Friday, May 02, 2008

Capon and Bruggemann: Missionally Marginal/Post Temple Tantrum

Take a moment to process, and go ahead and mentally fill in the blank with your best answer:
"The most effective structure for the communication of the gospel in today's society is ____________."

Thank you~ We will return to that intriguing blank; and compare notes with how Howard Snyder fills in the blank, at the end of this post. Don't peek yet, I am watching! I would love to know if anyone completes it the way Snyder does; or of the way he completes it is the logical conclusion to everything I am about to say.

Today's post is a follow-up to my Tuesday's post (found here).
Because I love the way his brain works (and especially his heart); I was glad Len responded (here)
tomy challenge to him to respond regarding whether Freeman and Grieg's statement (in bold below) assumes far too much, and at worst could become a deadly self-fulfilling prophecy:

"There are (at least) three major expressions of Christian community down through the ages: congregational,apostolic, and monastic....We are most comfortable, Johnstone says, with the congregational model that (by definition) gathers people in certain places and times and therefore tends toward an emphasis on building and programs. Congregations will probably always be the predominant expression of church, funtioning effectively as a wineskin for many of God's blessings and as an agency for the advanvement of the kingdom of heaven."

I am concerned about trusting and blindly assuming the clause in bold print; though thankfully the second clause of the sentence qualifies "congregation" as a wineskin for many of God's blessings, not wineskin for all of God's blessings.

But does church=congregation? And what qualifies as "congregation"?

I can settle for the primacy of congregation, as long as such does not equate the concept with all that post-Constantinian and modernity-centered USAmerica has made it, and as long as it its DNA resounds missional and and reverberates Missio Dei.

Len brings into the conversation two of my favorite provocatuers: Capon and Brueggeman.
Processing Len's thoughts on these two thinkers is hugely helpful in discerning where our particular community (uh, congregation) is in the adventure of becoming even more of what we already are:

  • missionally marginal (not to be confused with its evil counterfeit, "marginally missional")

Capon stirs us up to consider the first; Bruggeman imaginners and midwifes teh second.

Capon's chapter that Len quotes...on possible models for church, concluding with the preferred "marginal model"... has been so formative and foundational to us that we read it (and let it read us) in our gatherings at crucial and critical junctures (liminal seasons) in our congregational journey: times when we are about to move from one temporary "home" for our corporate gatherings to another place and space.
We have part of it posted on our "Risky Reading" website here.
Suffice to say we have read it often; even last month.

Somehow reading it afresh through Len's lenses has kickstarted some questions about how this inevitably connects our


to our

Third Place missional desires.

A marginal church doesn't sound like it would be very attractive to outsiders (But whoever said we were called to do that? Not Jesus). But being marginal/liminal AND being/BY being missional, that may be accidentally and outragreously attractive.

In "The Forgotten Ways" Hirsch details "Third Place Communities" in Tasmania , Australia:

This group of Jesus's people refuse to gather as God's people in sacred isolated space Rather they exist to incarnate and do misson in "third places", where people hang out in their spare time. So they gather in pubs, sports clubs, play groups, interest groups, subcultures, etc... and people look in on what they're doing. By deliberately choosing to hang out in'be church' in public spaces. the group has to be constantly attentive to its missional context. (239)

This is where we are headed.

But I need to remember that no matter how transparent an inviting our literal window to Olive Ave looks to me; it is thick and might as well be brick to the passerby...unless we are actually attractive by being mostly missional.

And I dare not think or communicate that we have "arrived" simply because we no longer have pulpits or pews...or a building . Everyone knows that couches are the new pews; a stool is the new pulpit. And weigh this:

"Their Bibles are more underlined than other people's. They showboat their way up to the stage where the pulpit used to be....And they like being called doctor...they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matt 23:7-12

In the old days, this had to be accomplished by means of respectful titles like "Rev." But nowadays, in these egalitarian times, the attitude of spiritual conceit has had to be a a little more creative,a nd a pastor shows his prowess in humility by asking people to call him "Joe". Behind the scenes, he is a fierce, hard-driving CEO,and reads those CEO
magazines, and acts like a CEO on airplanes, right down to ogling the flight attendant in first class. But out in front of the congregation, sitting on that stool, fitted out in a Mr. Rogers cardigan, he is open, transparent,and shares the
s truggles of his heart--the struggles of a simple guy...named Joe. He is about as deep as a wet spot on the pavement.

-Douglas Wilson,
A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking...p. 36

Capon notes there is "just too much corporate baggage" with all the other models he surveys...except the marginal model.

But even in our lowkey model can be latchkey; nothing necessarily changes because we have traded our pews for couches and pulpits for stools. The system is decidedly not the solution; but even our more systemic model can court systemic evil at its most insidious.
And unless we cotstantly, intuitively re-member everything that Bono knows, and we don't("No 'them,' only 'us'");
marginal and missional churches can catch koinonitis as well:

Recently a couple whose culture and race are not Anglo/Nordic but who speak only English visited a Mennonite Brethren Church. They were attracted to it, but were politely informed that there was a church of their own culture nearby where they would feel more at home.

“Thank you very much,” was the gracious reply, “but we don’t speak the language of the people there.”

This incident could have been a sincere desire to help, but when it was repeated for three consecutive Sundays, the couple concluded that that church believed that ethnic purity was a Christian value and a requirement for membership. Of course they did not return...

...It is a difficult thing to distinguish culture from Christianity. Unless it is done, however, churches are bound to exclude some peoples whom God has accepted. Exclusivism and discrimination is an integral element of the believers’ church, but how exclusive should this be?...

Attitudes and practices of inclusivism within the church are from God. All exclusivism based on racial, language, or cultural differences is from the Adversary.
The Role of the Church in a Pluralistic Society, Leslie E. Mark,
DIRECTION, pril 1983 · Vol. 12 No. 2 · 7-14

Then Len moves onto Bruggeman, drawing from Chapter 7 of " Cadences of Home." Bruggeman also surveys models, before recommending to our day and age a shift from temple to text; parallel to postexilic Israel. I quote below from his Theology Today article on this theme:

"There is no one single or normative model of church life. It is dangerous and distorting for the church to opt for an absolutist model that it insists upon in every circumstance. Moreover, we are more prone to engage in such reductionism, if we do not keep alive a conversation concerning competing and conflicting models. Or to put it positively, models of the church must not be dictated by cultural reality, but they must be voiced and practiced in ways that take careful account of the particular time and circumstance into which God's people are called. Every model of the church must be critically contextual....

....(Post-exilic) circumstance, therefore, required a shift from a temple-royal-prophetic community to a textual community, which struggled with the text in all its truth and in all its dangerous subversiveness, continually witnessing to another mode of reality.

...we (too) are in a time when our alliance with the dominant culture is being broken, whether the power of the temple is broken, whether the empire is indifferent or hostile, whether the prophets lack a partner in confrontation. This
argument receives support from three sources at least:

(1) The collapse of modernity is a crucial theme in much contemporary social analysis. We have to face the fact that our dominant models of church have been fashioned for modernity and depend on its presuppositions, presuppositions that no longer prevail.

(2) It is clear that conventional kinds of theological speech are no longer accepted as "public speech." That is, civic leadership is not in any serious way any longer formally committed to established church rhetoric, so that appeals from our tradition are less and less significant politically.

(3) Many of our young (particularly the young of good liberals, but not only the children of liberals) have only the vaguest idea of what we intend in our faith.

A move from temple to text, requires a reconsideration of our social location, of the resources on which we can and must count, and of the work we have to do about the infrastructure that has largely collapsed. While we may find "wilderness-exile" models less congenial, there is no biblical evidence that the God of the Bible cringes at the prospect of this community being one of wilderness and exile, Indeed, this God resisted the temple in any case (cf. IISam. 7:4-7). In the end, it is God and not the Babylonians who terminated the temple project. In the face of that possible eventuality in our own time and circumstance, the ways for the survival of an alternative imagination in an alternative community call for new strategies.

If God "doesn't cringe" at our wilderness-marginality; and as God himself backed the temple tantrum; I feel better. And I love the though of moving from temple to text. I love all the talk about new strategies and imagination.

But to be found both "engaged to Jesus and engaging culture," I now fear that we must pray and work harder and more creatively at rebuilding alterative community with a radically empire-exorcising ethic.

And I know that starts with me.

And with the most revolutionary/counter-revolutionary force that God Almighty has on the face of the earth; which is....


Well, which brings us full circle to our fill in the blank exercise.

Get ready to compare notes.

"The most effective structure for the communication of the gospel in today's society is.."

Hold your breathe, tap a drum roll, and scroll down..

"....a small group of eight to twelve people meeting informally in homes."

(Howard Snyder, "Radical Renewal:The Problem of Wineskins Today," (p. 149)

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