Friday, February 26, 2010

Thy Kingdom Connected -- Review

THY KINGDOM CONNECTED: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks.  By Dwight J. Friesen.  Foreword by Leonard Sweet.  Afterword by Dan Allender.  Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.  189 pp. 

    Writing to a church that prizes individualism and autonomy, Dwight Friesen preaches networking.  In a world that seems increasingly polarized – despite the ever expanding opportunities to communicate – he embraces a message of unity, what Mainline churches call ecumenicity.  The model for achieving this unity is different from the one embraced by the ecumenical movement.  It’s not institutional; it’s a grass roots effort, involving efforts to build links between separated people.   Friesen isn’t focused on getting denominations to agree on a theological construct.  Instead, he envisions people getting caught up God’s vision and begin joining together in giving witness in word and deed to God’s missional presence in the world.   An image that appears in the later stages of the book is that of a social virus spreading through society, permeating it with God’s presence and vision.

    To get a sense of where this conversation seems to be going, it might be helpful to know something of the author of Thy Kingdom Connected.  Dwight Friesen is a youngish Emergent former pastor teaching practical theology at a rather new and upstart seminary in Seattle (Mars Hill Graduate School).   He’s evangelical, but his evangelicalism seems to be open and generous.  Oh, and I might add that he’s wearing an ear ring in the back cover picture.  The author is technologically savvy, understands the new sciences, and is conversant with the latest trends in society.  This background helps illuminate Friesen’s sense of vision.  Unlike some of the Emergent and Missional works I've read, even though he is critical at points of the way things are going with institutions, he’s not overly anti-institutional.  Rather than focus on the problems, he seeks to find clues that would help us move forward -- especially forms of  social media such as Facebook. 

    In Friesen’s vision, the Christian faith is akin to a conversation.  It is relational, even as the triune God is relational.  It is dynamic and creative.  While Friesen is critical of religious institutions, he doesn’t seem interested in tilting at windmills or tossing out what exists.  Instead he wants to offer a new paradigm, one that isn’t atomistic or static – as he correctly notes, is often true of our institutions.  They are stymied by conflicting interests and concerns (consider our governmental systems for a moment). 

    In the new paradigm, the world is envisioned as an integrated whole.  Those involved in leadership in this model are called to facilitate linkages and help create hubs that will connect people together.  Again, as models to emulate, he points us to such  internet staples as Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter.  Churches are not so much institutions as “Christ Commons” or “Christ-Clusters,” and pastors serve as network ecologists, helping to facilitate linkages to the hubs.

    The book is composed of five clusters, which lead from “Seeing Connectively” to “Connective Practices.”  He begins by inviting us to look at the world through a set of lenses, moves on to describe the kingdom in networking terms, shares how leadership functions in this new reality, and concludes with two sections, one dealing with the church and the other with missional practices.  The goal is to help Christians and churches become connected, understand how they are linked, and understand that the church is called, as the body of Christ, to be part of God’s transformative work.  We are, he says to be “And’ers,” linking others to Jesus and to the kingdom.  He writes:
    Missional linking is marked by a kingdom imagination that, when confronted with “otherness,” is able to see an And’ing in Christ; Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, Republican and Democrat, modern and postmodern, left and right.  The way of Christ is to become the And.  God’s mission, if you choose to live into it, is to boldly link where no one has linked before; this is the Christ conjunction (p. 135).

Such a view would seem ideologically centrist, or perhaps a sense of pragmatism – trying to bridge the gaps in a very polarized society.   But, his sense here is that the goal of the kingdom is reconciliation, “the linking together those who have been separated” (p. 134).

    In the past, even in the biblical text, the church was envisioned as a lonely light house, shining its light into the darkness.  Such an image is less useful today, and thus we might want to turn to the vision of a city, at night, its many lights centered around a hub, being our new image of the church.  To get there we must move from a bounded set mentality to centered set one.  Borrowing from anthropologist Paul Hiebert, Friesen suggests (rightly in my mind) that focusing on maintaining boundaries will not get us to where we want to be.  Instead, we should focus on the center, that which binds us together.  Moving toward Christ, we cluster together, and thus are bound together by the Holy Spirit.

    The book is interesting and challenging.  Those in the younger set will understand the language it is used.  Those who are not as adept in social networking, especially clergy and church leaders over fifty might struggle.  One thing that’s not dealt with very well in much of the literature (and that includes this book) is what we do with those who are not adept at social networking.  How do we keep the older one’s from falling through the cracks?  Now, I realize many over-seventy people are very active on the internet, but not to the degree that the younger set is.  This is a question, that at least for now needs to be considered.  It is one that I as a pastor of a long standing, rather traditional congregation, that desires to be missional, must keep in mind.  Still, this is a book worth engaging with all due seriousness.  Let us begin the conversation.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Though you might look at this. Some comments are yet to be reviewed. Might be getting too much for the EPA website- http://blog.epa.gov/blog/2010/02/25/volunteering-to-protect-the-environment/#comments

Anyway, one commentator is from Lunang Resettlement area in West Sumatra. I assume it deals with the Hmong and Yao refugees. Fun. David Mc

Anonymous said...

They left some of the conversation anyway. David Mc