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
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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Threatens the Church? Part 2/2

Tribalism Old and New?

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
July 25, 2011


A few days back Andrew Perriman’s blog drew my attention to James K. A. Smith’s complaints about the state of theology nowadays.

Here’s the heart of his assessment:
It just seems to me that we have increasing “balkanization,” with everyone carving themselves up into smaller and smaller tribish enclaves, and then proceeding to both rail against straw men and preach to their own little choirs. In some ways, I think this is an effect of the loss of confessional and denominational identity. Instead of training to be Reformed theologians or Roman Catholic theologians or Lutheran theologians we have a generation who are training to become “ecclesiocentric” theologians or “apocalyptic” theologians or “radically orthodox” theologians, etc.
I cannot help but think that Smith’s assessment boils down to this: “People aren’t playing by the rules of the game that I learned when I learned theology, therefore their game is wrong.”

I find more than a little irony in the idea that a Protestant theologian wants people to get out of their “tribish enclaves” and return to their denominations.

News flash! Denominations are tribish enclaves!

Worse, denominations are ghettos. They are places where people become socialized to a certain way of thinking, a certain way of viewing the world, a certain way of articulating their theology, a certain way of paying their dues so as to ascend to positions of influence and power.

One of the ironies of Smith’s post is that he is writing in response to a graduate student who is upset about the ways that theological labels prevent conversation: if you like person x or don’t like person y, you are automatically celebrated or, as often, persona non grata.

News flash! This is exactly what happens in ecclesial worlds defined by a strong denominational identity. That “thick” theology, as Smith calls is, is nothing less than a thick door that enables us to keep out people who disagree with us. All you have to do is say, “Luther” or “Calvin” or “Barth” or whomever, and we know, without ever having touched the book, that they are to be celebrated or, as often, he is persona non grata.

Deep commitment to denominational identity and being a “churchman” does not produce better theology. It produces a more controllable tribe–one that can be policed by church bureaucracies, one that can be guarded by limiting ordination or snubbing theologians for academic posts should they associate too closely with those “others.”

I do understand the pull and strength of denominational identity. I’ve been there.

But the reason there are so many new tribes is at least threefold, it seems to me:

(1) a new generation is recognizing that those old fault lines are bad ways of splitting up the church;

(2) we recognize that people with whom we differ on “traditional” points of doctrine are nonetheless people with whom we share greater affinity about things that are much more important to the life of the church than what we think about church government or predestination; and,

(3) we see the less-than-Christian dynamics that control the power politics of our denominations and we’re over it.

There is nothing lost, and an infinite amount to be gained by the erosion of denominational identity.

What the power brokers and gatekeepers will continue to see as a fracturing and weakening of the church will continue, for new generations, to prove itself as the only strong and viable way forward.

My own field, biblical studies, is so strong in part because we do not divide and discuss based on theological identities that bind the hands of our exegesis and blind the eyes of our hermeneutics.

Allow the old tribes and their hundreds-of-years-old divisions to die.

Then come, open up your Bible and read with me. And take the bread with me. And sing to God with me. And theologize with me while we serve our One Lord together.


Ed. Note: I know that at this point you probably think JRDK has nothing good to say about denominations and that nobody should be in one. Tomorrow we will revisit the issue and work through why denominations have value for the church and even, at times, for the Kingdom of God.




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