Monday, October 04, 2010


In case you haven't noticed, I enjoy interacting with ideas (my top result from Strengthsfinder: "Ideation"). For that reason I enjoy reading thoughtful authors who write creatively about the church, men like Neil Cole and Alan Hirsch. I am in sync with these guys in so many ways that we could be the "three amigos" (I would be the Steve Martin character, I think). So I hesitate to differ with their points of view. O.K...I guess I'm not going to hesitate to differ, partly because in the world of ideas, significant differences are what lead to great conversation. So I'll get the dialogue started. Here are two differences I have with Cole and Hirsch in how I view the church.

1. I don't think there's anything better than the early church. Neil Cole, in his book Church 3.0 uses the analogy of software and it's evolution, from version 1.0 (usually glitchy and unstable) to 2.0 (better) and 3.0 (best). as a way of thinking about the evolution of the church. By way of this analogy he puts the Jerusalem church in a less-than-adored light. Cole says that it can be and has been improved upon. I beg to differ. I don't think that it "gets any better" than what we read in the brief description of Acts 2 - a church that was seeing people come to Jesus every day, meeting needs even at the point of personal sacrifice, experiencing great unity, convening in private and public spaces, and changing the world. I think a technological analogy breaks down when you are dealing with something organic, like the church (ironic huh, since Cole's most popular book is Organic Church). What I believe we need instead is an aesthetic analogy - something from the realm of beauty, or art. A beautiful woman (say, Sophia Loren) is a beautiful woman and always will be. There will be other beautiful women, to be sure, but I'm not sure I would say there will be women who are "more beautiful." The language of technology differs from that of the aesthetic. In technology we talk about "glitches." In art we talk about "beauty marks." Take the Mona Lisa, for example. There will be other great paintings, but the Mona Lisa is a singular work, and most artists can only dream of doing something so significant (you wouldn't probably hear an artist say, "I think I just painted something that's better than the Mona Lisa."). I see the Jerusalem church in that light. We are all trying to get back to that beauty, and maybe some are getting closer than others, but I don't believe we've seen a more beautiful form of church than we saw in the original.

2. I don't think that ecclesiology necessarily follows missiology; it can be the other way around. Alan Hirsch has laid out three priorities for the church: Christology, Missiology, Ecclesiology, in that order. I absolutely agree that Christology comes first. Jesus is the alpha, the omega, the beginning and the end. There is no question that Christology gets the gold. But does missiology earn the silver, and ecclesiology the bronze? It is at this point I slightly diverge from the "missional mindset." I see ecclesiology having every bit the value as missiology. In fact, I would tend to frame the three concepts as a triangle, with Jesus (Christology) at the peak, and both missiology and ecclesiology on par, below. I hear what Hirsch is saying - our mission should shape our community. I wouldn't disagree with that. All that I would say is that at times our community is going to shape our mission, too. And this is also quite biblical. In the first epistle of John you hear the apostle say that we have a fellowship with the Father and with one another, and it is out of that community that we are inviting others. So I see a dynamic interplay between mission and community. The arrangement varies from time to time. Missiology precedes Ecclesiology sometimes. Sometimes, Ecclesiology precedes Missiology.