Brad Hightower over at 21st Century Reformation has a few posts up with some good thought on the nature of “the journey”, with consideration of the eccleisiological implications of said nature. From his writings so far, I’ve come to the conclusion that the prior model of church is (ironically) individualistic. Yes, megachurch is individual church. The emerging model is corporate as well as wholistic. Huh? Read on.
In a post from earlier this week, he quotes from a 1998 letter to a friend; the quote ends with this paragraph:
I believe that the present model is a therapeutic model and an individualistic model (which simply does not witness well and does not disciple all that well either.) …In the community model, the values are not ultimately individualistic. Individual sanctification is only a means to a greater end of corporate sanctification. If God’s church is to fulfill His purpose by how it lives harmoniously as a people, loving, forgiving, bearing one another’s burdens, then, if I am leaving church filled with the spirit and the word but without relating to my brothers and sisters, I haven’t done church.
The post just quoted is an addendum to his The Emergent Church Discussion and Ecclesiology, which contends that
the question that true emergent leaders ask is “What does it mean to be the church in the 21st Century?” a secondary question is “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century?” To answer these questions, the emergent leaders have attempted to completely deconstruct the Christian faith. In so doing, many historical fights over doctrine have reemerged.
I agree that the first point of emergent theology to be tackled is ecclesiology this seems obvious by the nature of the conversation and where it started, but it’s worth stating. Unfortunately I think he may be missing something of the necessity of progressing from ecclesiology into other areas of theology. I’m not advocating tossing it all (and I’m not one of the emergent liberals he mentions) but as particular tenets of one’s orthodoxy change, it will affect other areas which are not readily apparent. For example, It took me some years to understand how 4-point Calvinism isn’t fully cohesive without accepting the “L” in TULIP. The emergent conversation may come up with less than a 5-petal theology, but it’ll have to be cohesive and will probably have more lattitude in it than prior theologies (hey, let’s agree on the big stuff and put allowances on the small stuff).
I am in the process of completely re-evaluating my own views on ecclesiology and it’s affecting other areas (don’t worry, not the big stuff). This Thursday evening we met with friends who understand and are to some degree in the same spot, and I explained it as me being in the process of rearranging the furniture. I’m not sure where it’s all going to end up, but some if it is getting tossed out on the lawn… some of that will find its way back into the house, but not all of it. My wife, meanwhile, isn’t sure where to find the end table or the rocking chair, but it’s around somewhere. Probably. At this point in the analogy, a TLC show Clean Sweep was mentioned. In this show, people come into your house and do away with all the clutter it all goes out on the front lawn, and they organize and put it back. Some of it. The rest is sold off in a yard sale, since it’s out at the curb anyhow; the balance probably makes its way to a landfill. So here’s the thing: in moving the furniture, I discover I’ve got a few doctrines I can sell off for a couple of bucks, and I’ve got others that aren’t worth two bits. Problem is that in the midst of the process, I don’t yet know what all goes out with the side-table. I may toss it out and get a new side-table, but other stuff is going with it. Okay, maybe the analogy isn’t a strong one, but I think you get the picture. Theology is (must be) cohesive, and shifting one area has reprecussions in others. Changing ecclesiology may change one’s view of baptism, which may affect one’s view of soteriology. That’s foundational – not must change, but may change. But we start with ecclesiology, where the most obvious difficulties and perhaps the most common ground exists.
In the biblical view, certainly the soul is transformed but it is not to travel to heaven but to participate in a changing community on earth. The journey is the journey of the community of the people of God from the current state to the preferred future of the Kingdom through the encounter with God on earth. This journey is the journey of the people of God on earth into the eschatological future. In this system, the power of God is coming down and redeeming creation not just redeeming the soul. The vital difference is that what is ultimately being transformed is human community and the destination of this community is a preferred state on earth.
This is good thought-fodder (and notice here that a consideration of eschatology is necessitated by a changing ecclesiology)…. refer to the diagram accompanying the above quote in his post. Here it is outlined that Greek (Modern?) view is an individual salvation, moving one personally out of the bad, bad world up to Heaven. otoh, the Hebrew (dare we say postmodern?) view is of the gospel coming from Heaven to affect us corporately in a manner which also translates to the bad, bad world and changing it too. I like that idea. And this whole discusion is probably something an Emergent Society could sink its teeth into.