Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Friday, January 02, 2009

Eulogy & Mission

A gentleman in our church approached me the other day and said, "the church isn't what it used to be and probably never will be again." Somewhere in the midst of that statement is the eulogy and the mission of the current church.

"Systematic theology is not simply a coherent arrangement of supracultural universals. It is a compilation of the Western white history of dogma. And that history, in the process of compilation, has lost its missiological thrust.
The effect of this process on the Western churches is similarly destructive of missions. Seeing theology as an essentializing science and the creeds as the product of that kind of theological reflection inhibits us as well from facing up to our own contemporary missiological task and its risk. Our credal formulations, structured to respond to a sixteenth-century cultural setting and its problems, lose their historical character as contextual confessions of faith and become cultural universals, having comprehensive validity in all items and settings. We assign all the problem of contextualization to distant, exotic places and worry about how others will avoid syncretism (reconciliation or fusion of different systems or beliefs ) with this view of theology. We assume that such risks and such challenges are absent, or at least less pressing, in the West. We let our theologizing slip into a naive sort of idealistic pride in “our” model. We become less aware of the rosy presuppositional glasses with which we look at our rosy theological world. And our theology loses its evangelistic edge. Theologizing is the task of each new generation standing in its particular moment of history, it searches the Scriptures in order to discern the will of God and strives to receive guidance on its way toward the obedient life that must be pursued within the concrete issues of the world’s concrete cultures.
MIssiology’s task ( i.e. one goal of missiology is to distinguish between practices that are essential to Christianity and therefore must be practiced by Christians in all cultures, and other strictly cultural expressions of Christianity that can vary between societies while still expressing the Christian faith.) …becomes that of a gadfly (one who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or attempt to stimulate innovation by proving an irritant) in the house of theology."

We are frozen in a time-warp of achieved gnosticism irrelevant to time and culture; holding to dogmatic beliefs in faith and the evidence of redeeming faith as outlined by a theology mandated by Biblical interpretation; blindly believing without question the validity of the contextualization of God as revealed in process through Scripture as an historical imperative, not to be strayed from; accepting a timeless formulation of theology without regard for agendas of concern unrelated to traditional faith issues; in this lies the weakness of the current Church in reaching the others of our culture.

In this lies the weakness of my own evangelical import into the community in which I live. Here I live as a Christian, well-known for my Church affiliation, (known enough that people who respect that about me are conciliatory) yet, as a Christian having little or no attractional value for the Kingdom of God. The very things that command that respect and the consolations given for my faith as others see it, are the very same things that create the barriers to being an attractional Christian living a life which invites others to experience. So the above quoted statement is not so much a slam against the current Church culture, as against my own value system, and that system being thwarted as attractional by the Biblical mandates of holiness, obedience, and sanctification, and these terms being alien to our current culture in terms of the fullness of those characteristics lived out as THE viable alternative to any other lifestyle. People see my involvement in the Church and it registers with them that the devotion and time sacrificed for that involvement is not worth the visible value attained by being a Christian. They see the outward manifestation of being a Christian as work, and more work is not what most people desire.

In the conversation that is life, as I relate to those around me, I have to be communicating freedom; as I have contact with the diverse cultural and social contexts of the world I have to be communicating God's love; as I live out my Biblical theologizing revealed historically through God's redemptive revelation, and my personal understanding as viewed through the eyes of one who has been redeemed through that historical narrative, I must insure that the topical divisions inherent in the conversation remain broad enough and flexible enough to accommodate God's special revelation for each individual; I must be open to the organic nature of God's working; and in all this being conscious of the fact that I live in the same continuum as for example Paul, Peter, Constantine, Wesley, Spurgeon, Tozer, Lewis, and Graham. It is in that continuum, that historical-redemptive or redemptive-historical perspective, that I must reflect and affirm the character of the Kingdom of God as it exhibits the fullness of justice and love, while carefully tempering the conversation to the situational and cultural context. Theologizing does not pride itself on its "objectivity", its "presuppositionlessness", its "value-neutrality"; Christianity does not lend itself well to tolerance; to acceptance of "cultural impositions"; Christianity seeks to define "timeless formulations" for the effective dealing with the issues of life. As the continuum reveals there lies authentic and genuine creedence to that truth, however, the balance must be acheived between the obedience required as a manifestation of the love for God because of His provided redemption and the Christians stand on the belief in the value of a Biblical view of holiness and sanctification and the understanding of the working of God in ways which are not clearly evident to be moving people towards that objective.

We live in the current revelation of God's redemptive history, not in the past; we live in the current flow of God's love for humanity, not the absence of that love; we live in the narrative, as a story-teller, not the reader of history; and I must be reminded that God's word is writing the history of redemption in the here-and-now.

I live as a commentator, communicator, translator and interpreter of God's love and justice, His redemptive and life-changing power through my life. In this I find the condemnation of my own abilities to be accurate, concise, discerning, unbiased and tolerant. It must be stated that with regard to certain aspects of culture and the Biblical condemnation of those current, cultural 'norms', I am forced to become the intolerant and biased right-wing, conservative, Christian.


Wayne Gibson said...

You pack a lot of thought in each of your entries John. I appreciate the heart of what you're saying here. God bless. Wayne

Anonymous said...

"A net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind." No efforts are now being spared to attract fish of "every kind" into the various denominational "nets," and everything that would tend to frighten or keep away worldlings is carefully avoided. In modern "church" (?) services there is something to suit the tastes and meet the needs of all, except the true children of God! Social, economic, and diplomatic problems and issues are discussed to satisfy the political mind. Worldly amusements are introduced to attract the lovers of pleasure. Grand organs are put in and professional vocalists engaged to soothe and charm the aesthetic. Dramatic speakers, so-called "Evangelists," who are but religious showmen, are employed to please the sensation-monger. In short, everything that can please the flesh has been brought into the churches (?) to draw the crowds and thus catch fish of "every sort." Sad it is that so much time, money, and energy are wasted in such misguided and God-dishonoring efforts. Sinners do not need amusing and cheering, but showing their lost condition. The business of the ministers of the Gospel is not to tickle ears, but to preach that which, by the Spirit’s application, will touch hearts and search consciences. Their duty is to make manifest the character of God, the awfulness of sin, the certainty of its punishment, and to bid their perishing hearers, "Flee from the wrath to come."