According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, May 2, 2011

Theology & Church After Google 5/6

by Tripp Fuller
April 19th, 2011

Theologians, Pastors, and Church Leaders in The Google Age

I first really grasped the idea of pastors as hosts in a conversation with Spencer Burke, and it has turned my understanding of Christian leadership upside down. Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life—or the activities that transform our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our God. It could be an older Christian who convenes discussions at a church, a house, or a pub. It could be Shane Claiborne leading an activity at The Simple Way on Potter Street in Philadelphia—perhaps gardening in the communal garden—that gives you a sense of community that you’ve rarely had but always longed for. It could be a website or a blogger that you frequently go to, where you read others’ responses and add your own thoughts. Christian leadership is about enabling significant community around the name of Jesus, wherever two or more are gathered in his name.

The new models of emerging leadership in emerging communities deserve a whole article just for themselves. These new leaders are those who discern; they see, state, and honor the spirituality within those they meet – both inside and outside the church. They are “cultural creatives,” able to hear and interpret the pulse of our age. They are scouts for discovering existing communities and hosts for the emergence of new communities. There are the bridgers of conversations. They are lovers of what the church has been and welcomers of what she is becoming.

Above all else, though, they remind me of a great hostess. She makes the guests comfortable; she anticipates their needs. She matches folks up and gets the conversations started, though she doesn’t need to place herself in the middle of each one. She leads by example, often by establishing an atmosphere or an ethos that fosters deep sharing. And, at her best, she transforms the lives of those whom she hosts. I cannot think of a better model for leadership in the church after Google.

Note that a whole new set of spiritual disciplines is implied by (and required for!) this new model of Christian leadership, including the spiritual disciplines of coming alongside (cf. Parcletos, the name for the Holy Spirit in John 14), listening, sitting with hard questions, and thinking (and living) “in the gray.”11 It is, in short, the spiritual discipline of Hermes: translating the language that nurtured us into the language of those around us. Note also that Hermes did his “ministry” not on Mt. Olympus but in the “secular” spaces of this world, far from the sacred halls.

Although many authors, especially in the emerging church movement, have developed the notion of pastor as host, almost no one has explored what it would mean for theologians to understand themselves as hosts. Here’s the idea: Traditionally, the theologian was the “keeper of the faith.” He (I use the pronoun advisedly) was responsible for doctrinal purity; it was his task to make sure that what folks got in sermons and Christian books was “the faith once given.” Of course, there were some interpretive issues that had to be worked out, and the faith had to be applied to the specific challenges of one’s own day and age. Yet this task was held primarily as the trust for a professional class within the church, the pastors and theologians.12

The theologian who wants to participate in and contribute to discussions about faith today has a very different set of job requirements. She certainly is not the lecturer who conveys traditional answers and then sends people off to the examination room. But nor is she expected first to listen patiently as the group does its exploring, and then to close the discussion with her pronouncements on what people should actually think about these questions. (Note, however, that this second role is a vast improvement on the first; would that we had more theologians even willing to go this far!) Instead, her most effective role is as a convener of and participant in the discussions.

It obviously requires some significant humbling to take up this new role and to carry it out with enthusiasm, with grace, and in an edifying way. I happen to think that that sort of humbling should lie at the very center of a Christ-shaped ministry. Call it the kenotic theological method, one shaped by and around the self-emptying Christological picture of Phil. 2:5-8. Note that many of us who pursue the kenotic theological method today, often with fear and trembling, do so not because we think all previous theologies were misguided and because we hope to remake Christianity in our own image. To the contrary! Many of us are convinced that the only way to rekindle interest in core theological questions, to enable the sort of discourse that will help people work their way to something like a Christian world view, is to foster the kind of open discourse that allows them to explore the questions themselves. As the old saying goes, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it never was.”

But don’t underestimate the human ability for self-deception! We often think that we are being fantastic listeners and open to the flow of the discussion, when in fact we are dominating the airwaves and holding the reins of the outcome tightly in our hands. It is essential to solicit regular, honest feedback about the role that one is actually playing. It is frequently humbling to experience what that feedback actually says. Yet the few times that one succeeds are immensely encouraging.13

In the book that Tripp Fuller and I just published, Transforming Christian Theology, we argue that theology is about attempting to answer the Seven Core Christian Questions. These questions have impressive-sounding names: the doctrine of God (theology proper), anthropology, soteriology, christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Theologians will recognize the source of these “core questions” in the first systematic theology of the Reformation, Philip Melanchthon’s Loci communes theologici (1521). But they are really just the simple, recurring questions that every Christian wonders about as he or she struggles to be a Jesus disciple: Who is God? What are human beings? How are we separated from God, and how can that separation be overcome? Who is Jesus Christ? What or Who is the Spirit? What is the church, and what should it be doing? And what is our hope for the final future of the cosmos and humanity?

These questions do not have to be discussed in esoteric debates sprinkled liberally with Greek and German technical terms. The most humble attempts to answer these questions, in word and action, are as authentically theology as are the rarified debates within the Ivy Tower—indeed, they may be more authentic than what academic theologians do. Call it the Theology of the Widow’s Mite. What matters is that the broadest possible range of people is given the opportunity to reflect on, debate, and make up their minds about the questions that are fundamental to Christian self-understanding.

Some people who read the book will come down to the “left” of where I am as a theologian, others to the “right” of me. But those theologians after Google who follow the kenotic methodology don’t see it as their primary job description to make sure that everyone lands at precisely the same point of the theological spectrum that the theologian herself inhabits. The ongoing formation of Christian identity in a complex, multi-faceted world—and the individual’s decision about that identity—is for us the primary calling.

Can you pursue this kenotic methodology also in your written work? It is fairly obvious that popular books, articles, and especially blog posts can utilize this kenotic approach. (In fact, books and articles that do so are generally far more effective and far more widely read than those that follow the old model.) But even in academic writing it is possible to make one’s suggestions and proposals in a manner that is guided by the questions, rather than conveying only the certainty that one possesses the answers. I suspect that a survey of publications in theology over the last ten years would show that the most interesting and effective publications were those that worked out of intense and urgent questions rather than out of the guiding framework of a specific set of answers.



11 Still classically formulated by Paul Tillich in Dynamics of Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 1957).

12 It still surprises me to see how little interest there is today in the classic creeds and their traditional interpretations. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that more liberal mainline churchgoers would not consider themselves bound by the past conclusions. But one finds less and less interest even among evangelical pastors and church members today. To teach the doctrinal loci with the expectation that the members of one’s class will simply write them down, memorize them, and begin believing them is unrealistic. (Not even seminary students are willing to do this!) But one does find an amazing number of people, many of them outside seminaries and churches, who are interested in the questions that the creeds addressed. They want to explore the traditional questions in the context of today’s issues, and they want to do it with the freedom to explore, question, reject, and reconstruct.

13 I remember once bumping into one of fourteen students in such an experimental group about a year after our class met. Her words were perhaps the most gratifying I have ever heard from a student: “Oh, weren’t you in my class last year?” The fact that she remembered me as a participant and not as the controlling agent was exactly the outcome we were hoping for.

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