Posted by: rogermitchell | July 7, 2010

why challenge accepted theology?

In his thoughtful comment on the post before last “Created out of nothing” Dave Rudge asks a number of theoretical questions such as “if we adopt the stance that God created ‘out of’ himself, how do we guard against one of the various Pantheistic views creeping in via the back door” and “how do we distinguish the idea that God created out of himself from Hylozoism or Panpsychism.” Before I proceed I need to say that I have never heard of the latter two positions before, and I will investigate them. But the question raises an important underlying issue that I would like to clarify and invite comment on. It is as follows:

My point in highlighting misleading and problematic aspects of generally accepted theology is all with the intention of facilitating mindset change in support of the repositioned church and its kenotic role in the world. As well as challenging specific theological concepts I am also calling into question the whole basis of the theoretical and systematic approach to knowledge. My research [see ‘my thesis’ page] causes me to conclude that this approach proceeds from a tendency to use knowledge as an identity boundary in the way that we have been discussing in the previous sequence of posts. The church councils that defined theology proceeded from the 4th century marriage of church and empire and were mainly about affirming a theology of sovereignty and controlling dissent. The resulting power alliance that constituted Christendom was eventually challenged at the enlightenment by new rational theories of reality aimed at setting knowledge free from the constraints of church and empire. The evangelical attempt to counter these theories generally failed to break free from the controlling approach to knowlege and the enlightenment reaction to it and still configured a theoretical theology that tried to make sense of everything. Some have called this a mathesis, an approach to knowledge that assumes everything can be fitted on a rational grid, like a kind of cosmic jigsaw puzzle. While I am emphatically not saying that God, life and the universe makes no sense, I am deliberately resisting the need to protect them from vulnerability and misunderstanding by putting them in a box. I wish to break the box, not remake the box. The result will be a feeling of vulnerability all round! But our subsequent knowledge can then be reconfigured relationally and collaboratively in the eschatological download of the new creation [or something].

Well, back to my writing up…



  1. Thanks so much for this Roger. I had not fully appreciated a number of things until I just read the summary of your thesis and the subsequent outline. I apologise for making this a rather more personal response, but I believe it is important that I clarify where I am coming from – particularly since you have blown my cover some what! [tee hee!]

    Firstly, I had not appreciated the extent of the second part to your research, namely: To attempt to reconfigure a theology in which basic categories such as ontology, Christology, ecclesiology and eschatology are disentangled from suppositions of imperial sovereignty and reconceived from the perspective of kenosis.

    Secondly, as a consequence how much renewing of my own mind still needs to happen! The paragraphs in brackets below can be skipped if necessary. Please forgive me for including this herein. It should give some idea of the environment I shall be functioning in during the short-term to medium-term future. The other aspect is where God has placed me in the Body of Christ.

    [I have never formally studied theology at Bible college, or University. Also my education is in maths and physics not the arts, humanities or languages, etc. This has both advantages and disadvantages. However, I have recently been accepted into a School of Ministry programme which I intended to commence, by distance learning and supplementary practical work, in the autumn of this year. It is not a traditional Bible college.

    In essence, the School of Ministry programme is a modular programme based upon bringing one into an encounter with Jesus Christ. To deepen one’s relationship with Him, and experience His transforming love in one’s life. It is to connect with the Tree of Life, instead of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is to view life as a whole, integrated sum of its parts. It is to discover the Kingdom, and not just the Church or a ministry.]

    Thirdly, God has currently placed me with one foot, as it were, in Christendom, [ie a local expression of the gathered church that counts itself as part of the new church/restoration movement AND with the other foot in the non-institutionalised, radical, distributed ekklesia that takes its place in the world and throughout the spheres of creation and is increasingly looking for a post-Christendom theology. It would seem to share some objectives with the emerging/simple/organic Church but even these descriptions are problematic.

    With the foregoing context clearly [I hope] expressed let me comment further.

    Roger on 02.06.2010 you made a post entitled Vance’s wheelbarrow and made reference to Jer 1:10-12. This is important to take on board in my view in this context since there are twice as many negatives as positives used to describe the nature of Jeremiah’s work, but he most definitely had a commission to build and plant.

    Let me be clear at this point. I accept that Jesus said ‘I will build my church …’ not humankind’s idea of church, but His church. Nevertheless he does call us, as a privilege, to cooperate with Him in this work, each in different ways.

    I understand your desire to ‘break the box’ not ‘remake the box’, indeed I trust that I am with you in this and not unwittingly becoming an obstacle in this. However in the light of Jeremiah’s commission what then do you believe is the nature of the PARALLEL [?] or PRE-REQUISITE [?] practical, on-the-ground outworking of this co-operative work of building and planting with Jesus.

    You see I repeatedly bump into manifestations of the empire/imperial spirit in the context of the community where I have made a territorial commitment and in the expression of Christendom where I am to stand at this time. I am sure, however, that I am not alone in this. Some of us are called to speak from within the very system that we have, in love and with tears in our eyes, to see uprooted, torn down, destroyed and overthrown.

    Comments from one and all please!

  2. This is really stretching stuff. I’m like Dave with a foot in both camps!! My question is how do we live fruitful lives when every stone is being looked under and things that we really thought were important then seem not to be. When the empire way of thinking is collapsing and we realise that much of what we held on to is not there any more, and the more we read and pray the more it happens. It like I don’t know what to DO many more, maybe that that’s the point it’s about just BEING. Let the mind melt continue!!

  3. I suppose I’m not convinced that there *are* two camps in real terms. There is only life in which we face all sorts of realities (the kingdom of heaven is like a drag net…) and our job is to reconcile them with God’s way/ethic.

    To be is surely also to do. I think the dilemma is really one of am I doing the *right* thing? My only response to that is ‘am I trying to love kenotically and embrace those who are different?’ – what to do beyond that seems to be ‘according to your faith be it onto you!’

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