Friday, May 24, 2013

Prodigal Christianity pt.1

This is part one of a five part series where we will be in dialogue with the book "Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier" by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. Where they are able Fitch and Holsclaw will contribute to this conversation as well.  This post discusses the first two "Signposts" of the missional frontier.

Signpost One: Post-Christendom

Many have observed that we have ventured into a new reality socially.  We no longer view our world the same way our forebears did.  This "new" view affects every aspect of how we engage our culture, money, friendships, communities, education, entertainment, social media, etc.  The term for this new world view has often been called post-modern.  This post modern mindset Fitch and Holsclaw argue has been confronted two ways.  First with a very Enlightenment era apologetics style.  This argument is based on a need to argue from an absolute truth point of view, because post modernism is believed to be too abstract and pluralistic.  In order for people to believe the gospel they first point out truths of scripture and get people to think a certain way.  The second way is through Emergent arguments of revisionism.   In other words the Gospel is true but we have viewed it the wrong way since we first allowed Greek philosophy to enter the Church, we must get back to a more Hebrew mindset that the early Christians had.

Those two models are not prodigal enough for Fitch and Holsclaw.  Instead they observe that we live in a time of post-Christendom.  A time when the church is no longer the center of culture, society, money, and everything else. This former Christendom era ruled the western world from the middle ages through the most recent past. They observe three "post" issues that Christ lived into that we can faithfully live into our post-Christendom world.  The first is post-attractional.  We have moved beyond the time when the church can create a site and expect people to come to it.  Jesus lived post-attractionally by not having a single location where he had crowds come to him. In fact Jesus was always moving people away from physical structures and social ties.  Secondly, we live in a post-positional world.  The church and pastor is not seen as position of authority in any matter, if anything the church and clergy are viewed with suspicion.  Christ came humbly to earth not as a conquering authority but as a humble servant.  We too must engage our communities as humble servants.  Finally, we are post-universal.  In other words we no long have a universal language when we speak about God, Church, Christ, and other matters of faith.  When I mention God or Christ I might have a very specific perspective the person I am speaking with does not.  We might but using the same words but have different meanings.  So in order to understand our culture and the people we are engaging we have to meet them where they are and listen to their stories and understand their contexts.  Jesus did this by spending time with Jews and Gentiles, Tax collectors and prostitutes, soldiers and children.    We cannot answer questions about Christ if we do not know the questions being asked.

There is so many great thoughts in this chapter.  For the sake of brevity I will track one thought.  I agree we are beyond setting up a nice facility, putting up good media, and having the best worship band in town.  But this post-attractional seemed tied to the idea that Jesus moved around and would not allow his disciples to "set up shop" and capitalize on good ministry moments.  I am a firm believer that all ministry is local.  I am a strong supporter of the local church. I am sure Fitch and Holsclaw would agree since they both copastor a local church.  My questions is what is the balance between being post attractional and a local church?  How do we move forward and engage our neighborhoods without setting up shop and putting down roots?  How do we pull away from physical and social structures yet all the while continue to use our local shops, partner with local groups, and engage our neighbors who aren't moving anytime soon?  My favorite quote form the chapter is, "The Word became local, not universal; concrete no abstract...the Word does not come to us as data to a hand held device, but as a hand holding a hand."  How do we remain local yet not be bound by physical boundaries?

Signpost two: Missio Dei

In his recent book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God" Rob Bell makes the very valid point from Signpost 1 and 2 that our language is no longer universal.  When we speak about God or prayer or Church or Jesus with others we might not be actually talking about the same things even though we are using the same words. Bell has always done a marvelous job to reveal the massiveness of the God of the Universe and how he is centered around love and relationship and is pulling us forward.  That future is amazing and beautiful and centered around a large biblical narrative from Gen1-Rev22.  Signpost two Missio Dei begins by pointing this out as well. We must get back to a place where we remember that God not only created the world but also invaded it in Christ.  And beyond that God remains actively involved in the world through the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is not aloof or selectively involved, but rather on Mission or Missio Dei (Mission of God).  This story is unique.  Too often when those who come from a background where God is distant, they tend to move toward a place where God is everywhere.  But there is a big difference between God being everywhere and God being involved in the world.  If God is everywhere then God is nowhere.  But if God has purpose and is working in the world, then now you have a Christian story to live into.  This process requires discernment to see God's illuminating work that is informed by knowing the distinct and unique story of the Trinity working in the world.

The Scriptural moment this Trinity event takes place is represented in Marks account of Jesus' baptism.  God rends open the heavens and declares, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." and then the Spirit descends like a dove.  Father, Son, Spirit all present in a moment.  And at this moment heaven and earth are forever no longer divided.  A new work has begun in Jesus and is sustained by the Spirit.  For Matthew and Luke the story goes back to the David and Abraham and for John it begins "in the beginning."  This is God's mission, always from the beginning God involved and God breaking in.  "This is the defining characteristic of God: God always going, coming, sending in mission...Sending and being sent is fundamental to who God is and what God does." pg 27.  Our task becomes becoming aware of what God is already doing and participate.

This chapter and Signpost is very encouraging to me.  I often preach and teach our churches that we don't bring God into our communities, God is already there, ahead of us, waiting for us to be involved in what God is already doing.  The trick is praying for God to open our eyes, minds, and hearts to be able to notice where God is present and how it fits into his larger Missio Dei.  This is far more encouraging than navigating with signs or north star.  Instead we journey WITH God as he moves forward in the story.

David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw Bio's:
This is part one of a five part series where we will be in a dialogue with "
Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier" by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.  David Fitch is a copastor and founder of Life on the Vine Christian Community in Chicago.  He serves as the B.R. Lidner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.  He has authored six other books as well including "The End of Evangelicalism?" and "The Great Giveaway"  He has a strong web presence as a contributor to websites and blogs regularly at his own siteReclaiming the Mission.  Geoff Holsclaw is also copastor ofLife on the Vine Christian Community in Chicago and also serves as an adjunct professor at Northern Seminary.  Geoff also serves as the Midwest Coordinator for the Eccelsia Network and is regularly seen on the web as well including his blog For Time Being.

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