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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Emergent and Evangelical Churches See Themselves in a World of Servitude and Politics

To Kyle's article below I can only applaud his wisdom and humble understanding of what the church of God truly is. Well done!

R.E. Slater
July 9, 2011
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No Power? No Problem: Reflections on Evangelicals and Influence

by Kyle Roberts
posted June 28, 2011

Is evangelicalism losing influence in the United States? Yes, answer a majority of Global North evangelical leaders surveyed at the recent Lausanne conference on evangelism.

The suggestion is not a shocking one to anyone familiar with the ebb and flow of the movement in its contemporary forms. But the gloomy outlook of evangelical leaders provokes a good bit of reflection (in particular when you compare the pessimism of Northern hemisphere evangelicals to the optimism of their Southern hemisphere counterparts).

A majority of global North evangelicals (54%) believe that in five years the situation for evangelicals will be either worse than now (33%) or about the same as now (21%). By comparison, 71 percent of leaders in the Global South believe the state of evangelicalism will improve. Yet the finding that most fascinates me relates to perceptions of evangelicalism's influence. In the North, only 31 percent of leaders expect to see evangelical influence grow, compared to 66 percent who expect evangelical influence to diminish. In the South, 58 percent expect an increase while 39 percent expect a decrease in influence.

What shall we say to this?

As Samuel Johnson noted, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." A perception of impending doom or coming decline forces those invested in that declining movement to gather their thoughts, re-focus their vision, and change course as necessary.

When the picture is accepted for what it is, rather than explained away as a series of anomalies or misinterpretations of data, then people can begin to shape creative solutions and re-imagine their future.

The question cannot simply be: How can evangelicalism recover its social influence? For one thing, the definition of the term evangelical is no longer stable. What counts as evangelical, on what basis, and who decides? The increasing ethnic diversity of American evangelicalism is complicating the picture. New studies show increasing diversity in how evangelicals, particularly younger ones, approach social issues, with homosexual marriage being the obvious current example. With such diversity underlying the movement, how can its social influence be measured?

But a deeper question remains. Could a decline of evangelical influence be a good thing for the gospel?

What is the task of the followers of Jesus? What is our vocation? Jesus said it is to be "the salt of the earth," the "light of the world," and a "city on a hill" (Mt. 5:13-14). Evangelicals have often brought to these images the assumption that saltiness and brightness = power as a voting block and a lobbying force. But those assumptions misconstrue the nature of the ecclesia, the gathering of disciples that seeks to follow Christ in the world and that understands its calling to suffering on behalf of and for the church (Col. 1:24) for the sake of the world (Mt. 28).

We too often measure the role and influence of the church with the barometers of the modern corporation or political program, barometers that are foreign to Jesus and the gospels. We too often gauge "success" by the extent to which our collective voice reinforces a particular, homogenous vision of life and minimizes our discomfort with difference and otherness. Evangelicals have too often seen ourselves as purveyors of a product or an ideology. Perhaps the better way to conceive of the church's identity and mission is as a diaspora: a scattered faithful remnant who seek to be servants of the gospel through the loving, gracious, non-coercive acts of witness. We are called to live out the implications of the gospel with humility and hospitality, pointing to the source of hope in Jesus.

Perhaps the evangelical church in the United States should embrace a decline of social influence in order to be God's elect who suffer in and for a broken world. When the church as an institution is perceived as powerful, it is often prone to triumphalism, exclusion, and self-preservation. As Karl Barth reminded us, the vocation of Christians and of the church is simply to serve the world by witnessing to the gospel. Since Pentecost, there has always been a historical church (in whatever form) to serve in this way. God uses the Church (including evangelical churches), but he doesn't require it. As Barth put it, "God does not belong to the Church" (The Epistle to the Romans [Oxford 1933, trans. Hoskyns], p. 339).

In the midst of this mainly gloomy picture of the Church lies a hopeful point: it is precisely because of its guilt, its transience, its negative instrumentality that the church plays a central role in God's economy of revelation, salvation, and reconciliation in the world. The way forward is to give obedient witness to the paradoxical reality of God's grace as manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

It is not for us in the North to surmise what Christians in the Global South should make of the optimism of their leaders toward the future of their evangelical movements and their influence in society. But here in the United States, perhaps we should embrace the apparent impending decline in social influence as an opportunity to follow Jesus to the margins of society. Furthermore, perhaps we should embrace an increasing diversity within evangelicalism itself as a fruitful development toward serving a complex, variegated world.

North America sits at the center of a shift from modernism to postmodernism to whatever comes after that (if that hasn't already come). Ours is a world shot through with plurality and difference, fragmentation and fissure, indeterminacy and openness. How can we speak the gospel into a world bereft of unity, stability, meaning, and hope? Only through the posture of witness and "faithful presence," a presence that is self-consciously fragile enough to engage the world without breaking it further. We are pots of clay. We are witnesses to the Gospel of grace. That's all.

The Church is vastly bigger than evangelicalism. And the kingdom of God is bigger than the Church. This means that any decline in evangelicalism's power and influence does not signal the end of God's work. But it may be that through recognition of our declining influence and by the practice of witness we can find God at work in us and through us in greater ways than we could have imagined.

Kyle RobertsKyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture. Follow Kyle Roberts' reflections on faith and culture at his blog or via Twitter.

Roberts' column, "Theological Provocations," is published every second Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

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