I pointed to some of the things I believe to be key in understanding Transforming Mission by David Bosch in a previous post a few days ago. Flowing from my conversation with Tom Smith last week, I want to point to my new favorite Bosch quotes, and how they help us in understanding Transforming Mission.

Although it is Hans Küng whose theory Bosch use in pointing to paradigm changes in the church, on the phenomenon of paradigm changes, Bosch uses especially the work of Thomas Kuhn. In describing the current paradigm change, which Bosch calls postmodernism. In describing postmodernism Bosch recognizes it as appearing first in the natural sciences:

The first fundamental assault on it (it refers to rationalism from the previous paragraph on this page) did not (as one might have expected) come from the side of the human sciences. It came, quite surprisingly, from the very disciplines where the Cartesian and Newtonian canons appeared totally inviolable: the field of physics. (:350)

Using especially the work of Fritjof Capra and Micheal Polanyi, both who were initially specializing in the natural sciences before writing works of importance to philosophy, he then describes the emerging “model or theoretical structure, or a new “paradigm”” (:184). Although this is a topic for another day, I believe his strong reliance on those in the natural sciences provided for a more robust understanding of postmodernism.

It is the following quotes that I’d like to point to:

Rationality has to be expanded. One way of expanding it is to recognize that language cannot be absolutely accurate, that it is impossible finally to “define” either scientific laws or theological truths. To speak with Gregory Bateson, neither science nor theology “proves”; rather, they “probe”. This recognition has led to a reevaluation of the role of metaphor, myth, analogy, and the like, and to the rediscovery of the sese of mystery and enchantment. (:353)

… the authentic Christian position in this respect is one of humility and self-criticism. After the Enlightenment it would be irresponsible not to subject our “fudiciary framework” to severe criticism, or not to continue pondering the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be” (:360)

And yet, even as we are “humbly acknowledging the uncertainty of our own conclusions”, for a “fudiciary philosophy does not eliminate doubt”, the Christian continues to hold on to unproven beliefs. It is precisely such a self-critical posture of faith which may protect us against the “blind and deceptive” nature of a “creed inverted into a science”. A post-Enlightenment self-critical Christian stance may, in the modern world, be the only means of neutralizing the ideologies; it is the only vehicle that can save us from self-deception and free us from dependence on utopian dreams. (:361)

Within Bosch’s argument, it would seem to me that the pages from which the above quotes come is key to understanding his hermeneutical presuppositions. Missing these thoughts might lead us into literilizing a theological concept such as the “Missio Dei”, which within the postmodern approach of Bosch must be understood as metaphor. Missing these thoughts can also cause us to misuse Bosch to create another triumphant Missiology that make claims of providing the final and only possible solution for humankind, whether in this world or outside of it.

From Bosch we must construct a Missiology which self-critically holds to unproven beliefs, and recognize them as such, always holding to the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be…

We cannot do other but use metaphorical language in our search for God. We find the use of metaphors in the Bible. And although I’m no anthropologist, I think I might be right in saying that metaphors was part of our thinking about spirituality since the first time the spark of God tingled the imagination of humans.

Metaphors can break open new perspectives on God, on religion, spirituality, and actually on many things in life. Metaphors can also be dangerous. Maybe it’s exactly because of the power of a metaphor that it can be so dangerous. Dominic Crossan use the example of Hitler’s use of metaphors when talking about the Jews in a video clip I once saw on Youtube. Hitler didn’t start out by saying that the Jews should be killed, no, he started by saying that the Jews are cockroaches. Once this metaphor was part of the thinking of the German people, the obvious question would then be: “But what do we do with cockroaches?”. OK, obviously this is a great oversimplification of the Holocaust, but you get the point.

I attended a seminar by Alan Hirsch yesterday. I tried blogging about it yesterday, but couldn’t. I must say, although I like Alan’s way of doing things a lot, the seminar was greatly disappointing. It sounded like a constant critique against scholarly theology and all church traditions (he spared the Orthodox people yesterday, but everything from Fundamentalists, Catholics, Pentecostals to Emerging got it). And although I think critical conversation is absolutely necessary, combining this with an approach which claim to have the all the core truths intact (although bypassing the creeds, church fathers, church traditions etc), and will provide a model which will grow the church tremendously and saying that this will only happen if you kill the traditional churches… although I see the critique, I didn’t see critical conversation, because I couldn’t hear the other voices, the voices which he was critiquing yesterday.

He’s use of one metaphor maybe illustrate this very well. It’s also significant, because although I could see weak points in his argument, and even ask some questions to point this out (I think), I couldn’t critique his metaphor, although I had a feeling something was wrong. Only this morning when I was in the shower, and suddenly thought about another metaphor, did I find a way of reacting.

The metaphor was that discipleship (according the him the most important part, beside the belief that “Jesus is Lord”, of what made the early church successful), is like (yes, I know using “like” might mean that it’s not a metaphor anymore, but the way in which this picture underlies much of what he said make me think it’s more metaphor than comparison) a photocopy. If you make a copy of a copy of a copy, after a few copies it would be unreadable, you have to make copies of the original the whole time.

Thus, in discipleship we are to copy Jesus, and not copy other people. We are not to copy church traditions, teachings, mentors etc. We should copy Jesus. Well, if anyone know Alan, and think I’ve missed something, please let me know, but this is how I understood him. But come to think of it, he didn’t mention Paul saying “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”. But OK, didn’t think of that yesterday.

The metaphor seem to work. I mean, we all know that a copy of a copy of a copy result in a very bad copy, in something unreadable. But in nature this doesn’t seem to be the case. A plant, planted from the seed of a plant, planted from the seed of a plant… doesn’t result in an imperfect plant. Any living organism, being born from an organism, which was born from an organism… doesn’t result in an imperfect organism. Even a human, being born from a human, which was born from a human, which was… you get the picture. Actually, making “perfect copies” is the worst way of bringing about new living organisms, whether plantlike of animal like. The way of nature seem to be to mix genes, to learn from different sources, and this result in keeping us “fully human”. Inbreeding is the fastest way of getting mutations, which would bring something about which is not human, or whatever kind of organism you are working with. Inbreeding can also result in extinction very quickly. In The hidden Connections, Fritjof Capra explains this process beautifully.

These two metaphors (another metaphor on the same kind of thing is the baseball metaphor used by Tony Jones) open up very complex (sorry Alan, if ever you read this, but I still think things are very complex, although I agree that the statement “Jesus is Lord” was the central statement of faith for the early church, and thus agree with a lot of other things you are saying) questions. Roger formulated the one in one of the discussion sessions yesterday: So do we read Jesus through the eyes of Paul, or Paul through the eyes of Jesus?

We read Jesus through the eyes of Paul, and of the gospels, and of the New Testament, and the early church, and the church tradition. We cannot do anything else. We cannot get behind our sources (the New Testament, with different books being of differing value in our search, and for some also other sources like Q, Thomas, and other early church documents which do not rely on the New Testament as source), we have no direct contact with Jesus’ preaching. This is not to say that there is no relationship with Jesus, Jesus as God, as the personhood we belief in. But we have no direct access to the human Jesus. We look at Jesus through the eyes of our own preconceived ideas, our tradition, the New Testament.

Only in community I think can we be challenged to look past our preconceived ideas, to challenge our biases, to critically discuss the New Testament documents, weigh them, and sometimes even see their biases and start painting a picture of Jesus which might be closer to the historical Jesus than what we were taught by our tradition. But still we are limited to our sources. We cannot know something apart from our sources. We belief that Jesus was the revelation of God, that we can see something of God if we can see something of Jesus. But we get to the revelation of Jesus through the New Testament, which most Christians would also consider a form of revelation.

Another one would be whether the idea is to make perfect copies of Jesus. Is there only one perfect copy of Jesus, which mean that in the ideal world all people would think in the same way, since they would be the perfect copies of Jesus? Or maybe, this time playing around with the alternative metaphor. Is there certain genes that make me “Christian”, or even “imitator of Christ”, and that these same genes, organized in different ways, can result in different ways of imitating Christ, but which is still an imitation. Oh, and just for interest sake, as far as I understand this, a flaw in the gene in one generation does not mean that the same flaw is for ever etched into the species, over generations genes can be again be “corrected”. In bacteria there is even the capacity to get genes from another organism in the lifetime of the bacteria, which mean that genes is not necessarily final after birth. But OK, maybe I’m pushing the metaphor too far myself right now.

OK, this is a long post, but in summary: This post bought together a lot of my thoughts. One: Truth is relational, only in relation do we arrive at truth. We need the wide base to get a healthy theological gene pool. Yes, sometimes the organism, the church (seen as broadly as you possibly could), may work out genes which is considered dangerous. But one person cannot decide to get rid of this gene, this can only happen relationally.

Two: We need to understand things historically; we need to understand the history of our genes. In this way the function of a certain gene, which might have disappeared in one generation, can reappear again. The gene is still part of the organism, although we might not see it at a specific moment, or it might not manifest in a specific generation. But we are limited to our sources, we don’t have a “perfect copy of the genes of Jesus”, we only have a window onto the early church and there perspective of Jesus, from this we learn.

Three: We need to listen to different theological traditions. Not only the historical ones, but also emerging theologies (not only those identifies with the emerging church, also third world theologies and other non-western voices).

Four: One of the things that may come out wrong with my use of the metaphor is that the organism would always be fine. No, I think the organism can sometimes malfunction greatly; the organism would not always be perfect. Sometimes the organism needs to pull on it’s great gene pool of many generations to help it survive in a certain time, to help make corrections to it’s current organization of genes…

But hey, truth is relational, it happens in community. So how about you critique my organization of genes (memes?), help me see where I’m missing it, where my metaphors are helpful, what the limits of the metaphor is, where I’m pushing it too far.

It’s quite a hectic time at the moment. Will be preaching twice on Sunday (all my respect to those of you who have to do this every week), and since we are busy with a series where similar sermons are preached in both our services, I have to finish my one sermon by tomorrow to send it to the other guy that will be preaching. What’s worse is that he has been a pastor for 40 years or something, and I just started out, so it’s kind of a stressful idea!!!

What’s more I’ll be having a meeting tomorrow about this years Engineering Ethics, a course at the university where I’m part of the team teaching and facilitating discussions. So the lecturer asked if I’d bring along my ideas for possible work we could add/change to/in the curriculum, especially with regards to Ecological Ethics, which we would like to give higher priority this year. I’m thinking about the first chapter of Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life, but it contains a lot of philosophy which I’m not sure what the Engineering students will make of. So, if you have any ideas which might help, and you can let me know within the next 12 hours, I’ll appreciate it. I’m looking for something scholarly, something radical, something ecological, and something the lay reader can understand (The average engineer isn’t that interested in philosophy or ethics).

OK, a question. What’s the relationship between discipleship and the church? I’ll be preaching on discipleship and biblical formation on Sunday (again, I have about 18 hours to finish my draft on this sermon), and as I was working this afternoon, some questions arised.

Discipleship is not coming to church, but it’s going into the world. What do we do when we go into the world? Where is the world? Is the church part of the world? Sometimes I wonder why even keep the church? Well, it seems like the task of the church would be to prepare people for discipleship; I get this mainly from Matt 28 (read the thoughts of David Bosch in Transforming Mission on this), go and teach what you have learned from Jesus; Jesus made disciples, now go and make some more, to make more, to make more? No, to do what Matthew wrote in his account of Jesus from chap 1-28, to take part in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, to heal, bring hope, feed to poor, look after the vulnerable etc etc. Why have another sermon on this? What do I say when I have another sermon on this? Can the church actually “train” people in discipleship? Is biblical formation and discipleship the same thing? Is discipleship and making disciples the same thing? Maybe biblical formation and disciples, or making disciples is supposed to be the same thing, but do we use this terminology for the same thing in our churches?

I’m reading Emerging Churches by Gibbs/Bolger, especially chapters 3 and 4, as part of my preparation. Is this the answer? Should we close down church and start alternative communities? What about the millions in traditional congregations who will never fit into new models, are they “lost for discipleship”? Is discipleship possible in a traditional Reformed congregation? What about in a hip mega-church? Bring back the question, in what way is discipleship (or making disciples ) and church linked at all?

Well OK, have to go now, I’m having dinner with some nice people from the congregation. A technical error (I’m sure the database we are using has some programming error) caused me to phone the wrong person to sympathise with a husbands death. As Murphy would have it, this person had a brother with the same name as the dead husband, and I left a message just to say that I heard, and would call later. She got it, thought her brother died, then found out he was alive bla bla bla. You can imagine the bad experience it must have been! I felt very bad. So actually I just wanted to go and say sorry, but, in spite of my horrible mistake, the nice people are giving me some food (which is great if you are in bachelorhood!)