Monday, December 10, 2007

Living Well in the Emerging Milieu (DMin)

Once we look closely at the philosophical foundations of much of what passes as popular culture today it is easy to become discouraged. When one is hoping and praying for a transformed city it is difficult to hear of fathers killing their children (as I heard this morning on the news in my community) and of characters in movies trying to kill God (as in the upcoming Golden Compass movie coming out - what a "great"?!? Christmas movie - do you think that timing was coincidental?) But is this cultural situation too difficult for God? Is the Gospel irrelevant to this emerging culture? Obviously not! God is at work and part of our role is to participate in the Missio Dei and the incarnation. The next section of my paper addresses some of the responses to our current cultural milieu.

How shall we then live?

"Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society.
Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story."

The ongoing challenge is to recover and retell the original story of Jesus in the midst of a culture that thinks it already knows the story and believes the story is irrelevant. The challenge is also to realize that our understanding of the story has been clouded by the history of the church and our experience of that story. Alan Hirsch asserts: “I have become absolutely convinced that it is Christology, and in particular, the primitive, unencumbered Christology of the NT church, that lies at the heart of the renewal of the church at all times and in every age … Christology determines missiology; missiology determines ecclesiology.” In The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch maintains that a missional model must be incarnational. This is absolutely fundamental to effective ministry in this cultural milieu.

1. Incarnation
Incarnation is one of the key elements to understanding how to change our system and recover a New Testament ethos and praxis. God’s coming to the world is the incarnation — that is how God is missional. Therefore, true missional activity participates in the missio Dei, the mission of God. Jesus’ incarnation was an act of identification with others, taking up residence among others, and functions as clear revelation for us in our current situation. Hirsch contends simply this: God’s missional move is to find its counterpart in our similar incarnational missional move. And he sees a good theme in 1 Cor 9:22-23: “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”

Hirsch suggests that there are four elements of Incarnation: presence; proximity; powerlessness; and proclamation. These are all significant for the development of experimental models of church.

Presence is living among others in their space for a long time if need be. We rarely consider the significance of Jesus spending thirty years living among the people of Palestine before he began his “official ministry.”

Proximity means being genuinely available to those among whom you live. How many live in a neighborhood but rarely interact with their neighbors? How many have accepted the ethos of suburbia that polite interaction and good fences are all that is needed to be a good neighbor?

Powerlessness describes how Jesus laid aside his majesty to live among us. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” Isaiah 53:2. He did not come in power to wield power. He allowed himself to be crucified and God raised him up and justified him. Too often we desire to control our mission and our culture to conform it to our image. This coercive style of ministry has been noticed and rejected by the culture.

Proclamation implies our preparedness to tell the story at all times and in all ways. We are a “message tribe” and we exist to communicate and live out the message – given the other three elements of incarnation.

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