In parts one and two, I complained about Frost's and Hirsch's shallow theology and extolled the examples they offered. Evangelicals can be like that; poor theology with excellent practice.
Mainline churches have it the other way. Solid theology with poor practice. In fact, we mainliners tend to look down our noses at churches who are actually effective at making disciples of Jesus, and who show creativity and innovation in outreach and mission.
We tend to be happier with our noses in a three volume system of theology than with building new churches in bars or boathouses. We like READING and TALKING about new forms of mission. We're just not good at leaving the safe confines of our offices and studies to actually, with God's help, CREATE something new and effective.
Of course, this is an overstatement. But those who've hung around mainline churches know what I mean.
But, this is changing. In fact, I see a convergence happening between evangelicals and mainliners. A slow convergence, but it's there.
Mainliners are starting to think more creatively about how we do mission. We don't really know how to go about this, and we're floundering about, making each minor success look like an earth-shaking move of the Holy Spirit. But we're changing missional directions.
The Church of the Apostles in Seattle. Spirit Garage in Minnesota. The “postmodern” ministry in Saskatoon (with all its attendant problems of youth). A house church network in Winnipeg organized by a United Church minister. Presbyterians (of all people) doing “theology on tap.” Good Shepherd having a chili lunch for the neighbourhood. These are all off the top of my head. But this is just the beginning. God is moving us mainliners in new directions.
And some evangelicals are starting to read theologians like Walter Brueggemann, NT Wright (kind of a crossover figure), and Stanley Hauerwas, while also (re)discovering liturgy.
Many are disengaging from some of their right-wing (notice I didn't say “conservative”) political stances and are reflecting biblically and theologically on the Christian response to social issues: third world and inner-city poverty, the AIDS pandemic, climate change and stewardship of creation, unbridled capitalism, etc. They are starting to see God's redemptive activity as more than saving souls. Mainliners now have partners among some evangelicals in proclaiming and working in God's kingdom of mercy, justice, forgiveness, and peace.
Some cynics might say that mainliners are more open to innovative mission opportunities because of declining numbers, that this is just the last gasp of a dying church.
Maybe. If that's true then we're not going out without a fight.
But I think we need to learn that churches are not to do mission out of a need WE have, but out of a need OTHERS have. Too much of mission is to get people into church, keeping the institution going, providing fodder for the organizational machinery, rather than loving them as Jesus loves them.
In other words, mission becomes about US. Not about God, Jesus, or a sinful, suffering, world. To remain faithful to our baptismal calling, Christians need to remember that Jesus came to redeem and heal a hurting world, not to maintain an institution.
More on this in Part Four.