Rules of engagement for an open source theology
This is an initial stab at establishing some guidelines for the construction of a useful open-source theology. As with all material submitted to the site, they are subject to the consensus of participants and open to revision as the project develops.
1. An open-source theology is community driven: it is dependent on the contributions of a wide range of participants and the interaction that takes place between them. We take this approach because we believe that it is an appropriate means of defining an authentic theology for the emerging culture. The success of the project, however, will also depend on the community developing a strong sense of collective identity and purpose. Although this could be done on a global basis, ideally the identity and purpose that gives shape to an open-source theology project should exist in the real world, embodied for example in a local community or organization, carried on not just online but also through seminars, bibles studies, conversations, etc. There could be various types of open-source theology (OST) projects: local open-source theology (LOST), local community open-source theology (LO-COST), academic community open-source theology (ACCOST), group-hosted open-source theology (GHOST)-you get the idea.
2. Open-source theology in itself is only a methodology: it does not define a particular theological commitment or objective. Although we wish to be open to the development of this project in a variety of directions, there should be a consistent endeavour to position ourselves on the boundary between the church and the world. The overriding challenge for the church, for those who wish to identify themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to speak coherently and compellingly to those on the outside. We are not interested, therefore, in promoting further theological in-fighting and polemic. The approach must be respectful and constructive and must be focused primarily on issues relevant to the general goals of the project - in this case, the task of communicating the truth of the gospel in a postmodern environment. The content should reflect a deliberate and persistent dialogue with the world. Contemporary (modernist) theology has been defined largely according to intramural distinctions-in defence of denominational and dogmatic allegiances, in reaction to perceived deviations from sound doctrine, and so on. Our method here must be to apply a basic missiological hermeneutic to the development of a biblically grounded theology: How do we speak about these things to outsiders?
3. Just as an open-source computer program must have integrity and structure in order to function properly, so an open source theology must aim to produce an integrated, functional, user-friendly discourse - the whole package of assumptions, beliefs, arguments, rhetorical methods, idioms, customs, the whole way of thinking and speaking, that characterizes a particular Christian community. The conversation that we pursue in developing this OST must not be aimless or self-indulgent. It must be more than just a discussion board. There must be a usable end-product in view. An open source theology, therefore, must be flexible without being shapeless and entirely indisciplined. Hence these rules in the first place.
4. We should also expect an open-source theology to be modular. This is partly a means of resisting the tendency to systematize doctrine, but it also reflects the inherent difficulty of organizing the sort of material that an open-source theology is likely to generate. Conceivably some sort of loose organizing narrative or framework of ideas could be devised into which different 'modules' might be inserted. For example, we could establish a set of fundamental 'connections' between God and the world and make these the heart of the OST. They would provide a developmental framework for a range of functional theological arguments, tools, resources, that will equip us to deal with the various theoretical and practical issues that arise in the course of an emerging-culture mission.
It is the tension that exists between God and the emerging culture which determines these connections and gives them their missiological character. Salvation in its fullest sense consists of the reconnection of God and the world, at both an individual and a collective level. This is the framework within which we must explore these themes. What shape does spirituality take as postmodern people encounter the Spirit of God? What does community mean at the boundary between the receding church and the emerging culture?
5. One necessary guiding principle will be a commitment to an intelligent, critical, and respectful reading of the biblical texts. This could equally be understood as a commitment to restate for ourselves and for the emerging-culture mission the programme which Jesus established for his followers. How do we understand ourselves to be in continuity with the agenda of Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple? What makes this undertaking authentically Christian?
6. An open-source theology must remain exploratory, open-ended, and in an important sense incomplete. Any attempts we make along to way to formulate summary statements must be clearly marked as provisional; answers may remain tentative, but it is important that we get the questions right. Coherence and clarity must be allowed to emerge from within the project, through a very pragmatic and fluid process of collective arbitration: they should not be superimposed by experts. Open source theology speaks fundamentally through the multifaceted and largely uncontrolled conversation and cannot be encapsulated in precise formulae.
7. We are not here to encourage arrogance and elitism. Open-source theology is not superior to other ways of doing theology. In many respects it is dependent on the more traditional methods and must be willing to listen both to progressive and conservative voices. But it has some important advantages: it makes theological reflection a community activity; it is directly responsive to the circumstances of ordinary believers; it is contextualized; and it fits the emerging-culture grid.
8. A major weakness of current Christian thinking is the lack of communication between academics and ordinary believers. An open-source theology should be integrated not only horizontally, across a community, but also vertically, so that it draws together both informed and uninformed opinion. The key to achieving this integration will be keeping the practical purpose central. Biblical and theological scholarship will have to subordinate itself to the missiological imperative.