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On Breaking the Cycle of Ideological Church: The Power of “Place”

I’m off to Seattle to the Inhabit conference tomorrow. Lookin forward to it.
I basically have one idea I’ll be trying to unpack: that it is only through “place” that we break the cycle of ideological church.

We see how the church gets ideologized all the time. “Oh that church is the Bible church – they believe in the Bible” implying the others don’t. Or we’re the church that believes in community. The others somehow don’t. That church? They’re the gay church and that one is the church that is against gay marriage. We all know this phenomena and have participated in it.

Generally speaking, it is the human tendency to form communities around ideas. People gather for certain reasons having to do with needs, whether economic, social or psychic. We articulate how to meet these needs in the form of ideas we are pursuing together. We rally around these ideas as common causes that enable us to organize to meet  these various needs. The study of ideology, in its various brands, studies how we come together in these ways – what holds us together.

I want to show how whenever we extract ideas like this from its context – where the idea makes sense and is practiced – it tends to become ideologized in a bad way. It not only takes on the quality of a banner around which we rally. It becomes the symbol by which we rally over against those who do not accept our idea. It becomes the means of negotiation for power. It becomes the means of cynicism. Most of all, it plays on antagonisms which set us over against those who aren’t subscribing to the same beliefs. We start to think in terms of “us against them” or “see we were right afterall” or “shoooo I’m glad we’re not them.” The idea which is good in itself (the Bible, community etc.) becomes removed from its meaning on the ground and in essence now becomes the means to hold current structures of power in place. In other words, becoming ideology in these terms turns us into a people incapable of being the church of Jesus Christ.

Again, what I want to put forth in my upcoming talk at Inhabit is : it is only through “place” that we can break the cycle of ideological church. It is only through engaging in the practices of being the local expression of Christ’s body that we can break out of the entanglements of ideological cynicism. It is only in being the church of Jesus Christ, whose belief and practice is grounded in the Triune relation of God in the world, that we can avoid being ideologized. It is only in building communities that have their own internal integrity built in the on-the-ground participation in the Reign of Christ – that we can escape the ideologization of the church.  No longer dependent upon ideological structure – we can then discern – resist- participate in the world in non violent non-antagonistic ways. This of course (I would argue) is the nature of the incarnation and incarnational communities.

In the book The End of Evangelicalism? I try to show how this has played out in the church of my upbringing – evangelicalism. I try to show how our core beliefs turned into ideological ideas (what Zizek calls Master Signifiers). The “inerrant Bible,” “the Decision for Christ” and “the Christian Nation” have all become these kind of ideological banners that set us in antagonism against the culture we seek to witness the gospel. In the process, we turn the world into enemies.

The proliferation of reviews on the book is much appreciated.  Take a look below at the latest. And oh, by the way, for one more month the book is available at a 40% discount here (just follow the direction and the links).

Scot McKnight’s review at Jesus Creed More posts follow this one

Greg Arthur’s Review

Englewood Review of Books

W David Phillips Review More posts follow this one

Homebrewed Christianity’s Review 2 more posts follow this one

Jeremy Paavola’s Excellent Review

Rick Davis’ Review

The Other Journal’s Interview on the Book