Thursday, June 14, 2007

Intelligent Church

This is another of those new books that talks about the church needing to be 'relevant' to the world. The idea of an intelligent church is one that is able to connect the Bible with 21st century culture, to be authentic and have thought through its practice. The authors (Steve Chalke and Anthony Watkis) believe that how a church does its work, is a reflection of their understanding of who God is. Important point.

Two Interesting Points
When I picked up this book from the library, I thought that this is a book that talks about 'how-to' do church in the 21st century. The gist of being 'intelligent' is being able to connect biblical faith and the new 21st century context. The idea of 'intelligent' is described in terms of being inclusive, the others being (honest, purposeful, generous, vulnerable, diverse, dependent and transforming). The two most catchy ideas about being an intelligent church is the call for the church to be both 'messy' and 'political'. Being inclusive necessarily mean things will get messy. One needs to learn to live with things in its various stages of 'disorder'. (For example, living together in a home, one needs to accept that some people prefer their toilet rolls to be rolled inside-out while others prefer outside-in. In this sense, things are never in any one order at all times.) It is developing that state of acceptance of one another. This does not mean accepting all kinds of doctrines or theologies. It means living with the idiosyncrasies of each person.

The second surprise I have is regarding the 'political' element. I am all for the separation of church-state, believing that the excesses of the politicising the church will tarnish the church's image instead of being more faithful in representing Christ. Essentially, God is ABOVE all. Why then should we subject the church that Christ loves, under the state? Theologically speaking, the church will rule the new world with Christ in future. If the Church lives in God's purpose, politics need not be a dirty word. Jim Wallis was quoted "We need a politics that offers us something we haven't had for a long time: a vision of transformation." In other words, there is such a thing as GOOD politics. Charles Spurgeon describes it best:
The Christian preacher carries a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other - and reads them both!
The Church thus needs to be engaged in politics not in a power grabbing sense but in a participatory manner. We should not separate church-state relations to the point that the church don't care. The Church must care. Let this care lead the way in terms of participatory politics and supporting good policies.
Other Aspects of Intelligent Church
1) DIVERSE: An IC needs to be 'diverse' because it cannot simply be merely an accepting church. It needs to CELEBRATE the diversity within the church. Whenever we have any one group that trumpets their supremacy based on their prowess, their ethnicity, their affluence, or whatever that distinguishes them from others, we have to watch out. In fact, the way a church celebrates its diversity prepares itself for effectiveness in other lands in mission. How true! The way to be diverse is thus to purposefully be open to all groups in all its ministries. Isn't it strange to call a church group diverse when all the members of body are from a homogenous group?

2) DEPENDENT: An IC being dependent, helps keep one from complacency, and to learn to be authentic. How can created beings who are ontologically (their very being) dependent, ever dare to claim independence? That will be foolhardy. The way to learn dependence is to learn to trust God and to depend on him to fulfill what he has promised.

3) GENEROUS: The authors defined 'generosity' as the act of giving or sharing more than is necessary or expected (91). The IC needs to be generous with its time, its resources and with its grace. It gives people the benefit of the doubt, and learns generosity from God.

4) HONESTY: One of the biggest dangers of any church is to force members to conform to their expectations, even at the expense of who they are. For example, if a church member starts to doubt certain doctrines, rather than addressing that doubt, there are some church people who seeks to force down acceptance rather than reason with the doubters. Room need to be given for people to explore their doubts, to be honest with one another. After all, Jesus allowed people to doubt (see doubting Thomas for example).

5) PURPOSEFUL: Chalke and Watkis goes on to emphasise the need to plan, be intentional and to have a clear strategy in whatever the IC do. It sounds a little like Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church. I would say that I have some gripes with this part of the book, where the authors stresses on being "outcome-focused". Aren't Christians in general need to hold up both the journey of holiness and the focus on the outcome simultaneously?

6) VULNERABLE: Yes. Relationships require vulnerability. It reflects trust. Practicing it is however tough. Try asking the leadership to give up control especially in areas where they feel vulnerable.

7) TRANSFORMING: I like the quote from Charles Spurgeon that reads"A little faith will get you to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to earth." Chalke and Watkis reminds us that humanitarianism is never enough. We cannot simply do the feeding. We need to help transform a culture that expects others to do things for them, to be able to help one another to help one another. The way to do this is to share love.

Finally, in an afterword, the authors reminds us of Augustine's famous quote: "The church may be a whore but she is still my mother." We may still have gripes about the church, but we cannot disown her. We need to do church not based on traditions, meetings, buildings, liturgies, governance, dress codes and other earthly identification signs. A Church need to allow its Christology (understanding of Christ) shape its ecclesiology (theology of church), which in turns influences its missiology (theology of missions).

My Thoughts About this Book
This book is a book that gives lots of ideas. It is a reminder that we need to learn to do church contextually, all the time. The intentions of the author is commendable. While the quotes and adjectives used to described the IC is attention grabbing, I find myself questioning the overwhelming drive 'to be different'. Is this drive from the Holy Spirit? Or is it another man-made how-to-do-church kind of wake up call? Any work that becomes overly explicit about how to do church makes me explicitly cautious whether that is really the way to do church. It should be used as an ignition starter, rather than a detailed manual to do church.


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