Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Were not our hearts burning within us...

...while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

That is the Scripture that came to mind Friday night, and I've been wrestling ever since. That wrestling isn't exactly the reason I haven't posted in a few days. That had more to do with being snowed "in". I thought a bit about blogging on that, but it's just not that big a deal - beyond the fact that they simply don't get out and plough here in Ohio like they do in Southern Ontario, where I grew up.

For those of you who may not have known, Darrell Guder, Academic Dean, Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology - and one of my favourite people at Princeton, was in town as a keynote speaker at a special "Spring Fest" event of the Presbytery of Scioto Valley Saturday. I was set to introduce him and be one of a dozen or more leaders of workshops. Due to the storm, the event was canceled - but not the Friday night dinner. Dr. Guder had flown in ahead of the storm and so the dinner remained - a way for some of us to engage the idea of the "Missional Church" and to hear from him.

While I have no bones to pick with our presbytery, I'm not entirely sure that many are really "on board" with what Dr. Guder is saying - or even know what he is saying. It has (the word "missional") become, I was reminded recently, a "buzz word" among theological circles and within the church. I regret that - as does Dr. Guder and Dr. George Hunsberger - who coined the phrase. But the explosion of interest has outstripped the ability of those who began this conversation - The Gospel and our North American Culture - spawned mainly by a challenge delivered by the late Bishop, pastor, missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin when he looked at the state of the North American church in a post-Christendom situation and asked "What is the Church in N. America going to do to address this changed culture?" The Warfield Lectures he gave in 1984 were eventually expanded and published as Foolishness to the Greeks, The Gospel and Western Culture.

As I sat in that room with pastors and Christian educators, lay leaders and spouses, I was transported back to seminary, when I was under Dr. Guder - I was excited and energized with the gospel - and the mission that we have been called to undertake as Christ's church. The major difference, is that I was now in a church. This was no longer theoretical but real. I was now engaged in this conversation in the context of a living, breathing, community - one called by Christ but one that may not recognize their calling. And I realized that the conversation - the conversation that focuses on HOW we live out our missional calling in the midst of this Western Culture, in the midst of our faith communities - those same communities that now pay us to be (for lack of a better term) - purveyors of religious goods. How now, brown cow?

I want desperately to continue to the conversation. I want desperately to engage in these ideas - to understand how we can be those sent ones we have been called to be. In part, my initial response comes from that passage above - as he... opened the Scriptures to us - and my prayer right now is that I will discover some conversation partners that I can walk with and talk with, right here where I live...


Higgins said...

Hi Don... can you post a little more on what it actually means to be missional? I think the word has been used so much that its really had to tell what it is and is not.

I'd be interested to hear what your thoughts are about how this North American culture has changed and is changing and what we need to do in order to reach this generation (I'm guessing that's the point of being missional).

The other day Mish was reading the Facebook of a pastor friend of ours and she noticed a strange phrase in his description of himself: "post-evangelical wary sojourner". Mish asked me what the phrase meant and I couldn't really answer. The phrase seems to suggest that he may be tired of the evangelical movement and is now moving beyond it as one who journeys through faith. How is that different from being evangelical? I don't know.

But I thought it was somewhat relevant to your post because I have heard about this movement that is vaguely described as the 'emergent' movement and wondered if this is post-evangelicalism and if it is some sort of effort to move beyond an old style and an old way of 'being' church in order to do something new in order to reach a changing culture? Is is just an change of attitude - get your head out of the sand and try something new, cause the old isn't working? I don't know.

At anyrate, once again, my post is beginning to look a little long, so I'll end there for now.

Don said...

Rob - excellent question and worthy of a post all it's own. Before I do that, I'll try to answer that a bit - "missional" while coined here in N. America and as part of a discussion about the Gospel and our culture, is a much broader idea and both deeply theological and deeply rooted in Scripture. It has more to do with the essence of what it means to be the Church - a called and sent community ("as the Father has sent me, so I send you"-Jn 20:21) - than merely a "new way of doing church" - which is more the way the term Emergent is used and "post-evangelical" is often used.

While I can't speak for that pastor, what I've generally understood that to mean is that the term "evenagelical" has been co-opted and no longer refers to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, but references a conservative-socio-political agenda, and the person saying "post-evangelical" - is either saying they want to return to the theological understanding of that term - or they are rebelling against that conservative movement and are journeying out into something different.

You raise some excellent thoughts worthy of a post - thanks!