Before it was called Europe, this land was known as Christendom. In the post Christendom era of the church we don’t “have” a mission, we “are” a mission…the gospel is not something which is proclaimed so much as it is something that is embodied. Thus we must own the idea that theology is always incarnational.
[ ASIDE: I would agree with that statement, except that I would emphasize that this should have always been our theology/ecclesiology. I have been extremely influenced by Moltmann and Pannenberg in ecclesiology as well as Newbigin on Missional thinking. Moltmann always said the church doesn’t have a mission, God has a mission and this missio dei calls forth the church. The missio dei calls the church into existence, but the church does not control, instigate, co-opt or initiate the missio dei. This is God’s show start to finish. That seems, to me at least, to be pretty right on. ]
What is the gospel? Tim defined it as: nothing more than, nothing less than the life of God; which can also be called Jesus; or God acting through the eternal Word (and HS) to created and re-create all of the cosmos. This is a really insightful definition and a good way to be inclusive while centering the whole thing in Trinitarian terms. The problems arise when we try to define this too narrowly and manage the boundaries of it. Tim did a really great job of teasing out the two options: bounded set or centered set.
This is based on who is IN and who is OUT. This is where we define exactly what the lines are between those who are in the group and out of the group and then expend a whole bunch of energy doing boundary maintenance. This view wants to define the gospel in concrete abstract terms and belief statements and then demand that people ratify a theology as much as anything else. Then behaviors are parsed and IN and OUT are again at stake. There is a hard line taken on certain divisive issues and this view also generally leads to denominationalism and the sectarian impulse.
This is based on who is NEAR and FAR. This is where we realize that we really don’t have the ability to concretely define in and out; that we do not have the ability to see where the boundaries are – at least not exactly – and when we think we do see the boundary, we see it in motion. This is very connected to the ways that Jesus stretched the ideas of the contemporary Judaism of his day concerning who was “IN” and “OUT,” and takes on his way of using NEAR and FAR as a much healthier way of looking at the issue. Jesus had table fellowship with all kinds of outsiders. He made a whole ministry out of choosing outsiders and ruining the whole system of IN and OUT. He preferred phrases like, “you are very near to the kingdom of God.” This set is a relational set and time is not spent managing boundaries so much as it is spent in relationship with the people of God.
HOSPITALITYIf we are going to take the Centered Set approach to our faith, then we have to become experts at hospitality. He took us through a sort of belong before you believe exercise. He mentioned the Nouwen book, Reaching Out, which is incredible and emphasizes this movement from hostility to the “other,” to hospitality. Tim emphasized that today’s reality is that most of us are socialized into a different reality or into life-change. We are transformed by the community much more than we are transformed by rationality or even personal mystical experience.
He talked through the 4 stories of Israel, but honestly, if you want this part of the talk, you should really spend the time with Tim’s Easter sermon on the Jacob’s well sermon page. It’s an amazing foray into this gospel as story idea, really a great sermon and well worth the 35 minutes. The general gist is that the whole concept of gospel was born in Isaiah and is not rooted in the priestly narrative, as is much of the contemporary evangelical view. If you are going to talk about the gospel as it would be understood by those who first heard Jesus and for whom Jesus crafted his words, then you have to pay attention to themes like Exodus, Exile, etc.