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Grassroots . . . the hope of the Church!

Written by: on May 6, 2015

Grassroots . . . the hope of the Church!

If the Bible fell onto a planet that knew nothing of orthodox Christianity, would orthodox Christianity be discovered by the reading and living out of the text? Would the Jesus of an orthodox Christianity be made known? Would the Church of orthodox Christianity be made known? Would the triune God of an orthodox Christianity be discovered? In my read of Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, I believe the author, Simon Chan, believes so.

In summary, Chan makes a case for an Asian theology that is not the result of a Western theology that has been imputed on the culture of the East, but rather a theology that has emerged as Chan describes, “Our approach to Asian theology will attempt to take full cognizance of the spiritual resources of the church, that is, Scripture and tradition as ecclesial experience or the living tradition, which is the ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit expressed primarily in the liturgy and other core practices of the church.”[1]  Chan believes that a contextualized theology has emerged across Asia that has developed “its” theology more than the actions of the theologically elite acting on the Asian spread of Christianity. In Chan’s own word’s . .. “Contextual theologies emerge as the church lives out its given script in new situations. In other words, theology is first a lived experience of the church before it is a set of ideas formulated by church theologians.”[2]

I loved Chan’s point and often wonder about the power of the bible, the power of the Jesus that emerges from the “untaught” scriptures, the power of a body of people who believe what they read and live what they believe; I often wonder, would the same Christianity emerge?

I believe Chan’s work is powerful because of the position of his doctrinal approach. With the backbone of the trinity, humanity and sin, Christ and salvation, the Holy Spirit, and the Church – a clear orthodox faith is shown to be contextually discoverable.  An ecclesial, ecumenical, folk and socially engaging experience centered on the scriptures, a shared faith experience, and the Holy Spirit along with basic core practices are able to produce an orthodox theology from the grassroots up. Through such a backbone Chan is not only able to demonstrate how an Asian theology emerges in Asia but also its potential to contribute to the global theology conversation as a whole.

In church planting I find many church planters desiring to take such an approach to the starting of new churches. There seems to be a great desire for a clean slate and break away from religious Christianese that would allow an honest encounter with the scriptures, in a new community of lives, willing to believe what they read, and again, live they believe and allow a “grassroots” church and movement to emerge.  I would like to believe my experience as a church planter was similar to what Chan was describing taking place in Asia. While definitely on a different scale, I faced many contextualizing issues in the sense that many of the lives our church plant reached needed an overhaul.  Many lives had “spiritual beliefs” that needed a serious reconstruction through an actual reading of the scriptures, among a fresh community of lives, desiring a fresh take on a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and a core set of disciplines we devoted our lives to.  I believe through this process we saw a grassroots theology emerge that ended up a powerful expression of orthodox Christianity. While it was a guided process, it was an honest and raw take that truly did rely heavily on the experience that was emerging balanced lightly with an ecumenical balance and a social engagement that allowed a relatively transforming work that God appeared to accomplish. I believe a hope such as this, an experience such as this is what most missionaries and church planters a looking for in our world.

I really appreciated this Chan’s work as it has given me a sense of hope for a pure faith and a pure theology to continually be rediscovered by lives who are willing to chase after Jesus in their lives and in this world. I believe the hope of the Church truly lies in the grassroots!

 

[1] Simon Chan (2014-05-02). Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Kindle Locations 683-685). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., Chan, (Kindle Locations 187-188).

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

13 responses to “Grassroots . . . the hope of the Church!”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, Phillip Jenkins’ book “The Lost History of Christianity” came to mind as I was reading Chan. There is a historically vibrant, deeply developed, orthodox Christianity alive and well in the East. And it happened without the superintending hand of the Western church! (Imagine that…) If the Church successfully moved east in the Patristic era, with only the scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit as a guide, why would we not expect a re-emergence of the same?

    I think your comparison to church planting is legitimate too. In essence, a church planter wants to see something fresh and new emerge from the “grassroots” of the community into which she is called.

    J

  2. mm Dave Young says:

    Phil,
    Nice focus on the “grass roots”. One of the things I don’t think we readily recognize is that the Paul shared a very clear, simple gospel. Jesus – dead for our sins, buried, alive, seen by many. One reason, along with the Spirit’s blessing, for such a grassroots explosion of growth in the early church was the irreducible core of the gospel. You put it this way “a clear orthodox faith is shown to be contextually discoverable”; that’s what the early church had. What Asians and church planters need is a clear, and I’d add simple, orthodox faith – that they can go on to contextually discovered. In that discovery we’ll have another movement of God.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave and Phil…

      “One reason, along with the Spirit’s blessing, for such a grassroots explosion of growth in the early church was the irreducible core of the gospel. You put it this way “a clear orthodox faith is shown to be contextually discoverable”; that’s what the early church had…”

      Wow! It seems that one of the main values of theology occurring at the grassroots is its simplicity. Simple and accessible…

      • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

        I think our American culture too often shoots for easy intend of simple and that is actually what complicates everyone thing:). At least that seems like what happens in my life.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          Phil,

          We can laugh at ourselves…sometimes we just need to step back and look at what we are really achieving. If the outcome isn’t good, then we need to stop that which isn’t working. I’ve seen churches and church planters spend countless hours developing complex plans in an effort to simplify. If the same effort and hours were spent in just being with people in community, the impact would be much broader and more sustaining. Maybe, as I believe Jon may demonstrate, a cup of coffee and conversation can go much farther than complex models for ministry and outreach.

          • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

            Dawnel, Well said. The guy who discipled me used to always so, “OPM!” Only People Matter.

        • Jon Spellman says:

          Phil, when Simple and Easy get conflated, trouble is sure to follow.

  3. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Phil…I really like this and I like the conversation Dave and Jon have been adding. At the grassroots level the gospel is central and simple. Lived out and clearly communicated. It’s not hard for me to see that the opposite of the grassroots level is where we tend to complicate things and get distracted.

  4. Mary says:

    Initially when I started reading your blog, I immediately thought of the Book of Eli with Denzel Washington – carrying the book that had the hope for mankind in it in the midst of some ugly destruction. Hope has the same meaning in whatever context it finds – that becomes our starting point with Christ as our hope. You describe a freshness about your own desire in church planting as well as Chan’s expression. I think that’s what context does – brings a freshness and creativity to the orthodoxy. Appreciate your insight about Chan’s connection to your own work.

  5. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Phil,

    I am glad that their bases of Asian theology has a similar root like ours when it comes to the doctrines of the church. I think that for Christian Theology to be authentic it has to have those tenets you spoke of!

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