology than most mainline groups. However, I am interested in emergent because I see this group (Southern Baptists not emergent) becoming corrupted due to its own powerlust. Fundamentalists could learn a lot from Newbigen...and perhaps, Frodo.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I like the concept of an "emergent" church, and at the same time I see the value of maintaining a clear sense of some theology, so that it remains church and not just another social movement.

That being said, Tony's references to the Kingdom of God led me to think of a piece I read yesterday that uses some of Luther's languages of God's two kingdoms, the right-hand kingdom, in which God, by Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, sets us into a "friend" relationship with God; and the left-hand kingdom, in which God cares for the world, but not necessarily through Christ and Christ's work.

I'm still mulling over the idea of whether the church primarily and exclusively is called to be involved in the right-hand kingdom rather than the left-hand kingdom. Not that the left-hand kingdom is bad, but that it is not the church's calling.

Anyway, if you want to read some of what is fueling my thought on this Kingdom of God stuff, check out what I think is a website that is solidly grounded in the Gospel of Christ; The specific posting on that site that spoke to this issue for me was:

Thanks for the conversation!

10:16 AM  
Blogger myleswerntz said...

i struggle with the whole concept of the bishop, except for two reasons:

1) in thinking about organizational structure, there is hardly a way to get rid of having some over-structure without abandoning a movement to a) disconnectedness due to distance and locality or b) an overly rabid sense of independence, which may or may not be the Spirit. if the Spirit's role is to unify the church, this cannot be done without some real and acknowledged connectivity in the various local bodies, i.e. a bishop. this of course is predicated on the bishop being a person of highest character, flexibility and vision.

2) much of the church is tied into this structure of bishop, which makes unity across the board with those church structures NOT having bishoprics extremely difficult. right or wrong? i tend to think that the authority of the bishops slows things up, but in the long run, the reason that we have creeds and aren't overrun by Arians is because of the guidance of the bishops.

they're troublesome if we want church life to be truly a democratic experience, with all members of the body acknowledged as necessary, but i'm not sure how you practically get around them without an infinite level of trust in the various members of the larger Church.

7:04 PM  
Blogger DLW said...

Hi, I think the more important point is that how we should structure our ecclesiastical decision-making is an open question that we may learn from experience about.
I recently posted about the "problem of order" approach to this at my blog, The Anti-Manicheist.
The long and short is that we need both hierarchy and equality in our church, just as we need both collective and individual action in setting out the kingdom of God and we also need to be willing to change while holding with continuity with the past.

2:49 PM  

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