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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Missional Week in Review, August 13-19, 2012: The Darkwoood Brew Chronicles

We had some fun last night on Darkwood Brew, ( the internet program that combines ancient Christian practices with some "post-modern" ways of reading scripture and being the people of God in the world. Last evening, Brian McLaren and Eric Elnes talked about how they saw the Spirit of God converging into new patterns and shapes of Christian life together. Although I am at the studio where the show originates, I spent last evening on the live chat talking with the 35 people or so who were engaged in the conversation through that avenue. I want to highlight some things I found important in the conversation as to how we can follow the life and being of God in the world through Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit.

"Modernism is dead" and as Brian McLaren pointed out, if it is dead so are the two main theological responses to modernism: liberalism and fundamentalism. (He borrowed heavily from Nancey Murphy's work on this topic). This is important for us because if modernism is dead, then liberalism and fundamentalism as they have come to be ossified are no longer completely legitimate ways to deal with our religion. So convergence, as McLaren and Elnes talked about it, is not strictly a religious nor theological response of current Christians to God, but rather to the world. The example McLaren gave of people who were forced out of "evangelical" congregations because they would not condemn gays is not a response to God per se, as much as it is a response to a world where gays are no longer condemned. (Remember, I am talking about people for whom modernism is dead, not those who think it is alive and well. I am NOT suggesting no one condemns gays these days, but I am suggesting that those who do are not living in the world I see.) For me, the modern world is passe, and neither liberalism nor fundamentalism is a legitimate Christian response to God's activity in this world. It is pretty apparent God is working and doing great things with gay people, and some congregations would do well to notice and celebrate the work God is doing, not spending their time condemning the people with whom God is participating. Our world changes, and Convergence Christianity is a way of being Christian amidst those changes.

Institutions can be frustrating. On the chat, one of the recurring themes from the people who participated in the program was the frustration we have with institutions. Although, as you can imagine with a religious service on the internet, there were a majority who had given up on any form of institutionalized Christianity, there were many who were struggling with their faith and the institutions which incubated that faith. One of the things to remember (and I am borrowing here from John Zizioulas, the Orthodox theologian) is the importance of Christology and Pneumatology in our faith. That is, BOTH Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work in our faith life, and the way we usually talk about their activities with us is to talk about Jesus as "instituting" our faith, and the Spirit as "constituting" our faith. This being the case, how does Jesus "institute" the institution? How does the Spirit "constitute" the institution? If institutions are frustrating, are they frustrating because they are not "instituted" in a Christ-like way; or, because they are not "constituted" by the Holy Spirit?

Both Elnes and McLaren are concerned with the constitution aspect of local congregations and the Church. Although congregations are instituted with Christ-like principles and values, their constitution of those values and principles are often ignored and down-right lacking. Notice what this means for Convergence Christianity: they are not claiming God is "not there" in local congregations which might disagree with them on an issue, say, gay marriage; rather, they claim God is not "constituted" in such a congregation as it is in congregations that support gay marriage. In other words, congregations are still instituted by Jesus Christ even if they are not all constituted in the same way by the Holy Spirit. This is the beauty of the Triune God.

Although neither McLaren nor Elnes spent time theologically on this idea, it is of vital importance if Christianity is to see how God is at work in the world. As Trinitarian Christians we believe in one God, and that belief stems from a God who will accomplish whatever God proposes to do...however, we believe God has some distinction in how God goes about those activities, and the various peoples of God are evidence that God doesn't necessarily want us all to do it the same way. (Of course, throughout Christian history this has been tough for us to swallow, because we want all Christians to be constituted the same way. But there is no theological necessity for us to believe that just because we all have the same institution {Jesus the Christ} that our constitutions {our lives in the Holy Spirit} must all be the same.) Convergence Christianity may provide a new way to understand the life and power of the Three-personed Godhead.

I look forward to hearing more from people about Convergence Christianity, as it seems to provide not only an accurate way to describe the journey of faith for some people,myself included; but, also begins to highlight the ways in which God is a work in our world today. And that is the single most important thing any theologian can seek. May your tables me full, and your conversations be true.


Eric said...

Nice reflection, Scott! I find the delineation you make between "institution" and "constitution" helpful and will continue to chew on that. The only caveat I would add is that I would not rule out a church being "constituted" by the Holy Spirit even if they did not hold all the values I consider to be quite obviously "of the Spirit" these days, such as LGBT equality. A greater sign of "constitution" by the Spirit to me is a "generosity of spirit" that is so palpable that disagreements about LGBT equality may be more openly addressed because those discussions are taking place on a bedrock of mutual appreciation and respect. If a church affirms LGBT equality but does not appreciate or respect anyone who is honestly trying to be faithful to Spirit but has not come around on this issue, then I don't think that LGBT-affirming congregation is particularly "constituted" by the spirit. I don't think such congregations have any obligation to appreciate and respect belligerent Christians who are certain that homosexuality is a sin and that those who promote LGBT equality are an affront to God. With respect to such Christians, they should "turn and wipe the dust off of their feet." But there is a big difference between those who are of generous spirit and differ in belief, and those who have no such generosity. I say, let's party with the generous-spirited Christians (whose beliefs may differ from ours) and let the ungenerous ones form their own congregations - leaving our doors open in case they change their minds later!

Scott Frederickson said...

Eric, you are right on there, and we assume that any group constituted by the Spirit would exemplify the fruits of the Spirit, especially generosity. Down the road, Convergence Christianity will spend some time delineating the fruits of the Spirit as demarcating the institution rather than an adherence to a set of creeds or dogmas.

Eric said...