So I'm first up with a reflection on the nature of the bible, with regards to our new series of re-imgaining Vineyard Church distinctives .
I'm not going to critique the Vineyard Churches use of the bible (a task too huge for any blog post). Rather I am going to take the idea that as a value, axiomatic and disctinctive, of holding a high view and confidence in the role of the bible in the christian life and mission of the church, and run that against a current issue from our emerging missional context
For this post I want to take on the issue of the stories that shape our imaginations, what we really organise life around, and how the bible might figure in relation to that.
In terms of space, the places where church life takes place, there has been a headlong rush into the ‘third space’ for church. This is the notion that, between the home and workplace, there is a neutral ‘third space’ that people inhabit, be it in the form of cafes or sports clubs, into which we need to incarnate the church. Incarnating mission into the spaces that people inhabit is one thing, but the complete reduction of church into that space seems to pander to the worst of consumerism.
We must ask the questions: ‘Are these spaces neutral?’ What takes place in them? What kind of human being do they form? For example Starbucks is not neutral, it costs money to be there, and it exists to produce profits for shareholders.
In a world in which a place between the market and the state does not seem to exist, where the market has absorbed everything apart from the state, the church, as a public body, church might yet again be the only place to stand and be apart from the market and state. Or at least we might need to start asking what the church as an alternative to the space of the market, might we be able to offer and inhabit.
And whether it’s ‘third spaces’, or some other metaphors, we might ask what is furnishing our ‘social imaginations’ that we are organising our ways of life and church around? If we have rejected some of the metaphors from the modern church, that turned the church into businesses, run by CEOs, how do we measure new emerging metaphors, and avoid finding out later how they are formed us just as unhelpfully around things other than an identity in Jesus?
For example, systems and organisational theory has latched onto all things within nature as good examples of how to organise our ways of life. The book ‘The Starfish and The Spider’ , espouse how the nature of a starfish is a model for decentralised organisations.
I have lost count of the number of blogs and verbal references I have heard made with regards to this ‘social imagination’, that conclude these embody how we should do and be church. Yet whilst the starfish is a good model and metaphor for forming some types of consumer business or al Qaeda terrorist cell groups, we might want to ask, do they form human beings in the image of Jesus and his mission to redeem creation?
Or at least ask, how do we measure these social imaginations, before adopting any of them? Until we do that, cultural realities rather than a Christological reality and ordering of life and the church around the resurrection of Jesus may be taking shape within and between us.
So, what might shape our imaginations in place of sociological metaphors of social realities? We have seen a turn to a narrative theology recently, with an understanding that theology finds it’s meaning within story, rather than just propositional truths, and that even more broadly, we learn and take part in life before God and with each other within story.
It’s not that story doesn’t reveal truths, it’s that in terms of lived everyday life, social imaginations are what we primarily inhabit and live out of. We see this turn to the narrative, within the use of metaphors and social imaginations of our emerging culture, like ‘starfish and the spiders’. But whilst we have become attentive to the narrative of culture, the ‘Cultural–linguistic’ turn if you will, perhaps what we need is a ‘canonical–linguistic’ turn.
To let the story of doctrine, scripture and the Church in history, shape our imaginations, and grammar of the Christian life, rather than have it set solely by the grammar and imaginations of our culture. There is interrelatedness between the story of our culture and the narrative of Scripture, and the interplay between the two is where the Gospel and mission of the church takes place. There is no pure story separate from our context and culture.
Or to try to put things another way, it’s not enough that the Christian story is one I encounter that then makes sense of my life. For the consumer self, a version of faith that I bring to bear on my life, for me to make meaning of my life, is only part of my engagement with Jesus. The next step is that the story of Jesus, at work in the world, with others in history, becomes the story I find myself in.
My story becomes located within the greater story of the Christian narrative, and my identity moves into one with others. But there is I believe an even further move, such that it is not that the metaphors and story of Christianity give shape to our reality, but that they become our ultimate reality.
To the self creating modern ear, that might sound like a loss of self, that is untenable, which reveals again more about our isolated individualism, than about Christian and cruciform identity with others. So with that in mind, we can then ask what kind of church leads to cruciform identity, to the unmasking of the individualism of consumer liturgical formation, and leads to the exchanging of realities, of our self-created fictions, for the reality of a life lived in Jesus with others?