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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!

did Jesus deconstruct?...

Monday, July 21, 2008

just trying out an idea here...

I was in a discussion earlier today in which we were comparing Jesus' non-directional teaching and non-hierarchical 'church' structure to that which we find in Paul's letters. Where Jesus seemed intent on rejecting status (see Matthew 23:8-12) and on asking more questions than he gave answers, Paul seems equally intent on introducing structure, firming up theological convictions and making requirements of 'leaders' that set them apart from the rest (e.g. Titus 1:5-9, assuming Paul wrote Titus which I'm happy to accept). This cursory reading of both Jesus and Paul has led many people to set them up against each other and plump for the teaching of one as their 'key texts'.

As we were discussing this I started wondering if it could be argued that Jesus was engaged in deconstructing the inherited religious patterns, by his teaching and example, subverting the status positions found in his society and the powerplay of directive teaching. If so, can we argue that Jesus was intentionally engaging in encouraging people's faith journeys on from a stage 3 inherited faith (using Fowler's model) towards stage 4 and beyond?

Following this through, we could then argue that Paul was merely beginning the process of reconstruction, trying to make sense of his own religious heritage, the teaching and practice of Jesus and the social context(s) in which he found himself. At times Paul can seem a bit confused with himself - not surprising for someone moving through a stage 4 towards a stage 5 faith!

If this were the case, we could draw a couple of interesting implications...
  1. Paul's project was not contra to that of Jesus, but was a development of Jesus' own ministry. It is desireable (or is it?) that deconstruction leads to a reconstruction where the latter takes account of the journey and the changed perspectives and so may look very different from the pattern held prior to deconstruction, whilst having some similarities. Compare Paul's church structure and pattern for leadership with that of 1st century Judaism - similarities and radical differences.
  2. Paul, in reconstructing faith and community structure was doing so for the 1st century world(s) in which he lived and travelled. He wasn't necessarilly setting a definitive pattern that has to be adhered to by all people of all nations in all times.
Is it then the task of the church in every new context, be it cultural, historical or whatever, to be both allowing Jesus' teaching and ministry to deconstruct inherited patterns of faith and community, keeping us centred on the teacher rather than the teachings, the divine rather than the institution, whilst at the same time engaging in reconstructing new patterns of church and ministry that take into account the story so far and the social context in which we currently live? This sounds a bit like N T Wright's 'faithful improvisation' arrived at in a very different way!

This is clearly not a thought through theory, just something I'm mulling over! Any comments?...

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 2:49 PM


do you have a link for this several stage model of Fowler's that you mention?

i think Jesus deconstructed the crap that the religious leaders had built up, but for the general populous... i wouldn't say he was deconstructing nor reconstructing. it seems to be more a matter of reminding.

commented by Blogger meg, 4:17 AM  

Hi Meg

thanks for your comments. I blogged a bit about Fowler here which also gives a link to one of his books. You can also google "Fowler stages of faith development" and get a pretty useful hit list.


commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:36 AM  

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