Recently I was asked the question, how does theology shape the church? The implication was that theology is irrelevant to the life of a church. To which I responded “There’s a theology that drives every church. Theology is shaping every church whether we know it or not.” Next came the question: if you went into a church how would you begin to direct its theology so as to shape its missional presence in the neighborhood? I suggested there’s three questions that every pastor/equipper should be able to answer. They then should be capable of leading their churches in answering these questions in a way that shapes our practice of life with God together. For me, these are the questions that fund the social imaginary of a community by the Holy Spirit by which we enter into His life and mission. The three questions are the How, What and Where questions
1.) How does God Reveal Himself?
2.) What is the gospel?
3.) Where is the Kingdom?
How we answer these questions as a people, how we are led into the answers through the discipling/preaching/teaching ministries of the church, shape a community’s disposition in the world.
The way we have answered these questions in the past within my own tradition (evangelicalism) has been largely
1.) The Inerrant Bible,
2.) The Decision for Christ, and
3.) The Christian Nation -in last thirty years – and dispensationalism in the thirty years prior to that (the kingdom is in the future).
Admittedly I need to fill out these ideas. Yet I’ve become convinced that these three answers have become problematic for today’s church not only because a.) they don’t really answer the cultural questions we face anymore, but more importantly, b.) these answers shape us as communities over against mission. In other words, these ways of articulating these beliefs – and the practices that coincide – have shaped us as an arrogant, duplicitous, dispassionate social presence in the world.
In my forthcoming book (I hear it’s coming in 2 weeks – I’ll have a free sample on this site in about two weeks hopefully) The End of Evangelicalism?: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission (Cascade Books – Theopolitical Visions Series) I try to show how these three beliefs of evangelicalism were forged as a defense. They have shaped us in antagonistic ways. I argue they worked well in a former time to meet the cultural challenges evangelicals faced – as largely typified by the modernist-fundamentalist controversies. But now, many years later, they are working against us.
I contend we need new ways to uphold a high view of Scripture’s authority, to teach/ initiate conversion into life in Christ and to understand the church’s engagement with society for God’s salvation in the world.
Here’s how I pose the answers to these three questions in The End of Evangelicalism?
1.) From Inerrant Bible to: Our One and True Story of God for the whole world – infallible in and through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
2.) From the question “have you made the decision to receive Christ as your personal Savior?” to: “have you entered into the salvation already begun in Jesus Christ that God is working for the sake of the whole world?”
3.) From the church as Christ’s army dispersing individuals into the world to fight for the Christian Nation to: the church as the social body of His Lordship (His Reign) incarnating Christ into the world.
I contend these three ways of speaking about these beliefs (and then practicing them) shape us for a hospitable, authentic, compassionate witness to Christ in the world. For what it’s worth, I still subscribe to the Bible’s inerrancy (qualifications needed) and of course I still believe in the decision to receive Christ’s pardon and make Him Lord. (I haven’t quite been able to swallow the Christian Nation thing, although I’ve tried wink, wink). Each of these beliefs is enhanced and deepened through this new articulation and practice. All of this is explored in significant depth in the upcoming book The End of Evangelicalism? And I’ll be pleased to be giving 2 lectures on these subjects at Ambrose University college in two weeks in Calgary, Alberta. The lectures are entitled “The Future of Evangelicalism in N. America’s Post Christendom: Forging a New Faithfulness. Lecture 1: Reshaping Our Doctrine and Practice For Mission. Lecture 2 The Dangers and Hopes of the Emergent/Missional Church Movement.
If you’re nearby, join me!! Eh?
In the meantime, how have you, your church, led you through these three questions?