Sunday, August 13, 2017

Insider Jesus 6: Conclusion- is God Doing Something New?

Previously, we looked at Insider Jesus 5: Religion and the Mission of Christ. Now onto the final chapter, #6.

This chapter argues for a broader understanding of "church" than is usually defined in Western evangelical terms.

Dyrness believes that the idea of "emergence" is key to understanding insider movements. Everything at the beginning is messy, and always tied to, esp. initially, understanding Christ in local terms. It is the direction towards Christ that is important (hint: think centered-sets, not bounded-sets). Insider movements are unique; they are unlike the old, unlike the others, and unlike the final goal, which is people and the created order restored in Christ to God. The "emerging church" conversation of the early 2000s was like insider movements, but they were movements still situated in historic Christianity. God doing something new outside of Christianity today.

We must recognize that, as cross-cultural workers, we might at times work with groups who are "heretical." But this is a natural part of mission. Dyrness quotes one alongsider, criticized for working with an insider movement, who said, "And what did you think mission was all about; has it not always been about working with groups who have imperfect awareness of God and seeking to bring them to maturity in Christ? " (Kindle 2572-2573). And yes, insider movements may be transitional, but give them time. "These movements represent places where Christ is being named, and we should be careful to honor the ways the Spirit may be at work. Certainly this means at the very least carefully listening to those involved." (Kindle 2595-2597)

But where is the "church" in this conversation? First of all, it is NEVER simple or straightforward for believers from non-Christian backgrounds to simply join the already established institutional church. Part of the problem is that people have tended to view "church"

in a manner that seemed to hover above the complex dynamics of Asian cultures...: “This  generic reference to the ‘church’ assumes a static and triumphalistic ecclesiology— what I call a typical ‘Protestant micro-Christendom.’” This construal of things, Cardoza-Orlandi argues, is a legacy of the Western missionary movement and may hamper “the potential for unique Asian ecclesiologies, grounded in the interplay between mission and what it means to be the church on Asian soil.” 32 Similarly, I would argue that imposing a notion of the church on emergent movements could well obscure our ability to discover new forms of church. (Kindle 2672-2678)

God does indeed work outside the visible church, and beyond our western theologies. But the church should be defined by its theological nature, not its functions. 

So what are some of the ecclesiological features of emerging insider movements?

From an examination of our case studies we can say that these movements are characterized by four common and typical elements that often appear to contribute to emergent forms of church. First, their focus is consistently centered on devotion to Christ— in prayer, song, and biblical reflection, even if Christ is frequently put in conversation with Buddha or Muhammad. Second, we have noticed that these groups typically privilege Scripture— whether sung or taught— even if it is read and compared with other sacred writings. Third, these groups all exhibit various forms of visible fellowship (what the New Testament calls koin┼Źnia), even if, again, these communities are not meant to stand apart from their cultural context. Finally, these groups invariably reflect a deep desire to witness to their faith in Christ within their natural relational networks.  (Kindle 2739-2745).

Thoughts:

  • Dyrness has a high tolerance for ambiguity. He advocates for a more hands-off approach to discipleship. In this sense, he displays a value for individualism and wants to honor the freedom that people have to make their own decisions. Obviously, there are others in the IM conversation who are much more hierarchical in their approach. At this point, I’m not sure if one is more biblical than the other, individualism vs hierarchy. Both are cultural values/preferences that we bring to the biblical text, and tend to color what we see.
  • Up next, I’ll share my review of the book.

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