Tom Wright: Future of the People of God talks
These talks are amazing, and very refreshing. It is one thing to answer with authority, Tom Wright asks questions with authority, something of the character of Jesus in him.
I’m not so sure of exactly what the community’s idea of an emerging theology is, but what I see in these talks is a gospel of empowerment. Not simply empowerment of the individual, but also of the community. I say that because in the West we perhaps overemphasize the individual to the hurt of the community, and at times that leaves us with dysfunctional communities and therefore dysfunctional individuals.
Wright defines the church’s mission in terms of the inbreaking reality of the promised future of God. If in the end we will be gathered to the coming of Jesus as a “kingdom of priests,” and the Ephesians 4 ministries—surely in part the basis for Wright’s ecclesiological practice—are as he maintains, for the equipping of the redeemed to do the work of the ministry, that leads me to a question. I will not question the wearing of robes on the basis that such things may become idolatry. My question is, why am I not given one?
In the gospel narrative Jesus and the apostles stand in circles and shoulder to shoulder as they tell stories and expound on the God of Abraham. There was a grace upon them that was enough to compel others to listen and become followers. If many meetings proceeded as kinetically as 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 5:18ff may suggest, then perhaps the only compelling pulpit the apostles had was the combination of the mind of Christ, a heart of illumined scriptural wisdom, and whatever other prophetic utterance was given to them at the time.
If an emerging theology is, at least in terms of “practial theology,” targeted towards ever-moving cultures, we must take into account that culture has been to a large extent shaped by television, leaving the masses conformed to the “consumer” role in many relationships. The internet is swiftly pushing culture onwards towards a participational culture, in which the role of “content consumer” becomes increasingly meaningless. For some, this will mean that they will participate in eg. a mass or a charismatic service, and then blog about it. Others will prefer to be more dynamically involved in the process of experiencing services, sacrements, etc.—if these will even suffice to provide that dynamic experience.
I don’t pretend to know what a missional vision to present the kingdom of God to our present culture should look like, never mind culture 10 years from now. But I have a feeling it will involve becoming lower, standing on the same ground as the outsider. Wright talks about the persistence of roles in a ministry, and how almost instantaneously structure is formed. Maybe he is right (no pun intended) and what I am thinking about is impossible.
Maybe the key is not avoiding persistent ministry roles, but doing as Paul says and honouring those who seem to have less honour. Perhaps we must acknowlege with our practices and forms that the questions are as important as the answers.
Isn’t that what the Jesus story is about? Wouldn’t the narrative be meaningless without Nicodemus, the woman at the well, dead Lazarus in the tomb? Isn’t church as much about the newcomer as it is about the heralded apostle? What does that look like today?