I had just come back from Big Tent Phoenix and had a chance to go to Fuller Seminary to hear Stanley Hauerwas. I had read his The Peaceable Kingdom and Resident Aliens. I had also listened to him lecture on John Howard Yoder and several other topics. So, I was excited for the Q&R time – my plan was to throw out a generic question and see what response he might have.
“I just got back from Big Tent Phoenix where Emergents, Evangelicals, and Mainliners were talking about the future of the church. Do you have any thoughts on these ecumenical conversations?”
His response surprised me. He clearly was not as impressed with the diverse collection as I was and simply said “the future of the church is not found in things like this, the future is doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday.”
That was it. That was his answer. It was short but not sweet. I couldn’t tell if he was being kurt or dismissive but he definitely had little interest in the conversation.
I asked Tripp about this to begin the most recent TNT (Theology Nerd Throwdown) and he had an interesting take on it. Tripp focused on doing varied things with the same intention instead of simply repeating the same things in a rote manner. I thought that was very gracious of him.
As a contextual theologian it is impossible to say how much I disagree with Hauerwas on this one. [see contextualization in the Global Dictionary of Theology p. 192]
Many Christians, especially from the majority world, have come to realize that the theologies they have received from Euro-American churches and missionaries or from Euro-American theological textbooks hardly connect their experiences and situations. Contextualization proceeds from this realization and asserts that theologies must not only be rooted in the biblical story, it must also engage in the concrete (local) realities in which Christians find themselves. On the other hand, contextualization recognizes the plurality of local churches and the diversity of theologies in the worldwide body of Christ. In general, contextualization recalls the missionary nature of all theology (von Allmen), in contrast to an understanding of theology that is static, disengaged and acultural.
I must admit that I have not read enough of Hauerwas to know what he thinks about contextualization. I am certainly not trying to pigeon-hole him or turn him into a caricature to be dismissed. I am simply and honestly disagreeing.
The future of the church is not found in doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday. The future of the church is found in participating with God in our context as those in scripture and church history did in their contexts. That may or may not have anything to do with Sunday. But it certainly will look different on any given Sunday in any particular place than it did on a previous Sunday in some other place. The heart behind it may be the same as will the motivation… but the forms and practices naturally evolve, adapt, and transform as we interact with our environment and historical adjustments.
I have no interest in doing the same thing next Sunday that I did this past Sunday – nor do I believe that I am supposed to. Thoughts?