DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Home, Facebook, Geography

Written by: on February 7, 2015

First of all, I “felt” at home in our reading this week. I realize just how much I have been and am being shaped by Contextual Theology. It just resonates. This is no small matter for me, as I have not seen it quite in the same manner as I did this week. The surprise came as I realized just how pertinent Contextual Theology is in speaking to my dissertation research, those that have left the church, but are maintaining their faith. I hadn’t made the connection until this week.

 

The relevance of our readings within the sphere of public theology, including civic religion was also noteworthy this week. Once again I am recognize just how muddy the water can become when the bottom is stirred up. President Obama was criticized for his remarks made at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast. The sound bite, as it made its way around via Facebook, “Seriously? At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama compares the Crusades of 1000 years ago to ISIS of today.” Preceded by an Obama quote, “Remember that during the Crusades … people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”[1] In reference to civic religion, Christopher Marshall writes, “Society worshipping the image of itself, from the bottom up.”[2] This is sobering and the image from Facebook somehow landed the meaning in a new way. “In the United States of America, this unifying civil religion could be called ‘Americanism’… For historical and cultural reasons, American civil religion has been baptized by Christianity, though a baptism by sprinkling rather than by immersion.”[3]

 

If there is hope it may rest within the dialog and possibility of public theology. “The task of public theology, accordingly, is to identify the ways in which God’s restoring initiative in Christ impinges on society as a whole, coaxing it to move, albeit unawares, in a direction that is consistent with the redemptive priorities of God’s reign and never shrinking, where appropriate, from naming its ultimate hope.”[4]

This hope also resonates in another place as well. In my research I am studying why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. In the early stages of qualitative interviews I was surprised to hear that those no longer attending church on a regular basis had not left their faith or even lost their faith, but rather were maintaining their faith. What and how faith is expressed does vary, as do the reasons for why church is no longer a fabric in their lives. In referring to context, Stephen Bevans writes of social location. “Social location can be a limiting factor in some ways, but it can also be a position from which one can ask questions never before asked or entertained in theological reflection.”[5] In the beginning stages of my research I am realizing that the contextual focus of church leaders and even researchers is to bring those that have left the church back into the church. Consider one of the more recent developments from sociologists Josh Packard and Ashley Hope as they seek to understand those that have left the church, the “de-churched” or “Dones” as author Thom Schultz recounts, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.”[6] The alarm over the continuing increase in “Nones”[7] has generated interest in blogs, articles and church programs. Schultz as authored, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: And Four Acts of Love to Make Your Church Irresistible. We seem to want to fix it.

However Contextual Theology and within it, the Praxis Model might offer another vantage place. “It is reflected-upon action and acted-upon reflection—both rolled into one. Practitioners of the praxis model believe that in this concept of praxis they have found a new and profound way to do theology, a way that, more than all other, is able to deal adequately with the experience of the past (scripture, tradition) and the experience of the present (human experience, culture, social location, and social change).”[8] Seeing our reading through the perspective of one who has left the church, who is “done” the praxis model brings a different vantage point. “God’s presence is one of beckoning and invitation, calling men and women of faith to locate God and cooperate with God in God’s work of healing, reconciling, liberating. We best know God by acting in partnership with God.”[9] I wonder if those that have left the church might hear those words as ones not aimed at them, but at the Church they have left. I wonder.

Yet there is another aspect relevant to church leavers, one I would have missed a year ago, Stephen Garner asks: “To what extent does a loss of religious or biblical literacy within wider society make the doing of public theology harder, where particular categories of understanding and common ground based upon well-known cultural resonances with biblical narratives and theological concepts might no longer exist?”[10] Whether rightly or wrongly Gardner reminded me not of what might be lost within the church of those that leave, but rather what our risk might be if we do not understand a resilient faith, what and how those that leave might nurture their faith and develop their relationship with God. A learning “leaning into” type of question, how is the biblical narrative kept alive among those that leave the church? If the narrative is lost, along with it the imagery and metaphor will faith be cut adrift?[11]

Within the viewpoint of context I am seeing what I have not seen before. Nuances relevant to my research as well as to my church context within the city of Tacoma, Washington. “The social construction of space therefore calls for an interpretive geography—a hermeneutics of suspicion for space, if you will that might uncover the history power dynamics, and cultural biases materialized there.”[12] Interpretive geography is reverberating within me, within my context.

 

 

[1] It appeared on my Facebook News Feed because one my friends commented. Fox and Friends https://www.facebook.com/foxandfriends/photos/a.113848842036054.27704.111938618893743/801572429930355/?type=1&comment_id=801824339905164&notif_t=photo_reply. It appeared on my Facebook News Feed because one my friends commented.

[2] Christopher D. Marshall, “Parables as Paradigms for Public Theology,” in The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology, edited by David J. Neville (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 26-27.

[3] Ibid., 27.

[4] Ibid., 43.

[5] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011), 6.

[6] Thom Schultz, “The Rise of the Dones” Holy Soup, November 12, 2014, accessed November 13, 2014, http://holysoup.com/2014/11/12/the-rise-of-the-dones/.

[7] “Nones” are persons that have identified as having “no religious affiliation.” For reference: The Pew Research “Nones on the Rise,” October 9, 2012, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

[8] Bevans, 72.

[9] Ibid., 75.

[10] Stephen Garner, “Public Theology Through Popular Culture” in The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology, edited by David J. Neville (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 175.

[11] Ibid., 178. Garner mentions the concerns of Gary Burge, “Burge argues that while the Bible is still used as a starting point for personal piety and meditation…actual reading of the biblical text that engages with the narratives, metaphors and imagery of the Bible has been lost. This he argues, leads to a faith that has been cut adrift from the foundational source of Christian life and faith, hence open to other influences that appear ‘biblical.’”

[12] Kathryn Tanner, ed., Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), xi.

About the Author

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Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

11 responses to “Home, Facebook, Geography”

  1. Carol,

    Great post as always.

    I and my wife are in the midst of looking for a church again. I guess you could call us the “almost-dones.” We are looking but not stressed if it doesn’t happen right away. Maybe I and she would be good subjects for your research — I am serious about that. Also, I wonder what percentage of the “dones” are those who were once in ministry but have now left to find more fulfilling and less political places to live out their callings. Are you tracking those numbers? I would certainly be interested in knowing those numbers. In fact, I can’t wait to read your entire project. I know it will be insightful and rich.

    Thanks again for your post!

    • Bill…
      I would be honored to interview you and your wife. I think you are on to something concerning those that have been in ministry. Something I should include and be aware of in my interviews (and add to survey questions).

      I also “think” (if I may) that you are in a good place to take your time. In some ways it is freeing. Much grace and peace to you.

  2. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Carol, It is always refreshing to read you work. I did find Bevans book so helpful for my research. It is interesting what you said about baby boomers who left the church but still maintain their faith. We normally don’t think that people can maintain their faith if they leave their faith community. I like you say, “If there is hope it may rest within the dialog and possibility of public theology.” Who should initiated this dialog in your context? God bless.

    • Telile…
      Such a good question. I think the beginning might be to have a posture of not trying to get people that have left (any generation) back to church. Part of the reason I offer that it is because they are can become an agenda or object to bring back. I think the church needs to take the posture of listening and learning from those that have left. The first challenge then is to be aware of people that leave and to if at all possible maintain relationship. No easy or clearcut answers, just possibilities. It might be that if our churches could understand public theology (let alone contextual theology) that might provide another part of the framework.

  3. mm Deve Persad says:

    Carol, it’s exciting to read about how these books have benefitted your overall research area. It’s a definite gift when that happens. The Praxis Model looks like an excellent tool to help synthesize all that is going on with your findings, and more particularly the greater need to have our faith in Christ be effective in the greater reaches of your community. I wonder how “dones’ and “nones” would respond if they caught a glimpse of the bigger picture of our Kingdom call and then find themselves as part of communities of faith that reflect that bigger picture rather than cheapen it?

    • Deve…
      Perhaps “the” most significant shift for me over the years has been toward a Kingdom centric awareness. In my church experience I “think” that we are reaping the result of what we have sowed due to our focus on being saved without the component of God’s renewal. Sooo I am totally with you and in agreement with your suggestion. I recognize that is not the only thing, but when I look at my adult children that were raised in the church the focus on salvation, partiality among kids in youth group and what or how we understood “blessing” are also among areas that have contributed to challenges. I also wonder what it would be like to walk with people or even take people into doubts and questions so we might understand our relationship with God in a new light.
      Blessings Deve…

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    This is such a great post, Carol. Seriously.

    First, in the Obama remarks. Deep sigh. Thank you for posting the thoughtful article about his remarks. I re-posted it. One very conservative friend still spewed venom at Obama (according to my friend he is ridiculous). Another friend wrote a thoughtful thank you. People are just so messy. Long before Obama’s remarks, I have used God’s commission of Israel to purify the land they are entering by killing everyone and everything to raise understanding of jihadists. If we believed that God is so very holy, powerful and righteous, and anything unholy should be removed, would we do it? Can we respect someone who’s faith is that powerful – even if we disagree with their actions? It’s a stretch in our relatively tame world, but can we understand the rationale?

    As for the boomer exodus, as I read I thought of my own church. I have the sense that many who have left the church wanted more connection, less routine, more meaning. In my house church, we have a lot of that. But sometimes (like now) we struggle because we feel like we aren’t good enough because we aren’t growing. But maybe we need to really embrace our identity. Because I kept thinking, as I read your post, that house churches are perfect for boomers. house churches bring belonging, opportunity to engage in service, and a place for everyone. I dunno, you just kind of got me thinking.

    Nice work, Carol. I always appreciate a new thought.

  5. Julie…
    Thanks Julie… There was so much in our readings this week. We are so messy. My perspective and thought have changed a great deal, so I can relate to what you shared about prior thinking. And I’m grateful the post was helpful. It was for me and it was/is a reminder (for me) that I need to not allow sound bites and out of context remarks to be manipulated on the flipside.

    Julie… the thought about house churches may be so true, only boomers may not call it that or meet with that particular intention. There have been several people that I have interviewed that have groups of people they regularly meet with, yet without the liturgy we would recognize as church. Yet they are nourishing their faith in a book club or cooking a meal together. I have questions about this because I think the sense of commitment or rather covenant is significant but the landscape is changing so who knows?

    My your community embrace your identity and rest in that and yet embrace the growth (not necessarily in numbers) that God causes….

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Carol, I enjoyed reading your post. Like you, this week’s reading has allowed me to see certain aspects of my research in energizing ways. I have come to really appreciate role of the “experience of the past” and it relationship with the “experience of the present.” I was intrigued by your comments;
    “Within the viewpoint of context I am seeing what I have not seen before. Nuances relevant to my research as well as to my church context within the city of Tacoma, Washington. “The social construction of space therefore calls for an interpretive geography—a hermeneutics of suspicion for space, if you will that might uncover the history power dynamics, and cultural biases materialized there.”[12] Interpretive geography is reverberating within me, within my context.”

    I would like to chat more about this with you at some point.

    Thank you!

  7. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Carol,
    Thanks for your helpful application of this week’s reading to your area of concentration – I found your insights helpful for my own study.

    Your comments on social location are illuminating. Social location is not static, therefore contextualizing the gospel to an individual or a population (group or neighborhood) must also always be changing. You write concerning the boomers who have left the church, “What and how faith is expressed does vary, as do the reasons for why church is no longer a fabric in their lives.” Many individuals that the leaders perceives as having left the church have not left at all – they might not be “plopping” down in the same seat they used to occupy from week-to-week, rather, they moved a little in position or perspective and if the church is going to minister to them, she must continue to go to the context where they exist, their reality. Maintaining as a maintenance posture is not all bad – as Bevans states, “the notion of present experience in our context involves the reality of social change. No context is static, and even the most traditional culture is one that is growing, improving, or declining” (Kindle 274).

    Do local pastoral leaders think that sharing the gospel begins with a seat in a pew? Social location is in constant change: getting a new job or losing a job; a baby is born or a child goes off to college; health problems or healing; a declining 401K or a winning lottery ticket – social context is constantly changing. Understanding this, Bevans states is to realize “that context in all its dimensions is the inevitable starting point of theological reflection today (280).

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