Sunday, October 28, 2007

No Sense of Community

"Evangelicals have nothing to say about community." This is what I was told in a seminar on the rise and fall of liberal theology that I attended last week. Evangelicals are so concerned about the atonement, that they have nothing to add to current debates about community. If you were to classify all the great Christian doctrines, they would fit into three categories: 1. The doctrine of God; 2. The doctrine of Salvation; and 3. The doctrine of the church. And I was told that evangelicals, for the sake of being able to get along with each other, neglect the first and third doctrines and concentrate solely on the second category. (With the effect that the first category has become the domain of Romans and Greeks, and the third category is becoming the domain Pentecostals).

Why is this a problem? Well, with the decline of liberalism and modernity (and it's quest for epistemology) post modern concerns are becoming more and more prevalent. These concerns are not so much about authority (as modernism has been), but a desire for justice, authenticity, and community. And evangelicalism, as a cultural and historical product of modernism, has little to say to these postmodern concerns.

Part of our problem, as I see it, as the way we think of church. In reaction against high churchman-ship, and in order to support fellow evangelicals from variant ecclesiology, we are willing to label almost anything as a church if it has more than one person and a bible involved. I can be sitting in a cafe with a friend, one of us pulls out a bible and - BAM - we've turned into church. It is just too reductionist.

I've felt the solid boot to the head from this reductionism this week as debate as swirled around about the up coming CMS Summer School (start here, then go here).* You see, for two nights there will be a speaker with over 30 of mission experience giving talks on the current state of world mission. Although the bible may be refereed to - these aren't bible talks, John Woodhouse will be giving those in he mornings. The problem of course is that the speaker is female, and if you reduce everything to church, then heaven forbid that you should have a women teaching in a mixed congregation.

From what I understand, CMS, Summer School, Eu et al aren't churches in and of themselves. Although they may have the same essence as a Church (presence of our Lord Jesus Christ through the ministry of Word and Spirit), they have a different purpose. And may I add, that it would be a pretty lousy church that met only once a year. no, there is much more that could be said about this. What I want to know is can evangelicalism have something to say about authenticity community and justice? I would have thought that a biblically robust doctrine of the atonement would have something to say ie welcome one another as Christ welcomed you etc. Or is evangelicalism as the cultural and historical movement that has existed for the past two centuries doomed to die with the great beast of modernism. I for one, certainly hope not.**

* These link from Craig's blog are only intended to be an example of the type of debate that is currently happening, and are not a comment on Craig himself, who has received several personal attacks over his views this week.

**Although I have to admit that I would like to see reform in several areas of evangelicalism - hence this post.


Craig Tubman said...

I must admit, I'm a first time reader of your blog. But really enjoyed your thoughts posted here.

I've heard similar comments (re. evangelicals and community) to what you posted at the start of your blog as well.

I guess what I was keen to hear is what your experience of evangelical community has been? A good one? A poor one?

I'm certainly not trying to uncover some secret agenda or anything, but as a fellow sydney evangelical, I'd love to hear how your journey has been in this area.


ps. my spelling sucks too! Somehow that subject slipped out of my schooling

cardboardsword said...

Good thoughts... and I totally agree that reform is needed. Community is lacking, it would seem, in many of our churches, particularly those that don't focus lots of attention on it.

A biblically robust doctrine of the atonement should have something to say about community, but we do often forget this. That, or we see it as too hard because we're used to individualism.

Coming from a church that puts ever-increasing effort into being a place of community, and being part of the EU where both community and non-reductionism are part of the way we think about our group, I have to say I was surprised that people would think we as evangelicals neglect doctrines of God and of the church.

Furthermore, I think reductionism could be an overreaction to the thought that church only exists in Church, ie on Sundays. For instance, if you take a truly Biblical view of church, you have to hold that the church is made up of those who follow Jesus Christ. Of course you can debate who they are, but I don't think that saying such a general statement is a neglect of the doctrine of the church, but rather the core of any doctrine of it. Given that, meeting up with a friend over coffee and the Word is an act of the church if you are both followers of Christ - you know, your eye and your ear can't detach themselves and watch a movie while the rest of your body is mowing the lawn; all your body parts are your body parts, and they never act as anything but your body parts. Calling that meeting a Church in itself is just as erroneous as saying Church only happens on Sundays in weird old little buildings - two opposite extremes, reactionarily set against each other, but possibly stemming from similar errors, both of which neglect the fact that the church of Jesus Christ is global and united in Him.

Craig Tubman said...


I totally agree with your comment that the atonement should have affects upon community.

I guess my question is, considering you've come from a church that was good at community and you had a similar experience at EU (which is a true blessing) which churches are we actually talking about? that don't let the atonement affect community?

My church certainly has a strong community focus and we are having a thanksgiving service soon to raise a very large amount of money to reach out into our neighbourhood and reach those who haven't stepped into the church.

I guess I'm just wondering where this 'anit-community' view comes in...which church? Because it seems all of us in sydney evangelical churches have had relatively good experiences?

Martin Kemp said...

Agreed that our ecclesiology is under-developed.
But we do have a sense of community in our tribe. Compared to groups in other denominations and also in other strands of anglicanism we are doing pretty well. I think we do it, but don't really know what to say about it.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Thanks Craig - I think I've seen you the other Moffatt's blog.

I'd say that my general experience of evangelicalism (which is more or less Sydney Anglicanism) has been for the most part largely positive. It has raised me, nurtured me, and deepened my love for God and obedience to his Son. And as Marty said in his comment, I think here in Sydney we have a pretty spectacular community amongst ourselves.

My general negative experiences have been based largely on fear. I've had a few bad run ins over the past year or so from people who, as soon as they've heard I go to a particular uni and church, having started laying into me and continued certain fights that took place at Moore College around ten years ago.

Besides my own experiences, there are the general reports of other bad experiences I've heard happen to my friends at Moore College, my minister, and some other friends that do leave me wondering how much of a priority we place on (the) community. We have a great little community here in Sydney, that has networks around Australia and the world. I'm just not sure that our community is always good at listening to the rest of the community that it belongs too (what Volf calls catholic ecumenicalism).

That said, I'm a through and through evangelical. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead, and that he deserves the obedience of the nations, because at his name every knew shall bow.

PS This essay is something that stirred my mind some time ago:

Hope my spelling is ok, these comment boxes really need a spell checker.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Also, I think it’s fair to say that we have a church culture that is characterized by "Jesus, just for me, just for now", ie the emphasis is on the individualistic aspects of our salvation and Christian life that we forget the corporate as well.

When was the last time you saw the church mentioned in an evangelistic program?

Now, I don't want for a minute loose sight of the individual aspect. I just want to keep reminding people - and myself, that being a Christian is so much more bigger than just Jesus and me.

It's about the Lord of the whole creation defeating sin and death and the devil restoring this universe. And this same Lord is also my lord - who loved me and gave his life up for me, as he did for every other Christian.

Jonathan said...

I think you're mixing up different issues here, Moffitt. The idea that "church" only includes frequent meetings with sacraments or something like that seems to me an overly legalistic way of (not) dealing with the women teaching issue, whereas a sense of community is another matter. There is probably some place for identifying different sorts of Christian meetings, but as cardboard swar suggested, the church is a community, and much more than a certain sort of meeting.

When it comes to questions of which groups do what well, any comments depend on who exactly you are talking about, and will be overly broad, but I think you are right to say evangelistic events often underemphasise the community. However, an church based on the Bible's teaching should focus on and be a strong community of God, with a concern for the rest of his community. I think I have personally learnt a lot about this in the past few years in an "evangelical" environment, but whether it is particularly "evangelical" or not, it is emphasised in the new testament.

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Church is a community, and much more than a certain sort of meeting.

I thought that this was my point - that it takes more than just meeting together to make a church. And I would argue, for CMS Summer school (which is were the women's issue is currently being played out) isn't a church (so what the Bible says about women's ministry applies differently). Although it smells like a church, and may look like a church (it has ministyr of both word and spirit - even visible words, communuion), it isn't actually church becasue it doesn't hold the same responsibilites as a church - there is no pastoral program or church discipline for example.