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.
January 9, 2010
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?