The Future of the Gospel in N. America

The church in N. America is facing multiple issues that it is having trouble talking about.  The cultural changes hitting us have presented new issues we cannot avoid. Yet when we bring these issues up, Christians are fractured, and often all conversation stops. To even mention the issues of “gospel and Kingdom,” what it means to be the church in a post-Christendom context, the issues of pluralism, LGBTQ sexuality, justice and salvation, women in ministry, brings a polarization among us that separates us into camps, most often the Neo-Reformed or the various emerging-protestant mainline camps. Many of us have been frustrated to say the least.

Yet if we seek to participate boldly in the mission of God in N America, we need conversation, dialogue and a place to develop what it means to faithfully follow Jesus Christ into “the far country” of what have become the mission fields of N America.

We need to discuss and develop Biblical, evangelically minded, contextually responsive directives for issues like:

The gospel. What is the gospel? Is it only justification by faith or does justification fit within a larger framework, the good news that God has made Jesus both Savior and Lord and is ushering in His Kingdom? How then do we proclaim this gospel in our context? We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

The Scripture as God’s Drama, His Story. How does a high view of the authority of Scriptures translate in a context where science and historiography no longer (and maybe never should have) hold sway as the standards of truth and accuracy? How then do we preach and proclaim the divinely given Story to us in Christ’s under His authority and invite people in to the salvation God is working for the whole world? We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

The church in Mission. What defines God’s people and how do we organize for mission. What does it mean to say organization follows the Holy Spirit, the gift structure of God’s people? How do we think about church in the world as the harbinger of God’s Kingdom. Sometimes to even mention the word Kingdom is to either be labeled as liberal or be misinterpreted. We are in need of defining things Biblically. We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

Salvation and Justice as Related. Again, we are confronted with injustice in our society in situations too numerous and confusing to list here. What does it mean for Christians to respond to the injustice in the world in a way that make sense of/does not compromise our commitments to what God is doing in the world in and through Jesus Christ? Yet these discussions have been too easily categorized into two camps that we find inadequate. We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

Women In Ministry. Here again is an important issue in our time. But this issue gets polarized with two options that do not seem to get at the heart of what is happening in the New Testament. Yet we have no place to discuss this without falling into the polarities that dominate the current streams of Protestantism. We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

LGBTQ. The alternative sexualities of our society are a dominant issue we are facing culturally and in our churches. But everyone is afraid to talk about it for fear of being branded as extreme by either side of the spectrum. We need to discuss this but frankly it’s been difficult to find a place to have this conversation apart from polarities.

If we are to enter God’s Mission, these and many more issues like God’s Mission, the Holy Spirit and Culture etc., require prayer, theological work, teaching, coming together and seeking the work of God among us. If we would engage our increasingly post Christendom culture for the gospel, we must come together and seek God over these issues and many more. We need a place where we can gather, submit to Scripture and the Holy Spirit, and have these discussions where there is freedom yet comfort that we are all grounded in a commitment to historical orthodoxy. It must be open not polarizing.

This is why a number of people are coming together this April in Alexandria VA (Washington DC) to form the Missio Alliance. Take a minute and look at this conference. Look at the names leading us. (Check out the people here, many more than those listed as “headliners”). They are reformed, anabaptist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Wesleyan and holiness, Anglican. They are men, women, Asian, African-American, Caucasian and many other ethnicities. They are pastors, Biblical scholars and theologians all committed to the church. They are from Canada as well as U.S. They are all decidedly evangelical (a term we recognize might turn some people off) meaning we subscribe to the Cape Town Commitment of Lausanne 2011.  Here, in Alexandria VA, we come to submit ourselves one to another that God might shape us as a people for Mission in N America. This is a forum meant to push into new ground and we hope no one will feel excluded from the conversation.

So here we go, this April 11-13 in Alexandria VA (Washington DC). Check it out here. We cannot predict what God will do in this place. Yet we want this to be a continuing forum for working out our lives under the Lordship of Christ for the proclaiming of the gospel in His mission in N America. We believe the “Future” demands we form a place where we can address these issues. Will you join us? If you are a pastor, leader, concerned Christian, theologian, president of a seminary or denomination, will you consider participating and becoming part of this effort? (e-mail jr.rozko@missioalliance.org)

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Before you go … what other issues are there that we have missed? What would keep you from joining in? Let us know. I am one of many of the organizational committee and we want to know what you’re thinking.

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10 comments on “The Future of the Gospel in N. America
  1. Hi David – I think this is great, and I really like the questions being raised. I think they’re essential. I do think, though, that other essential questions having to do with political and economic identity need to be raised. They are just as prevalent, if not more so, as issues of women in ministry or LGBTQ concerns. They have to do with fundamental allegiances and loyalties, and they span a number of the categories laid out here, including both gospel and mission.

    I would love to attend that, especially in my consulting capacity. However, I’m a speaker at a DePaul conference April 15-17, and I’m not sure I can take both trips. I’ll be sure to keep up to date on things, though.

  2. Maria Kirby says:

    I believe you are leaving out climate change. Climate change involves aspects of so many of the categories you mentioned; it involves every area of how we live; and it concerns the future of all life on the planet such that I believe it needs to be considered as it’s own topic rather than a subset of another. Solving the problem of climate change cannot be done solely through governmental regulation. It must come through the repentance of every human and every human organization. Even then, we will need the power of God to save us. As proclaimers of the gospel, we need to understand how to frame our hope in the Almighty that transforms our sin into his glory if we are willing to repent, change, and a depend on him in this time of great distress.

  3. Nathan Smith says:

    Awesome – wish I could be there Dave. I’m having my New Testament students finish the class with a major paper asking, “What is the Gospel?” They will have to look at the relevant literature, the Biblical Text and the historical development of “Gospel” in the Church. If this conference has good stuff, I hope to point them to it.

    NS

  4. It seems to me that many of the people who should most be there cannot due to their very commitment to live out the things this conference is exploring. I don’t say this critically, but only to say that we need to find ways of making such conversation available and accessible to those who lack the means and privilege to make such a conference a real possibility.

  5. Matt says:

    I love the topics that this conference is trying to address. I believe these polarities and camps, either/or vs. both/and, and discovering God in the midst of our world today is crucial. I also appreciate how there is a diversity of people represented. However, I think this diversity is something that should not simply be represented, but taught on as well. Does race and ethnicity have significance towards how our gospel is lived out in our unique cultures and identities? Does the church need a prophetic understanding of cross-cultural relationships in a way that draws out the uniqueness with which God has created people to reflect His image or is it a curse/barrier to the mission of God because of such great miscommunication/painful history in our country?

  6. I’m interested in going and already on the mailing list.

    You asked for responses on what would keep me from going. Seriously, for me the deciding factor may be the question of, What happens at and after this inaugural event?

    The brochure suggests that the organization exists, in part, to “cultivate opportunities to wrestle with the significant theological and cultural issues of our day.” That sounds like an active process. But, as best as I could tell from the schedule on the Missio Alliance site, this gathering is mostly practitioner experts talking at us (admittedly, a great and diverse group). You’ve scheduled 12 hours of what look like lecture sessions: six plenaries and four workshops in the equivalent of a two-day period.

    I understand the need at some point for at least some presentations, especially to orient those new to the questions and to explore some contours of the overarching issues of paradoxes of pluralism. But for many people, lectures are the absolutely *least* effective method of learning. How specifically is this event structured to offer “dialog” or “conversation” or “work groups” or a “forum” – or at least to lead to them in the long run? There’s perhaps dinner times to really talk with whomever you happen to connect with and there are some unspecified “parallel events.”

    What is anticipated as follow-up? Will there be later events that rely on more participatory learning – work groups, panels, case studies to investigate? Or will it always be a lecture format? If I don’t see opportunities to engage and process aloud and work through problems in group settings in the long run, I’d be really hesitant to invest $750 now for yet more lectures, and invest myself in a cross-denominational evangelical network dealing with pluralism – but that (ironically) doesn’t seem to accommodate providential differences in learning style.

  7. Learning style concerns aside, the list of topics/key questions looks good overall.

    I do agree with Maria that concerns about the environment and stewardship need to be included in a Kingdom approach.

    Also, it may be in between the lines, but the major issue of rigidly black-and-white paradigms and spiritual abuse could perhaps be addressed more explicitly. Extreme either/or thinking that polarizes is the same paradigm that very often leads models of Christian control of culture, dominion theology, and malignant authoritarian leadership structures.

    • David Fitch says:

      Thanks Brad … yep, the various organizing teams are thinking about these things. Your suggestions are golden ..

      • Thanks Dr. D. I appreciate hearing back a bit more. I spent a while today looking at various posts from speakers and sponsors and others. At least one or two mentioned eco-justice, so it’s good that’s on the radar as part of a Kingdom/redemption theology.

        And the other issue — how an entire paradigm system can inherently lead to abusive actions that create a destructive cultural witness — has been emerging forcefully on multiple fronts this entire year. That key problem is being documented on an increasing number of “spiritual abuse survivor” blogs and “witness watchdog” blogs, and the topics and case studies being documented go across numerous theologies and movements and networks and denominations.

        Many of those specific issues related to “malignant ministry” being addressed this past year typically deal with a combination of the six core questions that you listed … in fact, those six could almost serve as a set of “missional metrics” indicators of trouble. So I am convinced that Missio Alliance is looking at important issues and also would second the notion that there are almost no safe places to discuss a third way beyond the polarization. And that’s why I’m really, *really* interested in Missio Alliance. My sense of how things have unfolded since the “GenX/Postmodern Ministry” movement in the mid-1990s onward is that voices for a paradoxical, integrative, collaborative approach have generally not been heard. But Missio Alliance sounds like that third-way approach. If so, I’m in …

        … but I’m unsure about this particular event. As best I could figure out from the 15-20 posts I looked at today, and the official website and brochure, there is a lot of talk about talk/discuss/dialog/conversation, but the appearance of lecture/presentation only. So, I’d appreciate clarification on that when it’s available. I could endure a mostly-lecture format a time or two, but for me, the learning style issues truly would be a stumbling block in the long run if that is going to be the standard format for the future. Non-interactive lecture is counterproductive approach for life-long learning for many of us who are “wired” for immersion learning and group processing.

        Anyway, thanks to “all y’all” for the immense amount of work that’s obviously gone into this already … and hope it is successful. It definitely seems to embody an overarching perspective that is necessary for missional, contextual ministry.

  8. Greg D says:

    Glad to see an effort in dialog to address these issues. But, I wonder if the people that are coming to the table to engage in constructive discourse are only the rare few from each denomination/tradition who are already moving forward on these issues. What we need are those who, for whatever reason, are holding back to join the effort. Those who refuse to move forward on the issues relating to our post-modern culture. It reminds me of the Emerging/Emergent dialog where only progressives engaged in the conversation, and not others. As a result, nothing of substance really happened… except a larger disparity between the two sides.

    I hope and pray for the best… but I have my doubts. I’m afraid this is going to be just another “conversation” with no long term effect.

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Future of the Gospel in N. America"
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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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