"Postdenominational"?  

Posted by Greg McKinzie in , , , , , , , , ,

I've been running into the label "postdenominational," and it's got me thinking about the meaning of "undenominational" in the SCM context. In a sense, it seems that postdenominational church is really post-institutional church. "Institutional church" has in fact become something of a dirty word in the same literature where I find postdenominational presented as a positive description. While undenominationalism certainly carried with it some problematic attitudes in our history, like so much else it began conceptually as an upshot of the plea for unity, not as fuel for sectarianism. I don't think postdenominationalism is about Christian unity at its core, but unity is certainly an apologetic implication for many who feel that institutional church presents a bad face to the world regarding its fragmentation and bickering about patently institutional concerns.

While I would argue that the Restoration Plea (RP) was initially about a variety of things that I'm in favor of--things I believe postdenominational churches are about at their core--I also believe the RP was intrinsically tied to a particular hermeneutic that Churches of Christ have demonstrated to be untenable (whether they wanted to or not). In other words, I don't think what remains once we excise the RM hermeneutic is properly still the RP. Yet, many of the RP's motivations and agendas ought to remain--I would contend that the predilections often demonstrated on this site are a rediscovery of those (that's the continuity aspect of "post-restorationist" that goes beyond the merely historical, imo).

So, the question for me is this: On what basis do post-restorationist churches unite with postdenominational churches? I ask this for two reasons. First, I believe truly post-restorationist churches still have (or ought to have) their own agendas and their own tradition, which they should not forsake in the frenzied pursuit of the pop-evangelicalism that has gripped the American ecclesial scene (even though there may be significant points of similarity in motivation and agenda). I suspect that point is debatable for many. Second, given that forsaking continuity with the restorationist aspect of post-restorationism is a poor option, I believe that unity is not achieved in facile terms. It is a difficult question.

I started to post these thoughts elsewhere, but I figured it would be more provocative on a site with "friend of emergent village" and friend of missional" logos on its home page, because the currently faddish means of achieving facile unity (or at least cross-denominational commonality) is to append one or both of the adjectives "missional" and "emergent" to one's ecclesiology. I would like to suggest that that is a very problematic move. At the same time, I think it points in the direction I would like to go on the road to unity with postdenominational Christianity.

In the Jan. 2009 issue of Missiology Darrell Guder, one of the leading "missional church" thinkers, pointed out that the term "missional" has become "a cliché, a buzz word, a catch-all phrase that could mean everything and nothing." This is the state of the discussion. The "motivational" posters I've posted here are the way some conservatives have devised to pour salt on the wound that is vogue yet hackneyed Christian culture. I appreciate both their concern and their sense of humor, if not their stance. Obviously, I'm lumping together "missional," "emergent" and "postdenominational" here. I think that's fair enough, though I'd be open to fine-tuning. My point is that a truly missional theology and lifestyle seems to me the best basis for unity between those who are "postdenominational" on purpose (rather than just because they are postmoderns and don't like the institutional)--including ourselves. By on purpose I mean: because of God's telos, his mission. Yet, a challenge faces us to articulate and demonstrate what that really means. Post-restoration churches cannot continue to be the worst of what we were, should not forsake the best of what we were, and yet moving forward with the vision of unity among our core values poses a question we have yet to answer. For my part, I hope that we will not acquiesce to the mainstream, because merely calling ourselves "postdenominational" no more takes up past the theological and sociological reality of denominational differences than calling ourselves "undenominational" did. We've already learned this lesson. Nonetheless, the trend is a hopeful one insofar as it is corresponds to a thorough, substantial recentering upon the mission of God.

One of the most interesting implications of a missional post-restorationism is that forms matter. Forms (by virtue of said hermeneutic) were what really united the RM and gave it its identity. Recentering upon God's mission frees us to embrace the implicit restorationist belief that forms matter and transform it into a radical commitment to contextualization. While I've been prone to argue, as a reaction to my restorationist heritage, that function matters rather than form, I've been driven missiologically to believe that such an argument is a false dichotomy. Contextualization demands forms that serve function. Could it be that post-restorationist churches are in a place to redeem the concern with forms and use it for the good of the kingdom?

Another angle I've considered only briefly and need to flesh out more in my own thinking is how to shift consciously and intentionally from the foundational framework of Campbell's "Christian System" to a post-institutional model in light of contextual concerns. In other words, again, while "missional/emergent" stuff is pointing a way, as post-restorationists we have a particular road to pave in order to get from point A to point B. Perhaps it's as easy as just doing it another way, but that doesn't seem likely to me at this point.

Thoughts . . . ?

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 27, 2010 at Saturday, February 27, 2010 and is filed under , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

I'd offer Richard Hughes book Reclaiming a Heritage, where I believe he wrestles with much of what you articulate in this post. He pursues the argument that the RM had an apocalyptic emphasis that is largely lost in aligning under the more generic umbrella of evangelicalism. I believe there is a great deal of connection between the roots of the RM and much of the missional/emergent conversation.

Another example, in addition to others I've posted before, I ran across the following description of an underground "missional" movement that traditional statistics do not reflect (this is part of Alan Hirsch's argument in the opening of his book The Forgotten Ways quoting other statistical data.) See if this doesn't sound familiar:

- reject historical denominationalism (uhh . . . )

- gather in communities of various sizes

- seek a life focused on Jesus (is this straight out of the RM handbook??)

- seek a more effective missionary lifestyle (this one's probably the biggest stretch)

March 3, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Hughes, Allen, Foster, et al. have very important in the formation of my basic point of departure, which is that it is impossible to disown a heritage (as the RM attempted to do in the first place) and it is unhealthy to attempt to do. I think it is beneficial to continue to engage with them about what are the positive (and realistically present) aspects of the tradition, especially in light of "emerging" concerns.

And while I see similarities such as those you've mentioned, I wonder what it means to embrace those emphases as a platform for unity while maintaining a sense of continuity. Maybe that question is way to abstract to be helpful. My concern is really intended to be a practical one. I want the RM tradition to continue to be a unity movement, and perhaps missional/emergent offers an opportunity, but how do we navigate it in view of the wisdom of our experience?

March 3, 2010 at 2:09 PM

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