Dr. Clark’s project provides a critical thesis that “deployed its own ‘map-making method as a kind of heuristic concept map to trace correspondence between church acts and beliefs. This ‘map-making’ ensures that the thesis provides evaluation and resourcing for deployment to current and related Evangelical contexts. Second, the thesis proposes that, contrary to methodological worries by others, it is possible to talk about and make an account of the two broad domains of Evangelicalism and capitalism. Third, in order to provide a reading of ecclesial life, the main accounts for this thesis draw upon and deploy the ‘binocular dialectic’ and method of Martyn Percy, by reading theology with social science. This ‘binocular method establishes the thesis in two parts. Part one is an account of Evangelicalism and capitalism constructed from social science sources; part two follows with theological explication of this account.
This challenge, considering the effects of Evangelicalism and capitalism is ever-present where we serve. At nearly any congregational opportunity to pray, one will find at the altar a third-generation poverty demographic where one would often hear “I need…” Loss of family members due to violence, homelessness, food scarcity, and fear of never having enough is not commonly experienced by the middle class or the wealthy when it comes to basic needs.
Dr. Clark notes, “For Evangelicals, the Christian life is readily understood as being one centred on the pursuit of Jesus Christ. The things of this life, along with all material existence, are to be willingly submitted in faithful service to Christ and His mission through us, to be Christ-made.” And, for those who come to the altar in this community it is more than likely a mixed motivation: full-surrender, both-and, or just filling needs. Jesus is being called upon for the ‘dispensing of religious goods and services.’ This is quite true. And, yet, with a view from those in need how are we to truly judge a person’s motive, except for possibly having a long-term relationship.
When I first understood Jesus’s love for me and wanting me to know I’m not alone it was an answer to prayer that solidified that for me. “Lord if you are really real, I need a job.” That prayer resulted in the understanding of a perceived need in the neighborhood which I could solve and a career in that industry for a couple decades. The opposite of seeking to have faith in Jesus and mere consumer is also very true.
Swoboda wrote, “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, prosperity theologies have simultaneously received a warm reception by some and a critical cold shoulder by others. With emotive responses provoked on both sides, what cannot be ignored is the influence prosperity thinking has and will have, on the global church. Yet, little to no attention has been devoted to the intersection between prosperity theology and the issues surrounding the ecological crisis, such as climate change, environmental degradation, human greed, and wanton consumerism.” Does such an intersection exist? This article explores this question by contrasting prosperity theology’s divine economy and agrarianism’s great economy. In sum, it suggests that the uncritical reception of prosperity teachings though they speak pointedly to real, felt human needs can ultimately create ecologically harm, if not anti-ecological, modes of thinking and living within its systems. This is to say that the environment of what one calls church can create habits, based upon assumptions of one’s rights, which may cause more harm than actually being a benefit to the individual or the community.
In this discussion, I am concerned with our concept of church and its leaders. Let me begin this portion of this paper with some unique images that the church has been named during my journey. They have provided us images, metaphors of the church’s that are unique in the heart of its leaders. I have heard the church called a family, hospital, school, local church, catholic, group of believers, airport, mission station, worship center, and a myriad of others.
These congregational images I write about are some of the functions of the church. Regardless of their unique image and purpose, those who held these images I am seeking to believe that they sought to worship and serve the one true God, as best they knew. At times, it seemed that these images were a cultural attempt or thoughtful rendition for the local congregation. My working image of “church” is, “A local community of people seeking God; uniquely engaging others for a transformed life.” God’s image is unfolded in compassion that often does come out in “all these things all these things will be added to you.”
God’s compassionate nature is not something separate from Himself. He is compassion. “…once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Therefore, if we are leaning into God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength, to the best of our ability, then when we receive His compassion we cannot help but give that gift away to those who are near or far from Him. That is an orthopraxy of the Christian Church, and that even to one’s enemy.
Jones writes, “Where those of us who breathe the air of individualistic cultures tend to speak in the singular, “I,” biblical language speaks often in the plural.” The Church of Jesus Christ is to be a joyous community: the community that rejoices in God’s gracious, compassionate salvation. The church is the community that opens up, through that grace, to proclaim Christ’s peace to those “who were far off” and to “those who were near.”
Christ is “the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” The image of the church as the body of Christ is an organic community. “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” As we look across the preverbal landscape of cellulose talking heads of the news, we find little compassion in our world. This is the church’s opportunity to be and to do what it is and called to do.
As I explore the theory of ecclesiology, how leaders and their context influence this theory, we seek to continue to learn to live faithfully in the light of two competing realities. First, the visible church matters, and second, in a world of sin, there is no pristine church. The first reality is doctrinal.
June 2018 ii
 Swoboda, A. J. 2015. “Posterity or Prosperity? Critiquing and Refiguring Prosperity Theologies in an Ecological Age.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 37 (3): 394–411. doi:10.1163/15700747-03703002.