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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. 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.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking East, Heading West...

I have wanted to write this blog for the past 5 years. Just over 5 years ago, I began this blog in a little office in Beulah, North Dakota. I was recently assigned to be the interim pastor there, and I wanted a place to reflect on theology from the edges of the prairie within which Beulah resided. I wanted to write one blog a week, 52 a year was my goal. Today, for the FIRST TIME in 2012, I have met that goal.

I had a chance a couple of years ago to make 52, but I had left my computer in Bismarck, and got stranded in Fargo over New Year's Eve for three days by a blizzard, and by the time I got back to write, the new year was upon me...and I only wrote 51. Last year, moving to Omaha, and all the craziness of life, I never even came close. But this year? Yes! The goal has been met, and I am proud of myself, and even more proud of you for reading along with me over the years (or days, if you are a newer reader.)

So what has 2012 wrought into the world of missional church theology? I want to highlight three things: 1) Convergence Christianity (and Darkwood Brew); 2) Re-treading the social gospel; 3) a push towards ever-more "realistic theology." 2012 was a good year to be a Christian.

Convergence Christianity and Darkwood Brew

Advocated by people such as Eric Elnes and Brian McLaren, Convergence Christianity seeks to discover how God is bringing people together these days. Dr. Elnes uses the Darkwood Brew ministry to consistently show how Christians who just years (or weeks) ago would have little to do with each other actually have a common ground for their faith in God.  There is a "giving up" and an "embracing" aspect to Convergence that is vital for people to get together. For example, around the issues of gay rights, some Christians have "given up" an previous belief about the sinfulness of gays and lesbians, while gays and lesbians have to "embrace" those who previously condemned them. No one person gives up everything in their faith, and no one embraces everyone who comes their way, but this excluding and embracing (to borrow from Miroslav Volf) is central to Convergence.

I find this metaphor of Convergence powerful as a way to talk about what Christians traditionally call the "Incarnation." I advocate for a radical incarnation (Missional Church in Context), and Convergence gets at that idea. God converges upon humanity in Christ Jesus, not obliterating our humanity, but rather deepening or strengthening our humanness while making us divine. I see a lot of similarity with the Eastern tradition of theosis, and even more with an Augustinian understanding of God's love. If you have only one hour a week to devote to your God relationship (faith), Darkwood Brew may be the best thing going...

SoGo Media

When I left the cozy confines of Hyde Park, Chicago in 1991, I thought I had also left behind the social gospel Christian tradition which was so central to the founding of the University of Chicago Divinity School. I was wrong. Social Gospel craze is catching fire these days, primarily from those who come from traditions that for years were the greatest opponents of the social gospel movement. I am sure Gladden, Rauschenbusch, and for me--Shailer Matthews, would find it ironic, if not a sign of God's humor that a former employee of Billy Graham started a Youtube TV station called SoGo. When Chris Alexander, hosting Darkwood Brew, asked Steve Knight (former employee of Billy Graham), the curator of this new venture what "SoGo" stood for, and he said "Social Gospel, " I almost died. (This would be akin to Bill O"Reilly naming his new book after Rachel Maddow.) This Youtube TV stuff is a great way to expand your table of conversation partners. 

The Social Gospel movement stresses the importance of "doing justice" as a way of being Christian in the world. Not every Christian thinks this is THE most important aspect of Christianity, but that someone is putting new tread on these tires is a sign of its continuing relevance. In a world where children are shot at school, millions more die of treatable diseases because rich people will not share, and where hunger is a daily occurrence for many kids, the social gospel still has something to say.

Realistic Theology

I learned this phrase from Michael Welker, and have always found it a way to get at the kind of theology I find most impressive. It's "realistic" not as some sort of default, or consolation prize, but rather because it searches for reality within its context. This is not to say that we have no "eternal" truths to our faith or to our God, but rather that reality limits us to what we can know, or say about God. But we can say, and know, our relationship with God is real, and we can even describe, illustrate, visualize, and participate in the reality of that relationship. Convergence, for example, is realistic, not because it is "real," but rather because it takes seriously the limitations we have these days--lack of civil discourse on social issues, for example--and within those limitations explores who God is, how God does, and where and when Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit work.

My hope is that we see a lot more of this "realistic theology." After all, that's what this table is for...conversations. And most surprisingly, 5 years in, and we're just hitting our stride.

May your conversations be true, and your tables be full.

1 comment:

Eric Elnes said...

Wow, Scott, besides enjoying the rest of your article (for obvious reasons), but must say that it's really a breath of fresh air to read a blog written by someone who actually knows who Michael Welker is and appreciates his work!