Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Meaning of History at St. Arbuck' 3 Easy Strands

Maybe the beloved biblical maxim about a strand of three cords not being easily broken is not just for marriages anymore.

And maybe it will work in my favor here.

All (!) I want to do in the next few (!) minutes is string together three strands; and note how they interrelate/intercalate, dovetail/Dovetail and form/inform each other:

  • 1.) The emerging consensus of missiology preceding ecclesiology
  • 2.) Quantum loops and the emergence of spacetime and gravity
  • 3.) The epistemological emergence of consciousness/soul

All right, for the three of you still reading(:.........

At least the common word "emergence" has tied all three together. But isn't it obvious (or is
Tim correct in his analysis of me: "you always push toward the unobvious") that all three phenomena are versions of (strand-ed together by) the same meta-phenomenon (that being: the meaning of history)?

Okay, for the two of you still reading...

This morning at St. Arbuck's I asked the ever prophetic subversive punster Keltic Ken (from Klovis) the question that everyone at every table of every St. Arbuck's is asking, if they really admit it:

"What is the meaning of history?"

He said (correct me, Ken) something like "God working out his purposes, and revealing himself, through sinful humanity."

I immediately congratulated him on his intuitive transcendence of a hyper-Hegelian overemphasis on "God/Geist AS history."

But if history/culture is indeed the chief "secular" venue in which is God is attempting to sovereignly self-disclose, Ken is (as usual) onto something huge.

And since we are blessed to live "at such a (postmodern/emerging/shift) time as this" IN history (David Dark: "this weird moment in history)":

"God must have a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time. It was his sovereign decision to insert you onto planet earth during a time of huge transition. It takes incredible faith to lead during hinge points of history. " -Reggie McNeal,"The Present Future"

And to offer a surprising..but accurate...twist on the usual semantic domain of faith/confidence, try this quote from Graham Cooke:

"When the old wineskin is dying, the new wineskin is created by people who are not afraid to be vulnerable. "

Or this from ecologist Buhro:

"When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure"

Thus...we need...counterintuitively...some profound and holy insecurity/vulnerability to our faith-life in these amazing days to see all that could come to pass, actually materialize. Because Bono is right: "History is more malleable than you think."

If Ken is right about the meaning of history is , and Bono is correct about
the mallebility of history..

...then maybe we shouldn't be afraid to (assuming Cooke and Buhro are spot-on) tie my three strands together, and see what emerges and converges.

The three strands, then, laid out:


1)Missiology precedes eccelesiology

Len asked a million dollar question ,"Do you think missiology precedes ecclesiology, or it is the other way round?" and then collected answers by some seminal thinkers and bloggers. These answers are all worth weighing, and are posted here:

Brother Maynard teases that this question is an "evil little trick" it may well be a"both/and" paradox (Alan Hirsch: "Dualistic expressions of faith always result in practical polytheism" or Heidegger : “It makes a difference where one enters the circle”);

it may well be a "the two are essentially the same" (a la the classic quote by Emil Bruner, "The Church exists by mission, as fire exists by burning");

but ultimately...against everything we've been taught in Sunday School and seminary (Brian Dodd: "Healthy churches tend to have non seminary trained leaders...')... it may best be a "yes, missiology precedes."

As I have said (I doubt it's original with me), "The church doesn't have a mission, the mission has a church."

Or as Len has..better..said: "It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world — it is the God of mission who has a Church in the world."

By the way, since you asked(:... my longwinded answer to Len's question is here (and there Steve Porter lovingly challenges me, which makes me think(: I may even be right)..and if you want the short wind of my article, concludes:

So, again, If I had to pick an answer, it would be yes..missiology tends to precede and produce ecclesiology; philosophically, epistemologically, and practically speaking. I find quantum physics hugely helpful here; especially 'reverse causality," which accords with what Ladd has well emphasized about the Kingdom entering this age "from" the future; time working 'backwards," etc. This will be fleshed out (incarcarnated) in smaller, organic, networked and non-hierarchical (all lessons from physics again; the universe is such) ways and means...

...Meaning that counterintuitively to our modern mindset, doing can precede being; missiology can even (creatively) create ecclesiology.

I asked a friend today the question at hand. She immediately answered, "Missiology, of course. God told Moses he was being sent; before God even told Moses what his (God's) name was."

Holy smoke, she's right!

Bono nails it again (in a sermon he has preached around the world); "God may be with us in our mansions on the hill...I hope so....but God is with the poor. And God is with us, if we are with the poor."

We find our ecclesiology as we find and follow our missiological tug.

In the process, we might even find God.

Or as Hirsch would have it:

(And check out Cultural Savage's addendum)

And as Mike Todd would unpack that:

Our Christology leads to missiology which leads to ecclesiology..In other words, who Jesus is gives us our mission, and our mission prescribes what church should be. How many of us in the west have that exactly backwards? We need to reboot, as Al calls it. We need to return to our primary source documents--the Gospels--and figure out who this Jesus was. Or, as we put it in our faith community:
We need to get to know Jesus again for the first time -link

Note: Andrew Jones and Radical Congruency have also asked the question(answering it similarly) and assembled answers..

2.) Quantum loops and the emergence of spacetime and gravity
Some of the debate in quantum physics revolves around whether the curvature of spacetime creates gravity, or the other way around. Like the question in #1, this could well be construed as a both/and... chicken-egg ...Or, just as missiology can assume precedence, there may be something a priori (in a spacetime way)about in the common consensus:"gravity arises out of the curvature of spacetime".

3.) The epistemological emergence of consciousness/soul
I love the Hofsadter title "I am Strange Loop'. Because I am, amen? Check out his cheeky interview about the book here, and consider his thesis that Consciousness/"soul" arises out of a series of self-refrerential loops" By the way, literally a Pulitzer-Prize winning thesis.

And then weigh in with a quote Roger Penrose (no slouch with Stephen Hawking of the Wolf Prize for Physics" that floored me, (or to switch the metaphor back, stranded my #2 and #3 cords together):

"I have argued strongly against the view (of computational functionalism) in which it is merely computational activity that gives rise to conscious mentality), and I have indeed suggested that consciousness actually depends on (emerges from) the missing gravitational OR theory." -The Road to Reality : A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe , p. 1033)

Threw me for a loop (pun it is technically "loop quantum gravity" that is under discussion)..

Consciousness emerges from a self-referential loop; eh, Hofsatdter?...And (maybe this is the same thing) perchance it (also?) emerges from spacetime-based gravity.

All that to say God knew what he was doing when he embedded himself in history/culture/physics.

There you go; I have only begun exporing this three-standed triad. And I am aware that it is in the liminal spaces/thin places/holy Venning where they overlap that a lot is to be learned.

If we are about our Godbusiness of being missional then God will back us up (I love one of E Stanley Jones's keynotes: When you think Kingdomly and missionally, "You are no longer working against the grain of the universe; you are working with it.") to the tune of space and time "suddenly" and sovereignly working in our favor, a free bonus, our loopy souls and consciousness will get bigger.

Ain't that the veritable meaning of history?

I am serious.
And if you seriously want to hear more about time and space working for us as Kingdom partners, check this out.

Because THAT is the meaning of history! I learned it at St. Arbuck's! (And maybe from a good book called..uh, "The Meaning of History".)

Would the one of you still reading (likely Ken or Len)...pick up here?....

after I give Reggie McNeal the last word so far:

The current spiritual awakening in North America lacks Christian content and file systems. This is the scary part of it. Left to their own imagination people will devise all sorts of crazy stuff about God, from New Age crystals to self-enlightenment. But this is also the opportunity of the current spiritual landscape. People are open to revealed truth of God if they can get it. Unfortunately, the North American church has lost its influence at this critical juncture. It has lost its influence because it has lost its identity. It has lost its identity because it has lost is mission.

The correct response, then, to the collapse of the church culture is not to try to become better at doing church. The need is not for a methodological fix. The need is for a missional fix.

The appropriate response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than concern about style.

The collapse of the church culture is God's gracious invitation to the church to rediscover itself. It will do this by dying to itself and coming alive to God's


  1. Just to work the cycle through....

    We have this institution called the church. What will we do with it? Well, here's what we'll do - that must be our mission. And if that's our mission, then this must be what Jesus looks like... because we're doing what Jesus wants us to, arent we?

    That explanation by Hirsch really helped me sort out a whole bunch of stuff.

  2. yes, Mike...thanks for the full cycle insight..sometimes feels "vicious circle"...


  3. We western believers are generally dualistic… God is at work in the Church, but not in the broader culture. Sounds like more and more are recognizing that is a flawed theology and ignores Jesus teaching on the kingdom of God. To quote Todd Hiestand in his recent paper,

    “Karl Barth helpfully points out that the church is a part of world history; the gospel takes place in “world occurrence.” Somehow I grew up with the assumption that there were two histories of the world: biblical history and world history. While this was likely never explicitly expressed as truth, it is what I instinctively learned. World history was somehow profane and corrupted and biblical history was holy and redemptive. But, Barth shows that this dichotomized view of history is unhelpful to mission. The church would be “guilty of a lack of faith and discernment if it seriously saw and understood world history as secular or profane history.” 6 Instead, he states that we simply cannot separate the church from world history. He writes, “[The church’s] history takes place as surrounded by the history of the cosmos and is everywhere affected and determined by it. Conversely, it is not without significance for the cosmos and its history that its own history takes place.”7

  4. Len the History Maker:

    Wow, great resources for dueling dualism.

    I see you have been enjoying Liana Klaasen. Keltic Ken from our church, you may know, has Celtic Christian Spirit online radio.Lotd of her on there...hardly anyone in the States knows Liand (or Cockburn or Bell for that matter.) Something about Celtic music and theology helps open up history..


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!