July 3, 2007

Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

A few weeks ago, I reread James Jordan‘s booklet Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future.  I had read it before, during my first pastorate, and I recall liking parts of it but finding that much of it went over my head.  Perhaps I’ve grown a little taller, so to speak, because I caught much more of what Jordan is saying this time through.

And it’s well worth catching.  Some of Jordan’s books are theological studies or exegetical studies.  But every now and then, he puts out something that is a bit bigger in scope.  There’s exegesis in Crisis and there’s certainly a lot of theology, but this booklet also deals with what God is doing in the whole of history.  It’s the kind of thing that may make you say, “Huh?  I don’t know about this” at first, but may on second or third reading make you say, “Huh.  So that’s what’s going on.”

The booklet starts by talking about how the Trinity is revealed in Genesis, as the course of the narrative twice moves from Father/worship/Garden stuff to Son/brother/land stuff to Spirit/witness/world stuff.  So, Jordan argues, does the course of Israel’s history, which is a microcosm of world history.

That last point is crucial.  God wants us to be able to understand the times (1 Chron. 12:32), which means understanding our place in history and something of where history is going, and doing so in the light of Scripture.  Scripture, of course, doesn’t address the context of North America in the beginning of the 21st century.  But as we study the history recorded in Scripture, from creation to the flood and from Abraham to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, we learn the wisdom we need to understand the whole of world history.

World history, Jordan argues, drawing on the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, follows the same basic pattern.  It moves from tribalism to a kingdom period to a time of empire.  Then, the empire breaks down, sometimes into kingdoms but sometimes all the way down to the tribal level again, before the cycle starts over.  That breakdown is not a bad thing, something we ought to fight against and oppose.

That’s what’s happening in America today.  Western civilization (the “empire”) is breaking down.  So is “America,” if not as a nation then at least as an idea.  Lots of people are going to celebrate the Fourth of July tomorrow, but that celebration doesn’t mean as much to people today as it did to previous generations.  It’s largely a day for parties and fireworks.  Some people, especially Christians, want to preserve America or restore Western civilization.  That’s not all bad, but it’s not bad for things to break down into a tribal form either.

What matters to people more and more is their local context, their group of friends, their tribe.  Interestingly, as I was reading this section of the book, I saw a report on TV about the Red Hat Society.  The women in this society eat together, sing together, comfort each other in times of difficulty, and so forth.  What is that if not a tribe?

The church, too, Jordan argues, has gone through these periods, from a more tribal form in the early church to a kingdom form in the medieval period to an “empire” form after the Reformation.  But now we’re entering a time when people don’t know the God of the Bible or his laws.  At the very same time that the world around us is entering a sort of tribal period, the church also has come through the cycle and is poised to return to a tribal period, too, which means that God is giving us a great opportunity for evangelism and world transformation.

There’s a lot more in this book and I’m tempted to quote it all to you, but I won’t. I will urge you, especially if you’re a pastor, to read and meditate on and digest what Jordan is saying here.  It’s something that may give you a new outlook on your work and on the purpose and calling of the church.

Having said that, I will, however, quote this from the close of the book, as Jordan calls the church to “total Bible saturation”:

We will not experience total Bible saturation if all we do is attend Church and hear sermons.  The Church must take the bull by the horns and set up classes to raise up a generation that is saturated in the Bible, a generation that has a re-formed common sense and that is operating in terms of that vision and worldview.  This means setting aside time for this, week by week, and producing materials to help accomplish this task.

This educational task must be accomplished in churches that have recovered the original “tribal” vision of the Church: a community of enthusiastic singers gathered by real elders (old men) at a table.  Such a local church must have a vision for the local community, not be constantly harping on national ills.  Such a church must be planted in a place, and reach out with a vision of the New Community of God to all the lonely, isolated, and dispairing people round about, people who are experiencing the many forms of death.  Such a church must have something to offer in the way of a new community, and to do this she must know her songs, be feasting at her Lord’s table, and have elders who can provide her a real government.  The modern conservative church too often has nothing to offer but doctrine, cold ideas.  The church must offer wholistic life to wholistic people (pp. 45-46).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:48 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future

  1. Jake Says:

    Hmm, tribalism. Interesting. That was (and still is) one of the biggest problems in Africa.

    The ebb and flow of history…a country like China has lived for centuries as disconnected “tribal” entities, now coming together to form a mega-nation. The West now disintegrating—the wrong word?—back into tribes of sorts. Ebb and flow, reversal of roles.

    Tribalism is kind of attractive at the same time. But it’s nearly 1am, I need to get to bed. Hence the disconnected thoughts. But I am making a note to get that booklet.

  2. Speaking Bible: Catholicity’s Escape from Babel « Evangelical Catholicity Says:

    […] Rosenstock-Huessy would have us move forward with history as we realize that the moving forces of history are not ideas, but rather relations. James B. Jordan has gone so far as to paraphrase Rosenstock-Huessy saying, “Ideas do not have consequences. People have consequences.” Jordan has his own view of the future, and it is not too different from Schaff and Rosenstock-Huessy’s proposals. He bases his understanding of development on the three-fold progression that he sees given by the Bible. There are three major falls of man, thus exposing three major sins, which is to say, three major struggles. There are also three major types of society: tribal, national, and imperial. Each of these “stages” can be traced within certain single books of the Bible (Genesis for instance, with Adam, Cain, and the Sons of God ((then Noah, his Sons, and Babel and etc.))) as well as the entire canon (Creation, Fall, Redemption/Recreation). […]

Leave a Reply