Friday, February 15, 2013

Who is the Prodigal God, What is his Prodigal Mission, and How Can We become His Prodigal People?



David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw locate their new book, Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier, in the context of a North American Christianity whose most vital streams at present seem to be the Emerging Church movement, on the one hand, and the Neo-Reformed movement, on the other. Fitch and Holsclaw (F & H hereafter) see these two movements, divergent as they are, function on the same “operating system.”

Although each has promised us a “third way” beyond the conservative-liberal theological wars, they nonetheless keep us trapped within a bygone cultural consensus of Christian dominance that no longer exists. One side assumes people will listen to us as we speak about justice in “the way of Jesus.” The other side assumes people will listen to us because we speak of orthodoxy and the Bible. The truth is that these ways make sense only to those who are already convinced. In contrast, we sense the need to escape these kinds of cultural Christianity. (494-499 Kindle edition).

Both have failed, though, to find vital ways to connect to the gritty reality of what is the world of the early 21st century.  Here’s how F & H describe this reality.

“Is there a path leading to a Christianity capable of bearing witness where little or no Christian consensus exists? Where is the Christianity that journeys into the difficult places, the places where the Christian language is not yet spoken, where the witness to God’s Kingdom in Christ has not yet reached the edges of humanity, the places where brute force often has the last word? Where is the renewal of what the church has always been but sometimes forgets to be: a people sent in mission? Where are these signposts that can direct us into the missional frontier? (502-506)

Identifying these signposts to the journey that awaits us is the burden of this book. This journey, this prodigal journey of following a God of reckless and even ridiculous love into a world filled with sexual brokenness, relational tenuousness, alienation, passionless, even “lost” people in a world that seems anything but stable and secure, if taken seriously will change everything about us as Christians and the church.

The promise of such a journey is that it will break these and all other boundaries and discriminations between people today.  It has this promise, not because it is our idea or determination of a good way to go to build the church, but because it puts us on the frontlines of God’s prodigal mission in our world.

“This prodigal Christianity is always defined by the missional journey of the prodigal God with whom we live and breathe. It is a faith and a life that understands God is always going before us in Christ. And so we freely enter this journey, working in continuity with all God has done in Christ to reconcile the whole world to God. We go knowing God has already gone before us into the far country. This is the journey this book invites us into. For this journey we need some signposts.” (549-552)

F & H identify 10 such signposts.  These signposts direct us into the unknown, barely known, and unpredictable world of this mission do not comprise a formula or an agenda.  Rather, F & H call them “splotches” that in their words,

“point us in the right direction but still require us to discern what this will mean for our own contexts, places, and neighborhoods. We have no idea what this will look like for all the different places where we live, inhabit, and minister. The best we can offer are signposts. As we follow them in small, discerning steps, God will lead us into mission.” (577-579)
          
 The signposts they identify cover three areas:  life in the Triune God, how we make the journey, and the perilous journey we commit to take.   

F & H close with a further reminder.

“Please do not think of these signposts as ten easy steps to a new church. The way ahead must be carefully discerned. We cannot rely on the instincts of the past because we’re moving beyond the tired dichotomies of Christendom. Each one of us must follow these signposts in our own contexts. This book is not a program, an ideology, or a destination. It is a way of being God’s people on a journey in and among the hurting and lost peoples of North America, a journey that always leads us deeper into the love and redemption of the radical-reckless-loving-prodigal God.” (596-601)

On to the journey!

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