sustainable church (or emerging into a postbourgeois world)

April 29, 2008

a couple of streams of experience are converging for me. one is this conversation, as summarized and extended by mark vans (really, though, check out the entire conversation here, here, here, here again, here, and, finally, here). the crumbling empire we live in, with gas prices shooting up and talking heads filling the airwaves with as much noise about recession as about clinton and obama, is going to change the way we do church. unless significant things change, vocational ministry is on its way out–and this is a huge shift. vocational ministry has been the norm not only since the rise of capitalism or the enlightenment or the reformation or the renaissance but all the way back to at least constantine. this includes not only the common targets of a heierarchical church leadership structure and complicity with the state, but the more beloved heritage of twenty or so centuries of monasticism and religious ascesis. a big change.

the second element is johann baptist metz’ the emergent church: the future of christianity in a postbourgeois world. collected in 1980 (i think i miscited it as ’78 in an earlier post), this series of essays grapples with the disparity between rich and poor “at the eucharistic table.” unashamedly critical of the regressive policies of john paul ii, metz proposes an “anthropological revolution,” which is just his fancy way of saying conversion of hearts to fighting against our own position of privilege in the capitalist “christendom machine.” an incredible read really worth purchasing (if the only copy on abebooks.com was not priced at $123.99!).

so what do this convergence effect? i was in a seminar a week or two ago with a professor from north park university in which the prof cited himself as “going on record as quite critical of the emergent church movement.” why? because he does not see them taking seriously enough the position of the marginalized. it’s a good critique.

if whatever is becoming of us Jesus-followers is going to stand up to whatever is already happening in our society, we not only need to revamp the internal structures that prop up the “christendom machine” (good phrase, whoever coined it). a crucial point (perhaps the crucial point God is calling us to as we follow Jesus) is how we reimagine our relationship to–or better yet–our identity with the poor. we need to get poor. and if we can find a way to do ministry and not get poor, maybe we need to ignore it. Jesus was poor. Jesus suffered. that’s where the church should be.

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