Monday, January 10, 2005

cultural relevance and compromise

the charge is occasionally levelled at those involved in emerging expressions of church, that "they have given up too much ground in order to be relevant". it's a comment that we should take seriously, and i welcome the challenge to think through what we are doing. i do want to say two things in response though.
firstly, the goal is not to be relevant. relevance still implies distance i.e. i'm not really like you but i'll try harder to be a bit more like you. i think that if we take incarnational mission seriously, cultural relevance becomes a bit of a misnomer. i mean, Jesus didn't have to try to be like a first century Jew - he was a first century Jew! Paul said, 'i became all things to all people in order that i might win some'. so the goal is not relevance but incarnation - not to become like those that God has called us to - to serve, heal and bless - but to become one with them.
but that's almost a bit of an aside - what about the main question...have we given up too much in our pursuit of this?
well, perhaps. there is a fine balance here. when a community is incarnated in a culture there will always be a danger of cultural capitulation and compromise. ironically, this is what i perceive happened during the enlightenment/reformation. here, the church, influenced by the values of the culture around it - and particularly by the enlightenment's obsession with the individual, reduced the gospel to a primarily individualistic notion i.e. it's about individuals becoming individual Christians, rather than being about the people of God for the sake of the world.
so, let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone. let those who accuse the emerging church of selling out to the culture be careful to make sure that the theological tradition that they are proud to be a part of has not itself been compromised.

11 comments:

Peter O said...

Simon rattled you, huh?

For what it's worth, I don't think you apply to what he said. I think the thing he's talking about is stuff like "Holy Joes", the Dave Tomlinson exercise in the early 90s that doctrinally went a bit dodgy. Look where Tomlinson is now on the spectrum and how his conference invites have plummeted.

I agree with your analysis of the individualisation of faith. One thing that draws (nay, woos) me to neo-Catholicism is that it posits the importance of "church" above the individual. For a Catholic, catholicity (which simply means the incorporation into the universal church whole, including doctrinal, liturgical and spiritual unity) destroys the individual and elevates the body, which as a corporate identity is the bride of Christ.

As an aside, what I find chatting to people involved in hOME is a stageringingly high level of orthodoxy, which makes me think that you're doing the right thing.

I'll stop being sycophantic now...

Matt said...

no, not rattled - he was actually quite complimentary about us. and my post is not directed at him necessarily; he just got me thinking. it might be directed more in the direction of people like Don Carson though. thanks for the comment.

Matt said...

oh - while I'm at it...not sure we should be using the number of conference invites as a measure of someone's theological orthodoxy! anyway, as far as i'm aware Dave T is at Greenbelt almost every year.

Peter O said...

Yes, while I'm a big Don Carson fan, sometimes he goes a tad too far. Remember thought, the EC scene (whatever that is) in the US is different to the one here.

Oh, and on Dave T getting an invite every year to Greenbelt and not speaking much elsewhere - well, the prosecution rests on that m'lud.

richard said...

I know nothing about Dave T's thing, so I won't comment on that. But i will note that you've got the HitMaps working. We can use it as a measure of our respective popularities. Currently I'm more popular than you by 100%

Anonymous said...

Interesting little debate going on here. I agree with what you say Matt. What's fascinating is how quickly people mistake some types/expressions of the "emerging church" thing as something it's not. Recently, a number of conservative evangelicals, charismatic or not, have described it as "the whole post-evangelical thing".

Not all of us are post-evangelical, post-charismatic !!! Some of us are simply trying to evolve church as we know it because our culture is evolving and so the missional challenge changes.

Just because different things are being tried, people are gathering together in different ways, doesn't mean it's automatically post-evangelical. It means it's different.

It is possible to be charismatic, evangelical and emerging church-y at the same time.

Amen.

richjohnson.blogspot.com

Matt said...

good point Rich. I think the big question is this : is the emerging church simply taking the same 'product' and 'selling' it to a new 'market'? or is the 'product' different? In fact, that's such a big question it probably deserves a main blog entry, but i'll throw it out there here first of all. there's much more i could say about that but i'll leave it there for now! hope you're doing well.

Emma B said...

i'm really interested by what you're saying about incarnation, incarnational mission and particularly incarnational leadership... can you tell me more or point me in a direction of what's good to read about this? thanks

Matt said...

hi emma - thanks for stopping by! where are you based? it's really a huge subject, incarnational theology and ministry. i can't for the life of me think of a good book on the subject per se: perhaps someone else can? all i know is that the incarnation of Christ provides the whole basis for our engagement with the world because we are those who are called to continue his ministry and mission for the sake of the world - and we do it in the way that God did it. not by staying far off but by living and dying amongst the people he was sent to. that's a hopelessly inadequate answer but as I say it's such a huge subject i couldn't possibly do it justice in a comment. does that help at all?

Emma B said...

thanks matt. i guess what i'm interested in is the description of incarnational and how that is different to other means... like incarnational mission not mission. and with leadership what does it mean to describe it as incarnational? i read what you said about that or positional and it sounds tasty!
ps - i'm based in oxford and i met you at hOME last thursday...

Garth said...

You have probably heard the line,"the gospel has never existed in a cultural vacuum". Your point about cultural relevance is one I have pondered on myself. So much of the church now exists under its own neo middle class subculture that has limited to no connections with the unchurched. At least in my experience christians tend not to have unchurched best mates. So to find themselves culturally relevant would require a great deal of change on their part.

I think that it is critical that we don't try being something we are not, but rather allow for a diversity in the church, some staying more traditional, some contemporary, some emergent, each living the gospel in the context of their world. Hopefully others will allow us that space.