p.ost

(how to tell the biblical story
in a way that makes a difference)

The Great Convergence: the emerging church and the New Perspective

Two major developments, very broadly speaking, have impacted modern Western evangelicalism over the last decade. With regard to praxis the emerging church movement has challenged traditional patterns of church life and mission and has set out—in more or less experimental fashion—new, fresh, innovative, down-to-earth, enterprising, risk-taking, controversial, incarnational, and, of course, missional ways of being church. With regard to theory the New Perspective has challenged the traditional rationalized presentation of evangelical beliefs, arguing that New Testament theology is a fast flowing river cutting through the landscape of a particular history, not a vast undifferentiated, universal flood covering the whole plain of human existence. The New Testament is not an allegory of personal salvation. It is the complex account of the crisis of first-century Judaism and the painful struggle to bring about the renewal of the people of God. Theology needs to be recontextualized.

What these two developments signal, in my view, is the demise of a modern evangelicalism for which “church” is merely the slow and pointless accumulation of saved souls, and scripture just a massive, dense and largely impenetrable way of saying that God so loves you (singular) that he gave his only Son.

The New Perspective is a work in progress, but it has the power, I think, over time to generate a new, robust, realistic, and profoundly biblical evangelical identity, in credible continuity with the narrative of the New Testament.

The emerging movement has been a messy and at times incoherent attempt to liberate people from the claustrophobic mindset of the modern church, but it has changed the rules of engagement for many believers and many communities. It has demonstrated that church in the aftermath of the collapse of Christendom must adjust to marginalization, must find ways to develop an authentic sense of community, must develop habits of cultural, moral and intellectual integrity, must discover in itself the power of the creative Spirit, must concretely and practically embody the compassion and justice of God, must learn to tell a publicly significant story, must become an incarnating presence in the world rather than a programmed absence….

These two developments need each other. Despite the endeavours of popularizing scholars such as N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, the New Perspective remains largely confined to the academic sphere, a matter of difficult abstractions concerning Judaism and justification. We are only slowly beginning to grasp the revolutionary—and re-invigorating—implications of its shift in outlook for teaching and formation in church communities. The emerging movement, on the other hand, has suffered from a lack of theological clarity and direction, and to my mind would benefit greatly from engaging constructively with the New Perspective.

This has all been a great oversimplification, but in my more optimistic moments I imagine that the future of the people of God after Christendom lies not with the reactionary neo-Reformed folks, for all their good intentions, but in the convergence of these two powerfully creative forces. There, I said it.

Comments

I’m with you Andrew. I do hope so. I did the Reformed thing for a few years. After awhile I couldn’t breathe so well, both theologically and missionally. No much room for creative thinking or engagement. I just don’t see any future there, though unfortunately I think it in a fast changing globalised world it will always have a strong appeal to a good number of people who desire a safe place to retreat and hear definite pronouncements of certainty and security. 

Very cool 3 headed Pink arrow btw :-) 

And I’m glad you did! I am usually not as optimistic.

Ok, so here’s some of what I’ve got so far …  Your earlier post’s summary : “… by exposing the serious shortcomings and flaws of modern evangelicalism, by asking some unaskable questions, … by practically and creatively re-engaging with a rapidly changing culture, and by embracing marginalization, the emerging church has served as a flawed but nonetheless prophetic sign of the challenges and opportunities that are presented to the Western church as it comes to terms with the terminal decline of Christendom.”

That stark concluding condition is a challenge, hard to deny, but it seems to be purposed by your suggestion in this piece that there may be a direction more promising, more focussed :  “The emerging movement … has changed the rules of engagement for many believers and many communities. It has demonstrated that church in the aftermath of the collapse of Christendom … must become an incarnating presence in the world rather than a programmed absence.”

That is a beautifully hopeful concept :  “an incarnating presence”.  So I want to know what would that be, what would that look like ?  What are those re-aligned rules ?  Are they distinct ?  Are they stated somewhere ?  Of course they are not.  Perhaps that’s the nub, the un-askable part, the flaw you mentioned before:  we cannot see or feel, predict let alone hold what it is we want to do, to look for.  We know what we believe of course, thus what we want to share with people, we know how important it is - but we don’t know what vehicle to put it in to move it further along, what lens to see it through to make it clearer.

The impatient concern, for me certainly, has then to be exactly how will this “presence” be framed in anything other than a self-conscious trend or statement that we must simply be different from whatever went before, was tried before, and certainly from what we perceive to be conservative, retreating, safe, staid - effectively assuming contradiction for its own sake - because initially we can imagine neither what this statement, trend, looks or sounds like, nor what it should aim at, and sadly, probably, not even what it should be trying to acheive.

And so it seems we readily revert to what we know, to models of church that are really not very different to what went before… and before that … and just pretend that they are different :  “Rules ?  Nah, we don’t have them, we’re free.  Liturgy ?  Boring…”  Or the easy risk is that we adopt change for change’s sake almost, which really is silly.  As per Monty Python :  “I came here for a good argument. / No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument. / An argument isn’t just contradiction. / It can be. / No it can’t : an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. / No it isn’t. / Yes it is !  It’s not just contradiction. / Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position. / Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’ / Yes it is ! / No it isn’t ! / Yes it is ! / Argument is an intellectual process.  Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes. / (Pause) / No it isn’t. / It is. / Not at all. / Now look. / (Rings bell)  Good Morning ! Argument, reasoning, apologia, defence, offence … 

We shouldn’t want to argue, to criticise, to set ourselves up as irrefutable.  We also shouldn’t assume a naive illogic, withdraw from the debate.  But church must be so much more than only presentation, persuasion.  It must be and it must show Jesus, articulate and give Him to the world, allow Him to be and to work.  Reckon we’re going to have to dig deep to find the roots, to grow something new.  Are we more loving now than the old Christendom ?  Who can say ?  More caring ?  More missional ?  Hardly.  So what are we ?  Do we pray more ?  Unlikely, but we’re learning.  More ‘charismatic’ ?  Hmmm:  possibly, and there does seem to be evidence.  Or do we see more of the miraculous ?  Again, not sure.

Come back to that “incarnating presence” again :  let’s say it could be prophetic - that which we cannot yet see.  We’d better try to understand what that would be.  You suggest that the emerging church serves as a “prophetic sign” - that sounds like a good place to be.  I take from this that the movement is on the edge, at the front, trying to give shape, to express something, however improvised, that we have not yet got.  Can we try to form that into something ? So - we emerge, and either we blink and stretch, look tentatively around, a little worriedly, and make stuff up as we go along, potentially scuttle back inside again - or we really do “engage … embrace”, capture and spring some surprises.  For that there has to be an energy, a real purposed ennervation, as well as a direction, some policy almost, even something we can measure our progress against, guage if this is what it should be, check and correct where it is going, adjust, re-focus …

The impatient concern, for me certainly, has then to be exactly how will this “presence” be framed in anything other than a self-conscious trend or statement that we must simply be different from whatever went before, was tried before, and certainly from what we perceive to be conservative, retreating, safe, staid - effectively assuming contradiction for its own sake - because initially we can imagine neither what this statement, trend, looks or sounds like, nor what it should aim at, and sadly, probably, not even what it should be trying to acheive.

Good question. Indeed, this has been one of the legitimate critiques of the emerging movement. But it’s why, in my view, the New Perspective, or something like it, or some eventual extension of it, is so important—it gives us a genuinely different way of relating to the biblical narrative. The form of church is always going to be in tension with its past—there will always be difference for difference’s sake. But right now I think we have a real opportunity to redefine what it means to be biblical or evangelical—and who knows where that will lead us.

By the way, your comment was initially flagged as spam (must have been the Monty Python reference), which is why it didn’t show up immediately. Sorry about that.

To be honest, I’m brand new to this emerging church, neo-reformed business. Kind of gives me the heebie jeebies to even venture into this. Especially since God’s been majorly stripping and simplifying my life over the past 11 years, since He escorted me out of “the church” so I could get to know Him up close and personal.

Part of me is soooo tired of all the words.. I mean, when life gets down to “can you clean a toilet and be happy about it?”, that’s pretty bare-bones.. but another part of me knows words are fundamental to understanding.

I just want the right words. Simple words. Clear words. You know?

Susan, it would be nice if it was always as simple as getting to “know Him up close and personal”. There are certainly times when that is necessary and we need to give ourselves space for it. But at the same time, we are realizing that scripture is about the vocation of communities, not merely the spiritual well-being of individuals, and for that reason we have to grapple with language and culture.

For some reason, my paragraphs disappear when I post. So I hope this is not too difficult to read.

But any way, love this post. It brought life, clarity, direction and the diagram!…and it brings good news.   

As a result of even recent controversy between Rob Bell, John Piper, Justin Taylor and the Gospel Coalition, the major, important, grassroots theological transition that has been underway for some time has, I believe, received new energy….it’s like something was exposed for all to see and has helped catapult a movement forward. And the combination of missional/emerging church and New Perspective theology you proposed (you said they “need each other”) will, I believe, continue to bring needed credibility and gain momentum. God knows it is a TIMELY response to this lurch to the right.

We in N. America cannot afford to be so absorbed in this debate - intense as it is - that we fail to notice the massive crisis of irrelevance that is looming ahead and is happening NOW, especially here in New England. This last burst of vitriol should untether us from any doubt that we need to move forward. David Fitch said, “The “Rob Bell…episode speaks to the growing need for another place to do theology from whence the emerging church (the church emerging in this generation – not to be confused with the Emergent church) can find direction for the challenges of the new post Christendom landscape we find ourselves living in. This is the new theological landscape and it speaks to the need for an alternative theological coalition. (for instance ‘the Neo-Anabaptist, Centrist-communal-wholistic-Baptist, Holiness/Charismatic oriented, Kingdom minded, evangelical Missionals’).”

Though I’m not entirely in agreement with his wording there or all his ideas, (kind of hope you might speak to that Andrew) his statement that “The Rob Bell…episode speaks to the growing need for another place to do theology from whence the…church can find direction for the challenges of the new post Christendom landscape” has some merit.

At any rate, all this emphasis on our shifting evangelicalism seems to ebb and flow; it kind of bursts forth and then hibernates. But thanks for being one of those keeping the need for change alive Andrew. Sent from my iPad

 

It seems to me that in the desire for a new source of authority -the “other place” from which to do theology- the pull is towards pop culture and relevance. Hence, Rob Bell’s appeal to the popularized image of Gandhi in the promotion for his new book, an image that may be at quite a distance from the reality, however in pop culture surface trumps substance.

Andrew, thanks so much.  I’m not sure what I think yet, but I appreciate being made to think further down this particular track!!!  Hope you don’t mind, I reposted to my blog as part of my own 2011 quest for emerging christianity.

please continue to write boldly,

Chelle

Andrew, I love the freshness and thoughtful nature of your blog!  I was thinking about your statement,

 ”the New Perspective remains largely confined to the academic sphere, a matter of difficult abstractions concerning Judaism and justification.”

I agree with the New Perspective’s confinement to the academic sphere, and I have a proposition as to why this might be the case.

I’m reminded of the prolegomena work N.T. Wright displayed in The New Testament and the People of God, where he proposed the solution for the postmodern literary interpretation model in the idea of meaning coming forth through the reader and the text together in “Story”.  Although I do not believe his presentation will satisfy hardcore postmodernists (who emphasize the interpreter) nor the absolute truth ‘texts’ type of people, I believe it is the basis of Narrative Theology. (to be able to recognize the contextualized Story of the word, but at the same time acknowledge our own contextualization and seek the Story of God’s work among us).

I wonder if the reason this type of thinking is so hard to take root in our general cultural context might be because we (in america) are a pragmatic culture which believes in the problem-solving skills of modernist empirical rationalism (yes, even after Kuhn), but we are pragmatic individualist postmodernists when it comes to personal belief structures.  Therefore, we are ultimately confused on how to interact with any type of ‘truth’ process that might suggest plurality in contextualization yet also remain accountable to some type of communal interpretive rubric.

This type of philosophical critical thinking does not exist in our culture.  I have to admit, I’m beginning to tire of being told I’m weird because I believe in a more Narrative Theology  (I’m told it is too ‘Heady’ and that our culture will never understand it…..and then I wonder if I understand it…..or if the other person has the abstract ability to understand it….

Thoughts?

Dustin, that’s an excellent observation. One immediate and ill-thought out response I have is that the narrative category works both in literary terms and in historical terms. The literary function is essentially postmodern—at least in a soft sense, inasmuch as the telling or retelling of the story is a productive work of the reader. The historical function, however, pushes towards something more objective and empirical—much more empirical, in fact, than the construction of truth in Reformed theology, it seems to me.

But we have still simply exchanged one type of disconnection (the quasi-mythical abstractions of modern theologies) for another (the relocation of New Testament theology in a remote historical context).

So the question is then whether a historically conceived narrative theology can be shown to be formative for Christian life and action. My sense is that this pragmatic function is mediated by the concrete existence of the historical community. Whether that can be made to work in the current American context, I don’t know. But our contexts are changing all the time, and we still have a long way to go in articulating the historical reading outside the academic sphere.

It’s a very interesting line of thought and worth pursuing further.

Andrew, I love your emphasis on the “concrete existance of the historical community”. 

This is where Theology begins to take on its living, breathing existence, thus the ‘body’ of Christ.  I hear that the historical terms are more ‘empirical’ (and therefore, at times perhaps more prone to be unknowingly guided by our presuppositions -I’m thinking the Historical Jesus- of the late 19th and early 20th century-which I think is what your were talking about in terms of disconnection) than even the Reformed traditions. 

The historical context of the community (and a strong belief in the presence of the holy spirit within the communty) may lead to some type of functionality for the context we find ourselves today. 

I’m reminded of some of Dave Fitch’s points on preaching.  What I love about the Narrative approach is that it often considers what the text is doing in its context rather than merely understand what it means (i.e. the proclamation of Christ at the beginning of Luke in opposition of the Emperor).  If we can use Narrative theology to see what the text is doing within its context (with some type of Humility, acknowledging the need for a community of interpreters to assist validity) and then use preaching to proclaim What the text did in its context, we could then proclaim what the text could/should do in our context.

My favorite Fitch quote, “This (scripture) proclaims (interpreted ‘doing’ of the text) over our world of (local context)”…..or…”Into a world of (context), scripture proclaims (interpretation from Narrative Context).” 

Thoughts? 

About the concreteness of the community-At the end of the day, it’s a faith thing (the presence of the Holy Spirit in our communities).

good post, andrew. did you do that picture yourself? will Reformed theology move away of its own free will or is it all predetermined?

Very droll. Wish I’d thought of that.

Andrew, Really like this statement, “So the question is then whether a historically conceived narrative theology can be shown to be formative for Christian life and action. My sense is that this pragmatic function is MEDIATED BY THE CONCRETE EXISTENCE OF THE HISTORICAL COMMUNITY”.  How does the concrete existence (and why the word “concrete”?) of the historical community become a MEDIATOR - or part of a theology - “formative” for Christian life and action?” And then you said, “Whether that can be made to work in the current American context, I don’t know”. What do you mean by the “current American context?” is it, in your mind, a context radically different than Europe? Here where I live in New England, and as part of a leadership team of a local church, I wonder.  But whatever the case, it seems New England is kind of a foretaste of what is coming to the rest of North America. I believe we are having to respond now to what the rest of the country will be increasingly confronted with later. And that includes adjusting to marginalization. And, also, what becomes increasingly obvious is this deep (relentless) cultural need for immediate application of personally relevant texts and little patience/respect for its historicality. With that in mind, I hope conversation continues regarding other places to “do theology” in order to discuss how to be more (hermeneutically) adventurous and create a new public relevance directly out of the historical reading.  As you have said, even as we come to the conclusion that the NT church had a restricted eschatological  horizon, there’s enough in Scripture as a whole upon which to construct a broad ecclesiology and missiology. Hope you get some time to answer some of those initial questions. Keep it coming!

Just caught up with you blog via Andrew Jones (I know, where have I been?!) - and love what you say in this post. I so agree with you. Just wanted to encourage you to keep pushing on this one.

A GENERAL COMMENT

 

Yo Andrew.  Good stuff, and not really a “but,” but again a bit overwhelming in terms of density!  So that said, and without comment to the specifics of your explanation on the notional (2) “major developments,” the fact is that Christendom is dead…  long live christendom!  Or something like that.

We are in an age where christianity is a profanity.  On virtually every level.  For me I stopped calling myself a Christian (when asked) years ago… it’s too base and at this point mischaracterizes most of what I stand for and believe.  If asked, I call myself a follower of Christ or a grafted messianic Israelite or something along these lines.  You can tell from this statement that I don’t care much about labels.  Though I can see as I wrote that that in some important situations a label would be helpful.  I’ll have to come up with one…..

Anyway, christianity/christendom is a dead man walking, and the world - particularly Jews and Islamics - see it exactly for what it is:  a giant hypocrisy and catastrophe.  The devil - in and through his minions here on earth (people - duh!) has truly succeeded at perverting the meaning and mission completely.  

Very simply I think the key to making what you are calling Christendom (and which I would like to call something else, I just don’t know what) is dovetailing perfectly modern day Christ followers’ theological understandings and teachings and beliefs with Judaic tradition and teachings.  Messiah/Jesus/Yeshua was a JEW, and we are all grafted into the lineage of Israel if we believe in Him and his divinity and in God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  

Dovetailing the two theologies and ESPECIALLY their narratives (I can see you are big on narrative…) is the first challenge, but actually easy in my mind.  That “hurdle” being cleared, the reality of walking hand in hand with Israel and Jews would also be made manifest, which would make a gigantic statement to the world.  

Coexisting with Islamists/Muslims and the other major conflicting religions of the world would be so much easier…  if you care to imagine the reality of such growing conflict.  As it stands, “Christendom” in your sense is sort of a broader, spiritual example of what’s wrong in a secular sense with the United States and Britain and most of Western Civ…  we are blatant, bonafide hypocrites and all the REST of the world knows it.  We change positions and craft “new” ideas strictly so that we can go from crisis to crisis and relationship to relationship without completely giving up previous positions or doctrines, to the point where we don’t even know who we really are.

Thank GOD some people can see the big picture and understand the need for profound change… in our foundational beliefs and our understanding of mission.

One could rave about this for hours… ‘nuf said for now!

God bless you.

“…Very simply I think the key to making what you are calling Christendom (and which I would like to call something else, I just don’t know what) is dovetailing perfectly modern day Christ followers’ theological understandings and teachings and beliefs with Judaic tradition and teachings….”

Till I hear differently, I’m of the strong opinion this entire site and all its adherents are just modern Gnostics and/or apologists for Rabbinical Talmudism, AKA Judaism.  The above quote only further cements my opinion. 

Posters including Isaac seam highly literate.  Yet apparently Isaac is unfamiliar with the holiest of all holy books of Judaics, called the Talmud, elevated far above the OT Bible.  BTW, when Judaics mention the Torah, they keep well hidden the fact they have two Torah.  The first Torah is the written word we call the OT, which they say is a poem only rightly interpreted by Rabbis, you know, the ones who murdered Christ.  The second Torah is the spoken word God gave Moses documented in the 4th C AD in the Talmud. 

The Talmud and its adherents/apologists were persecuted for the Talmud’s frequent abuse of Christ.  This resulted in the Rabbis replacing the name Christ with the name “Pantera”, being the name of the Roman soldier who fathered Jesus through the whore Mary (per the Rabbis and the Talmud).  The BT (Babylonian Talmud) also states Jesus boils in excrement for eternity for claiming to be God.  (Andrew this website owner seems to keep well hidden whether he agrees or disagrees with the Rabbis on the point of Jesus’ Deity.) 

Isaac in his quote apparently marrys Christ (as do 99.99% of modern believers, Christians, whatever you want to call modern Christ-haters) to the Rabbinical Talmudic philosophy that ordered Christ hung on the cross.  Par for the course in the modern literary world: look at the universal acceptance of the oxymoronic term “Judeo-Christian” (Judeo not appearing in the Bible, ditto the word “Jew” which did not exist in print till 1775 AD per Oxford Dictionary of the English Language…Jesus can not have been a word that did not exist till 1700 years later, hence he was/is no Jew). 

No wonder we in the USA have modern Christians lined up forever murdering in the name of capitalism, democracy, freedom, and to spread the Bible.

From Judaism Discovered, Michael Hoffman, pg 438 top

Judaism’s Talmud, Soferim 15, Rule 10.  This is the saying of Rabbi Simon ben Yohai: Tob shebe goyyim harog (“Even the best of the gentiles should all be killed”).  From the original Hebrew of the Babylonian Talmud as quoted by the 1907 Jewish Encyclopedia, published by Funk and Wagnalls and compiled by Isidore Singer, under the entry, “Gentile” (p. 617).  Some translations conceal this Talmud passage.  The Jewish Encyclopedia states, “…in the various versions the reading has been altered, ‘The best among the Egyptians’ being generally substituted.”  In the Soncino version: “the best of the heathens” (minor Tractates, Soferim 41a-b)*

* Jewish Press, June 9, 1989, p. 56B       

Hoffman demonstrates throughout his book: The Talmud is Judaism’s holiest of all holy books, far above the O.T., which Judaism believes to be a poem only understood through the Talmud interpreted by a Rabbi.  In other words, Judaism is all-Talmud all the time.  The above passage is in full effect same as when authored.  The Talmud instructs the Rabbis to lie and obfuscate the truth of such passages to naïve goyim, only until Judaism rules supreme over the land, at which time all such passages are subject to immediate enforcement.

http://web.archive.org/web/20061218133928/http://revisionistreview.blogs…

Andrew, this diagram seems to be so narrow. It appears that we are just playing with how to recreate the “faith once for all delivered.” I would hope to include the Patristic contributions and their “perspectives” on Jesus and Paul. Let’s take a wider look at what’s been laid down and step back a few feet to see the wider picture. The new Clavin folks are just a more home brew/fundamentalist camp and the pridefully penned “emergent” stream wants a cultually hip, theologically libral designer faith that ignores the fact that we have a highly  ignored cloud of witnesses who are, in a sense, waiting to be acknowledged. I know this doesn’t set well with the “Biblical Theologian” who sees the need to come at the text as if he must ignore all that has come behind in order to arrive at what might be discovered in the present. Sad. If we fail to explore both Scripture and Tradition, we will spend loads of time on a prolonged circular journey. Just some thoughts here. I really appreciate your work. 

Michael, I entirely agree that the diagram is too narrow and an oversimplification. It was meant only to highlight—in a fairly provocative manner—what seem to me to be some critical dynamics from a (post-)western evangelical perspective.

I would also point out that I am an exegete primarily, not a historian. My aim is to clear away all the distorting forces of tradition (insofar as that is possible, which may not be very far) in order to recover the natural, intrinsic, originative relationship between theological thought and historical context that arises in the New Testament.

However, for now, I want to keep pushing the narrative methodology. I think there is a pressing need for us to understand the story that has brought the church to its present state. Patristic theology may well have something to teach us, but it also represents a particular moment in the development of European Christianity—just as the Great Schism, the rise of Scholasticism, the Reformation, and the scatter-gun developments of the modern era are all part of a narrative.

Who are we? Why are we in the state we are in? Where is our God taking us?

I think we will understand where we have got and what challenges lie ahead if we keep the whole narrative in mind rather than try to create some sort of pan-historical amalgam of the various traditions of Christendom.

Andrew, I wouldn’t limit the Patristic tradition to merely European Christianity. Yes, if you mean the Western Fathers. Far too long, the Eastern Orthodox and their non-Western tradition have been ignored. The Reformers didn’t have wide access to the Eastern Fathers. The Reformers were in part revolting against the corrupted Papacy (and so goes the Eastern Church to this day). 

The Fathers have the narrative. The liturgy I celebrate repeats the redemptive-historical narrative in the Eucharist. The Creeds contain, in part, the narrative. I agree that there is a pressing need to understand the story that has brought us to this moment. I’m not sure if cutting oneself free from the Ancient root will get us any closer Andrew. I think this approach might land us where all the other ships are grounded. In an attempt to study independently from Zion, to whom we have come, we break community and find ourselves striving to lay hold of “something” which methodologically we have rejected. An isoloted theological method just might produce a labratory of insights with no connections to the communal stream of which we’re all members. This is not to say we must read the Father uncritically. The Fathers read each other critically and corrected each other. Perhaps that’s what I’m calling for. 

Michael, I greatly appreciate the comments. Thank you for raising these issues.

It would be ridiculous for me to attempt to integrate Orthodoxy into the story. I see the conversion of the empire—Eastern and Western—as a proper outworking of the argument of Paul in particular that the radically transformed people of God would inherit the world. This in effect was the coming of the reign of God over the old pagan world.

I also think it must be highly significant for us as, in our different ways, heirs of the conversion of the empire, that the Christendom paradigm has collapsed, notwithstanding attempts to prolong its life, both in the East and in the West. I would argue that this is as much a problem for the Orthodox Church as it is for the Roman Catholic Church and the diverse progeny of the Reformation.

But clearly between the conversion of empire and the collapse of Christendom there are numerous rich and conflicting paths that were followed. To what extent the post-Christendom future of the church will be in continuity with this heritage and to what extent a break from it remains to be seen. My limited concern at the moment is to read the New Testament as an originative historical text, on the one hand, and to highlight the scale of the collapse that has taken place, on the other. I think that the churches are currently too complacent with regard both to their theological origins and to their theological future.

Interesting view of about the Constantinian experiment. I know many Orthodox scholars who all believe it was a mistake, even though Contantine is a canonized saint in the Orthodox Church. I would say that the so-called “conversion” of empire was no conversion at all. I’m sure that you would agree.  I need to read your material on the Kingdom of God - reign or realm question. It appears you see it as a realm whereas I see it as a reign that is present (“in part”, to use First Cor 13 imagery … through a glass darkly), though it is eschatologically “coming down” to become both reign and realm - New Creation. For now we experience it “in the Holy Spirit” via our Union in Christ. We are living into the new order to come in fulness. 

I would point to the global south as an example of revived christendom … Anglicans, for example, who are fully alive and spreading the Gospel in power. Yes, Rwanda, Uganda, and other African countries are at odds with R Williams … but this is a sign of health and life in the old institution. Dry bones need some breath, not a bone job. The rattling noise in the institution is a sign of renewed bones. 

Michael, a few quick thoughts…

It’s easy for us from our post-Christendom perspective to say that the Constantinian experiment was a mistake, but the fact is it’s what happened, and in one way or another the church as we know is the product of that mistake.

Socio-politically speaking it makes complete sense, surely, to speak of the conversion of the empire. Europe became as Christian as it had once been pagan. We are conditioned by modernity to look for idealized accounts of what it means to be Christian, idealized readings of Paul, but the church has always been a political phenomenon.

The New Testament, as I see it, speaks of the kingdom of God primarily as an impending event or series of events through which the status of the people of God in the ancient world, and in particular with respect to the nations, will be dramatically transformed. It is divine action: judgment on rebellious Israel, the liberation of the people of God from their enemies, and the eventual overthrow over the pagan order.

I have expressed by view on the relation of kingdom to new creation here.

I agree with you that the church in the global south is flourishing in many respects. The question is whether in the long run it will escape the fate of western Christendom, whose DNA it shares.