ENGAGING IN BILINGUAL THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION

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Living in Los Angeles as a church planter, and having helped to start a church in Hollywood as well as West LA, I have seen the importance of engaging in bilingual theological reflection. Having lived and visited different parts of the world, it doesn’t take long to recognize that each city and area has a distinct cultural ethos.  Bilingual theological reflection is the task of recognizing the grammar of the dominant culture, as well as the grammar of God so that we can better embody the good news in the context in which we find ourselves. Kenneson in Life on the Vine states, “Every generation in every culture must take up the hard work of discerning the opportunities for and the obstacles to embodying the gospel faithfully in that place and time.” (241)  

One of the ways to engage in the art of bilingual theological reflection and thereby better construct a local theology would be to have the local congregation consider four primary questions: 

1. If God’s reign were to be fully realized in our neighborhood, what would be different?  2. What are the kinds of idols in our neighborhood that need to be unmasked? 3. What aspects of Christ’s rule do people in our neighborhood need to experience or see? 4. What narratives, practices, convictions and institutions might challenge these idols and more faithfully express the kingdom of God? 

Thoughtfully asking these questions would provide the local congregation with much understanding in how to construct a practical theology that is faithful to the good news of Christ in their location.  What are some questions you would add to this list?

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS As I have pondered these various questions and thought about the kind of people God is calling us to become, I have drawn much enlightenment and encouragement from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul encourages us to embody the good news in such a way where power is distributed rather than centralized, and truth is embodied instead of debated, thereby speaking to a dominant culture that is skeptical of power and truth. 

Watchman Nee summarized the book of Ephesians in three words – Sit, walk, stand. After three chapters of sitting down with God understanding his plan and purpose from the foundation of the world, Paul instructs us how to walk as a community. In Ephesians chapter four, Paul first addresses our attitudes, then talks about our common creed, and then he describes how God has given the church five different equippers who incarnate various ministries so that the entire body is awakened and moves toward the full stature of Christ in both attitude and mission.

In the United States, it is not uncommon for churches to be structured very hierarchical, with a senior or lead pastor, then associate pastors and other staff and then finally volunteers.  Yet how does this kind of structure speak to people who live with appropriate skepticism of power?  What we see Paul lay out for us is not a centralized leadership structure, nor a completely decentralized leadership structure, rather he reveals to us a polycentric leadership structure, where leaders incarnate the various purposes of Christ in such a way that the entire body is activated to service and the body matures in love.

THE FIVE EQUIPPERS While the five equippers are talked about more and more these days, I think we are still in need of working out how these people incarnate their ministry into the local congregation. Because a lot of baggage and mis-understanding sometimes surrounds the different equippers and the fact that language is dynamic and changing, I have given the five different equippers fresh translations, because sometimes giving new words to the same essential reality helps to bring needed life to old concepts and connect better with the culture in which God has placed us.  After sharing these new labels, I give a quick overview of how each of these five equippers partner with our Triune God in order to equip the body to be more like Christ in different ways: 

Dream Awakeners (Apostles) help people to discover and live out their calling as well as partner with a missionary God as He carries out His plan to expand the Kingdom. Dream Awakeners help individuals and groups move toward their destiny.

Heart Revealers (Prophets) help people to walk closely with God and actively seek social justice in the world.  Heart Revealers are like the conscious of the church, they help people experience the divine presence and move people to care for the entire world.

Story Tellers (Evangelists) help the community to be a welcoming people as well as redemptive agents in the world.  Story Tellers help the people of God to incarnate the message in the context in which we live and remember that God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to the world. 

Soul Healers (Pastors) help the community to embody the ministry of reconciliation as well as work past hurts and move toward wholeness.  Soul Healers bring a family atmosphere to the church.

Light Givers (Teachers) help people to immerse themselves in the sacred text and live faithfully in the story of God. They shed light on the scriptures.

As these various equippers learn to humbly work together bringing their strengths to the bear on the body, so the entire body engages in concrete practices that enable them to become a contrast society, the church can increasingly embody the good news in such a way that really speaks to the neighborhoods we find ourselves living.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER *What are some other good questions to pose to our congregations that would help us to engage in bi-lingual theological reflection?

*How does centralized, decentralized and polycentric leadership styles speak to our cultural ethos in the West? 

*How should Paul’s words about the five equippers inform our church polity?

*Which of the equippers do you feel are least and most valued in the church in the West today?

JR Woodward