October 5, 2007
Me, Myself, and Jesus
The emerging response to personal justification and social justice.
David Fitch is back with part 2 of his critique of the emerging response to evangelicalism. In part 1 he noted the "we're in, you're out" mentality in much of the evangelical church, and the anemic emerging reaction to this black and white theology. Here, Fitch takes on our over emphasis of having a "personal relationship" with Christ while ignoring the social component of the gospel.
A second weakness I see emerging churches responding to is the individualizing tendencies of evangelical ways of being Christ's church. Our churches are organized to meet the spiritual needs of individuals, and our salvation is incredibly individualistic. Calling Jesus "a personal Savior" sounds like Jesus is in the same category as my personal barber, personal trainer, or personal dental hygenist (BTW, I don't have a personal trainer). The danger is making salvation all about me.
I know it didn't start out this way in evangelicalism, but it was latent in the structure of our soteriology. And so we have almost romanticized our relationship with God; created a narcissistic experience of it. And churches become all about preserving, maintaining, and nurturing this experience in their parishioners.
But the gospel is not about getting something, it is about participating in something - God's work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.
I said in an article I wrote for Allelon:
Imagine what it would be like in our churches, if there were no such division (between personal justification and social justice). If we were not invited to go forward as individuals to receive a packaged salvation from God that gets us off hell, but instead came forward to become part of something, what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ - the reconciliation of all men and women with Himself, each other, and all of creation (2 Cor 5:19), which BTW inextricably must still include my own personal reconciliation/relationship with God.
Again, McLaren is speaking to this when he says in an article:
The term missional asks this question: what is the purpose of the church? To enfold and warehouse Christians for heaven, protecting them from damage and spoilage until they reach their destination? Or to recruit and train people to be transforming agents of the kingdom of God in our culture? The missional church understands itself to be blessed not to the exclusion of the world, but for the benefit of the world. It is a church that seeks to bring benefits to its nonadherents through its adherents.
In relation to emerging church's response to the false evangelical dichotomy between personal salvation and social justice, I think the missional mantra - God is already working, let's just join up with Him wherever he is - sometimes ignores that God is not working everywhere. There are powers in rebellion against God. We fail to deal with Foucault's great insight: worldly power is this homogenous totality that engulfs, absorbs, and incorporates all resistance within it. So in essence, we start out working for justice against the dominant Symbolic order and end up supporting it, helping to spread its injustice even more.
In short the emerging church is right when they say "NO JESUS WITHOUT JUSTICE" but is naive to think we can know JUSTICE WITHOUT JESUS. I'm not saying that all works of justice and mercy require a gospel tract to be handed out. But I'll have to write more about this later.