05 November 2005

Rethinking dualities

Upon reflection, I'm a little concerned by some of the lines I drew in my last post.
  • I implied (as I perhaps have in the past) that liberal mainliners tend not to have a sense of outward-directed mission in the world. But that's not exactly true; many liberal mainliners have a strong sense of this, but it tends to be limited in concept to work for social justice, peace, ecological stewardship, etc., not proclamation of the good news of Jesus' saving work.
  • I may have implied that conservative evangelicals do tend to have a well-developed sense of mission. I think that, as broad generalizations go, this is true, but to make another such sweeping statement, I think their concept of this mission is often also limited: it includes only proclamation of Jesus' saving work, and that only on an individual basis (saving individual souls from hell). It tends to ignore the world-transforming scope of Jesus' message of the inbreaking Kingdom of God, and the implications for Christian concern for things like, well, social justice, peace, and ecological stewardship.
  • In reality, I think both ends of this spectrum can have a sense of mission, but it tends (in my opinion) to be a limited, reductionist one that doesn't take a full account of the Gospel. And I would go so far as to say that one of the chief failings on both sides is a lack of deep study and reflection on the "both now and not-yet" character of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spent his ministry proclaiming and demonstrating. I think we all need to return to a careful study of the life and teachings of Jesus, in the light of the lives and teachings of his followers, both in biblical times and through the ages. (Incidentally, I think this is exactly what those Missional Church theologians are doing.)
  • In regard to practice, I may have implied that liberal mainliners are more likely to be grounded in a life of spiritual practice than conservative evangelicals. Again, that's a caricature. Evangelicals tend to be much stronger in certain important practices, such as regular Bible study, than mainliners. And they may pray more, though their sources and modes of prayer may be more limited and less embracing of the long Christian tradition. And plenty of mainliners (including a shocking percentage of pastors, according to a statistic I recently heard) have no regular habit of spiritual practice.

So I just wanted to confess to having set up some false (or at least artificial) dualities for rhetorical purposes. I've made some generalizations in this post that repeat that sin. So please take my verbal diagrams with a grain of salt; my real point, again, is that in my pursuit of being an authentic follower of Jesus I need to be both missional in motivation and intentional in practice.

Another confession: I fear that this blog has gotten too intellect-oriented, dense, and philosophical again lately. Sorry, my head was full coming back from that conference, and I had to let it out. (Also, I've been sick, so I've had lots of time to blog.) Anyway, the next post will be a more contemplative reflection on my worship experience at Solomon's Porch, a warm and welcoming emerging church in Minneapolis. Thanks for bearing with me.


Matthew Celestine said...

I guess I am a bad, wicked old Conservative Evangelical. I do not believe that the Church has any world-transforming message to proclaim. I believe that the establishment of the Kingdom of God has been postponed until the Premillennial return of Christ.

Mike Croghan said...

Well, I'd venture that you're probably no more bad or wicked than the rest of us, but I would submit that passages like Mark 1:15 (the first recorded words of Jesus' public ministry) and Luke 17:21 lead me to think that the Kingdom of God was something that started when Jesus walked the earth, far from being postponed. Although other passages (and, well, the obvious evidence gained by looking around the world on any given day) make it clear that the Kingdom isn't *fully* established yet. Hence "now and not-yet".

This doesn't diminish the eschatological hope for the day of the Kingdom's full reality on earth as it is in heaven, but it does place on us a burden to do as Jesus did and demonstrate the Kingdom's reality in the here and now through proclamation/Storytelling, healing, welcoming outcasts, and speaking truth to power regarding issues of social justice and peace. None of that is more or less than what Jesus himself did when he walked the earth.