A Generous Orthopraxy?

August 3, 2011

Yes, that is a play onto McLaren’s well-known book which gave rise to fingers being pointed towards heresy, but this post has little to no reflection on McLaren’s book.

A few years ago conversations on “orthodoxy and orthopraxis” was quite common. The parts of the conversation which I enjoyed basically boiled down to the idea that orthopraxis (“right living”) was more important than orthodoxy (“right doctrine”). Obviously critiques came in stating that orthodoxy shouldn’t be read in such a narrow fashion, not to mention the various critiques from those who believed that the correct doctrine (narrowly defined as the thoughts we have concerning God) was indeed the most important part of being Christian. I generally found myself comfortable with voices arguing that in reading the gospels our lives as followers of Jesus seem to be more important than getting the facts and details right (thus the orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy argument as it was popularly formulated).

In the meantime the conversations has evolved, suddenly everyone went missional, the emerging label died a silent death to a certain extend, we have American’s teaching Africans about postcolonial theology and what have you more. But I experience a certain amount of tension growing with this newly discovered orthopraxis. More and more it would seem like we get a form of Christian boastfulness where some are “more missional” than others. “I feed more poor people than you” seem to be the new scale along which God’s favour for certain groups are to be measured. The idea that “we have found the real radical Jesus while you are still struggling with the old institutional Jesus” end up not very far from the many debated which we’ve seen over the past two centuries where various groups have declared themselves to be the true bearers of the correct faith, only now, the correct faith is equated with the correct way of fixing the world.

Annemie Bosch once shared a story of what David Bosch used to say during Apartheid. She gave permission that I can share it, although she hasn’t read these words, so mistakes in this paragraph are my own, but nonetheless, it goes something like this:

During Apartheid David Bosch would often say that in the struggle against apartheid, and in the work of transforming the mainline church and it’s relation to apartheid, we need to voices of Carel Boshoff, Johan Heyns, David Bosch as well as Beyers Naudé. Those who aren’t able to listen to the one, might listen to the other, and although they are voicing seemingly contradictory opinions, each in his unique way is contributing towards the end of apartheid and a just society.

This is no generous orthodoxy (in the strict popular interpretation of the word), but might rather be described as a generous orthopraxy. Tony Jones wrote a brilliant piece a number of years ago where attempted to describe a broad understanding of a changing orthodoxy where all role-players (I believe in a blogpost on the paper he used the words “from Benny Hinn to the Pope”, although I can’t find it) co-determine the definition of orthodoxy, and we remain open to the possibility that our consensus might change.

Within the complex reality of our world today it might be important to remain skeptical of the person with the “perfect plan for poverty”. Within the broad discussion of those who believe in justice for all we might want to recognize the role played by everyone from American short-term mission teams to Africa right through to Marxist analysts. Working with a fluid orthodoxy assume a robust debate, but it is a debate where we remain generous on who we consider to be a “legitimate voice” within the ongoing discussion. In our quest for justice, for ethics, I’d suggest we remain generous on who we consider to be partners on our quest for “right living”. This will require a robust debate, a clashing of ideas, but it assume that those I differ with are a necessary voice, and more important, a necessary body, in our quest for justice.

Annemie Bosch kindly rewrote the story to better reflect what was actually said, and agreed that I could add it here:

During Apartheid, David Bosch maintained that in order for us to attain justice for all in South Africa, we needed, in the Afrikaans-speaking section of our nation, the voices of Beyers Naudé, David Bosch, Johan Heyns, Carel Boshoff and Andries Treurnicht. Each of them was, in his own way, campaigning for a just society and for true equality and equity. Those who, because of their background and upbringing, could not hear what Beyers said, would perhaps be able to hear what David said – and so on, all along the line, up to the stance which A.P.Treurnicht took. So each one of these people, and others like them, were contributing towards a change in South Africa so that we could have justice and peace for all…. Which, even up to this day, we have not achieved. So once again we need the voices of many people at different levels of “the Stuggle for Justice” in the New South Africa. Let’s not write off those who differ from us in some or other way. Lets rather use our energy to do what our hand finds to do, and do it well. Let’s take hands and stand together against that which is wrong in our society – and especially in THE CHURCH – which is so much bigger than our little part of it!

Edit (3/8/2011)

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review: Sout Project

May 6, 2010

It has often been said that the last thing to change in church is the liturgy. And it’s more often true than not. Theology develop, or maybe more correct would be to say that theology is contextualized, continually, but changing liturgy is often the most dangerous thing to do in church. In the church tradition that I am part of that has certainly been true on many occasions.

The current paradigm shifts happening in the world and the church, and also in South Africa, has been well thought through in many blogposts, academic articles, conversations, books and more. But on Sunday morning when I go to church our music still seem to reflect either the Renaissance era from which our tradition was born, of the height of the revivalist, late-modern fundamental, era which has strongly influenced the mega-church movements. Here and there you’ll find some of the old mystical hymns which is refreshing, but much of the words we sing would sound totally strange is we were to ever say them to each other in a conversation.

Along come my friend Nic Paton and the Sout Project. You can read the story behind the South Project, and it’s debut album Story here, so I’m not going to repeat too much of that. What first struck me about Story was the diversity of voices on the album. Children’s voices, men and woman, black voices, different languages. Suddenly I felt like being in South Africa, and no longer in Australia or America, where the gospel of my youth was born. But not entirely South Africa either, Nic lived in England for a long time, and I believe I hear some of Europe inbetween as well. It has somewhat of a global feel.

Brian Mclaren’s voice come through early on, I still remember the day when Nic recorded Mclaren for the album. But Mclaren’s voice not only come through when he himself sings, but throughout the album Mclaren’s influence on Nic can be heard in the theology. And this, for me, was the most refreshing part of Story. Nic put emerging theology into lyrics. I can now sing along to words which I am so comfortable with! Words to which I can say Aumen, So be it. And I can sing Aumen in various languages on one of the tracks as well.

Vine (Ubuntu), the second track on the CD, bring Nic’s brilliance to the fore in a special way for me personally. The words of John 15, about the vine and the branches are pulled into the lyrics, together with the Spirit from John 16, and merged with metaphors from our own world. “The Web of Life (remember that important book by Fritjof Capra a few decades ago?) is spun by your Spirit“, we hear a few times, “everything contained and sustained in you“, early on in the song, God’s spirit is what holds the universe together, is the energy within, and this flows from the vine of John 15. Maybe this is the song that I’d like to give to my confirmation class when we talk about the Holy Spirit.

One other song that I’d just must mention is Meditation with Mechtild, which is basically my very very good friend Annemie Bosch telling something of her story, which Nic then mixed in with some music to provide, for me, the deepest moment of spiritual reflection on the CD.

Nic will be in Jo’burg this weekend, and you can find him on Sunday morning at 9:30 at Ridgeway ministries in Wessels road in Woodmead, for what promised to be a truly postmodern and post-Apartheid event, with Nic’s music and our mutual friend Jackson Khosa bringing a message. You can find the event on facebook here. Story can be bought @ R110 here.

It would be really interesting to see how Nic’s creation will be used in local congregations that engage creatively with their liturgies.

I know some serious academics might find it strange that thoughts that I would hope to publish one day simply end up on a blog. But I can’t think of withholding info from anyone, so this is my presentation from the past SAMS conference I’ve been blogging about. It’s still in draft form, and some of the thoughts I have been challenged on, and wish to refine somewhat. I sincerely hope that if you read this you will provide me with your thoughts as well! Whether critique, questions, thoughts or simply continuing the conversation.

For those who have been following this blog I can give the following summary in short:

I believe we need to understand Mclaren and other voices in the emerging church as attempts at a contextualization of the gospel in there various mostly Western cultures. If we understand this, we can better be in dialogue with them, and resist being simply re-colonized by American voices who prescribe how we should be church in South Africa, but also better understand the contribution they do make to the larger conversation (if at all). What Bosch and others in missiology call interculturation is something I notice in Mclaren’s later work, and on these grounds future dialogue between Mclaren and South African theologians can continue.

SAMS 2010 – Contextualization of the gospel in the West: The emerging church and the example of Brian Mclaren

Andrew Jones’s post on the emerging church maturing has again caused a stir in the blogosphere. He talks about the movement going mainline, and ceasing to be radical and controversial. Danielle Shroyer has written a good response called What do you do when a revolution isn’t sexy anymore? (hat-tip to Steve Hayes). Actually, the tension about the end of the emerging church has been running for a number of years now, and immediately after reading Andrew’s post my mind jumped to the September 2008 “death of emerging” conversation. Although a lot of us took part in that conversation, it was the claims made at the Out of Ur blog that caught the attention of a lot of people.

Mark Sayers, in a post that was discussed somewhat earlier this year, wrote that: “at first the movement’s energy and internal dialogue is centered around defining itself against the common enemy. But then as time passes the internal dialogue of the movement begins to shift away from ‘defining against’ to ‘defining itself’.” This seems to be quite accurate of much of what has been happening in the emerging church conversation over the past few years. The moment, I believe, which best captured this was when Dan Kimball declared that he is using missional more, because of the tension around the term emerging, and because the definition has changed form what he intended in The Emerging Church. But many voices has been adding their ideas to the fact that the emerging movement is fractured, and worked to define it. Apart from Mark’s post, I quickly think of Mark Driscoll on this video and Jim Belcher in Deep Church, and in a way Tony Jones’s The New Christians also attempted to help to better define a specific interpretation of emerging. I believe this is already signs of a movement, a revolution, maturing.

When the revolution is over, a lot of work need to start. Danielle mentioned some of this work. This doesn’t mean that the revolution has failed, on the contrary.

The revolution need to be studied, to answer the question: What the hell happened? Andrew talked about this history writing, so did Steve. I believe there is a lot of work to be done to just try and figure out what happened in the church over the past couple of decades. Linked to this, is that we need to critically examen the voices from the revolution. We will have to recognize where we were just being “hip church”, rather than contextualizing the gospel in the Western culture. Voices need to be evaluated, and the reality is that in the long term we are going to look back and recognize that some who seemed to be part of the revolution just “didn’t get it”. This is needed for a movement to mature.

Furthermore we would have to recognize the wider context in which the revolution happened. Brian Mclaren has mentioned a broader conversation a number of times, mentioning that liberation theology, feminist theology, and postcolonial theology was in a way part of the same revolution, but preceded the emerging church. You can listen to an example of him speaking about this here. The emerging church still has a lot of work to do regarding it’s relationship to Third World theology. In spite of Amahoro, from this side of the equator it would seem like the interculturation that Bosch called for still isn’t happening, and till we can say that we (and with we, as an Afrikaner theologian, I’m applying the same challenge to myself than I am to my friends from the First World) are getting this right, serious questions must be asked about our claims that we are moving beyond the modern, colonial, mindset which we have been critiquing.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church at Wittenberg, it was sexy. It was real sexy! He inspired revolutionaries after him with that act. He became a myth, to say the least. When the young John Calvin, a second generation reformer, wrote his Institutions, it wasn’t sexy at all. He inspired many to take the implications of the Reformation seriously, but he didn’t inspire a revolution with that act. But Calvin was needed. Calvin was needed aso to critique the revolutionaries before him, to point to them where they were stuck in some of the negative aspects of the Roman way they were revolting against. Calvin was needed to make things work in a new way.

I notice young theological students starting their training today, not even bothered by some of the more controversial doctrinal questions that is still running around in emerging conversations, because they were bred and fed in youth ministries that was part of the emerging conversation for years now. And I wonder, what will happen when these young people, not necessarily revolutionaries, but the result of a revolution, start doing church, living the way of Jesus as postmoderns no longer fighting against modernity?

I had a long conversation with Brian McLaren the morning before we visited the Apartheid museum, and something we said to each other helped in working through my emotions that day. Every religion has the responsibility to remember the worst moments in their tradition, those times which we never want to talk about, we need to tell our children about those times!
Christians need to remember the time when thousands of “pagan’s” were crucified and killed after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. We need to remember the crusades, the inkwizitions. Afrikaners need to remember Apartheid. We owe it to the world to remember Apartheid! It is our responsibility to tell the story of how a people group could become the oppressor, and use their religious language to justify this. We need to remember, so that it will never happen again.
Remembering make us sensitive to repititions of similar events. Afrikaner people need to remember, and in remembering help other oppressors to notice when they are doing similar things, notice when they are using similar religious language to justify the evils within them.
It’s not only the Afrikaners that need to remember. Post-Bushian evangelical Republicans (or maybe all Christians) in America will need to remember how Christians could support a president that spread violence and hatred. Muslims (sorry, I am not able to pin-point it into a smaller group) of later generations will need to remember how their faith was used to justify a war.
We remember, not to experience guilt, we remember so that it will not be repeated.

I had a long conversation with Brian McLaren the morning before we visited the Apartheid museum, and something we said to each other helped in working through my emotions that day. Every religion has the responsibility to remember the worst moments in their tradition, those times which we never want to talk about, we need to tell our children about those times!

Christians need to remember the time when thousands of “pagan’s” were crucified and killed after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. We need to remember the crusades, the inquisitions. Afrikaners need to remember Apartheid. We owe it to the world to remember Apartheid! It is our responsibility to tell the story of how a people group could become the oppressor, and use their religious language to justify this. We need to remember, so that it will never happen again.

Remembering make us sensitive to repetitions of similar events. Afrikaner people need to remember, and in remembering help other oppressors to notice when they are doing similar things, notice when they are using similar religious language to justify the evils within them.

It’s not only the Afrikaners that need to remember. Post-Bushian evangelical Republicans (or maybe all Christians) in America will need to remember how Christians could support a president that spread violence and hatred. Muslims (sorry, I am not able to pin-point it into a smaller group) of later generations will need to remember how their faith was used to justify a war against the West. And the list could go on.

We remember, not to experience guilt, we remember so that it will not be repeated. I am an Afrikaner, and I will remember Apartheid.

Scot McKnight is visiting South Africa again. It’s been just over a year since last time he visited. Running a search on “McKnight” on my blog revealed some interesting things on how the emerging church scene changed since then, and Scot’s role in this from my perspective. I gave him an article David Bosch wrote about 25 years ago partly in response to the Lausanne Covenent today, and on it thanked him for the role he plays in keeping different voices together. I really respect the way in which he talks about some of the voices he differs with in private conversations.

Last night he talked with our church council on the Blue Parakeet, and I’m kicking myself for not video-taping it. Afterwards we had dinner together. Today he talked on conversion, and from tomorrow we’ll be discussing acts with him.

I’m not going to try and repeat all that was said, but this is the image that we used in the discussion:

scot mcknight conversion copyConversion is this process of moving from the context where you are to the “church”, the group where are are moving towards. This may be a megachurch or small group meeting somewhere that won’t ever call themselves church. Conversion is changing my story to be told through the lens of this new self understanding I now have, which is formed by this group.

Part of converting is a crisis that is addressed. For years now I’ve been getting more and more uncomfortable with the fact that we have been creating a crisis in our attempts of evangelism. This crisis have usually been by painting a vivid picture of how someone might just burn in hell, or in lighter forms convincing someone of the severity of his/her sins, and this warthful God that really cannot help but punish us, that is of course just. Scot mentioned Brian Mclaren’s moral question: How can a just God punish a lifetime of sins with eternal torment?

But what Scot was actually talking about in the end was how people deconvert from Christianity, how people become non-Christians. What is the crisis moments that lead to this?

In his book Finding Faith Loosing Faith he talks about a number of crisis that leads to deconversion. I’ll order the book sometime, and will mention them more when I get the book, but form today’s talk Scot confirmed one thing: Fundamentalism creates extremely good soil for atheism to flourish in. I’ve been saying this for a long time now. The crisis that fundamentalism creates is that an expectation on infallability of the Bible is created that cannot be met, and the text never intended to meet, when that realisation dawn on someone, it has the potential of leading to atheism.

Of course there are other reasons for deconverstion as well. But I’ll skip them for now. This is a model that I believe I’ll use again, and would love to know more about.

Later today our Transforming Mission reading group will get together for the first discussion. This book heavily infuenced people like Brian Mclaren and Alan Hirsch, among others.

You can find info on today’s reading here. I will be blogging in this later, and some others have indicated that they might blog this as well. If you join us in blogging on the first chapter of Transforming Mission let me know so I can get a list up. There has also been an idea to use a wikispace for commenting on Transforming Mission, creating a kind of shared commentary on Transforming Mission or something… we might just do that as well, will keep you posted.