Whaddya Say We Get Honest about Labels?

This morning on Marketplace Morning Report, Krissy Clark filed a story entitled, “What Does ‘Welfare’ Mean to You?“:

Once upon a time, the word welfare simply meant, faring well. That’s how the framers of the U.S. Constitution used it in the preamble. Right after the part about “forming a more perfect union” and before the part about “securing the blessings of liberty”, there’s a charge to “promote the general welfare.”

And yet, if you go out on to the street and ask people how they feel about the word welfare today, the feelings are, to put it mildly, fairly negative.

“It’s for people who sit on their butt all day and don’t do anything and then say ‘give me your money,’” is how John Frazer, a car service driver from San Diego, put it.

“It’s kind of associated with failure,” added Suncana Laketa, a graduate student from Arizona who said she had received welfare in the past herself.

She goes on to explain how the word has changed — how it has been demonized. The label “gay” has undergone a similar change, as many parents have had to explain during the annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” And here’s a telling book title about how labels are used: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.

You see, calling someone a “liberal” isn’t just a forensic exercise in academic differentiation. It’s a political act. And leaders who claim a theological tradition that’s particularly attuned to the political should stop acting naive about the politics of labels.

This post and the hullaballoo that surrounds it has the potential to be seen as internecine sniping, so I’m going to try to draw some larger lessons.

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Some Honest Talk about Labels (Emergent, Missional, Etc.)

I was interested to see the above video, promoting the new book by my friends David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. It was particularly interesting based on how they used some terminology in the promo video. They repeatedly used the terms “neo-Reformed” and “Emergent” as opposite poles, and they used their own preferred term, “missional,” as the middle way between those two erroneous options.

What was most intriguing to me is that I first met both of these guys at an Emergent Village Cohort. Indeed, Geoff ran the Chicago cohort for many years — it was, under his leadership, one of the strongest cohorts in the country. Meanwhile, Fitch was injecting his own missional-Anabaptist theology into the emergent movement in a powerful way. Fitch has gained an audience for his theology in large part because of his generous engagement with the emergent movement.

In other words, these guys are among the most responsible people for the growth and development of the emergent movement, from which they are now trying to verbally distinguish themselves.

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Good News for the Missional Church

terra periculosa

“terra periculosa” by Jonny Baker

Jonny Baker, long time observer of all things missional and emergent, reports in from a meeting which infused him with hope:

yesterday there was a gathering in london diocese of around 30 groups like this and church plants. and well done the diocese for encouraging such a gathering! i don’t want to create a glossary or anything but a church plant is generally someone starting a new church and the language of plant means it often takes something of the character of what it’s planted from and usually looks like a church – people gathering, worshipping, reaching out, making disciples, giving money and eventually embedding into the wider structures of the church. it used to be quite something to be able to get permission to plant a church but now certainly in london there is a lot of activity in this area which is great.

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Ten Missional Myths

A couple weeks ago, Steve Knight took notes during a talk I gave at the Funding the Missional Church conference, and he’s posted them on his new Patheos blog, Missional Shift. Here are the first 5; click thru to Steve’s blog to see the rest, plus my theological reflections on “missional.”

10. Missional is trying to put the conventional church out of business — Not so, says Dr. Jones.

9. Missional is anti-denominational — Many of us were surprised to hear Tony say this, but he clarified his personal position: “I am anti-denominational, for theological reasons.” But what Tony thinks is not what typifies all of the missional church, thank God! (grin)

8. Missional is a new way to “do church” — “Missional is a thorough-going theological re-evaluation, a thorough-going rethinking of church, what it means to be a disciple of Christ. … Everything should be re-thought in view of missional church.”

7. Missional has a spokesperson — Tony affirmed the broad spectrum of theological voices in the missional church conversation, which is the philosophy of this blog, as well.

6. Missional doesn’t appreciate church history — “Missional is more of a pastiche, a mosaic, a re-appropriation of church history in a different kind of fashion.”

Read the rest: 10 Myths About the Missional Church.


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