Monday, January 10, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #1:

This post is too long and incomplete at the same time.

When I say post-restorationist I do not mean ex-restorationist. An "ex" means you have left, split, quit or something like that. A "post" means what comes next, as in, what was given birth to. Birth, generally, is a very good thing and a happy time.

I confess I am cheating. All of these posts forthcoming are accumulated from other people's brains into mine and I have forgotten most of where I got the information and have probably changed it so much from where I got it that the original owner of the information wouldn't claim it anyway. So, enough disclaimers.

Hope #1: Become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time.

Leonard Allen, in his book, Things Unseen, comments on how the Restoration Movement (more specifically Churches of Christ) was an excellent cultural fit when it was born in the modern era of the 1800’s. It was a movement contemporary with the Enlightenment, and how enlightened we were. However, as the culture has begun turning postmodern, the Restoration Movement (RM) has remained quite modern. Without changing much of what it does, promotes, intends, and believes, the RM went from being avant guard to bordering on archaic in just over a century and a half. Funny how context changes meaning.

It may sound like double-speak to suggest that a person, a church, a movement can be culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time. However, that is exactly what the RM did when it was born. It fit the philosophical zeitgeist of the age, but brought the countercultural message of the gospel to that age as well. Suggesting that the RM become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time is not to suggest that it do something new, but rather that it do something old, something it has already done in the past.

It is like this: If the RM were to begin right now it would be started by some of the leading thinkers of the time. As it developed, it would not look like it did in the early 1800’s, but rather something like some of the churches that call themselves “emergent.” It would be Biblical, sure, but not in the 19th century was of being Biblical, but in the 21st century way of being Biblical.

Huh? Isn’t Biblical just Biblical anyway you slice it? Well, yes and no. Being Biblical is kind of like looking into the sky. On a cloudy day you will see clouds (and make comments on what the clouds look like, you know, the game kids play), but on a sunny day you’ll see blue sky. So, it depends how the weather is when you look into that sky. Also, it depends on when you look into that sky. A cloudless night is very different than a cloudless day. The stars that are always there only appear on cloudless nights. Just because I can’t see them on my lunch break does not mean they are not there. Furtherm more, which stars you see depends on the season, you location in Earth and so forth.

So, the truth of the Bible is always there, but I just can’t see it all at once, and I will never see it all, period. In the 1800’s the RM saw the truth of the Bible perhaps on a cloudy day, but now it is a clear night and the sky looks very different. Same sky; different look.

Times are different now than when the movement began. What is culturally different now from when the RM originally launched, and this might be the most significant difference, is that people are looking into the sky and not just making decisions (interpretations) about what they see, but also about what they do not see. Even though they see clouds, they imagine a sun, a moon, and some stars. "Somewhere out there is a black hole, a nebula, an asteroid...and other mysterious things." It is not just about what the sky is, it is about what it could be. This is how people are viewing the Word of God and the Bible. "Yes, it says this, but could it also be saying that?" And furthermore, people are saying, “well, perhaps the Bible is God’s word, but is it His only word?”

Now, before you get all bent out of shape about the word of God being more than just what the Bible says (I'll get you even more bent out of shape in a minute), even the Bible says God speaks more than just the Bible. Nature is God’s word, to name one. God talked through a donkey as well. I won’t get into all the ways God speaks (too many to count that I know of let alone the ones I do not), but it is pointless to catalog them, a waste of time. He speaks however He wants to. Enough said.

If the RM is to become culturally relevant and countercultural at the same time, we are going to have to not only view God’s Word (Bible, nature, experience etc) for what it is, but also for what it could be. Mystery will invade certainty and surprise us all.

Now, if this feels a little risky, it is. But think about it this way: What is riskier, seeing God’s Word as only a narrow little slice of what it really is (thinking we have perfectly interpretted it when we haven't), or seeing God’s Word as more than it is (risking making mistakes)? In other words, would you rather be accused of adding to the scripture or taking away from it? The RM is guilty of taking away (by limited interpretations) , in my opinion. Now, are we willing to be guilty of adding to it? Still sound too risky? Well, we do not have the luxury or doing neither. We will be guilty of one or the other. So, in the light of being relevant, the RM needs to be as willing to be guilty of adding scripture as they have been willing to take away from it. I do not mean willful misinterpretation or making the Word of God mean anything I want it to mean. I do mean letting God's Word mean more than the RM has allowed it to mean.

Still sound too risky? Yeah, it does to me too. But I don't know what else to do. I believe our RM interpretations are too limited and therefore have contaminated the gospel. I do not want to share a contaminated gospel as much as I can help it. I believe there is an extravagance of love I do no know of (could never even learn in the old school RM), but is the whole point of the gospel, the good news.

If our drive remains rooted in grace not condemnation, goodness not rightness, faith not determinism, submission not control - and if we understand that God knows how imperfect we are AND if our mistakes are honest ones, like they were in the 1800’s, then I think we’re fine.

The gospel is countercultural. It is our responsibility to be the gospel in a culturally relevant way. I say “be” the gospel because it should be good news when you enter into someone’s life. You should be their blessing. Love God; love people. That is countercultural and culturally relevant – now and always; here and everywhere.


David U said...

Great thoughts, Chris! Keep em coming! Maybe you need to write a book. :)


don said...

You're a dangerous man, Fajita.

Keith Brenton said...

This whole discussion makes me wonder: should we even want to be a part of the Restoration Movement? What, exactly, are we trying to restore? The church? The church to its first-century incarnation? Is that even possible, without having a Rome and a succession of false prophets and an environment of carnal idolatry and all the other components of the first century?

Or should we be part of a movement that seeks to restore the relationship between the souls of men and their God?