Thursday, May 24, 2007

THE MISSIONAL IDENTITY OF THE CHURCH 8

Spring 2007 has been a semester of Newbigin. I have read The Open Secret, Foolishness to the Greeks, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. One result of this study is a series of questions I shall be considering as I research emerging church ecclesiology this summer and fall. Please note that these questions are actual questions. Therefore, any insight into an emerging-missional perspective is greatly appreciated. The goal here is conversation and discovery.
  • Does the emerging church clearly declare the Jesus as the ultimate authority?
  • Does the emerging church call for radical commitment?
  • Does the emerging church strive to maintain the tension between the already and the not yet?
  • Has there been conformity for the sake of relevance? If so, what is the justification? If not, what protections are in place?
  • Is the emerging church’s self description as “followers of God in the way of Jesus” a sufficient definition of the church?
  • How does the emerging church explain their intense focus on Jesus in light of the Trinity?
  • How does the emerging church practice their cultural shaping in the context of divine promise?
  • How does the emerging church answer the charge that they have a low interest in theology?
  • Is the emerging church faithful to valid traditions?
  • Does the emerging church have a verbal and practical witness?
  • How might the emerging church join in conversation with its detractors so that its theology and practice would more accurately proclaim the kingdom?


NOTE: This is a rumination ("1. The act of pondering; meditation. 2. The act or process of chewing cud." American Heritage Dictionary) in search of synergy ("1. The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.")

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9 comments:

  1. I'm interested in discussion too :-)

    I still don't really understand what is Emerging Church? The phrase itself seems to imply something that is being uncovered / is still appearing, and so by definition is not "pin-downable"?

    I'm completely up for the church rediscovering it's mission. In fact that's very much where I am right now. I'm still learning (and always will be) but I currently see it as a three-fold expression of God, first to us, and then through us as we respond, into the world:

    - the Father's heart revealing our joint condition of children who are lost, but so, so dearly loved, cherished, wanted, and never abandoned

    - our mission which flows out of, and in response to, the Father's heart, operating as ONE with Jesus, we are His current earthly incarnation

    - our co-labouring with Holy Spirit, without whom it is impossible to experience the Father's heart and it is impossible to fulfill the mission in ONEness with Jesus, with supernatural power focussed through the Father's love

    I find in conversation that people often confuse a renewed missional focus with the Emerging Church movement(?).

    Why can't we just say that we're getting a renewed conviction / fresh revelation concerning XYZ rather than wanting to label it and form a denomination (I appreciate that Emerging is probably against wanting to form a denomination, but that's what we tend to eventually do with labels). In church history, whenever there has been revelation by the Spirit then as soon as we label it (Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic etc.) then we box in what the Spirit can say to us and we stand still for a while again.

    I have some friends who help a new church in Michigan. They just decided to call the church "His". That's it! That's the name of the church. That's the church's identity: we are "His". There is of course real relationship and accountability with others, but I really like getting away from drawing boundaries around what the Spirit can teach us. We're not a doctrinal statement, we're simply "His" and we try to be open to everything He tells us.

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  2. There is indeed a rather blurry line between "emerging" and "missional" and "missional" is quite a bit easier to define (since, as you say, by definition something that is emerging is difficult to pin down). Many emerging churches are also missional--in fact this feature may be one of the things defining their ecclesiology. Still there is something that separates them from churches that are rediscovering mission. What that "something" is, I do not know.

    I do know that being mission is one thing the traditional church MUST learn from the emerging and/or missional churches. We--and I include my own faith community--have become too inward focused and have neglected the reason we are still on earth and not in heaven. But, that's probably another blog post...

    BTW, I love the name "His"...that is a more than sufficient identity.

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  3. Steve8:55 PM

    Hi Laura, I saw your comment on Tallskinnykiwi regarding Newbigin and the emerging church. I hope you get a chance to read my paper, and let me know what you think of the arguments I'm making in my paper.

    Are you currently doing research on this subject for a degree?

    Steve H.
    novgorod741 @ gmail.com

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  4. Steve,

    I plan on reading your paper in the next week or so. I will indeed let you know my thoughts.

    As to the purpose of the research, I am beginning work on a ThM thesis on emerging church ecclesiology. My study of Newbigin was a piece of that research. This summer I am gathering all the bits and in the fall I will be writing the thesis.

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  5. Laura, I too am working on a ThM hopefully in the area of Missional Ecclesiology. It seems that you are a semester or two ahead of me. Would love to get your thoughts.

    jf22@mac.com

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  6. JF,

    I'm looking at missional ecclesiology in the context of the emerging church. I'd love to converse.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. is it possible to contact you by email me? feel free to shoot me an email

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  9. Based on my reading of Frank Viola's "God's Ultimate Passion" and the material from the European Body Life Conference, where Frank Viola's input was mainly an introduction to the themes of the book, I thought it might be interesting to indicate the beginnings of answers to Laura's questions, as far as I can formulate them.

    In fairness to Frank Viola and the European Body Life Conference it should be said they were not flying the emerging church flag. I did not hear the term "emerging church" uttered during the whole conference. However, the direction of the conference and "God's Ultimate Passion" are, for me, a manifestation of "emerging church" - but maybe I have misunderstood the term. And, chapter 29 of the book deals with "deep ecclesiology" and opens with a reference to Andrew Jones and Brian McLaren, which certainly seems to position Frank Viola in the emerging church dialogue.

    * Does the emerging church clearly declare the Jesus as the ultimate authority?
    Very much so. Absolutely. Without a doubt. A big part of Frank Viola's presentation at the conference was an exposition on Jesus as Head believers as the Body. I got a totally fresh vision of this familiar stuff from Paul's letters. The integration between Head and Body is much more than I had earlier understood. The gathering of believers IS Christ here and now.

    * Does the emerging church call for radical commitment?
    "Radical commitment" to what? Catching the vision of God's ultimate purpose is life changing and long term. We are heading for the last two chapters of Revelation. But a lot of the Christendom has got stuck on the detour caused by the fall and the need for salvation, so there is some stuff that Christendom has got committed to that should actually be given a lower priority.

    * Does the emerging church strive to maintain the tension between the already and the not yet?
    I don't really understand this question. Why should we "strive to maintain" this tension. Here on the detour between creation and the coming of the New Jerusalem there is, of course, a tension between the now and the not yet of the Kingdom. But the mission of the members of the Body is, as part of the Body, to manifest the Kingdom not to be maintaining the "not yet" status.

    * Has there been conformity for the sake of relevance? If so, what is the justification? If not, what protections are in place?
    Conformity to what? Local culture, language, economics, legal systems and ways of life? The church is a community of people sharing their lives at the grass roots of society. So they exist in the time and place of a particular socio- economic system. But they are also the community of believers, the corporate Christ in collective human expression, the Body of the ascended Lord. So they are in the "now" of the world, but not of it - the are of the Kingdom.

    * Is the emerging church’s self description as “followers of God in the way of Jesus” a sufficient definition of the church?
    Didn't come across this definition of church. The vision of the church as the actual Body of Christ in the world that Frank Viola is expounding from the Gospels and from Paul is much more intense than this definition.

    * How does the emerging church explain their intense focus on Jesus in light of the Trinity?
    What is there to explain? He is the Head we are the Body. The connection is extremely intimate. Of course, there is an understanding of the corporate nature of God in the Trinity and an appreciation of the overflow of love between the Father and the Son being manifest in the Spirit. And there is a vision of this corporate nature of God being the type for the nature of the relationship between the Bride and the Son.

    * How does the emerging church practice their cultural shaping in the context of divine promise?
    Oops. The jargon density in this one is a little beyond me.

    * How does the emerging church answer the charge that they have a low interest in theology?
    Well, theology for its own sake is a bit narcissistic. But the book and the conference presentations are theology.

    * Is the emerging church faithful to valid traditions?
    Well, who is determining what is valid. Frank Viola, in his opening remarks expressed how honoured and excited he felt to be for the first time in Germany, the land of Luther and Bonhoeffer. He referenced a couple of Watchman Nee books as basic texts. But, the basic model of church has two main participants - Jesus Christ as the Head and the community of believers as the members of the Body. Among those members there are many different roles to be fulfilled as directed by Jesus, but there is not a human hierarchy of authority between the people and the Head. A lot of other traditional stuff is also excluded, see "Pagan Christianity".

    * Does the emerging church have a verbal and practical witness?
    Yes.

    * How might the emerging church join in conversation with its detractors so that its theology and practice would more accurately proclaim the kingdom?
    How would such a conversation lead to a more accurate proclamation of the Kingdom?

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