Posted by: rogermitchell | February 22, 2010

talking sense about church and kingdom

The challenge of finding new language without losing touch with common meaning is a big one. Just yesterday someone I love and value asked to be removed from the daywatch mailing because it was “far too intellectual for her.” So the challenge of mindset change has to remain down to earth enough not to lose too many friends. David Leigh’s comment on the last post earlier this morning [early birds and worm comes to mind!] Points out that these days the most pregnantly meaningful new vocabulary can be rejected precisely because it is so pregnant with meanings it’s bound to get in the way of someone. The trouble is that the ecclesia and God’s democracy or whatever else we may decide to call the kingdom of God still refer to arguably the two most important realities we are called to understand and live out. They are  God’s agency and God’s aim. I’ m seriously wondering right now about God’s kenocracy for the kingdom of God. But then of course it does not fit the ironic method by which the Holy Spirit seems to have come up with the kingdom of God in the first place. God’s redemptive acceptance of the Israelites’ insistence on a king lies at the base of the phrase. He then began the redemptive relational process of turning it on its head. It took a long while. It was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. So whatever else it is, it is Jesus’ way of being. May be “Jesus’ way” works because the process came to a head with him, so we are no longer looking for a phrase or term that we are working out through history all over again. As I write this of course it dawns on me that this is exactly the origin of Christendom and reminds me of why I am doing this research in how empire invaded church and displaced the kingdom of God! What’s for sure I’m not suggesting that we return to Christendom to denote the kingdom of God or Jesus’ way!

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Responses

  1. Roger: I appreciate your struggle. All the best terms seem to have been appropriated somewhere along in history and rendered useless or changed in meaning. I struggle with the thought of using ‘democracy’. Is God’s Kingdom a democracy as in rule of the people? I don’t read it that way but perhaps the real answer is that God takes every human system – kingdom, empire, democracy, oligarchy and turns them on their heads through his kenotic outpouring. I know that doesn’t answer your question. I think, in answer, I am to the point of describing God’s aim and agency as ‘it is done’, or ‘it is finished’. That gives me hope no matter what I see happening around me. c.

  2. Lots of stuff raised here, including:

    (i) how to make important conversations more accessible without patronising… (this is key and a source of slight anxiety for me!)
    (ii) the need for language for the kingdom of God to be ironic/awkward… is this a deal-breaker? What if it was only ironic because there was no non-ironic alternative around? Democracy is rubbish… the democracy to come not so much. Kenocracy is clever; Jesus’s way poignant, but even Jesus needed to refer to something that represented the alternative way of doing things.
    (iii) “God’s redemptive acceptance of the Israelites’ insistence on a king” raises my hackles a little but happy to skip past that aberration 😉

    Food for thought.

    • No skipping please! What was it about point (iii) that raised your hackles?
      Love Rog

  3. I find the conversation very interesting… I have been musing on “the Way” mentioned throughout Acts. I think it is really important to open up language that speaks from within and through our contexts of God-action and God-view (we could all be Team God?… No?), but I was thinking about this term “the Way” (thank goodness the NASB capitalises it) and it seems to be delightfully vague in that is grasps for description/pinning down (easy with a named and defined idol) but yet this is a slippery term – it’s not structuralised – he has a way about him… but yet it’s undeniable and identifiable – so much so that it was persecuted and termed a sect. But yet the key point surely is that the defining charateristic is how we live, the way we have about us.

    So I like kenotic community in that it captures “the way” we live (“Jesus way” seems too little of us involved – it has to be our way if we’re his body). But the issue of awkwardness/emptying out meaning from dominating language etc. is important. Is it a question of being scapegoats like Jesus, being persecuted. Do we let ourselves be named by our context so we can then empty it out and is that a language we can then speak to people in? I recently called God sleakit – a Northern Irish slang phrase for being a bit sly. I knew it carried something of the substance of God in West Belfast! I can talk about (God’s) journey and (God’s) struggle – the substance of (redeemed?) life in a marginalised community…

    Some thoughts anyhow, hopefully not too far off kilter for this situation:)

  4. I like it Pete. The sleakit WAY!

  5. I agree with Peter. I’ve also been thinking alot about the Way. I think God’s Anarchy has some mileage in it! Though I love Kenotic community/communities also! Maybe Kenotic Jesus Anarchy!

  6. Yeah, I’m more and more thinking that Jesus spoke of the ‘kingdom’ of God because he came among a people still looking for a kingdom. Had he come among another people looking for another polity, e.g. democracy, community or even revolution, he’d have been (sleekitly) talking about the democracy, community or revolution of God.

    This, incidentally, is my slight uneasiness with (iii) above. I don’t think God accepted kingship but began the process of emptying it out with David that was fulfilled in Christ the so-called king of the jews. It is redemption I guess, but a redemption that results in the opposite rather than the enhancement of the original. It’s a minor point (because I don’t think you mean acceptance in a validation sense but more in the sense of resignation) but I’d have preferred ‘correction’ or even, dare I say it, ‘deconstruction’ to ‘acceptance’. After all that blethering, I suspect we agree. How boring! 🙂

    • I like this use of deconstruction very much. It is the way that Giorgio Agamben interprets Paul’s use of katargesis or abolition of the law. I am planning to develop this in the final creative theology part of my thesis which I will hopefully be writing up from early summer onwards, so no doubt the blog will be reflecting this at that point!

  7. How about the Kenarchic Way?! Or just plain Kenotic Anarchy?!

    • How about the Way of Ken, the gospel according to Ken or more seriously the kenarchy of God!

  8. This thread is fun!

    For me, I guess, the language depends upon the question ‘for whom’. If we are worried about avoiding the slaps of theological correctness (similar to political correctness but with a smaller body of orthodoxy) then we are probably going to get neurotic about kenotic.

    But if our aim is to find evocative language for others that is not already hostage to history, so that the likenesses can be embodied in pithy names, then we could do worse than to be the first (recently) to take the word heaven more seriously. The silly associations, the juvenile images, associated with this are easily set aside, and where there is controversy it is one that opens conversation rather than closing it.

    Of course, and again for me, I would miss language that did not position us against the empire, so something anarchic would have to be there as well.


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