This is the synopsis of my dissertation which I completed in 2007 and the fodder for a book I’m working on called, “Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical.” These ideas have been seminal for me for nearly 15 years in my post graduate studies and ministry of peacemaking and serving as a pastor. I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Thanks kindly, Andy
Final Project Dissertation Proposal
Worldly Holiness: Recovering a Missional Spirituality for Our Times
In Company with Jesus
Doctor of Ministry
School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary
Thesis: This dissertation will identify some of the ways in which the American church is presently found in a compromised position with our culture in both our inner as well as outer lives, and suggest a way out of our captivity into a vital spirituality that embraces the world in a missional posture as we follow Jesus. (Worldly holiness is an integrated approach to spirituality which cultivates a deep inner life, attentive to the holy as given by God, while fully engaging the issues and concerns of daily experience. It is an effort to lift up the biblical mandate to live an integrated life of following Christ with head and heart, hands and feet, to be both heavenly minded as well as earthly good, to be a tree firmly planted by streams of living water that bears fruit in its season).
Jesus showed anger at the sight of the barren fig tree and severe judgment of the unfaithful steward, both metaphors of an unfruitful and unfaithful church. I will explore ways in which the church today in America, domesticated by our culture, has lost its sense of purpose in God’s mission to the world.
Correspondingly, our inner lives are found barren. Although the church’s recent fascination with spirituality has yielded some positive fruit, the “what’s-in-it-for-me” impulse of our consumeristic culture has taken center stage. Spirituality has become an end in itself, serving strictly the needs of the individual along the lines of personal temperament and wants, bordering on a spiritual narcissism. The greater context of God’s Kingdom, the gospel as embodied in community, our communal mission in the world, and the notion of our yoked relationship to Jesus have been sabotaged. Salvation and grace have become truncated, focused on individual soul rescue, while losing the broad panorama of salvation as found in Scripture. The backdrop of all this is the shadow cast by many remnants of the Enlightenment and assumptions of Christendom, albeit in nuanced form in America, that have brought us to our current paralysis.
Today within our churches we are experiencing a deadly lethargy, instead of a vital, life and world transforming spirituality, which is a scandal before a watching world.
This is not the vision Jesus had for his followers. Signs of reformation and renewal can be found in church history as well as from the margins of the church. Spurred by this example, hope for the future of the North American church must include a fresh reading of the Gospel, an understanding of the holy-worldly spirituality demonstrated by Jesus in the context of Missio Dei, and an encounter with the spiritual vigor found in the Majority World church and at various times in the history of the church.
This dissertation will be divided into three sections. The first section unpacks the observation Leslie Newbigin made after returning from missionary service in India about his own cultural form of Christianity.
Instead of confronting the culture with the Gospel, he found Christianity in the West, especially in its Protestant form, perpetually trying to fit the gospel into his native post Enlightenment culture. This was characterized by Newbigin as an advanced form of syncretism.
In our own country we have, ironically, advanced that agenda even further. This first section will catalogue some of the marks of our own syncretism with comparative analysis from my own journey on both sides of the Rio Grande.1 Chapter two will trace some of the historical roots of our current dilemma.
The second section will establish a theological basis for worldly holiness, a spirituality which is both alive to the inner life as much as the mission of God in the world. Several examples will be taken from the history and the margins of the international church that have experienced the integration of spirituality with an outward expression in mission. These will serve as inspiration and precedent.
Lastly, the third section will spell out the practice of a balanced inward-outward spirituality for us today. I will close with the important conclusion that our practice of worldly holiness across all lines that normally divide us, as an international, multi-cultural Christian community, is the very hermeneutic of the Gospel.
Worldly holiness is an integrated approach to spirituality which cultivates a deep inner life, attentive to the holy as given by God, while fully engaging the issues and concerns of daily experience. It is an effort to lift up the biblical mandate to live an integrated life of following Christ with head and heart, hands and feet, to be both heavenly minded as well as earthly good, to be a tree firmly planted by streams of living water that bears fruit in its season.
Introduction: The Problem of the Barren Fig Tree (10 pages)
Part One: Our Compromised Position: Explorations on American Christian Syncretism (50 pages)
1. Analysis of North American Evangelicalism: Is There Any Difference?
This chapter will look at the state of the church today vis-à-vis American culture in which we reside and our typical approaches to spirituality, mission, leadership, ethics and the world. This section concludes with a brief examination of our popular escapist eschatology which, paradoxically, encourages Christians to follow the example of the third servant who hid his Master’s talent in the ground, while we remain cold and prickly before the world.
1.1. The Fusion of Gospel with Culture
1.2. Church & Mission Incorporated: the fallout of “functional Christendom”
1.3. Leadership: Power grabs instead of serving empowerment
1.4. Escapist spirituality and our fear of the Fall
1.5. Cocooning and Inward Migration of Ethics
1.6. Our popular eschatology: Waiting for individual soul rescue in the suburbs
2. Historical Roots of our Schizophrenic Relationship with the World
This chapter will trace of few of the historical roots to our present dilemma of an advanced form of syncretism. While we have sought to close the front door to contaminating influences from the world, building an other-worldly spirituality, we have unwittingly kept the back door open to cultural influences that have garbled Christ’s call and the methods we have employed to do church. The goal of this entire chapter is to help shape an awareness of the historical currents that have brought us to our crisis of unfruitfulness, and create an appetite for a new Biblical vision for worldly holiness.2.1. The Influence of the Gnostics
2.2. The “mission” of Christendom and the Desert Fathers
2.3. The Great Omission in the Protestant Reformation
2.4. Errand into the Wilderness & Manifest Destiny: The American Experiment
2.5. Vestiges of Fundamentalism: a cartography of American Evangelicalism
2.6. “Can the West be converted?”
Part Two: Toward a Theology of Worldly Holiness (50 pages)
3. Nazareth Wanderings – Jesus as forerunner, leader and mentor in worldly holiness
This chapter takes up the challenge of part one and develops a theological basis for a worldly holiness taking our cues from Jesus Christ, our leader, instructor, and mentor [Hebrews 12: 1-2]. We will zero in on the counter intuitive nature of the upside down Kingdom that Jesus taught, modeled, intended to establish, and then finally commissioned his disciples to extend through shouldering the easy yoke in His company.
3.1. Following Jesus in the desert, baptism and mission: incarnating Missio Dei
3.2. The context of the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed to be a Blessing
3.3. The Son of Man: A Galilean Mestizo
3.4. The eschatology of Jesus: Kingdom faithfulness
3.5. Worldly holiness: “In” but not “of” the world
3.6. “Follow Me:” the cruciform nature of worldly holiness in John’s Gospel
4. From the Periphery: learning from the margins
One of the fallouts in American evangelicalism is our historical amnesia and cultural arrogance. It comes as a surprise to many within the church today that we are living in a post-Christian West and a post-Western Christianity. One of the most important ways to recover our saltiness is to discern the dynamic of vital Christianity as practiced in other times and places. For instance, we learn from the story of Cornelius that closet prayer yielded the watershed event of breaking out of the confines of mono-cultural Christianity, which set the shape of spiritual fidelity for the rest of time. This was being worldly engaged alongside prayer. The Jesuits were the vanguards of contemplatives in action, attentive to rigorous spiritual exercises of prayer, solitude and contemplation, but also occupied in a flowering of missional engagement around the world. The Pietists believed it was not enough to articulate correct doctrine, but to live a pious life before others and to be of use to one’s neighbor. I will conclude this section by arguing that Christianity is only true to its nature when one’s encounter with God is not isolated to the prayer closet, but is made indigenous to concrete situations in the real world, as exemplified by the examples presented in this chapter.
4.1. The Cornelius connection: a double conversion
4.2. The Jesuits: contemplatives in action
4.3. The Pietists: God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good
4.4. Latin-American liberation theology
4.5. The indigenizing principle in missions history
4.6. Reverse missions as source of renewal
Part Three: Toward the Practice of Worldly Holiness: Avoiding disembodied Spiritualities in isolation. (50 pages)
This section, including both chapters, will describe the practice of the two sides to worldly holiness. The disciplines of disengagement, breaking the chains of old patterns, commitments, and ways of thinking do not isolate the disciple from others or the world, but rather are a means to engaging that world in a holy fashion as intended by God. These represent a critical step in establishing a new plumb line in Christian discipleship in community with Jesus and others. Yet the disciplines of engagement are critical too as these are often the starting point of a paradigm shift and new transformation. Underlying the argument in this section will be the challenge to integrate orthodoxy with orthopraxy in order to avoid the heresy of a disembodied, individualistic faith that cares only for oneself.
5. Disciplines of Disengagement: “dropping the nets”
5.1. Being alone and together: Solitude as door to intimacy and worldly holiness
5.2. Discerning God in the shadows as well as green pastures of life
5.3. Contemplation, silence and the Examen as making new space
5.4. Changing your heart’s zip code: sojourning as resident aliens
5.5. Uncluttering life: tips for pilgrims navigating the journey
6. Disciplines of Engagement: “and following Christ” into the world
6.1. Voluntary sacrifice and suffering with Christ: “Peace be with you”
6.2. Participant Observation as Incarnation: Immersion in another culture
6.3. Toward shalom: Ambassadors of reconciliation
6.4. Living On Purpose: Re-aligning vocations & time styles for worldly holiness
6.5. Crossing Borders: Celebrating with Cornelius’ household
Conclusion: People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Luke 13:29