I just finished reading the very interesting IVP book Deep Church by Jim Belcher. I’ve also been tracking a conversation, as well as contributing to the commentary on Dr. John Stackhouse’s blog. These unrelated activities and my own interaction in rather diverse settings of life and ministry have once again stirred my thinking about several issues.
Stackhouses blog asks the question about how academia, Christian academia in particularly, and Regent specifically, become more diverse in its faculty representation. He contends that the presence of other voices, notably women and “underrepresented” ethnic minorities necessarily enhances both the research and the teaching function of the Christian university. He is concerned about those voices that are not at the table.
Belcher is addressing a completely different set of questions and issues. He seeks to chart a “third way” course between what he terms the traditionalist model of church and the emerging / emergent church conversation. He works very hard to be fair in both his critiques and affirmations of the respective weaknesses and strengths of each.
How are these two things related?
Well in some very real sense they are entirely unrelated to one another, except that they both seek to address perceived or real problems in the evangelical Christian community, and both believe that there is some real value in listening to heretofore unheard voices, whether those be women (Stackhouse’s concern) or people in various “camps” of evangelicalism (Belcher’s concern). There is something else that unites them though, and that is the extreme lack of awareness in any meaningful sense that their entire conversation is largely irrelevant to, unimportant to, and ignorant of the concerns of many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of believers in the United States alone who would consider themselves to be orthodox theologically and quite likely evangelical doctrinally. I speak of course of the many ethnic minority communities in the US, to say nothing of the global church.
I do not believe that either Belcher or Stackhouse is ignorant of this entirely and I am certain (or as reasonably certain as Christian charity requires) that each of them would agree that such awareness is important and that we need to do a “better job” of listening to many different believers. In fact, I am sure they would want to invite those people into the conversation. Indeed that was part of Stackhouse’s intention. Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fundamental point. Belcher’s book is by, for, and about a certain strain of White, largely middle-class, usually suburban (in thinking if not in residence), approach to church. Stackhouse is, I think, much more in touch with this but also in some ways misses the boat. His desire to diversify the academy is itself a project of great importance to the same demographic, though one slightly more liberal and open minded than the traditionalist of Belcher’s description. Frankly as I consider the churches I’ve attended in my life, the churches my father and brother now pastor, the tens of thousands of churches like them and the many millions of believers in them, I am convinced that neither Stackhouse’s desire for diversification in sex and ethnicity, nor Belcher’s third way have anything to say to them. Even more importantly, I am pretty sure that both groups (though not these two men in particular; I don’t know them well enough or at all to say specifically) are not necessarily open to learning from them.
I find myself in an uniquely odd category. People with backgrounds like mine generally don’t interact either in person or through the blogosphere with people like Stackhouse or Belcher. It is funny to hear talk about listening to different voices, especially the voice of the minority and the poor, and yet be aware that many of them don’t realize that those voices may be entirely uninterested in being a part of the conversation, and even more that the conversation itself seems pointless and irrelevant to them. It doesn’t seem pointless and irrelevant because they have been excluded from the conversation. Its just that most of what is being talked about doesn’t matter one whit. Likewise it is interesting to hear discussion about “the church” while ignoring the fact that much of the global church world could care less about emergent or emerging or emergence or whatever other monikers well connected White dudes (and some Asians) who have enough money to fly around to conferences discussing what to call themselves care about.
This latter is not an unimportant point. How amazing it is to me how many thousands of dollars are spent by these folks flying around the country and the world talking to themselves about what is important. The irony is amazing really.
Well this post has been mostly random thoughts not terribly well put together. Perhaps I”ll dress it up later or not