17 March 2007

Mission In The New Old World.

Philip Jenkins weighs in on the Christian Vision Project's theme of mission: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?

All of which prepares us poorly for the world of the emerging Christian churches, which have rediscovered the basic semantic truth that liberation and deliverance are actually the same thing. To be credible, any presentation of the Christian message must offer the prospect of freedom from the oppressive forces of this world and the other worlds. We should not be startled when global South evangelicals are "conservative" about abortion or homosexuality but also demand forceful state intervention to fight poverty, even if that means regulating the free market. And we should not expect that newer churches will respect the walls that separate styles of worship and belief among Europeans and North Americans, between churches that are evangelical and catholic, liturgical and charismatic.

In short, Christians of European descent should learn that they are not necessarily the norm within the Christian tradition, still less the authentic core; nor, perhaps, have they ever been. And whether they like it or not, the rules will continue to change and evolve, because that is the nature of growth. This principle was well expressed by a Chinese scripture that so often parallels Christian insights, the Dao De Jing of Laozi:

A man is supple and weak when living, but hard and stiff when dead. Grass and trees are pliant and fragile when living but dried and shriveled when dead. Thus the hard and strong are the comrades of death; the supple and the weak are the comrades of life.(Ch. 76, translated by D. C. Lau)

As the companions of life, of course newer churches remain flexible and bend our familiar dividing lines. Perhaps by observing how they do this, we can find our way back from a faith that has been, on occasion, too hard and strong to flourish.

Here's the whole thing, and well worth the read.


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