The State of the Missional Conversation is Not Good: Has the Neo-Reformed Quit Talking?

images-1It’s getting harder and harder to have good theological conversations around Mission and missional church. And yet, the manifestation of our many problems in the movement itself  begs for more discernment.

One of the things I and Geoff Holsclaw were aiming to do with Prodigal Christianity was to open up some new avenues for discussion on what it means to be church, gospel and witness in the world.  We saw it as important to take careful note of the contributions of the Progressive/Emergent Church voices as well as the Neo-Reformed/Gospel Coalition/Acts 29 voices. We put forth a distinct Anabaptist/Holiness/evangelical path towards engagement on these issues. We offered why we felt this history had things to offer our churches and leadership in these times when culture in the West has turned decidedly post-Christendom.

What has happened since? What conversations and discussions have happened?

A Google Blog search on “Prodigal Christianity” reveals that, generally, progressive Christians have engaged the book, pushed back and/or had an adverse reaction. Friends who were already inclined towards this “radical” form of Christianity have embraced the book’s exhortations and been encouraged. The voices of my brothers and sisters in the Neo-Reformed camp have been largely non-existent. Here’s a summary.

1.) The Progressive Camp have pushed back. Sometimes aggressively. They are however generally the most active in blog conversations. They are practiced at it. The Homebrewed Christianity podcast is one of the best places for intelligent conversation with plenty of time to nuance answers. It’s progressive. I recommend subscribing to the podcast to every one no matter what theological ilk you may be coming from. On the recent podcast with me on Prodigal Christianity, Trip asked questions about my pushback on FB concerning Rob Bell’s public pronouncement on gay marriage. We had a good discussion on my “Refusal to Take a Position” approach to the church’s engagement on various LGBTQ sexuality issues. I want to continue to limit Christian discernment on alternative sexuality issues to local spaces. I can see supporting LGBTQ civic unions/’marriages,’ which I think makes sense in a post Christendom world and offers justice and support to gay and lesbian people who get discriminated against via the legal system. Indeed I think it may finally force us Christians to define what marriage/sexuality (and our practices for nurturing both) means for the Christian versus alternative understandings. This is something we desperately need to do. But as to the how our sexuality is to be shaped and formed in our lives out of one’s submission to the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom, that is something we must enter into communally, locally and out of one’s submission to Christ. We must make space for this kind of presence and work to take place in our lives and we cannot always predict or control what God is doing.

The reactions however in the comments of the podcast were largely negative. They reveal some of the most common progressive responses to Prodigal Christianity. One of the main complaints is that I asked my own church (evangelicalism) to “shut up” on the LGBTQ sexuality issues, stop making pronouncements, pay attention to our own duplicity and the lack of wholeness in our own sexual lives and marriages, and “be present” with LGBTQ people in their own lives and neighborhoods, opening pathways for the Kingdom. I got exuberant in the midst of it all and asked my church on the podcast to“just shut-up.” But what is odd is that people in the comments thought this act – telling yourself and your own church to shut-up – was duplicitous in itself. Telling yourself to shut-up is duplicitous? while urging others as well to not take a position?  It’s duplicitous evidently because I am making a pronouncement (“shut-up!!”) about how the church should not make pronouncements.

To me this logic may just be too cute. It smacks of drawing an internal contradiction for the sake of scoring points on finding contradictions.

Nonetheless, to me, this whole conversation reveals my inability to communicate on the epistemological/political/cultural/theological frameworks I’m using to understand the church’s place in the world. I’m asking for a way of engaging culture that overthrows the grand Enlightenment posture. I’m suggesting we are not in power and need to work from a posture of humility working out our discernments in communal spaces of the Kingdom. I’m asking us to be aware of how easily our engagements with society can be over-determined by the ideologies offered to us and how we must discern this as a hermeneutical social body. This takes listening, and “shutting up” and tending to what God is doing among us. This undermines the way we have understood our engagement with society, our idea of who is in control (we are not) and the way God works (something we cannot predict). And so Homebrewed Christianity has forced me to think about my communication style, how I am not connecting to justice concerns outside the church that somehow get missed in my excessive push for local discernment (for instance I think I need to talk more and explain more what I think about civil unions/marriage. Admittedly, my sometimes laser focus on the local has distracted me from addressing those concerns). So these discussions have been helpful. Moved me further. Thank you Homebrewed. Thank-you Trip and Bo. Thank-you progressives for getting on my case.

2.) The NeoAnabaptist/Holiness/Post Foundationalist Evangelical Camp has offered a lot of positive feedback from that podcast (albeit privately via email etc.). Many blog posts applaud our approach from people who already understand the issues in the ways I am framing them. We’ve been in these conversations for a while. Zach Hoag did mention the shortcoming mentioned above. But by and large Zach’s post and many others seem to get what we’re trying to display in this book. These are people most often found in the Neo-Anabaptist Camp, the Holiness evangelical camp, the Missio Alliance camp. No surprise here. There’s a lot of us out there, but we don’t blog as much. Nonetheless, the feedback, discussions etc., both in person and via internet, have been helpful.

3.) The Neo-Reformed Evangelical Camp has been largely silent. In the midst of all this other conversation, there has been a glaring lack in conversation with the Gospel Coalition, TG4, Neo-Reformed people. By this I mean no blog interactions, no facebook interactions, no intersection of our streams of theological work in conferences. This to me is a problem.

I remember the crickets in 2011 from the Neo-Reformed camp on Scot McKnight’s book King Jesus Gospel. The Gospel Coalition seemed to avoid the immense conversation generated around Scot’s book (except for one review. See my comments here). Why? Perhaps the Neo-Reformed blog/media groups are suffering from the sting from from John Piper’s infamous tweet that literally catapulted Bell’s book Love Wins into NY Times bestseller status. I get why they would want to be more careful. So let’s go small, local, invite our churches to hold conversations in the neighborhood between churches.  I remember we tried to pull in some larger “Neo-Reformed” voices to dialogue with us on the gospel at Missio Alliance. Granted the persons we asked were likely just plain overbooked and we did probably ask too late. I’ve asked some of my friends in the Neo-Reformed world to review Prodigal Christianity and have a dialogue. To this point we haven’t been able to get anything done?

So my question is, has the Neo-Reformed quit talking? (because of the Rob Bell episode maybe?) Are there concerns about too much dispersal? Is the rest of the Christian conversation, including progressives, Missio Alliance, Holiness church movements, (including Prodigal Christianity) too small to be worth the conversation  Have we the Holiness/Anabaptist/Centrist Baptist/ Centrist Reformed been too unfriendly/alienating in our engagements (I am sure I myself can improve on this)? If so we need to repent. Conversations, cross polinating via blogs, is good. We need to do it via conferences.

In my opinion, the state of conversation in the new missional movements is not good. We need to keep and refine our theological distinctives (only by doing this will good conversation and theological development occur). But we also must seek to overcome the dividing of turf before it happens.  What do you think?

Posted in Missio Alliance, Missional Leadership, Missional Theology, Neo-Anabaptist, Neo-Reformed, Rob Bell
52 comments on “The State of the Missional Conversation is Not Good: Has the Neo-Reformed Quit Talking?
  1. Zach Hoag says:

    Hey Dave, I think you’re right here that conversation has become somewhat stymied, probably because of clarifying distinctions (labels) among these “missional” streams that have essentially emerged over the last 15ish years. There’s been a settling, I think, into larger historical movements (progressive/mainline, centrist/evangelical, conservative/reformed) that have stronger boundaries/delineations.

    Now that some of those boundaries are clearer (and maybe that’s not a bad thing?), might it be time to intelligently begin ecumenical conversations on mission? In other words, not to engage assuming that we should all agree just because of the tag ‘missional’ but rather assuming our differences and seeking to more deeply (and civilly, productively) explore those differences as well as the common ground that may be there?

    I think of Tony Jones’s reaction to the book as an example – his insistence that we all *ought* to be in the same camp, which caused him to react so harshly/personally to PC, etc. But if we assume and accept our diversity, the missional conversation may be able to find some actual unity.

    Maybe :) .

  2. Zach Hoag says:

    Oh, one more thing, I do think that the settling of the neo-reformed into a very conservative or even fundamentalist position may render them disinterested in the actual substance of ‘missional.’ I’ve noticed that even Kellerites are talking less and less about contextualization and missional engagement, etc., and more and more about strong, exclusive definitions of gospel and what “culture” ought to look like with Christian influence. I’ve argued that the neo-reformed will give way to the new religious right. Etc.

    • David Fitch says:

      Dude …. Neo-Reformed=new religious right is a conversation stopper. I’m trying to avoid these moves … how do we make these kind of observations with love for the furtherance and blessing of the Kingdom work in all these various movements?

      • Zach Hoag says:

        Yeah, I hear you. I think I’m just mainly trying to explain *why* NR folks generally may not be engaging in conversation to begin with. That kind of posture prevents engagement with the substance of missional, though we may try and try (and I have). But I’ll refrain from that particular suggestion in the future. :)

  3. Chris Morton says:

    Dave,

    I agree that the neo-reformed types have stopped talking, or at least they’ve stopped talking to the world.

    I remember how exciting it was when A29 stuff first came out. They were using new technology to fill a huge gap of knowledge about Church Planting and missional thought. However, when they started naming “heretics” by name, and putting the word “reformed” (and making “gospel” a synonym), they stopped talking to the world at large.

    The Piper tweet wasn’t aimed at the world. It was aimed at the people who already agreed with Piper. It was a long time coming.

    In other words, don’t be frustrated. You were trying to create a conversation with people who don’t like to have conversations. Driscoll has even criticized the word conversation itself.

    The solution, is sad and counterintuitive: be more Anabaptist. If the Anabaptist tradition offers an alternative, it should be overwhelmingly obvious where we agree and disagree.

    Chris
    chrismorton.info

  4. A. Amos Love says:

    David

    Kudos to you – for presenting the link to “The Homebrewed Christianity podcast”

    You say
    “The reactions however in the comments of the podcast were largely negative.”

    Yes they were – Thanks for NOT spinning that…
    And taking the responsibility for the pushback – Your *inability to communicate.*

    “Nonetheless, to me, this whole conversation reveals *my inability to communicate*
    on *the epistemological/political/cultural/theological frameworks*
    I’m using to understand the church’s place in the world.”

    Huh??? I still do NOT?know what you said…
    Ever try talking, writing, so We’ens un-edjumacated simpleton sheeples can understand?

    You ask at the end – “What do you think?”

    Well, I think you love Jesus – And you are frustrated…
    Trying hard to tweak “Todays Religious System”- To produce some kind of lasting fruit…
    But – It Ain’t a workin.

    And – I think – Maybe you think to much… ;-)

    Have you ever thought about – NOT thinking? ;-)

    Because – when you “Think NOT” – the Son of man comes…. ;-)

    Luke 12:40 KJV
    Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye ‘Think Not.”

    Mat 24:44 KJV
    Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye “Think Not” the Son of man cometh.

    And as long as you are thinking – Why do you need Jesus?

  5. Jared Wilson says:

    Neo-Reformed=new religious right is a conversation stopper.h

    Bingo.

    It’s difficult to engage in conversation when it doesn’t feel ‘safe’ to do so. This is for true for anybody. But I have learned that those in the neo-Arminian/missional/etc. movement who have told me they want conversation/collaboration — yourself excepted, Dave — really just want to have their own say with those like me gladly listening. Any disagreement is dismissively categorized as defensiveness, intractability, etc. In other words, conversation means “Agree with what I say about you or I will say it louder.” And of course one always sounds defensive when disagreeing with the label of, oh say, “rape culture advocate,” “child abuser,” bigot, or some other unprintable things.

    I think also of a few fellows who have decided that when Calvinists sin it’s because they’re Calvinists. That’s not somebody who wants a conversation, I don’t think.

    When you take those stances — or align with people who do, affirming their stance even if not echoing it — you cannot legitimately expect your targets to feel like a conversation with you would be at all productive.

    • Zach Hoag says:

      Jared, in all fairness, you’ve produced your share of conversation stoppers along the way.

      • Zach Hoag says:

        Also, please feel free to explain how you/your movement isn’t interested in revitalizing Christian engagement in conservative US political positions. If that is not an accurate description of the situation, I am open to being corrected.

    • Jared,

      Thanks for being willing to jump in. I certainly appreciate it.

      For myself, I have little interest in painting the Neo-Reformed as right-wing fundamentalist, one step from endorsing “rape theology” (which is pretty offensive).

      However, I am concerned by something I see the Neo-Reformed doing which plays into your late of engagement with other Evangelicals. TGC and all related derivatives frequently speak of “gospel-centered” this and that and the other thing with the implicit (if not often explicit view) that others practices and emphases are sub-gospel (I could let several stories but I’ll just keep it simple). Related is the presumption that Calvinistic doctrines of the “gospel” are the baseline for true Evangelicalism. I think part of the attempts of TGC to corner the Evangelical “religious market” is to ignore other articulations of Evangelicalism and its understanding of the “gospel” and to only engage the heresies of the liberals.

      By engaging liberals the Neo-Reformed can consolidate their Evangelical constituency; by ignoring “other” Evangelicals the Neo-Reformed keep from confusing their constituency and watering down their “market share”. Of course, analysing things in this way may seem uncharitable to the Neo-Reformed, but this sure seems to be the case, that the Neo-Reformed desire keep up the illusion that they are true Evangelicals.

      Now I realize that can sound like desparate handwaving by the new kids on the block, trying to get the attention of the cool kids. But maybe that is exactly what it is, and what does it say of the “cool kids”? Do we just need to play somewhere else? Even when we believe/hope that we could all get along, and that things would be better if we did?

      This is not all directed at you, and I don’t expect you to speak for all the authors at TGC. But thanks again for posting a comment.

      • Jared Wilson says:

        Geoff, thanks. As you said, I cannot speak for all the bloggers or council-members at TGC but I think what is being called Calvinism has been a handy coalescing theology for a movement that is somewhat diverse on how integral it sees Calvinism to gospel fidelity. I have written and spoken more than a few times on how disappointing it would be to only be “Together 4 Calvinism” (or whatever). I know that at least in my church, where I am a Calvinist pastor of a largely non-Calvinist congregation in a church that does not identify as “Reformed” (by design), we have made concerted efforts to make sure the gospel is not reduced to Reformed theology.

        You wrote, “Related is the presumption that Calvinistic doctrines of the “gospel” are the baseline for true Evangelicalism.”

        I do not hold to that presumption personally. I am sure some do.

        One thing I have noticed, however, and of course I am biased from the inside, is that while many of these neo-Reformed guys are talking “gospel,” many of the non-neo-Reformed critics seem to keep talking “neo-Reformed.” It is a theory, anecdotally grounded for sure, that the reason you don’t see more non-Calvinists in the “gospel-centered movement” is b/c they are mostly busy highlighting points of disagreement with the gospel-centered folks rather than points of agreement and collaboration.

        But I know that street runs both ways.

        Speaking personally and of my ministerial context, we are glad to partner with non-Reformed folks on mission in our neighborhoods and towns and around the world — and in fact we do — so long as these folks share the real core convictions of evangelicalism. But we (usually?) cannot partner in good conscience with those who either don’t hold to evangelical distinctives or who make criticizing Reformed folks part of their ministerial platforms, or both. (We won’t partner with Reformed folks who make villainizing Arminians or Catholics or whatever part of their platforms either.)

        I do know lots of non-Reformed folks, actually, who appreciate the gospel-centered movement very much, attend the conferences, read the books, etc. They do not seem to have a problem with the prevailing Calvinism personally, even if they do theologically, because they find their resonance with all the talk of gospel and glory. I think they enjoy in the gospel-centered movement what the Reformed guys in the movement enjoy so much from the Wesleys, Lewis, and other non-Reformed writers/artists.

        Thanks for listening, brother.

        • David Fitch says:

          Jared,
          Thanks for the interactions… all this stuff is good to hear and understand.
          And Holsclaw’s a heretic ;)

        • Andrew Caldwell says:

          I wonder, is it possible that there is less working together on things pertaining to the gospel between the Neo-Reformed and other Non-Reformed (Neo-Anabaptist, Progressive, etc) camps because there is somewhat of a disagreement of what “the Gospel” actually entails? Or perhaps not disagreement, but at least that the emphasis of what carries the weight of “the Gospel” lies in different places for each respective camp.

          Regarding the lack of response to McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel by TGC et al, is it possible that that TGC didn’t respond mainly because they see “the Gospel” in different terms?

  6. Seth says:

    Ok Dave, help me out here.

    I’m confused about why, when you emphasize that this transformation “get’s real” on the ground and in the local, the evaluative tool for how everything is going is the status of the public conversation.

    Wouldn’t you expect the “public conversation” to reflect poorly realities that are necessarily embodied in local, ordinary faithfulness? What, for instance, do you think a string of Neo-Reformed blog posts would accomplish that could not be (better) accomplished outside the (quickly moving) blogosphere in the midst of personal relationships?

    • David Fitch says:

      Seth,
      good penetrating question. Thank-you.
      I do give a nod to the primacy of the local in the post. But what I am thinking about is how on the ground the groups are living, facing issues, and discerning…and the way theological work happens, is that these questions that emerge from the ground move to wider contexts. Theology is done, not top down,but bottom up, from local to glocal … These translocal larger conversations are necessary or else the local conversations become introverted, cultish, isolated and close in on themselves. This is why I think larger conversation is important when grounded in concrete life of the Kingdom.
      DF
      DF

      • Seth says:

        But how do you know the forms that make possible the larger conversation are not co-opted by other forces that prevent you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish?

        And even if we can both admit that larger conversation is important, it still remains to be seen why the status of “public conversation” is a good litmus test for the embodied quality of things.

        If conversations (at least the public kind on the interwebs) lack the substance for transformation (I heard someone say once), then what is it that we’re trying to measure here?

        • David Fitch says:

          Good points. And I have ripped on media campaigns whose main purpose is to de-contextualize, create antagonism, for the sake of creating energy that sells books. Nonetheless, we must have some means to keep from tribalizing. There must be an ecumenical missional conversation. We must however pay attention to the “how’s” of this conversation. I can see why the Neo-Reformed internet media prowess does not wnat to stir up a ridiculous storm ala Rob Bell. It was bad for them bad for the church, the only one it was good for was .. well you know.
          So to avoid internal tribalization of theology … within the Missional movements, we need the means to engage. That’s what I’m saying. You?

          • Seth says:

            Yea – I agree about how the larger conversations helps avoid internal tribalization. But your (self?)diagnosis seems excessive. But maybe I don’t even have the context to know what is and isn’t excessive.

            It seems that this all needs time (which the interwebs don’t afford us). This is slow work, no? I mean, how long has your book been published now? Five months? Cut yourself some slack, man.

  7. Dave: As one of your old students who works in the mainline I would honestly say I am progressive, emergent, and evangelical(though what I am passionate about has shifted). My days as a holiness pastor (Free Methodist) and church planter continue to feed my passion for the good news and the kingdom of God among us. I think that you hit the nail on the head that progressives view inclusion, grace above judgment, and social justice to be the heart of our mission.

    While I want to dialog across Christian tribes, there is the sense that progressives just get painted into a corner and dismissed as heretics. I hope that you can hold on to a place of greater dialog but just like the rest of our contemporary society polarization to the left or the right is the focus of our days.

    I have had great hope that the emergent conversations would bring about more dialog between tribes, but the cohort I have met with for the past five years has seen only a few conservatives come and quickly go. I can be comfortable dialoging with Catholics, Jews, Muslims, non-theists but when I try to have conversations with those on my right, there is no conversation. Usually just yelling and pointed fingers.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Perhaps these conversations could begin locally? Many congregations include people who (at the least) have sympathies (if not overt identification) in all of these streams.

  9. Chris Morton says:

    Also, let’s make space for the other reformed voices, beyond the young and the restless. Having a Presbyterian like Fred Harrell at Missio was a good start.

  10. Dan Jr. says:

    David,
    I can only speak to my relationships on the ground here in my own city. I’m good friends with some Acts29 guys and also friends with some mainline Emergent types. The hatred they have for each other is palatable. For real, they do not want to talk to each other. They have very little interest. The A29 guys seriously think anybody that appears to the left of them is trampling on the “gospel” and is in jeopardy of trifling with God’s sovereignty. They’ve got their “gospel” their own conferences, their own celebrities and for the most part their churches are growing numerically.

    My mainline friends (I’m not say mainliners are like this) think Calvinist theology is a cancer on the church. Their visceral disgust for Reformed theology has riddled them unable to appreciate anything that comes from that corner of the theological world.

    I think the Anabaptist expression is hard to decipher, so therefore, hard for both sides to figure out if it’s a foe or friend. Literally, when I have a cup of coffee with a more progressive/mainline pastor they are straining to figure out if I’m an oppressive conservative. Biblical words are trigger words for them.

    Same goes for my Reformed friends. When they hear words like “mutuality, partnership, contextualization, incarnation, community etc” they start sizing me up as an Emergent Rob Bell lover. This is all exhausting.

    Here is my concern. The Missional-Anabaptist expression I’ve noticed can sometimes stoop to using rhetoric in the same way. Maybe this is unavoidable. I hope not. I cringe when well read bloggers throw around “rape theology” or “abuse culture” or “oppressing woman” or “your God is a monster”. Or when Reformed bloggers use “heretic” or aggressively co-opt the gospel as only substitutionary atonement.

    Agree there must be an ecumenical missional conversation but I’m convinced little ground is going to be gained in diatribes, grandstanding and antagonistic blog posts. This is making conversation on the streets even more complicated.

    My most fruitful conversations have been with an Hispanic pastor and an African American pastor who know nothing of emergent or neo-reformed.

    anyhow?

    • Chris Morton says:

      Dan,

      I feel your pain! We desperately need people who are doing the hard work of defining a third way, without being angry and reactionary.

      CM

    • Matt J. says:

      “I think the Anabaptist expression is hard to decipher, so therefore, hard for both sides to figure out if it’s a foe or friend. Literally, when I have a cup of coffee with a more progressive/mainline pastor they are straining to figure out if I’m an oppressive conservative. Biblical words are trigger words for them.

      Same goes for my Reformed friends. When they hear words like “mutuality, partnership, contextualization, incarnation, community etc” they start sizing me up as an Emergent Rob Bell lover. This is all exhausting.”

      This right here. I think those in the Anabaptist stream have something valuable to offer. It’s one reason I follow Dave’s writings. But gosh, I would have to say “hard to decipher” is sometimes really accurate. It takes some time and real listening to figure this “third way” out sometimes and I admit I don’t always have the patience for it. It is so much easier to just try and sloppily group them in with the two loudest voices: the progressives or the neo-reformed.

      I also second Dan Jr’s observation that some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with African Christians who are way outside of these circles.

      As to why there aren’t a bunch of Reformed blog posts about Dave’s new book, my guess is that it’s not liberal enough to show up on the radar as a target. The same goes for why criticism of Roman Catholics is also at a pretty low tide. We are all (enough) on the same team for now and don’t need to grapple. Too busy doing other things.

    • Zach Hoag says:

      [The Missional-Anabaptist expression I’ve noticed can sometimes stoop to using rhetoric in the same way. Maybe this is unavoidable. I hope not. I cringe when well read bloggers throw around “rape theology” or “abuse culture” or “oppressing woman” or “your God is a monster”. ]

      Dan, who are the missional bloggers you have in mind here?

      • Dan Brennan says:

        Zach, in my mind, the broader missional conversations which turned out to be dead-ends (rather than constructive) were with Julie Clawson, Wendy Gritter, and Tony Jones.

        • Dan Brennan says:

          Zach, just a note. I’m not naïve. I currently don’t see Dave & Geoff as seeing eye to eye with Tony or Julie, or Wendy. But there is still a great need for a nuanced conversation in the missional communities (including those five) on what healthy submission (which an important dynamic for Dave and Geoff) and individuated agency looks like in missional communities–when there is a heavily-scripted emphasis on the local body–and how that engages other faith communities.

          • Zach Hoag says:

            Yeah, I hear you on the need for better communication among evangelical missionals and progressive/emergent folks. My commentary on Tony’s reaction to PC was not a condemnation of Tony’s theology but a desire to stop playing politics and actually just talk even if we have differences.

            After listening to Tony’s talk at Subverting the Norm though, I understand a bit more of where he is coming from. I think he is beginning to feel a bit disenfranchised within his own progressive stream because it is moving so strongly towards radical/atheist theology.

            My question above is for Dan White, Jr., though :) .

      • Dan Jr. says:

        Zach,
        Sorry it took so long for me to see this and respond.

        Well to be honest I wasn’t really aware of this subtle narrative across a dozen or so blogs until a pastor I was conversing with pointed it out to me. He said “your tribe is not so innocent, you use some pretty violent language to describe our theological framework”. I denied it, so he made his case by taking me on a little interweb tour. I was a bit taken aback and apologized.

        I’d rather not namedrop who they were(one of my own internet boundaries). I would never want to paint them in a negative light without knowing them personally and having a face-to-face encounter. I’m aware that might seem dodgy but I’d prefer to speak in generalities then specifics when it comes internet exchanges. Sometimes I slip up on this because of frustration but it is an ethic I attempt to stick to. Sorry i didn’t answer your question precisely.

        peace.

  11. Hello David,

    I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting nor have I read any of your books; however I do read an occasional blog. I appreciated your earlier comment to head off a comparison between “neo-Reformed” and the religious right. A missio friend invited me to come over and make a comment.

    Your observation about the neo-Reformed silence may be more a product of your perspective than actual substance. As a member of the Acts 29 network, I can assure you we are committed to the mission of God more than ever. In our annual retreat a few weeks ago, the themes of evangelism, church planting, and racial diversity and harmony were emphasized. Many of us have settled our beliefs about contextualization, missional methodology, and so on. Perhaps the so-called silence is a product of our getting on with the mission.

    Nevertheless, I wrote an article last week that devoted a section to the meaning of missional (http://www.gospelcentereddiscipleship.com/examples-church-mission-in-discipleship-my-response-to-a-9-marks-book-review/). I was criticized from the 9 Marks ministry, but was able to engage in winsome fruitful dialogue through social media on into email exchanges. It was fruitful. In the article, I also praise Scot’s book, which I thought was excellent, though I would qualify the soteric gospel language, as I point out in the article.

    I have friends in Missio, particularly JR Woodward, with whom I talk and partner. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to “add you to the list” by meeting at a conference or something some time. Hope this helps.

    • David Fitch says:

      Jonathan,
      I don’t think anyone is accusing the Acts 29/TGC/T4G and other Neo-reformed of not being”mission” driven. I think we differ as to methods and the way we understanding the relation between church, mission and context because of our experiences, traditions and cultures we are engaging. So I think it’s important to dialogue over the key issues including Kingdom, gospel, Scripture, witness etc. I’m glad you’re “getting on with mission.” But it’s exactly here where new challenges are met that require discernment. These places are key moments to move beyond your own theology/historical perspective and share what you’re learning and be challenged on what you might be missing. It’s dialogue, out of love, mutual respect and difference.
      Blessings, hope to meet along the way!

      • Burly says:

        Jonathan, I was thinking about you yesterday when I read this post and saw your interactions with the 9Marks folks (and esp. your comments on McKnight’s “King Jesus Gospel”).

        I know DF personally (and have followed him online for years) and I don’t know you, Jonathan, but have followed you online for years. It’s my understanding that your M.O./missional practice at the very least *looks* similar to what DF promotes on his blog. He may not be aware that you are part of Soma Communities Network (a subset of Acts29?) which differ very much in flavor from some of the Acts29 mega-churches (or shall I say “giga-churches” *eye roll* :) ). It seems to me that Soma Communities embrace their model as their calling and are also committed to partnership with others in the network with vastly different models? That is a question more than a comment. I observe [and appreciate] you and Vandersteldt and Kalinowski from afar …

  12. PJ Stoe says:

    “My most fruitful conversations have been with an Hispanic pastor and an African American pastor who know nothing of emergent or neo-reformed.”

    I agree 100% with that Dan… The polarization is growing and has made it almost impossible to have loving dialogue. My most fruitful conversations are with those who have no idea what emergent or neo-reformed mean.

  13. Bryan Long says:

    One real and powerful reason for the lack of productive conversation is the mediums themselves. Blogs, Facebook and the like are poor channels for real, authentic conversation where people can be heard, things can be defined, and face-to-face accountability is present. When discussion is channeled through highly public mediums it creates a need to be right at the sake of really listening.

    I believe conversation is needed and benefical. However, most online “conversation” comes across as platform building and position entrenching. Shouldn’t we seek better and more productive expressions of community dialog?

  14. Dan Brennan says:

    Hey Dave,

    I’m curious about what kind of missional conversations are you intending to have?

    In your book, you state, “In post-Christendom, an overemphasis on conversation now looks like a bunch of people standing around talking, and talking, and talking, and nothing ever comes of it.” You and Geoff also state, “Most of the Emergent conversations we took part in during the early years never actually touched the ground.” One of the subsections of your chapters is entitled, “lost in conversation.” In my humble opinion, you claimed a lot of turf about “conversation” in your book.

    Yet, here in this post you respond to Seth, “These translocal larger conversations are necessary or else the local conversations become introverted, cultish, isolated and close in on themselves. This is why I think larger conversation is important when grounded in concrete life of the Kingdom.” Yes, indeed. A point I’ve been making for a long time. I think the conversation is much larger than the three paths you have called out.

    I don’t see in your book any aspiration or criteria for an ecumenical missional conversation. I’m encouraged by the fact that you want missional conversation beyond the local community–and beyond your Anabaptist/Holiness/evangelical path. I think you’ve made a mistake by not including a whole multitude of Christians who are not in the evangelical world. In this last month, I’ve had a serious conversation with a mainline pastor who has a missional heart. You don’t include Roman Catholics in this discussion yet I find many missional Christians warming up to Pope Francis. I would suggest that if you want a broader missional “meta” conversation, an ecumenical spirit means you can’t close the door prematurely on “conversation.”

  15. David Fitch says:

    Dan,
    I was playing off Zach Hoag’s use of “ecumenical” in my tweet, characterizing the need for the three groups that have emerged these past 15 years within evangelicalism, and how they need to come into better relation together. I didn’t mean to infer something larger – such as Ecumenism proper between all Christian groups. I’m all for that of course. I am always thinking of new ways to involve ALL churches within the community together in God’s work … but I expect that is how all the missional groups think of ecumenical cooperation. And we know these conversations are going on beyond evangelicalism, the majority of Emergent discussion being an example. Prodigal Christianity however never intended to address these wider concerns …it was beyond the scope of the book.It’s not a book on ecumenism, although, again, I’m a participant in some groups that work for that as well as interfaith groups.
    Thanks for raising this very important issue …
    DF

  16. Dan Brennan says:

    Dave, okay, fine, Limit it to the three groups in your book. I’ll just pushback a little bit here based upon what Ive seen in the tweets and the reaction I’ve seen from you and Geoff. Take it for what its worth. I suggest you close down the conversation prematurely when you begin receiving feedback and criticism and in return say, “well, we are misunderstood by both sides so we must be right.” That doesn’t help an ecumenical conversation among the 3 groups. My two cents.

    • David Fitch says:

      Dan,
      OK,
      I think it’s ok to say we’re misunderstood and develop the misunderstanding and by so doing further clarification as long as it is in a humble way. Granted I blow the “humble” part from time to time. And if I actually said or implied “because both sides misunderstand me, therefore I am right” then I repent from that as well. Even if I didn’t say it, I am sure I come across that way sometimes. I apologize.
      I have tried to practice something different even when disagreeing, clarifying … but I am sure I will fail at it again … in the near future … but that doesn’t excuse it …
      DF

  17. Dan Brennan says:

    Dave, I’m not a card carrying Anabaptist. I’m more decisively eclectic which means I’m open to the Anabaptist tradition. For me, this blog post was quite interesting. I see your heart and desire for broader conversation. But I also know that you were disdained with ongoing “conversation” and argued quite significantly in your book about the problem of endless conversation and talk.

    So it comes back to a spirit of engagement that doesn’t attempt to cut off the broader conversation. I think its one thing to have local ecclesial “boundaries.” But there are too many areas (sexuality for just one complex example) where ongoing humble “conversation” is needed rather than shunned.

  18. Chris Smith says:

    Here’s a serious question…
    Where are the spaces in which Emergent and Neo-Reformed (and even Neo-Anabpatist) can come together for conversation: to know and be known, to listen and to speak with safety and honesty?

    I’m thinking mostly of in-person spaces, as the internet can be so impersonal and omits most important non-verbal parts of communication.

    Everyone is so pigeon-holed with their own conferences, and their own gangs that they run with — so to speak.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I think such spaces are essential…

  19. Nathan Smith says:

    Recently, I noticed the banner photo on TGC’s facebook page and wrote them a facebook message regarding some concerns I had with the photo. It’s a map of the world with the TGC logo superimposed over top of the map rather than as a logo in a corner or some other signifier. It stretches from one end of the map to the other. Here’s the link to their page if anyone wants to see the photo – https://www.facebook.com/thegospelcoalition

    I wanted to engage the TGC staff so I sent them this email message;

    Conversation started June 21

    To Whom It May Concern:

    I recently came across your new banner photo while checking out another post. To keep it simple, I am sincerely disappointed and even angry at seeing the TGC logo spread across the globe. Each of us can do what we want with our globes and maps, but this picture saddened me when I first saw it.

    It may have been posted with different intentions than to offend anyone, but if you will allow me, I would like to mention some reasons why it is not helpful to the church.

    1. It seems to suggest an expansionism of the ideas and influence of TGC. It is not wrong to seek to bless the world with the resources that you have as I understand TGC has been doing as of late, but this picture provokes something beyond that. It suggests a monopolizing, expansionist agenda as much as anything else. Whether that is the intention or not, it can be communicated by the picture.

    2. There are numerous global organizations and indigenous communities of faith that TGC will have to work with in order to bless the world with your resources. This picture ignores those relationships and at worst demeans those whom TGC will need to depend upon. I have worked for an international organization, Operation Mobilization, which is present in more than 110 countries. While working with them, I traveled to nearly 40 countries, served in a number of churches and ministries started and funded by indigenous leadership. Some enjoyed being a part of the OM network and would proudly display the OM logo because of the resources OM had helped to give them. OM has made many mistakes but I can assure you that the leadership there would never think of donning a photo like this, especially on a public forum for the reasons stated among others.

    3. The reputation that TGC has garnered as struggling with being exclusive to Reformed type circles is not helped by this photo. I would hope for TGC’s sake that they would seek to honor the nature of the Church’s universal diversity and understand that TGC is not for everyone. Good intentions aside, this photo could suggest that TGC really does believe that their tradition/expression/theological vision ends up being “better” than everyone else’s.

    There are many other reasons that I could go into as to why this picture is damaging, but I’ll end with the fact that this was painful to see because there are so many other traditions and theological visions present within the global church that are needed for the Gospel to go forth, some much larger and with more influence than TGC has or will ever have. This picture suggests that those traditions are not needed or at least the relationships and partnerships that we need are not required for TCG resources to spread around the globe.

    Again, I’m addressing what this photo suggests, not what the original intentions were.

    My suggestion is to take down the photo and to not use TGC’s logo in any capacity that suggests expansionism, exclusivity, solo ministry efforts, etc. I believe this photo suggests all of those problems and more and will be painful for some and angering for others.

    Sincerely,
    Nathan Smith

    Since sending the email nearly a month ago, I have not received any communication back regarding my interaction with them. Cards on the table, I initially wanted to critique it without a conversation, but knew that that wasn’t the way forward if we are going to be the church. I am disappointed that an effort such as this seems to have been ignored. I am graduate of TEDS – a bastion of TGC, have volunteered and attended their conferences and have friends that are on staff and participate in the movement.

    The reasons for not being engaged might be prudent on their part, but I just can’t see it. This suggests to me that organizations like TGC may not be prepared to engage other traditions or that they may not care to as they are gaining internal momentum and aren’t required to reach out as much – at least for now. Either way, I am now not only disappointed about their use of this picture, but also with their unwillingness to engage.

  20. Nathan Smith says:

    I’ve posted a blog post today regarding the letter I sent to TGC asking for dialogue on their Facebook banner photo.

    http://restoringpangea.com/that-gospel-coalition-vs-the-gospel-coalition/

    Nothing yet.

  21. Tim Keller says:

    Hi David –

    I’d agree with the comment from Bryan above–that the internet is not a good place for real interaction between ‘tribes’. (Sorry for the slightly pejorative term, but I’m using it for us all.) I have always subscribed to what Alan Jacobs said about the Internet, namely that it is “the friend of information but the enemy of thought.” I have never found it to be the best place for most people to have thoughtful dialogues and interactions across boundaries.

    The better way to do this is for people from a conference (say Missio or a TGC conference) to invite several people from another tribe to their conference, both for some a) long private dialogues and discussions, and b) some short public panel discussions. That would go a long way toward learning from each other as well as teaching us how to treat each other with some grace. We are much, much more likely to be patient and gracious in person than on line.

  22. David Fitch says:

    Tim,
    I concede the point. Although it doesn’t have to, the internet often creates antagonisms and misunderstandings. I think what I am after is more resources on the net that sustain conversations on the key theological cultural issues of our day between the main parties who are committed to the same core orthodoxy (for Missio Alliance that orthodoxy is defined by the Cape Town Lauzanne Commitments). The Holiness, Anabaptist, Neo Reformed, and Progressive factions within evangelicalism all have much to offer one another. Your suggestions are great. I believe it will take someone of your stature and irenic leadership disposition to help us along. And someone like me continuing to learn how to be more irenic seeking God’s Kingdom in gentleness and love (it doesn’t come naturally :) ). Let’s keep working on it!!
    Thanks for coming on the blog
    DF

  23. Ona says:

    Hi there, I enjoy reading all oof your article. I wanted to write
    a little comment to support you.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "The State of the Missional Conversation is Not Good: Has the Neo-Reformed Quit Talking?"
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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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