Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Need for More Theological Reflection

I love talking about theology and I think it is especially important at this time in the life of the church to engage in theological discussions. I define theology as the application of God's word by persons in every area of life.

We develop theology in our context. The urban context generates an urban theology. Being in the urban environment and living in a community with a high level of poverty has led me toward a theology that has taken on more of the language of God caring for the poor and the marginalized and Jesus as the suffering servant who understands pain and rejection. I am learning the language of the Exodus that is so prominant in the African American church and I am noticing more than ever the multiplicity of Scriptural passages that reference justice for the oppressed. Christian praxis in the city requires theologial reflection. I think that is done best in community.

I have been wanting to start something like a L'Abri in the city. Those of us who are old enough to remember will recall that during the 60's and 70's Francis Shaffer would invite people who were seeking to make sense of God and culture, to join him in a chalet in the Swiss Alps to sit around the fireplace and talk about the intersection of theology and contemporary thought. I think we are in a similar place in the church right now and we need to have lots of theological discussion and reflection. I am sensing that many younger people don't have a container to put theological thoughts into and some who have learned a "systematic" theology are finding their theological framework being dismantled and they're not sure how or if to reconstruct it. Now is a great time for us to have more conversations about God.

I think the emerging church movement is bringing good conversation, but I am also concerned that some are moving away from Jesus and the power of His death and resurrection. I was listening to Doug Pagitt from Soloman's Porch on the Emergent Podcast yesterday. They were talking about the "Centered Sets" approach to understanding the Church. I have used the concept in my Wheaton classes because I like the notion that we don't always know who is in or out (of the faith). What is important is that we love people where they are and point them toward the Center, which is Christ, to urge people to turn toward and to be in the process of moving toward Christ wherever they may be in their journey. The gospel is good news. Jesus laid down his life to buy us freedom,freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom to live a new, vibrant, abundant life. So we urge people to come toward the center where they find love, peace and freedom in Christ.

Anyway, in the podcast, they suggested it would be better to consider the importance of "Relational Sets". I have also heard it labeled as "Network Sets". Basically, what I heard them saying is that we are all connected and it is the love that matters. There was no mention of Jesus or of Christ being the center. While I enjoy "out of the box" discussion and I don't feel I have to agree with everything someone says to learn from what they have to say, I am concerned that some in the church, in their reaction to certain facets of the traditional church, might actually throw away any faith in "The God Who Is There".

At Breakthrough we talk alot about reweaving the fabric of the community by buiding a network of support around everyone who comes our way and that these relationships are reciprocal and we all grow in the process, but at the heart of that network is faith in Christ. The network/relational approach works to restore people to right relationships with one another when God is lifted up as the head and the one who brings us together in unity.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 4:16
I think we need to develop space for people to talk about these things. I wish we could get a big house in the city where people who are searching and questioning or who are wanting to learn more about God's concern for the city and the poor and justice, could come for a month or two and stay and we could have guided study and discussions open to the public.

What do you think?


PrincessMax said...

Thank you so much for the link to the centered sets article. That visual framework seems to perfectly encompass a lot of the things I've been thinking lately about membership. I'll have to read it a couple of times. I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say it's changed my life a little.

I also love the idea of a Labri-style house in Chicago. I'd give time to help run it.

I agree with your concerns about keeping Christ at the center. I wonder, though, if the emergent de-emphasis of naming Christ comes from humility and a desire not to paint themselves as more enlightened than those they are serving. God was at work putting us all on the path long before we realized we were on it. When you use the language that we should "point them toward the Center," or "So we urge people to come toward the center," it feels like the responsibility is on us as enlightened humans to put folks on the path toward where we already are. I know that you don't live your life that way, but to post-modern folks in the emergent movement, that kind of linguistical hair-splitting is important. If we say, "by example, I encourage folks to travel the same direction I'm headed," I get less of an image of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, in which the enlightened Christian catches the shoulders of the dizzy child and points him or her in the direction of the target.

But, maybe that image isn't so bad. Maybe some people are that dizzy. Maybe God uses us as his hands on the shoulders of others when both parties need it most.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Those are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for a great post to start my day thinking about.


Paul said...

I think having a 'L'Abri in the city' would be incredible. I think that is a great idea. I know I would come and sit and discuss God and culture and wrestle with that intersection with others and I can definitely see a need for something like that.

Anonymous said...

My name is Lewie Clark and I live in Logan Square. Our attempt is to make followers of Jesus through hospitality patterned after L'Abri. (Francis & Edith Schaeffer are favorites.)
Presently we are seeking a place larger than our apartment. (In the last 45 days we have had 55 different dinner guests and 23 overnight guests) Presently we have 15 in our core. Our objective is to not grow larger than our dinner table. Our conviction is that the world can be changed from our dinner table.

Would enjoy hearing more of your vision.

The Peace of Jesus be with you.


Arloa Sutter said...

Wow Lewie. That's amazing and I think you are so right about changing the world at your dinner table. I hopw we can meet and join hands to create space for conversation. Blessings to you!

Anonymous said...


Glad you shared your idea on the blog. I'd love to have dinner at Lewie's some day too and see what that looks like. I think Mike and I would enjoy being involved in what you're talking about.

I also appreciated your comments about keeping Christ at the center. That's one of the things...maybe the only thing, that troubles me about some in the emerging church movement. Without Jesus we may as well forget it!


Arloa Sutter said...

How about it Lewie. Can we come over for dinner?

Ted Gossard said...

Arloa, I much appreciate your thoughts here and am in complete agreement. We need this kind of communal stirring in thinking through and practicing a truly centered in Christ approach to bringing God's redemptive kingdom into this broken down world. And it would be great to see something like L'Abri happen here and make an impact in many places.

Though I have to admit I am a bit skiddish about starting something that itself is not a church but does much of what the church or churches ought to do (as in another "parachurch" ministry). But maybe I'm amiss here and we need some "getting away" places, monastic in some ways to bring a good influence on churches.

Anyhow, enough of my rambling.

Anonymous said...

I share your same concern for a growing number in the "church" today who seem to want to remove Christ from the picture. Imagine that, a church without Christ. A body with no head to use the biblical metaphor. If we take Colossians chapter 1, it would be a kingdom without its ruler.
Other religions and cults have been formed from removing Jesus from his position of Supremecy.
I think that if we are not concerned than we may be lacking Christ ourselves or forgotten His importance. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Anonymous said...


Hey Arloa,

I really like your idea of a L'Abri style house where people could come for a short season and participate in 'guided study.' A few years ago I shared my vision for a 'study center' sort of like what Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins were doing in Mississippi back in the 80's. I tried to get some folks here in the famous neighborhood where I live interested, but they already had their own project going. Right now I'm trying to get myself established in a new congregation, but that idea still echoes in my mind from time to time. Thanks for sharing it.



Keri Wyatt Kent said...

Interesting idea, Arloa. When you move to the new Breakthrough facility, I wonder if the Joshua Center might be a place that could be used for this type of thing?
just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Love the idea Arloa. Almost a year ago you planted a 'seed' in my heart. Despite my inattentiveness it continues to grow. Wonder what that means?

Mike Murphy

KAJ said...

Arloa, since the introduction of the concept by you and Steve, it has grown more and more in my thought about the endless possibilities it hold not only for the people you envision would gather, but for my own life as well. I have shared with you some of my own struggles in dealing with the modern church and I am positive a place of honest and sacred conversations would be a benefit to me. With that being said, I sign on, let know where we go from here.

ps. Lewis if ever there is room at your table, I would love to come and be a witness to this work you're doing.