October 6, 2011
I’ve been wondering about the emerging conversation over the past few weeks. What happened, should we still use the language? And then someone contacted me on an old blog, asking about the emerging conversation in South Africa. The emergingafrica site is currently dead, but Roger helped me to get into some of the archives, so I’m just reposting something I wrote about a year ago on the emergingafrica blog.
Maybe just a short note before I start. I don’t think the emerging conversation is dead, I think the name became problematic and people moved. I still connect with the same people who was part of the emerging conversation 3 or 4 years ago when I go the ANiSA events, Amahoro gatherings, some academic conferences. I still see them on facebook, we are still talking about many of the same issues: justice, reconciliation, the future of the church, postmodernism, postcolonialism. Yes, the emphasis has changed, but that was inevitable, some of us might still like to connect to what is called emerging, others may not want to. But this is where I think we went:
Our friend and fellow blogger Steve Hays has been pushing hard on the question: “Where has the emerging conversation gone?” or “Why is the emerging conversation so quite/dead?”. That was the theme of the past three posts on this blog, so I thought a response might be a good idea. Steve’s questions seem to refer both to the broad conversation on the blogosphere concerning Missional/Emerging, as well as this specific website, and the lack of conversation going on here. I’ll try and quickly make a few comments on both. Some of this will be quite personal, and others attempts at taking a few steps back and analyzing what’s happening.
I found Emerging Africa in 2006 (then still called Emergent Africa). It was a place to connect to a group of people asking certain questions, and more specifically, a group of diverse people blogging and asking certain questions that I could connect with. However, I was never a very active Emerging Africa user. I only posted 5 posts since 2006, only 2 of which was actual posts with content I myself generated and thoughts which I wanted to engage others in. Two others was just responses on emerging that was doing the round in South Africa that I posted here, and 1 was an add on a conference.
About 70-75% of the content on this site was created by 5 people over the past 5 years1. A lot of people came in, dropped a comment at some point, but we need to take note that this site was never a large community of bloggers, but rather a small group of people connecting, and a lot sometimes visiting and making a comment or two. Steve himself were one of the 5, and he doesn’t consider himself to be emerging. Of the most active 10 people on the site, all those I’ve ever met also keep there own blogs, and are more active on their own blogs than on this one.
Those I’ve met: Maybe that need to be mentioned as well. Back when I first joined Emerging Africa, I knew none of the people on this list, now I find much more joy in visiting them in person (when I have the chance – for those in Cape Town) than.
In short: We shouldn’t expect too much from this site. For most of the active contributors over the years, this wasn’t the blogging place they put most energy into, and thus can’t be a measure of the depth of a conversation. Maybe the resource point made earlier should be considered more strongly. EmergingAfrica is a place pointing people to others. And I guess it’s also an important archive of what happened in the SA blogosphere regarding emerging.
But, then I’ll have to respond to questions concerning the broader conversation, and why most of us isn’t running blogs connected to strict emerging inner-politics and dialogue. This has been discussed a lot, as the different death of emerging conversations ran over the years. I listed some posts on this earlier this year, and others from 2008.
Let me take this earlier writings further with a few comments:
The diversity within emerging was unbearable to say the least. Dan Kimball (author of ) expressed this when he refused to use emerging anymore. His choice to rather use missional should make us wary of continuing the “missional/emerging” way of making the two the same as well. I sometimes wondered about the diverse theology within the emerging scene myself, and even today it remains a struggle, because we seem to dump a number of people together under a “missional/emerging” category whom who has distinctly different approaches to theology.
Maybe this is where the waters get fuzzy. Because where does emerging start and where does it end? When I engage liberation theology, I would describe it as a form of what should go under the broad term emerging2, but others who traditionally participated in the emerging conversation would be strongly apposed to this. Furthermore, when I engage liberation theology, I find better dialogue partners than my emerging friends, these are theologians who are working on issues of justice in different ways, but wouldn’t connect themselves to what I’d call emerging. So suddenly emerging takes me to places which are not predominantly emerging, and where the typical emerging bunch (white, male, western, rich) doesn’t have the dominant voice anymore.
So, we get this weird place where we are no longer busy with the emerging conversation proper. To link onto Brian Mclaren (The Justice Project, p268 endnote 10), maybe we’ve discovered that the emerging conversation led us to places where others have been for some time. Maybe it was only our best theologians, and not on a congregational level3, maybe it was in a somewhat different way, maybe we contribute something unique because we were influenced by the emerging conversation, but we nevertheless find ourselves on territory which is shared by others.
So, maybe Andrew Jones was right when he said the emerging conversation was mainstreamed, as much as we might hate to hear this, and maybe this is true in South Africa as well – missional/emerging was the theme of the South African Missiological Society, not the type of place you’d have expected to find us 5 years ago. But maybe those who talked the emerging lingo was forced into other conversations exactly by there being emerging (and now I’m following the “Brian Mclaren” thread of emerging talk). We started out rediscovering the “Kingdom of God”. This forced us both into conversation with high profile theologians who have been trying to point the way for generations, but have been ignored by the Christian populace, as well as into conversation with those who are busy actually engaging injustice in the world (feminists, liberation theologians, postcolonial thinkers, economists, politicians, philosophers, activists).
So where did the conversation go? My guess is it went a hundred places. Most of these places won’t go by the name “emerging”. The more important question which should be asked if we wonder whether the conversation is dead is whether those who connected to it when emerging lingo 3/4 years ago consider there time of participation in this lingo as worthwhile seen from where they are now (I for one definitely do).
More could be said, but hopefully this take us a step further into understanding what is happening, and thinking about the place of Emerging Africa.
1) A note, the statistics mentioned reflects the real statistics of EmergingAfrica at the time, it’s not guesswork
2) This point I will definitely change when writing today. I would rather define Emerging as an approach drawing from the well of liberation theology, working towards becoming a form of liberation theology.
3) Maybe it is those in oppressed communities and groups. Women, black people, the poor, who we’ve been led to.
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!
February 10, 2011
The idea that has been working in me for the past year or two could be explained as the conviction that ideas which is not unpacked in all its complexity in the actual material (I’m starting to sound like those literalists who put 4 descriptives before the word “resurrection” just to make sure that you definitely agree with in the minutest detail with them) reality of our existence, then we should be very skeptical as to what the real intent of that idea is. I know that many in philosophy and theology has unpacked this much better than I have, but nonetheless, I need to write to get my head around this.
Even on ‘n popular level we have always claimed that the idea and its application should exist together. When it doesn’t, we make statements such as “practice what you preach”, and we talk about the hypocritical nature of the church. We especially love to talk about the church, although I believe the same should apply to most of modern liberal society. Because who will ever claim that what we should do is exploit the poor? Yet those in power participate in exactly this on a constant basis, whether Christian or not.
But rarely do we measure on what we actually do. In reality we have all this guards which we’ve employed so that no one could ever really know what I’m doing. So if you’d dare to make blatant racist comments, or claim that the plight of the poor should be of no concern, or that the destruction of the earth is not something which we should put energy into stopping, you will find yourself with a lot of harsh criticism. But if you choose to move out of a suburb which is attracting more and more black residents, spend your money in a way which will never be accessible to the majority, or consume products in a way which is not environmentally sustainable, little will be heard, except from a few radicals which we’ve worked out of mainstream conversations. So long as you make the right noises about all the good things you intend, and keep from braking these rules in the most blatant ways, you’ll be left alone, even considered a moral citizen whom are contributing to the social well-being of society.
And then we get those who follow Jesus, or those who follow Marx, that sit at a coffee-shop and discuss this new world where the first will be last, and where we should not wait to be served, but serve others, or where we dream of a world where the workers will not do work which they can’t afford to buy (and how many waiters can afford to sit at coffee-shops and be waited upon?). (and yes, I was sitting with Christian friends with Marxist inclinations at a coffee-shop in the past week)
And while the simple non-participation in the coffee-shops of our day might not lead to any kind of revolution creating a new world, we simply fail to notice that when ordering a Latté we are participating in keeping this system of unequal distribution in place. We have these nice ideas, but the true conversation towards our own ideas, that conversation which actually change our material reality in much more dramatic ways than by challenging our participation in coffee-shops (which can really be said to be an arguable example), that is what it is about.
However, it’s about more than hypocrisy. The skeptical view which we need to engage in the church, is that not only are our good ideas not reflected in how we construct our lives in this world, but our good ideas might actually be what keep us from constructing our concrete lives in a way which reflect the vision we claim to have of society. It is exactly because we can sit in church on Sunday mornings and dream about a society where all are equal that we can go out during the week and participate in a society where equality is a continually fading dream, always knowing that on Sunday morning a preacher will believe on our behalf that this dream is actually true, and thanks to this rhetoric we will be able to continue one more week.
So, since I have to go now for a meeting with fellow pastors at a local coffee-shop, and to prove that I’m don’t have in mind the typical examples of those who preach a heaven one day or something blatantly non-material as that, I’ll conclude with what I’m thinking about but still has to unpack more: is all this talk about mission actually changing the church, or is it exactly because of all this talk about mission that the so-called postmodern church is able to continue without actually changing.
January 11, 2011
I spent 6 years at University, mainly finding an answer to one question: How do we read the Bible? They sent me through two years of studies in Greek and Hebrew, and I took a third year of elective Greek and Hebrew modules, as well as a few post-graduate modules in . Furthermore, a third of my theological training in the six years was spent in New and Old Testament studies, over all six years. Some of our lecturers have made the calculation on the percentage of the course that was spent on questions concerning the Bible: somewhere around 60%. 60% of six years at an internationally recognized university, focused on the question: How do we read the Bible. But the deeper question which I believe we need to focus on is: Why do we read the Bible. (you can read the story of where I first asked this question here).
With all that time spent teaching students to be able to read the Bible responsibly, you’d expect some excellent exegetes to emerge. And indeed, I think you’d find this to be true, up to a point… They can talk about “context” and “genre”, share some facts about ancient history and values (although I sometimes doubt the ability to put this into a coherent big picture), and are generally quite well versed in the ability to remind a congregation that they have some inside knowledge on the holy book which the congregants do not have. But ask the question “why do we read the Bible?“, and the problems emerge. Those considered the excellent theologians might have an answer ready, but the test comes when we face the diverse voices within Bible, and how we go about consistently interpreting the text.
Was part of Derridian Deconstruction not to notice the inconsistencies in a text? (not a very good Derridian, so do correct me here) And was our Biblical studies for many decades not built upon the search for the “seams” in the texts, the inconsistencies which would help us find the developmental history of a text? But what about the exegete? Should we not look for the inconsistencies within the exegete? And to complicate this even further, I’m not into Biblical studies (although I love reading the works of Biblical scientists), so in all honesty I can’t care less about the consistency of their exegetical methods (although this do seem to contradict the previous statement in parentheses, I find this not to be a contradiction at all), since I work with the assumption that the Bible originated from the community, and need to find meaning within the community. It is the (in)consistency of exegesis, whether by trained theologian or not, within the community which alerts me to the fact that there is something wrong, something not begin said, something behind the reading of the text (not the text itself in this case) which we need to take note of.
This I believe can be found with the question “Why do we read the Bible?“. I fear that many have learned the art of exegesis, but never integrated an answer to this question consistent with their answer to the how question. And then we get the classic example of the many preachers who either skip those parts of the texts which doesn’t support their view, or use these exact same methods pointed to above, but to de-exegize (yes, I just made that one up) that which does not support their view out of the Bible. This I believe is what is found behind the endless usage of the Bible to support this or that claim, most often in contradictory ways (and many times using the same texts on both sides). My idea, quite simply (maybe over-simplified, so do correct me), is that across the theological spectrum the Bible is still read within communities of faith because we answer the why question within something in the line of “the Bible has authority to give answers”.
I’m no psychoanalyst, although I believe they could be helpful in helping us through this, but my following question need to be asked: If I firmly believe that the Bible is the authority, or find myself completely indebted to a community which holds this believe, would I not, even on the level of the unconscious, find ways of getting this text to say exactly what I need it to say to confirm what I am saying myself? Do we not then create a power-relation which make it impossible to construct the Bible as a text which differ from either exegete or community, since our answer to why we read the Bible would then force us to recognize ourselves as unfaithful? (which obviously open up another question as to why this community find it of such utmost importance that I need to be part of the faithful and not the unfaithful, but that is a question for another day)
So my suggestion is that we need to be able to provide a consistent answer as to why we read the Bible, which would also allow a consistent answer as to how we read the Bible (taking into account genre, various books etc, consistent, not the same for every text), but also allow us to honestly and consistently formulate what it really is that we mean when we formulate an opinion. If the honest answer to what we believe imply that our attempt at consistently reading the text (how) bring us to a point that we have to recognize that we do not agree with the text, then we need to be able to answer why we continue reading the text.
Is this possible? I do believe so.
There have always been those in the church (indeed we might be able to argue that the church in its deepest being contain this mark) who reinterpret the text from the point of the Jesus-event. They read the text because this is what bring them to Jesus, and then re-interpret the text from the Jesus point (obviously as they interpreted it, and the above argument can then be made concerning those parts of the text which write about Jesus). Within this group we would then find some examples of quite conservative groups that will easily state that they don’t agree with this or that part of the text, since Jesus came to change it. In other groups, you’d find the argument that the early church changed what Jesus said, and they would therefore differ from some parts of the New Testament. The question of why we choose Jesus can be a theological one (or maybe just a deeply personal one), which I believe precede the question of why we read the Bible.
Another answer which might be providing some form of consistency is to state that we read the Bible because the Bible is the book of the church. Our reasons for connecting to the church and choosing to take the church seriously is again a theological question which I believe might precede the question concerning why we read the Bible. The church has made a choice, and the Bible it the book of the church, and therefore we reflect on the Bible as we continue within the tradition of the church. Working from the assumption that this is the text that we need to read and reflect on, however does not necessarily lead us to the point that we need to agree with everything that we find there because that is our final authority, what it does force us into is that the Bible is our primary interlocutor, discussion partner, if we are to continue within the tradition of the church.
Using one of these, or more probably combining them in some creative way, would provide us with a way of honestly stating what we believe, consistently reading and interpreting the Bible, and hearing the voice of the Bible, differing from it at times, and because we are allowed to differ from it we need not force it to say what we want to to say. However, if we lean towards the second (which I tend to do), and incorporate the first within this (which I’m also inclined to do), then I believe that as members of the church, our primary interlocutor, as well as Jesus, which is the event through which we read the Bible, force us into differing from the Bible text.
So in short: If we say that we read the Bible as book of the church which bring us to Jesus, then I think we can argue that we sometimes hear the voice of the Bible, and then state that we differ from it, and that we do this because the Bible and Jesus said that we should do this. Within this I think that we can say that the Bible says, but I say something else, and that this would be the position of the truly faithful, rather than stating that I always agree with the Bible, but forcing the Bible to way what I’d like to way (whether through selective quoting or inconsistent use of “context”), since I still read the Bible for reasons which don’t allow me to acknowledge when I differ from the Bible.
November 29, 2010
I guess the missional reawakening being experienced at the moment can be described as something of the following:
Mission isn’t simply going to faraway countries with nice beaches or forests and preaching the salvation of souls to naked natives (and teaching them not to be naked in the process), mission is asking “what is God up to”, and joining this in my life day to day, and for those Christologically inclined something about the Kingdom of God need to be added.
I guess this is not a bad definition, and Ive preached it myself. Telling people that “life” is mission. It’s about the way I approach my job (no, not about smiling to the secretary, but hopefully about considering whether the work I’m doing is oppressing others, or freeing them), my relationships, you name it. And there is something beautiful about this, if the evangelical in my comes out I’ll say something biblical about this. Live your whole life in the face of God, and participate in the work of the triune God every day. Really beautiful.
Almost too beautiful. But I’ll go with this kind of talk for the moment, obviously assuming that you’ve used you’re “God-given rational mind” and all the tools of analyzing the context and trying to find out what would be “good”, since I confess that God is the source of all that is good.
In this same vein, you find this notion that “God has placed our congregation in this place, and we are called to serve God here”. Again, really beautiful talk. I love it. With one problem: God didn’t put you there.
OK, listen me out before you report the blasphemy.
Did God create the townships? The suburbs? The racially segregated areas in South Africa?
Did God put all the rich people into one security village, and did God appoint those in power who make sure that the beggars don’t bother the taxpayers?
No matter how you interpret “that which we call God”, Christian theology would say “no” to the above questions. This world is broken.
Although I applaud this broader understanding of mission, there is a warning that needs to be heard: God didn’t place you in the suburbs*, in most cases Apartheid did. Mission then becomes the questioning of the systems which give us this nice privileged suburban life, while making sure few enough people have access to it, so that we don’t spread the little capital available too thin. Sometimes mission will imply that we ask whether we should even be in this context.
We might even want to remind ourselves of the old-school missionaries. Those who didn’t accept the context in which God had them to be born, but who felt the call to a different context. Please, let us not imitate them too closely, that the mission of the church has committed it’s own evils is a well-known fact by now. But they might be a nice corrective to those who found that God called them to the suburbs, and understanding mission as keeping this status quo in place.
A third way might be in order: Neither the going to faraway countries with nice heathens and learning them western manners, nor the simple acceptance of the suburb where “God has placed me”. Our task might be to critically ask whether this context should exist, and challenge the structure which create oppressive contexts, not simply fix small issues we encounter within some particular context.
* I’m not on a suburb-bashing mission (no pun intended), but I do believe that serious questions need to be asked about the development of suburbs. Furthermore, I use this example because this is my own context (I live in the suburbs, attend church in the suburbs, preach in the suburbs).
In Violence Zizek points to some questions which again got me thinking about the always persistent notions in Christianity that we have a task to convert the whole society to Christ, meaning that all should become part of the church. He writes:
What if such an exclusion of some form of otherness from the scope of our ethical concerns is consubstantial with the very founding gesture of ethical universality, so that the more universal our explicit ethics is, the more brutal the underlying exclusion is? What the Christian all-inclusive attitude (recall St. Paul’s famous “there are no men or women, no Jews and Greeks”) involves is a thorough exclusion of those who do not accept inclusion into the Christian community. In other “particularistic” religions, there is a place for others: they are tolerated, even if they are looked upon with condescension. The Christian motto ”All men are brothers,” however, also means that those who do not accept brotherhood are not men.
My reflection at this stage does not concern the questions whether this is a legitimate interpretation of Paul, but rather the quote serve to open up questions concerning evangelical universalism.
A distinctive marker of Christianity is the ways in which it created categories for interpreting the act of entering into the faith community which opened up this faith community to all, regardless of culture or background. Obviously Paul’s thoughts was important in this process. I usually describe this to my confirmation classes by saying that the crime that the followers of Jesus, those called Christians, committed against the Jews was to open up the Jewish faith to everyone – they made it too easy to become a Jew. Gone where the days of circumcision, which made it literally painful to become a member once you were an adult (and obviously opened up possibilities for woman to become part of the faith community).
Again similar categories were created within the protestant Reformation, sola gratia, sola fidei. But again the critique from Zizek is applicable, because if membership is sola gratia, but the sola fidei is still a prerequisite, it puts a question mark either on the choice of faith, or on the non-believer. Either you don’t have a choice, or else you’re choice against that which is assumed is open to everyone open possibilities for the most brutal forms of exclusion (and the history of the church is ample examples of this).
However, this is not the only interpretations possible. In an article titled How my mind has changed. Mission and the alternative community*, David Bosch describes his own project from the years 1972-1982 as
What I have attempted to do— not very successfully, I am afraid, judging by the reaction, particularly in the Afrikaans Reformed Churches! — was to build on and develop further the intrinsic similarities that I believe exist between Reformed and Anabaptist ecclesiologies.
He unpacks this by explaining that
The more identifiably separate and unique the church is as a community of believers (Anabaptism) the greater significance it has for the world (Calvinism).
Whether this is what Bosch intended or not, I’m not yet completely sure about, but on a very simplistic level this assumes that church and world can never become the same, that the church should always be but a part of a broader community, and not identifiable as the community**, always smaller than the community, smaller than the world. The experimental garden. The place where things are possible which would not be considered in the world.
How then is this significance for the world to manifest when this community is truly unique?
I suggest that we need a deeper exploration of the idea of public dialogue.
If our own place is understood as part of a broader dialogue, and our contribution to the world and transformation of the world (mission) is found in our uniqueness, it opens up possibilities that this world can contain a place for others. Exactly as a Christian, I can create an openness which recognize the voices of others within this public dialogue, contributing to the positive evolution of society. However, I do this only from a position of faith, of a firm conviction that also the way of the church, in its uniqueness, has significance for the world.
Maybe, in this post-secular world, this could even be done without condescension. Not only could we recognize that certain distinctly different worldviews are siblings of our own (be it the monotheistic faiths, or secularism), but the growing recognition of the important role which for example eastern religions need to play in our time (think of conversations on ecology) also open up the idea of a dialogue where the other need not be defeated, but where uniquely different views are needed in the ongoing dialogue concerning what Christians would call the kingdom of God (that which is the dream of how things could be in this world).
And the church then? Well, we would need to discover and live our distinctness as the community which over the past 2000 years reflected on the tradition which grew out of the life and words of Jesus. For the sake of society we need to contribute from our uniqueness as church.
* Bosch, D. J. 1982. “How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community”, in Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December), pp. 6–10.
** My guess is that chapter 13 of Transforming Mission, and the 1993 chapter in The Good News of the Kingdom: MissionTheology in the Third Millennium titled God’s Reigh and the Rulers of this World both open up the possibility that different church traditions might be appropriate at different times and places. This might open up the possibility of interpreting Bosch in such a way that at times a complete identification between church and community is possible, but as a rule I believe you don’t find this idea in Bosch.
November 8, 2010
Although this is not some amazing theological insight, over the past months I’ve been reflecting on the church more and more as the community of those who continues the work of Jesus. The church is the resurrected community, which exists as embodiment of that which we confess to be God incarnate. But the metaphor is now stretching me into places which I didn’t expect.
We like to think of the church as the resurrected community, maybe keeping pictures of the triumphant Christ that is carrying the banner of victory while the whole evil world lies slain somewhere in the back of our minds. But what about the crucified church? Is the church not to become the crucified community for every generation?
When people stop by with the question: “did Jesus have to be crucified?”, I answer with a “yes”. But this yes can imply two things, and it is the second which I have in mind when I say yes. It can mean “yes” in the determinist way, thus saying that God had the whole life of Jesus planned out, and it ended with the cross, and thus God was the one hammering in the nails, God was Pilate condemning Jesus to be crucified, God was the Jewish leaders conspiring against Jesus, and God was the crowd shouting “crucify him”, because that is what “had to” happen, because “God planned it so”.
But what about this second option: Yes, Jesus had to be crucified, because when the source of all that is good enters this world, then crucifixion is the only option. The powers that be will always crucify the one who embodies that which Jesus embodied. So yes, it couldn’t have ended in any other way. The cross was the only way onto salvation.
But what then about the church? If the church is the be the resurrected body of Christ, the continuation of that which Jesus started, would than not imply crucifixion? Not in the martyr sense where I become the hero who “gave the finger to the man”, but simply facing the reality that where goodness is presented in the face of power, crucifixion is the only option.
I believe in the church crucified. Maybe that will be the church which stand silent in front of those who ask: “are you proclaiming the kingdom of God”, but the church who in its entire makeup shouts against those who misuse power. I believe in that church. The church crucified.