Church Unboundless

What does it mean for the church to be unbound? Though I’ve been writing this blog for nearly two years now, I haven’t ever addressed this question. My guess is that among the people who read the blog, follow the Facebook page or Twitter feed, there are a number of varying definitions.

One gentleman wrote a response on our Facebook message board to a question regarding new church movements that I found fascinating:

Your “Church Unbound” is just another symptom of the same emerging church “Church In Laodicea”. Such churches think they’re so “deep” and transcendent and above and new and fresh and esoteric but the Bible says that they are, “…wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, D. A. Carson, Doug Pagitt, etc… This road is wide and leads to destruction, (Matthew 7:13).

Keep your “Church Unbound”. I’m sticking with, “Paul, a BONDSERVANT of Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1)

Oh. Oh no he didn’t. Rick Warren? He’s tossing us in with Rick Warren? Ignoring the vitriol, what’s interesting is that this list and his inclusion of A Church Unbound in it reflect that he doesn’t really know what the Emerging Church is. Or rather that he has a very different definition than, say, Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs. He hit two major players (McLaren, Pagitt)—but D.A. Carson wrote the book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. And Rick Warren? From my standpoint, if this guy thinks Rick Warren is a part of the Emergent movement, then he is most likely very conservative. A more general and perhaps more important question is this: What brought this guy to A Church Unbound’s Facebook page? What does he think it means to be “unbound?”

Clearly, once he discovered that we were talking about new church movements, new theology, etc., he made his decision: That’s not the sort of “unboundness” he was looking for. Maybe he was thinking becoming unbound means freeing the church from outside influences: the media, secular philosophy, pop culture. Just the facts. Just the Word.

We saw similar things happening with responses to Tad’s post on the Rapture back in May. Now, the purpose of the blog and the Facebook page is to invite this sort of discussion—so this is not in any way a complaint about this activity. Still, it was again fascinating to see how vastly different the worldviews of some people were from my own. But not totally different. Toward the end of the comments section under Tad’s post, one of the most vocal participants left it at this:

Thanks brother… we shall know all things one day in heaven… or do you not believe in heaven either? jk jk!!! have a blessed night!! always proceed in love!

It’s that last sentence that intrigued me. I’ve been using that as a tag line of sorts for the blog, stolen from John Caputo’s understanding of what deconstruction brings to theology. What it means to me is that even though we disagree on this point of doctrine (and probably others too if I could ask) we seem to agree that love is vitally important. But what does love mean? How do we define it?

I seem to be raising more questions than providing answers.

A couple more examples.

A gentleman became quite disgusted with me over my position regarding the authority of Scripture (also on the Facebook page.) In this case, it wasn’t that he thought I was too liberal—it was that I wasn’t liberal enough. He seemed to be in line with Bart Ehrman, believing that our holy text is just a dubious mash up of incomplete semi-historical records that have been hacked to bits through translation (though even Ehrman’s position isn’t quite that polemical.) A few weeks after that though, he was in complete agreement with both our position on Osama bin Laden’s death and the posts on the Rapture.

Finally, and most recently, are some debates regarding the Occupy movement in the U.S. In short, it’s been two proud Republican Facebookers (I hesitate to call them readers, since I’m not convinced they would’ve stuck around as fans of the page had they read anything we’ve posted) arguing against the evils of big government and the selfishness, envy, and jealousy of the protesters. That argument aside, I discovered that one of the participants and I share mutual friends—a marvel of Facebook’s friend finding advertisements. Six mutual friends—five of my extended family members and one close friend from my home church.

I wonder how his opinions would change if he knew that I thought.

Maybe he does, and it doesn’t change anything.

Here’s the matrix thus far: Anti-Emergent-Church-and-Rick-Warren-loving-dispensationalist-textual-critical-suspicious-of-authority-right-wing-anti-government-pro-freedom-capitalist-Christians.

That’s difficult to read. Depending on how you read it, it can say different things—things that aren’t even reflected in the examples above but are still probably descriptive of some of the 650+ people who follow our Facebook page. And it certainly doesn’t cover everyone either with the exception of one word: Christian. How we define “unbound” with relation to the Church must be proceeded by our definition of what it means to be a Christian. This entails that there always be more questions than answers. Christianity is far too fragmented to be able to ever come to an agreement on what it actually is. My concerns are strictly related to the West and American Christianity in particular. That’s a really small piece. Part of what is in my sights though is the ignorance of that fact, which leads to epistemic violence. Even the dismantling of that one, very particular world view is too large a task for one lifetime.

Which is an important part of what it means for me to be unbound.

I started this blog with a post entitled “The Post-___________ Church.” Admittedly, I was in a phase. I had spent quite a bit of time studying postmodernism and post-structuralism both as a literary and philosophical movements and cultural phenomena and had been grappling with the idea of post-secularism possibly as some sort of incorporation of religion into all of that. I wanted to know where the Church was headed.

The summer before I moved back to California, I was out visiting for a job interview, and met up with an old friend for coffee.

“I think we’re headed for a second Reformation,” he said. “The first Reformation followed a major communication shift. The printing press was invented and had a hundred years to completely change everything. We have the Internet. And it ain’t gonna take a hundred years for that to change stuff. It’s already happened and is happening.”

That’s a really heavy prediction to make. But I kept thinking about it.

“The more people say another major revolution in the Church isn’t happening, the more we can be assured that it is,” he concluded.

Second Reformation or not, it doesn’t matter. If that’s what we’re on the verge of or at the beginning of, we’ll probably never know. If not, that doesn’t remove the force from what we’re trying to do. Being unbound, to me, has to mean something radical. There’s nothing anti-Christian about radical movements. The Gospel itself is the documentation of a radical movement. Being unbound is another way of saying being transformed completely by the life of Jesus Christ. Not a feeling you have in your heart that Jesus is in there, kicking around.

A completely transformed life. The difficulty, I’m discovering, is that a transformed life will look different for different people. Given everything I’ve written for the blog so far, I could never sit here and tell you that there’s a line, a measurement for transformation, a way of determining whether or not a person has been transformed.

I’m reminded again of the impossible. That’s where the transformative power of the gospel truly is. If we can speak at all of a standard, that’s it. And in attempting to live that out, in trying our best to reach the impossible, in giving economies of giving a chance—the politics of forgiving, the risk of hospitality, the failure of love—we reach out to the impossible, and we are transformed.

Being unbound is answering Jesus’ command to lay down everything and pick up our cross. All that means, simply, is to put ourselves, our understandings, our desires, out of the way so that the power of the Gospel can work in our lives.

That’s it.

by Joel Harrison


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