Dr. Franke’s Introduction…
He told the story that he heard on NPR of Phillip Jenkin’s and his trip to Africa. While he was sitting in this church meeting word spread that a prominent American church leader was there and word got up to the pastor and so he invited Jenkins to come forward, not to speak off the cuff, but to perform that week’s exorcism. The reason they did is because “they believe the bible.” But we all would probably shrink back from a church that performed a weekly exorcism, but it seems OK for them to do that. He faked his way through the ceremony thinking that it would have been rude NOT to have attempted to do the exorcism.
Franke then talked about how he read a story about this particular village or region where a “witch hunt” had taken place and dozens of women, mostly elderly ones, were attacked and killed with machetes because they were witches.
He’s just using this as an example of the power of culture.
Question: what is the church?
Lots of times the idea of the church is this impulse to get back to a previous era – pick your era. You can say get back to the faith of the reformers, or medieval faith, or more often its an idealized view of the church in Acts…you can’t look back and say “let’s get back to what the church was like in this given era.” The reason you can’t is because God’s desired is that we should be looking ahead.
(I think this is just Pannenberg’s idea that the KOG is proleptically actualized in Christ).
Our primary commitment is the relationship between Gospel and culture.
We have no stake in the way church has to be done, we’re not trying to preserve the way that church has been done in the past. All modes of doing church are particular reactions to a particular time. We’re always engaged in this commitment to Gospel and its relationship to new cultural situations. There is tremendous range of responses to culture. Think about the different responses given in the early church, medieval Roman Catholic church in Spain, 18th Century British church, Irish monastic community in 19th century, or an African church in present day…all of these would look so different so as to be almost unrecognizable as the same faith. But we should see each of those things as a faithful reaction to their environment.
“There is no notion of church apart from this reaction…gospel & culture.” what forms of life together will be faithful to live out and bear witness to the gospel in this time and place. Communities that follow this gospel and culture engagement, faithfulness to God in this particular time and place, are Missional churches.
We broke up into groups to ask very pragmatic questions about what it means to be a Missional people.
“How to we become midwives of missional activity that is already there. How do we become poets such that we can put words to what is happening. How do we become more and more attentive to the things that are happening off stage, as opposed to what is happening on stage.”
Sometimes when I hear those kind of statements it just trips my bull-shit meter.
Returning to the context of the Trinity.
Newbigin in India, sitting amongst the “other,” is trying to understand this gospel. Previously the gospel had been English, Colonial, conquesting, etc. So for Newbigin this was a time of liminality. The narratives of his English life game him all kinds of habits, values, etc. The liminal space is how do I make sense of the habits and practices of mine when they no longer seem to hold in this space. The liminal space is not giving them up, but listening to the other while still holding them.
For some of us we’ve been trained in this whole way of life and we can’t make sense of it anymore because of the environment we live in. This is what happens with Newbigin. When he started reflecting upon it, he did so through the Cappadocians. Newbigin is reading them, they are Greek thinkers who are converted, who are in liminal space as well. The more they lean into the idea that Jesus is who he says he was, then God is not primarily one, but three.
So with that as the background he’s going to talk a little bit about the question “who is God?” He is saying that the social Trinity is such a big deal these days because there is so much anxiety about relationship. The language of the Cappodocians is confessional.
If God is Trinity and that means that the very essence of creation in the image of God is relationality, then the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the father, etc. So we are confessing that the basic name for reality is difference. (Alterity?) The core nature of reality is difference in this model of thinking.
Jesus comes to us as the other and as a stranger. That is in fact how God is done. The only way we can know God and experience God is in and with and through the stranger who is not us.
Paul, Newbigin, Cappadocians all live in liminality as do we.
He’s poaching this idea of “alterity” from Emmanuael Levinas, whose liminal space was created by the holocaust. Roxburgh asks the question, is the 20th century epitomized in Adolf Hitler, is this merely an epi-phenomenon, a mistake that happened which is not really part of the core DNA of who we are as modern, western, Christian people. Levinas says it goes all the way down. It isn’t an accident we can sluff off, it is part of the modern Christian experiment.
Why? Because modernity is really about a method that was formed to impose control over the environment in which we live. That method was so successful that it was then applied to everything. What happens in the western imagination is that not only do we turn nature into objects of our own ends, but we turn human beings into the objects of our own ends. For instance we teach courses like contagious Christianity. They teach us how to identify a prospect’s readiness for saying yes to Jesus. You teach this course without being aware of the fact that you have objectified people and are using them toward your ends. So at the core of modern Christian identity and what we call the gospel is the objectification of the human being. So how do you explain Hitler? Once you live in a narrative whose primary goal is to get control, it’s not very far to go to say that this object is not lining up with where we are trying to go, it’s not a big step to get rid of that object. He says, that’s the holocaust.
In stark contrast the gospel is about welcoming the other, the stranger, then we understand that we can never turn the other into objects of our own ends.
The whole idea that he’s pushing is this question, how do we engage the other. He says it is important because engaging the other is in the very fabric of the universe and it is essential to what the gospel actually is. We encounter God as the other.
If the other can never be objectified, then there is no program I can overlay and say to my church, here is how we become missional. The question is how do we create a space where people have the freedom to risk free speech. There is an unspoken idea that “this is not a safe place to speak.” What you’ve got going on in many of our churches. It’s as concrete as “gas prices are going up and I might lose my house.” Or “I love my church but I live too far away and I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” How do we allow free speech so that their narratives can come forth. In those narratives we begin to have experiences of the other.
He’s not prescribing a psychological thing, but the poetic listening of other folks. He says that this has to happen first inside the church. We have no idea how to listen to the other until we can practice that experience in the church. How do we create environments in our midst where the other is heard and encountered?