Posted below is part of a presentation I gave at the Ekklesia Conference last summer concerning the possible relationship between the Emerging Church and the Ekklesia Project. I’m reposting it because of an interesting conversation over at generous orthodoxy. For those in the Emerging Conversation or others who either use or dispise the phrase “counter-culture” in reference to the Church, please let me know what you think.
Introduction: I originally had two parts to this talk, the first part was more directed at the Emerging Church and those who are tempted by too much relevance. In that part I was going to discuss the shift from relevance to identity. And the second part is geared for those in danger of too much resistance. Without rehearsing all the various arguments concerning gospel and church, and their relations, and really instead of an introduction, I’ll just jump in and reposition a familiar image, that of the Church as Exile or as Refugee, shifting from an emphasis on space to that of time.
From Space to Time: Refugees
When we use the terms ‘contrast-culture’ and ‘counter-culture’ too often spatial conception begin to creep in when we start talking about the church. Instead of this we need to move from space to time: not spatial relationships discussing borders and permeability, but temporal trajectories and destinations. The question is not who is in and how do they cross the border, but who is traveling with us, and have they joined the processional of God’s kingdom between his first and second advents ? We shouldn’t ask about the overlapping nature of church and culture, as complementing or contradicting, but whether each culture, and/or which parts, are marching toward the ends which the Church is eternally ordered, and time fully processing. The Church does not merely have its own social space, but rather has its own time and trajectory.
The Church “does not depend on establishing its own place, its own territory to defend. Instead it moves on pilgrimage through the places defined by the map and transforms them into alternative spaces through its practices. The City of God makes use of this world as it move through it on pilgrimage to its heavenly home.”
Given this consideration, I suggest we move the Image of the Church in Exile, as Sojourner, from attending images of Resident Aliens, Colony and Outpost, to those of Refugee and Pilgrimage.
We inhabit a particular place according to our trajectory within it, not according to the place’s particular features or well worn paths. Sometimes we will critique and contradict the ordering of a place, while other times we might correspond and compliment the dominant features of a place. But this doesn’t happen b/c we are seeking to be relevant or resistant, but depends rather on our trajectory as we traverse various places, ordering each place according to our telos.
And through this shift we can make better sense of the relevance/resistance dichotomy. Instead of thinking of the Church as a contrast- or couter-culture, we should think of it as a culminating-culture, a culture of culmination, or culture of fulfillment.
We should take the perspective of the Church as the fulfillment of any particular culture, rather than merely an antagonisticly within that culture. It is not that we will change for you (relevance), nor will we stand against you (resistance), but we accomplish or fulfill what you desire to be. As we look at the careers of some of the Church Fathers we notice that they were not attempting to fuse Greek metaphysics within the Christian narrative, but desiring to show that best and brightest of the Greek philosophical tradition, in thoughts, and in persons, pointed toward Christ and the Church. So, instead of appropriating postmodern elements/forms (whether practically for evangelism or philosophically for theology), we look to where they these elements point and show that in Christ (in his body the church) they are fulfilled.
In light of this, the Church should compare for compatible trajectories joining them for a time on our pilgrimage, but also critiquing ability to that other culture and narrative to arrive at its destination.
Instead of talking about out narrating other stories, or throwing other narrative sinto epistemic crisis, maybe we could out narrating other stories through epistemic fulfillment?
And we do this principally through the Eucharist, which again as Cavanaugh says,
The Eucharist not only tells but performs a narrative of cosmic proportions, from the death and resurrection of Christ, to the new covenant formed in his blood, to the future destiny of all creation. The consumer of the Eucharist is no longer the schizophrenic subject of global capitalism, awash in a sea of unrelated presents, but walks into a story with a past, present, and future (p. 188).
So, we are all refugees on a long pilgrimage, sharing all we have with each other, a meager meal together, the Body and Blood of Christ.