Roxburgh & Franke Session Four

NOTES:
Roxburgh presented for most of this session. He was saying that instead of asking the practical questions (which is all that most missional church writers seem to do these days), think about what happens if you ask the God questions first. We should first explore the God who is Trinity, relationality and difference. He says that God always comes to us in the “space between,” in the space of difference. There are all of these metaphors he points to in any conversation, emergent, missional, traditional, parachurch, the metaphors are ones of inside and outside. The place of leadership for all of those things are “inside.” They are all about how to draw people in to whatever program one is doing or promoting. So the role of leadership is always to make things happen inside. In the inside/outside metaphors the game becomes how to we develop the proper plans and strategies for how.

What if the role of leadership is neither inside or outside, but in the space between (the liminal space) and the job is to provide leadership in the space between church/culture or whatever pair you want. Leadership is in the space between, the liminal space. He’s saying our basic paradigms of leadership are just dead wrong, they are too deeply based in Christendom. If we dwell deeply in the narrative of Christ we see a God who meets people in the space between. When we ask the questions what does it mean to be the church, it’s not a matter of going back to some Acts 2 idea, but asking the question “what was God up to in Jesus.” That always comes as an interaction with the other. We know God in the space between, that’s the space of the church.

The space between us never gets closed…in the midst of that space is where mystery emerges. God’s future is among the ordinary and the present. How do we create environments that call that forth? God keeps showing up in the most “God-forsaken places.” What are the practices of the Christian life which re-socialize us into the community of Christ?

SUMMARY:
What Roxburgh and Franke are arguing for, in sum, is something like this…They see the missional church idea as rooted deeply in the doctrine of God as a plurality in oneness. Drawing on Eastern thought and the doctrine of the Social Trinity, they focus on God’s interrelatedness and how in God’s essential make-up is this idea of the “other” which is imbedded in the 3 persons, one essence theology. The conclusions that they draw from this are that we always encounter God in “the other,” thus this should be the space/environment we try to create in missional leadership. Thus missional leadership is always driven back into the local environment.

This is really good stuff, though I’m not sure I understand all of it. I’m so predisposed to read this sort of theology favorably because of my previous encounteres with the theologies of Hope. Obviously Moltmann was working with this missional idea, as was Rahner, far before these guys came into the picture. Pannenberg, Moltmann, and Rahner all pre-date Newbigin (the missional theology patron saint) and they were all thinking about missional theology. Moltmann, especially, draws many of the same conclusions that Franke and Roxburgh are working with. He worked out the theological underpinnings of these concepts in a much more well-developed way, even in some of the ways it should be worked out in practice, before Newbigin was really writing much yet. I think his theological construct is a little tighter than Newbigin’s. I sort of wish these guys would interact with it a little more. I often felt like they were drawing conclusions that Moltmann already has drawn and calling them their own ideas. Still though, I think Franke and Roxburgh are focusing in on some really important nuances of missional theology and shining a light on them.

QUESTIONS:
I’m really intrigued by this idea of the “space between” and that this is actually the space where the church comes alive and God’s future breaks into the present. “Space between” as the place where we interact with God. I think that I like that for the most part. I’m still trying to wrap my arms around it. Here are a few of my questions:

I wonder if there an extent to which we emphasize this “space between” at the expense of the deeply rooted New Testament themes of oneness, solidarity? We can emphasize the difference only to the extent to which we emphasize the unity. If we don’t, do we not run the risk of ignoring the 1 in favor of the three (the reverse of the mistake of the West which ignored the 3 in favor of the one). Turning toward the “other” is fantastic and makes sense to me, but the “space between” stuff seems, at least to my mind, to need more work in how it is conceived and communicated. But I think the intuition is right…I’ll mess with it a little more here.

I’m struggling a bit with what appears to be a mixed metaphor emphasizing both “crossing boundaries” and “space between.” If I’m meeting somebody in the “space between” that person and my person, then the only boundary I really cross is the boundary of my “self?” How exactly would one do that? If I don’t cross that boundary then am I crossing the boundary of some other person’s “self?” If the answer is that I’m not crossing any boundaries of personhood, just physical boundaries in history, then we are simply talking about community and conversation using the language of “space for the other,” to describe an ongoing conversation. I’m struggling a little bit with how to appropriate these metaphors.

I’m trying to anticipate the answers to my own questions:

Q: What boundary am I to be crossing?
A: The boundary between yourself and the “other”

Q: How do I cross this boundary?
A: By creating space for the other.

Q: Where does this space exist?
A: It is liminal space, space between.

Q: Space between what and what?
A: Space between two persons.

Q: What is this space like?
A: It is a space of alterity.

It seems as though Roxburgh wants to grant liminal space ontology. I think that is problematic. The boundary of the self is one boundary that I cannot cross – I am always subjective as a “self” or as a “person,” this is good Newbigin (Cappadocian) thought here. I will never escape my own self-ness or subjectivity, nor can I exchange my subjectivity for another’s. The boundary of the self is precisely the boundary that the doctrine of the social Trinity tells us we cannot cross as well. How do I cross into the space of the “other?” Isn’t the assertion “I only encounter God as the other” just Barth’s wholly other stuff from the doctrine of God writ smal for humanity to emulate, much in the way the social Trinity holds keys to human relatedness? Is there any relatedness apart from “otherness,” and if so, how can that be? I cannot relate to sameness except for internally. So, is this liminal space internal to the person or exterior to the person?

If the experience of God is always in the “space between” myself and the “other” then do we reduce God to pure transcendence – always the wholly other – never immanent in any fashion? I know I can come up with a number of different kinds of experiences with God that might be simply between a human person and God; semi-private encounters. However I get the feeling that they would cast these things as experiences of the other. I think that is probably right but it brings up anothe question (next paragraph). What about human interactions, aren’t they always an interaction with the other. But if that is the answer, then I’m struggling what sort of human interaction could be conceived as not an interaction with the “other.” If every human interaction is an interaction with the other, and the gospel or any experience of God arises in the space between the person and the other, then that isn’t really saying anything. If that is the explanation, then the “other” that they are talking about is simply consciousness or life.

Another question. Does one encounter God in the space between themself and God? How can there be a space between me and God? Certainly God is other. But do I have any participation in God or is it always an experience of the other?

It seems that their answer is not that I cross into the space of the other, but into the space of the in between. Thus, this “space between,” seems to be given ontology and I’m not sure that makes any sense to me. Even if we do grant it ontology, how can I unrooted from my subjectivity as a person to enter into the “space between,” without negating personhood? Don’t I encounter them in “space between” precisely as a person?

If we don’t want to grant liminality ontology, then it seems to me that we encounter the other while still rooted into our self-ness. If personhood is related to uniqueness (Zizioulas) and not merely biology/psychology, then isn’t everything I relate to the “other?” Isn’t all relating, a relating to the “other.” So we’re really just describing what it means to be a person. Thus “creating the space for the other” is something which happens internally, within my own self-hood and it is simply a natural part of being in communion with other beings. (Being as Communion is Zizioulas’ book BTW) In that case then we are not really forging new ground here. Were giving old ground new names.

I think there is still some work to be done in the way they describe their theology, or more likely in the way I understand it! Either way, I think they are barking up the right tree. I have a lot of hope that when their thought matures, it will be a great blessing to the people of God.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.


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