Friday, November 18, 2011

Question of Tradition in the Missional Conversation

A few weeks back Steve Knight and I had a lengthy conversation via Skype about the Disciples of Christ, what it means to be missional, and the place of tradition in this mix.  Steve has posted this conversation on YouTube and at the Intersection, a conversation portal for Disciples to talk about things missional.

I've been in conversation with Steve for a couple of years, before he decided to become Disciple, and over time we've been in conversation and sought to work together in the process of bringing new life to the Disciples of Christ community.  Steve has been a major participant in the Emergent conversation -- long before I got involved -- and now he brings that experience into the Disciples, serving as a consultant for the Hope Partnership, an effort that began with the Disciples' Church Extension Division and seeks to bring together the church planting and revitalization arm with the Leadership/Education arm and the Division Homeland Ministries.  Together these arms of the Disciples of Christ church seeks to engage the churches as the face the future with a missional vision.

I'm blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside Steve in this effort!  Some of that effort is the grist for the mill of our conversation.

Our conversation springs from an earlier one that Steve had with Tony Jones, whose recent Princeton dissertation has been published directly by Amazon with the title The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.  I posted my own responses to that conversation in a blog posting which you can find by  clicking here.    I encourage you to watch that video conversation, which is embedded there, along with my conversation with Steve, which you'll find below.  In the course of this conversation you'll see where I am in agreement with Tony and other Emergent leaders such as Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren, while hearing where I have questions and concerns.  Steve describes me as a bridge between the traditional and the emergent.  That is probably a good description as I have tried to keep a foot in each.  It's not an easy place to be, but perhaps due to my place in life, that's where I find myself.  

As you watch these two conversations (you'll want to check out the interview with Tony), I hope you will enter into a conversation about the church today and the church in the future, and as you do I suggest that the question of roots be engaged.  Won't you join with Tony, Steve, and with me in this conversation?


2 comments:

Brian said...

There are many similarities between this new movement and the original Stone-Campbell movement. As the discussion reveals, we can learn from the difficulties faced by the past as well as the strengths.

John said...

I absolutely agree with Brian, that the history of the Church is filled with grace as well as failure and we learn from both as we go forward. If we ignore what has been learned, we take needless risks with the faithlives of God's people.

I was listening to the last bit in the 'conversation' about the benefits and the problems with envisioning church growth based upon the experiences of churches who have been led by charismatic personalities. If we are not mindful of the uniqueness of such persons in the makeup of their congregarions we will make fatal mistakes.

There are no successful "churches in a box" (a la the last military phase in Afghanistan where the military sought to pacify an area and just drop in a local government in a box which it was presumed would immediately begin successful local administration with a high level of efficacy). Local churches must be organic, rooted in the soil of the locality and built up on the foundation of the sensibilities of the local culture. I think the better lesson from Acts is found not so much in Acts 2 but in the balance of the book, where we see local congregations whose theologies and rituals were heterodox, and otherwsie featuring Paul and other evangelists moving through and among them, encouraging an attitude of commonality, with compelling theological messages and stressing by their very work and presence a strong sense of Christian unity and bondedness. In that age there were no creedal straight jackets, instead there were simple guidelines such the ruling of the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15.

Tolerating such heterodoxy encourages a degree of innovation (which admittedly can sometimes be dangerous) and responsive to local cultural values while at the same time opening local folks as well as the wider church to new and different ways to be faithful in our expressions of worship. God does not speak in one language nor in one cultural context. For me the whole notion of the Incarnation was to express the intent of God to be heard and experienced in the human context and a divine expression against the idea that the words of God can only be fully heard in Hebrew, Latin or Arabic. Or within Judaism, or within any one faith expression. So too with cultural idiom. God is the God of all people and God will speak to each of them in a context and with a message which they each can understand if they will only repent, i.e., turn their faces toward God.

And this is the true strength of the emergent movement, it's willingness to risk the pitfalls of experimentation and to do so on the level of the congregation - what works for one congregation in the upper mid-west is laudable, and suggestive of ideas for consideration in a congregation in the deep south, but the congregation in the deep south must and will adapt the ideas differently and in the context of local values. And behind each of these congregational expressions is two millennia of other expressions of faith from which they can learn, but which will not corral or suffocate new and healthy expressions of faith.

Ok that's enough for now.