Saturday, August 14, 2010

Speaking of God: Reformed Theology as Missional Theology

I am currently working on a course for a summer elective on Reformed Theology.  As per my final assignment, I am developing a course to be utilized in a congregational setting, i.e. adult education class, titled Reformed Theology and the Missional Church.  For each class I will handout a brief summary of the content to be discussed.  Below is week 1:  Speaking of God: Reformed Theology and the Missional Church.  Critiques are welcome as I continue to develop this not only for my class, but also for use in the church this Spring ;) Four more are to follow on Trinitarian Theology, Eschatology and Ecclessiology, Authority of Scripture, and Proclamation and the Sacraments.

Speaking of God
         The discipline of theology has played a significant role in the life of religious communities and institutions throughout the course of history. The human attempt to pursue comprehension and understanding of that which pertains to the divine has been a diverse task that has had tremendous influence on the way people perceive the world and chosen movements through it. Moreover, it has even been suggested that theology is not merely a religious discipline, but rather a universal human characteristic that directly influences and correlates to diverse human behavior: “
Human existence demands that every person must decide and act, and every person decides and acts in the light of some faith commitment about the nature of the universe and the meaning of human existence. To be human is to live by faith. There is no other option. Therefore, to be human is also to have a theology” (Leith 89).
This is not to say that all theology is shared theology, or even that each individual and/or community would claim to be theological in nature. Instead, it is noted that humanity lives, moves, and has its being in light of particular convictions about the divine (or absence thereof) and the divine relationship (or lack thereof) to the created world.
                Theology can be defined in a broad sense as speech about god(s). The world of the twenty-first century, as with history in general, is theologically plural in nature, i.e. flooded by a plethora of talk about and attempts to explain and/or illustrate particular convictions about the divine. These theologies not only come to us in the form of world religions and faith traditions, but also through contemporary philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and especially pop-culture. Books, films, television dramas and sit-coms, music, and talk shows often offer theological commentaries that affirm, confront, and occasionally initiate theological discourse and paradigms that are both adopted and critiqued by the human audience. As confessing Christians, this reality demands that we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear these theological attestations as we discern together our own convictions, traditions, and confessions in regards to the unique discipline of Christian theology. That is the goal of this course and the hope of this on-going conversation, especially as we navigate through the particular branch and tradition of Christian theology common to our faith community: Reformed Theology.
               Reformed Theology is a unique theological tradition in that it serves as a human response to and/or mirroring of God’s revelation of God’s self to the world in and through the incarnation of Jesus and attested to within Scripture. That is to say, Christian Theology bears witness to the Trinitarian God, who is the object and subject of the discourse and discipline. It could also be said that Christian theology is a form of thanksgiving and worship in light of God’s action through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Daniel L. Migliore offers a simple definition, “the work of theology [is] a continuing search for the fullness of the truth of God made known in Jesus Christ” (Faith Seeking Understanding 1). However, this search is not to be pursued alone or in isolation. Instead, Christian Theology is a communal discipline, “Theology which is a human enterprise and a communal responsibility is best understood as a continuing dialogue” (Leith 94). Furthermore, this dialogue does not assume the ability to fully possess and/or contain God. Instead, Christian theology engages and wrestles with the diverse voices of the past, contexts of the present, and anticipations of the future so to move much more like a bird in flight than one that is confined to a cage (Barth, Evangelical Theology 10). In this sense, Reformed Theology is not a tradition but a traditioning of the Christian faith (Leith 19), i.e. semper reformanda, “always reforming,” which humbly bears witness to its primary center, who is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
                Finally, it would be a mistake to assume that Christian Theology is purely a matter of linguistic reflection and intellectual debate. Instead, Christian Theology is most illustrated in its ability to move God’s people towards individual and corporate incarnations of the gospel. In other words, Christian Theology is missional theology that asks, in response to God’s revelatory act in and through Jesus and the gifting of the Holy Spirit, not only how we ought to speak of God, but also and especially how God’s people ought to act in light of this revelation. Moreover, the theological and confessional nature of the church “declares to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, [and] what it resolves to do” (Book of Order, G-2.0100). In essence, Christian Theology is proclaimed by the lives and lips of God’s people as they move in rhythm with the revelation that God has once and for all acted in and through Jesus Christ.

Helpful Citations and Working Definitions:

“Christian theology is an on-going, second order, contextual discipline that engages in the task of critical and constructive reflection on the beliefs and practices of the Christian church for the purpose of assisting the community of Christ’s followers in their missional vocation to live as the people of God in the particular social-historical context in which they are situated.”
John Franke, The Character of Theology, p.44

“The community does not speak with words alone. It speaks by the very fact of its existence in the world; by its characteristic attitude towards world problems; and moreover and especially, by its silent service to all the handicapped, weak, and needy in the world. It speaks, finally, by the simple fact that it prays for the world.”
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, p. 38

"The Reformed Church is my tradition; the ecumenical church is my future."
Jürgen Moltmann, 2010 Emergent Theological Conversation Pt. II

4 comments:

  1. Greg, do you have a place on this blog where you lay out the definitions you are working with as far as "missional" and related terms go?

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  2. This would be a great idea. I have not done so to this point; however, the reflections you are reading are a part of a class I am developing for an adult ed. course in church. Those outlines have working definions incorporated. Although I will say, the purpose of the course is to explore Reformed Theology (as Missional Theology), not necessarily to work through the depth and particulars of the particular movement of Missional Theology. Maybe I will post something I have previously written for a seminary class...However, I would say the work of John Franke, Darrell Guder, David Bosch, etc. are some of the more recent "Missional Theologians" that I read and support.

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  3. Well, these are nicely done reflections and I am pleased to read them. I admire and support your fervent desire to minister the Kingdom of God to the world!

    I would love to interact more with your posts but, as I am unclear exactly what "missional" theology is, I figured I would wait until I had a clearer idea of where you are coming from before jumping in! :)

    As a side note, one of my favorite theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar, uses the concept of mission to unite all of the aspects of both his philosophy and theology. It would be an interesting conversation to have over the similarities and differences between him and Franke, Guder, etc.

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  4. Thanks Matt! I am blessed that after 11 years you continue to play a formative role in faithful formation ;) I saw that you were working on a dissertation that focuses on von Balthasar. While I see him in many footnotes, especially in Daniel Migliore's book: Faith Seeking Understanding, I am unaware of all that he has to offer to this conversation. I have one of the books you recommended on my Amazon Wish List, but have yet to get to it. I am sure that we would be on a similar wavelength in this conversation given what I have read of this theologian.

    I added two quotes to this post above. They are a little helpful. I may also add something I wrote as a part of an exam shortly, but nothing groundbreaking, given my time at the moment...

    Have you read Franke and/or Guder?

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