Saturday, February 05, 2011

Saying No To The HUP

No, it's not a new disease or government initiative known only by abbreviation. The Homogenous Unit Principle - or the HUP amongst it's hipster friends - is the missiological idea that "people like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers" (McGavran and Wagner 1970). And to a certain extent, it works. So as you look around the contemporary church scene, you'll find a church for almost every social and cultural group in Australia. Armed with pragmatic, 'missional' ecclesiology, churches have been started that minister to artisans, entertainers, etc. "Homogenous churches are those in which all the members are from a similar social, ethnic or cultural background. People prefer to associate with people like themselves – ‘I like people like me’. And so we should create homogenous churches to be effective in reaching people" (Tim Chester).

The only problem with the HUP is that's questionable just how biblical actually is. According to Tim Chester:
"The main criticism of the homogenous unit principle is that it denies the reconciling nature of the gospel and the church. It weakens the demands of Christian discipleship and it leaves the church vulnerable to partiality in ethnic or social conflict. It has been said that ‘the homogenous unit principles is fine in practice, but not in theory’!"
A central picture in New Testament of the church is of Jews and Gentiles with one voice glorifying the the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 15). In Christ two peoples become one; Christian Jews and Gentiles become one new people of God, part of the one body of Christ. So then "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (cf. Galatians 3.28-29). Or again in 1 Corinthians "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12.13). And according to Ephesians 3, it is the unity of the church "across barriers that have hitherto divided humankind is the sure sign to the powers that their time is up, that they are not masters of the world and that Jesus is" (NT Wright). The very fact that "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3.11) can praise God together in and of itself declares that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So this year, at Sydney Uni in the eu postgrads & staff faculty, we've said no to the HUP. Campus life is already segmented enough as it: between arts and science, staff and students, academics and support staff. According to Alasdair MacIntyre this results in:
“the graduates of the best research universities tend to become narrowly focused professionals, immensely and even obsessively hard working, disturbingly competitive and intent on success as it is measured within their own specialized professional sphere, often genuinely excellent at what they do; who read little worthwhile that is not relevant to their work..." (MacIntyre 1999).
Instead of organizing our groups by schools and faculties, this year our small groups, prayer groups and reading groups will be organised by broad geographical terms, i.e. Darlington, Fisher, Manning, etc. So in 2011 we're making the English and Physics postgrads sit down and read the Bible - together. We are convinced that they have great things to offer each other, and by talking to each other they'll become more rounded academics. But more importantly, we are convicted that the gospel tears down whatever barriers people place between themselves. We are convicted that what defines as people isn't our academic disciplines (and the expectations these entail) but our identity in Christ. And we are far more united than the academy would have us believe.

We don't do this to ignore the different academic disciplines. The Physics postgrads will still need to support and talk to each other as the live out the Christian life in their school. We're not intending to force people to blandly assimilate. Rather, as we acknowledge the wealth of diversity across eu postgrads and staff, we realise that their is more that unites us than divides us. "...[F]or the same Lords is Lord of all" (Romans 10.12).


byron smith said...

I love the tank.

If you're organising by geographical principle, isn't this too a form of HUP, just with a different criterion of homogeneity? Few churches worry about the homogeneity of speaking only a single language (though some at least include sign language). Perhaps the issue isn't homogeneity, but whether such moves increase or decrease hostility along social boundaries.

I'm not saying that the EU move isn't a good one, simply that HUP is too broad a term to either pursue or reject. McGavran and Wagner at least narrowed it down to racial, linguistic and class barriers. Do you think that faculty barriers are as significantly hostile as these? And does the very existence of a parachurch organisation such as the EU already imply a certain kind of class barrier between university educated and non-university educated?

Just some thoughts. No answers here.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Hey Byron,

Just to be clear, this move is just for PBF, not the whole EU. There's still an EU science faculty, economics faculty and arts faculty (two in fact!) etc.

I also feel the tension in geography being another form of HUP. But as a committee we felt it was less so than organising groups by academic discipline. So in the Holme and Manning groups for example, there's a good mix of physics, english, philosophy, chemistry and english postgrad students.

Regarding the class-barrier question; maybe this is another important reason why a parachurch group like the EU can not/should not become a church?