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.

1 comment:

Jeremy Keegan said...

I've either read or heard both of them present the ideas that you address. One additional thought I would add to your critique of Neil Cole's idea of 3.0 being "best" is that assuming our way is best is a very present-minded way of thinking. Only now, 2000 years later can we look at the church in the first 1000 years and give a reasonable assessment of how "good" it was (though I hesitate to use that term because we are not judges). But it remains to be seen whether or not the ideas that are coming out right now that seem to us "best" will in fact in the course of history be deemed by future generations in the same way. And we can also definitely expect it to change again, so in a long-distance future, our 3.0 may pale in comparison to 5.0. So I prefer your way of looking at it as the original thing - the one that inspires all the rest. And throughout time different manifestations and interpretations will each illuminate various aspects of the original beauty.

And with respect to Hirsch's idea that missiology informs ecclesiology, I tend to agree with you that I don't believe it necessarily does. I've been working on a new church plan for a year or so now, and one of the big ideas has been of the 3 essentials, or what you call in your book worship, community, and outreach. I preached a sermon series a while back in which I presented these three as relationships, but assigned them priorities. Our relationship with God must be our first priority. Without that being healthy and regular, everything else we try to do in life will suffer. Secondly, our relationship with our family (immediate and church) must take second priority. If we don't have a good support group, a group that can help us to become transformed into better people and who can encourage and inspire us, the other things we strive to do will suffer. The third relationship is our outward facing one - our relationship with everyone else. Even though it's third, it's still a priority (over job, over hobbies, etc.). We must be intentional about non-Christians, and about the needy, and our neighbors. But we won't be able to do that well unless we're part of a vital, healthy Christian community - what would we be able to share with them if we weren't?
So, I tend to see ecclesiology as prior to missiology, although ALL three are priorities in the Christian life. And I would illustrate them as a cycle. On the back end, the missiological part of your life directly ties back to your relationship and knowledge of God and enhances that relationship. This sort of relates to Hirsch's idea of communitas. We must go out and have the experiences, and then bring them back to start the cycle over. They all work together.

The linear way I'm trying to describe this obviously has it's faults, and that's why I agree with you that at times ecclesiology could be preceded by missiology - they're all intermingled and oftentimes it's hard to delineate where one starts and one stops, and I think that can be a beautiful thing too.

Thanks for your insight and for sharing.