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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

john franke's missional theology...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the following quotes are taken from some notes of John Franke's October '06 address to the Westminster Theological Seminary Emerging Church Forum, and carry resonances with a discussion I was having with someone last night when I was trying to explain that the emerging church conversation and biblical theology are not polar opposites!

The reason for doing theology is to serve the church in becoming missional. The impulse comes from notion of mission as central to character of God (missio dei). Mission is at the heart of biblical narratives. Example: Israel was the recipient of covenant in order to bless the nations. Mission continues today in the global witness to the gospel working toward the eschatological redemption. "As the Father has sent me so I send you" (jn 20:21). God is missional by nature; he is sent and sender in Jesus...

The western church has not formed itself as missional because it grew up in a culture that considered itself Christian. Christendom was so pervasive that even when it is undermined as in modern North America, the patterns continue. The church now lives in functional Christendom. Maybe that is a better category for discussion than modern vs postmodern. Mission had become just one of the many programs of the church (mission boards). Only place we need to go is to the pagan nations, and we'll civilize them while we're at it. Home missions were merely attempts to prop up and preserve Christian culture. Now we must realize that mission isn't peripheral, it is central to what the church is. [We must] Move from church with mission to missional church...

Commitment to missional theology entails ongoing interaction with local culture. All forms of thought are embedded in social conditions. Those conditions don't unilaterally determine knowledge, but they inevitably shape it. Theology always bears the marks of the context in which it is produced. Therefore it is not the task of theology to set forth a timeless and non-situated dogmatic for all times and places. Systematic theology doesn't fall out of heaven, so we need a human and earthly dogmatics, formed in the community of faith and seeking to bear witness to the God of that faith and speaking in and to the culture in which it finds itself..." (bold highlights mine)

Now before some might say... "there, that proves it, accommodation to culture is the mark of the emerging church", Franke does recognise the danger...

Theology throughout history has shown itself remarkably adaptable in many times and cultures, but also there have been many bad accommodations. So we must be culturally aware but also aware of the danger of becoming captive. How do we account for the situadedness [sic] of theology without succumbing to cultural accommodation?"

It seems to me that there are two responses we can make in response to the danger. One is to remain safely wrapped in our received (modern) 'orthodoxy' and defend it at all costs as
THE gospel, even if it fails to make any meaningful connection with the context in which we are seeking to proclaim it. Here we simply (and, I would suggest, naively) refuse to accept that our theology has been shaped in any way by cultural context - it is held as pure Truth. The other possible response is to take the risk of re-thinking that received 'orthodoxy' while trying to remain faithful to the central message of the Kingdom of God (that was Jesus' central message, after all). Yes, it may be risky... yes, it may sometimes feel like we're out at sea longing for the security of the past... yes, it may lead to us being misunderstood, even cast out, by our Christian brothers and sisters; but for the sake of participating in the mission of God and his work of redemption it's a risk worth taking.

Indeed, wasn't it St Paul, the theological champion of Reformed theology, who led the way in contextual mission when he chose to quote from the pagan poets of Athens instead of the Old Testament, knowing the former would connect far better with his hearers? This was the same St Paul who wrote, "
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." (1Corinthians 9:19-22, TNIV) Would St Paul in the early 21st century western world also have added... "to the new-age spiritual I became like a new-age spiritual... to the post-modern philosopher I became like a post-modern philosopher..." and so on, or is this pushing the analogy too far? I guess the key word in all this is the work 'like' - we become 'like' the other as we engage in mission, we don't become the other.

So to my friend who I was chatting with last night, and to many others who are critical of the emerging church, I ask... please don't write us off as heretics or as people selling out on orthodox faith. Please listen to us as we seek to listen to your challenges, and see that we're simply seeking to follow the biblical missional call of God.

Read the full notes of Franke's address 'here'
Hat tip - Paul Fromont

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:56 AM


Hi Malcolm! You might not like this!

You wrote: "I guess the key word in all this is the work 'like' - we become 'like' the other as we engage in mission, we don't become the other."

Now, it's a tricky one, and you may not want to go as far as me, but I wonder who decides the difference between becoming 'like' the other and becoming 'the other'. Paul doesn't retain the distinction through the whole of the passage you quote: he says at its end "To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (v.22, NIV). Neither of these statements is buffered by the word 'like'. So arguably Paul has moved us from the softer position of becoming like the people he is trying to reach to the harder position of actually becoming them. Parallel: Jesus didn't only become like us, he became us.

So some of us may actually be heretics and sellers out of the gospel, but if we do so "for the sake of the gospel" (1 Cor 9.23) then we may trust God to make the final decision as to our fate, not our fellow Christians. Here: I happily count myself as a heretic, if by doing so I might save one heretic.

An emerging church which stops at the final hurdle and is not prepared to become the other may be dying to church traditions that are already demonstrably 'uncool' in the eyes of the world, but it is not really dying to itself, is it?

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 5:48 PM  

Hi Steve...

re 'You might not like this!'... actually I do!! I think you make a very strong argument here and it gets right to the crux of what it means to 'take up your cross' in following Christ in the way of Incarnation. Thanks for posting your thoughts!!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:44 PM  

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