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Prophetic Dialogue – Joining in the Dance: Our Worldly Context

March 12, 2013
inagrace

Inagrace Dietterich

During 2013, The Center Blog is exploring the theological, biblical, and practical implications of joining in the dance of prophetic dialogue – the theme of the Center’s Convocation in Chicago, IL on July 25-27, 2013.

As people who love the Lord Jesus Christ, we desperately need as North American people to view our culture from a missionary perspective…. So as we turn on our television sets, as we look at the desperate poverty in our cities, as we think of the issues of abuse, as we reflect upon what it means for human beings to be dying of AIDS, we need to be able to see what Jesus sees, to hear what Jesus hears, to touch what Jesus touches, and to go where Jesus goes.1

For the church today to develop missional sensitivities, it will – and it must – pay attention to and engage its very real contexts.  What are some of the contours of today’s cultural context that describe your mission field?


Becoming a missional community.  Whether in North America or Australia, Europe or Africa, the Pacific Islands or Asia, as the church seeks to live missionally—to discern, celebrate, and participate in God’s redemptive mission in the world—it must intentionally learn how to become a missionary community.  Read More…


Paying Attention to Context. In Jesus of Nazareth, God entered into the concrete life and history of humanity. By taking on human flesh, by becoming incarnate, God can be known from within the human situation. Thus the church pays attention to the world, not to be relevant, not to get more members, but because the very heart of the gospel calls it to know and love the world as God knows and loves the world.  Read More…


Key Symbols of the Context. In every age the church has the responsibility to reinterpret its faith tradition in light of its context. To stimulate discussion, three symbols will be explored here: the gun, the internet, The Prayer of Jabez.   Read More…


Conclusion. The church is called to pay attention to its worldly context because the church does not exist for itself, but for the world which God loves so much that God gave “his only Son” (John 3:16), “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Read More…



Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What does it mean to view our culture from a missionary perspective?
  2. What are the challenges and what are the opportunities of entering into our worldly context, of “going where Jesus goes”?

More Questions…



Becoming a missional community.


world_people2Whether in North America or Australia, Europe or Africa, the Pacific Islands or Asia, as the church seeks to live missionally—to discern, celebrate, and participate in God’s redemptive mission in the world—it must intentionally learn how to become a missionary community. Developing missionary sensitivities and vision involves approaching the church’s particular social-cultural-historical context with receptivity, insight, and wisdom. As sign, foretaste, and instrument of the reign of God the church is called to bring the good news of the kingdom into engagement with the deep yearnings and the concrete challenges of its worldly context. As a disciple community, as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, the church will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to see, to hear, to touch, and to go where Jesus goes.


Paying Attention to Context


weaveIn Jesus of Nazareth, God entered into the concrete life and history of humanity. By taking on human flesh, by becoming incarnate, God can be known from within the human situation. Thus the church pays attention to the world, not to be relevant, not to get more members, but because the very heart of the gospel calls it to know and love the world as God knows and loves the world.

The term “context” comes from the Latin contexere, meaning to braid, weave, or connect. Paying attention to context thus means attending to the weaving or connecting of various factors including: personal, family, or group life; the cultural constructions of shared languages, customs, or beliefs; social location, whether male or female, rich or poor, from North America or Latin America; and the reality of social changes.2

There are at least three reasons why living missionally involves intentional paying attention to context.

Contextual Proximity: Without critical and analytical distance, the church is simply too close to its context to be able to discern accurately the hidden and unquestioned assumptions about the world, God’s mission, the church’s ministry.

Contextual Diversity: There is no longer any safe place to withdraw from the pluralism of cultures, religions, and lifestyles. The church is called to provide multiple opportunities to surface and bring competing worldviews into constructive conversation.

Contextual Insight: Living missionally requires the ability to leave that which is known and comfortable and to venture into the unknown and disquieting. Going where Jesus goes may involve listening to and learning from those who hold different convictions and live in different ways.3


Key Symbols of the Context


In every age the church has the responsibility to reinterpret its faith tradition in light of its context. To stimulate discussion, three symbols will be explored here: the gun, the internet, The Prayer of Jabez.

The Gun

gunThe gun is a symbol of the American romance with violence. After the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the huge loss of life and the expenditure of billions of dollars, this statement may seem obvious. Yet war is not the only manifestation of the culture’s violent nature. Even before the horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT, the statistics on homicides as well as on child and spousal abuse, the graphic depiction of violence on television, films, or in video games, and the reality and threat of terrorism were graphic reminders that violence seems to be a part of the American way of life. While it may take different shapes in different contexts, no part of the planet is protected from violence.

Looking beneath the surface of violence can be found a deep longing for safety and security. The irony is that the more people arm themselves with guns, the more they live behind gates, the more weapons they build, the more afraid they become. No one is immune to this dehumanizing process. It is into such a world of anxiety and paranoia that the church is called to discern God’ alternative vision. The Bible declares “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). “Perfect is the expression of Christian maturity that is born out of a confidence that God’s love is the conquest of fear and death. Neither sentimentalism nor idealism, it is the affirmation that God’s life-giving Spirit abides in this society and world in spite of the tenacious scandal of violence.”4

The World Wide Web

wwwThe web is a symbol of amazing advances in technology that permeate daily life. There are positive aspects to today’s ongoing communications revolution. The internet can enable people from different cultural, religious, and political backgrounds to develop mutual understanding and respect. Information about global trends, innovative ideas, and issue oriented movements can be gained in a matter of seconds. There are tremendous educational possibilities as the web provides access to books, schools, libraries, or courses. Yet such technology is not value-free: “Individual habits, perceptions, concepts of self, ideas of space and time, social relationships, and moral and political boundaries have all been powerfully restructured in the course of modern technological development.”5 In other words, “Technology redefines ‘freedom,’ ‘truth,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘fact,’ ‘wisdom,’ ‘memory,’ ‘history’—all words we live by.”6

Communication is not just about information, it is also the way in which people discover identity, sustain relationships, and create community. The freedom of the web can lead to isolation as the very technology that brings people together also keeps them apart. Inhabiting “virtual reality” may result in a vicarious way of life, living on-line through the lives of others. And when separated from larger frameworks of meaning, wisdom and knowledge may be lost in the flood of “bits” of information. Living missionally means appreciating and utilizing the advances while at the same time placing technology within the context of God’s creative and redemptive activity. As one author suggests: “The fruits of the incessant technological change are [to be] measured against the durable harvest of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).”7

The Prayer of Jabez

prayerofjabezDuring an uneventful time in Israel’s history, a faithful man named Jabez prayed a simple prayer and gained the favor of God (1 Chron. 4:10).  A small book has prompted millions of people to memorize and repeat the short prayer daily. The popularity of the prayer (through the book and other related merchandise – posters, T-shirts, jewelry, videos) symbolizes what might be termed the “reenchantment” of Western culture.8 While many observers thought that with the emergence of a scientific worldview, all angels, demons, occult powers, and deities would be exorcised, a look at any popular or Christian bookstore demonstrates that this is not the case. There is a widespread hunger and search for “the sacred,” for that which transcends and gives meaning to the difficult and confusing realities of life.

While it may be true that many readers of this book have sought the power of prayer rather than the power of God, it does indicate that the church has the opportunity to rediscover and share the richness of its spiritual tradition. Christians pray “in Jesus’ name,” because they believe that through his life, death, and resurrection they are able to know the character of the God who creates and sustains all of reality. And Jesus taught the disciples how to pray by giving them the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6). It is submission to God’s will that brings participation in God’s power, a power which exposes human illusions and brings true favor with God. The Lord’s Prayer does not gloss over the harsh realities of life, but announces “forgiveness for the guilt-laden, health for the diseased, hope for the despairing, and restored relations for the alienated.”9 Even in a secular context, this is Good News!


Conclusion


The church is called to pay attention to its worldly context because the church does not exist for itself, but for the world which God loves so much that God gave “his only Son” (John 3:16), “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Entering the dance of prophetic dialogue means that the church takes the time to observe and to analyze its context, to distinguish between the positive and the negative, to figure out what is right with the world and what is wrong, to sort out the wheat from the weeds (see Matt. 13:24).



Questions for Reflection and Discussion


  1. What does it mean to view our culture from a missionary perspective?
  2. What are the challenges and what are the opportunities of entering into our worldly context, of “going where Jesus goes”?
  3. In what ways can “prophetic dialogue” enable the church engage the underlying causes of the American romance with violence?
  4. How do you experience both the positive and negative aspects of modern technology as symbolized by the world wide web?
  5. What is the difference between The Prayer of Jabez and the Lord’s Prayer?
  6. How does prophetic dialogue enable the church to engage its context in a critical but caring manner?



Richard Mouw, “The Missionary Location of the North American Churches,” Confident Witness—Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America, Craig Van Gelder, ed. (Eerdmans, 1999), p. 15.
2 See Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Orbis Books, Revised 2002), pp. 5-6.
3 David Scotchmer, “Symbols Become Us,” in The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America, George Hunsberger & Craig Van Gelder, eds. (Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 159-160.
4 Will Coleman, “Being Christian in a World of Fear,” Many Voices, One God: Being Faithful in a Pluralistic World, Walter Brueggeman & George Stroup, eds. (Westminister John Knox Press, 1998), p. 43.
5 Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor (University of Chicago Press, 1986), p.9.
6 Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage Books, 1993), p. 8
7 Ruth Conway, Choices at the Heart of Technology (Trinity Press International, 1999), p. 115.
8 Mouw, “The Missionary Location of the North American Churches,” p. 4.
9 Mortimer Arias, Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus (Fortress Press, 1984), p. 76.


Inagrace Dietterich

Inagrace Dietterich

The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 20, 2014 3:02 am

    This text is worth everyone’s attention. How can I find out more?

    Like

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