March 12, 2010 / David Fitch

A NEW KIND OF INCLUSIVITY: Before I Talk about Women in Ministry and GLBT Relations

I’ve been suggesting recently that there is a parting of the ways in the post evangelical landscape. This terrain, once dominated by the all encompassing rubric of “the emerging church” has parted into different ways, exacerbated most recently by the publishing of Brian McL’ New Kind of Christianity. This is all good because it enhances conversation as long as we do not demonize or casually dismiss those among us who disagree with us.

In a post last week, I was setting up how I think these three emerging ways play out in relation to two issues: the women in ministry question and the GLBT question. Some have contended, both in the comments on the blog post and off, that the word “missional” should encourage a wider inclusivity – that to define positions towards gay/lesbian sexuality is to exclude – to hijack the word “Missional.” Others suggest that doing any of this kind of parsing is polarizing. Over against these folk, I’d like to argue (put forth for discussion) that there are some inherent theological impulses in the Missional way that – if adhered to – lead not only to some unique positioning on these two questions but a new kind of inclusivity as well, one admittedly different than the one most associated with (what was) the emergent church as I articulated over here. So before I actually outline pos. 3 on these two questions, I’d like to show why Missional argues fr a new vision of inclusivity. Here goes.

This “new kind of inclusivity” is driven by the logic of Incarnation – one of three core ideas that drive Missional Life ( along with Missio Dei and embodied Witness). This logic of Incarnational implies four principles about the way disagreements/ disputed matters are engaged. In each, I contend there is a potential for a new kind of inclusivity.

Principle 1 – On The Ground: Incarnational means that the gospel takes root on-the-ground in concrete real life. This is where truth is manifest. Just as orthodoxy has been worked out in the midst of historical contingencies in the past, it will always be worked out in pastoral situations involving real people and real issues in a people of Christ. DISAGREEMENTS THEREFORE WILL BE WORKED OUT IN THE CONTEXT OF OUR REAL LIVES, engaging one another in mutual listening, communal prayer, study of Scripture, submission to one another and the Spirit. This is the place where God works. This is where Jesus comes saying, “there am I in the midst … what ever you bind here is bound in heaven.” We don’t work our lives out through books/theology detached from real pastoral engagement. Books come after pastoral engagement.  If we do not meet with a resolution, we go an as before until the Holy Spirit works a new consensus. On the other hand, we can’t put off issues of injustice and pastoral care indefinitely for these are our real lives we are discerning. People are hurting!  This approach, I suggest, breeds “a new inclusivity.” Because we see all disagreement – not as the means to antagonize – but as the place where God is taking us further into places we have not yet figured out. This breeds a new openess to what God is doing. We must be open to what God is doing here to manifest Himself incarnationally into new territory.

Principle 2 – No Power. We enter the world with no power – at least power as seen in the flesh. We come to all disagreements as in Christ, weak, humble and vulnerable. God is the one who exalts (Phil 2). We submit one to another.  There can be no violence. There can be no presumption. Indeed we dialogue because we know “Jesus to be Lord.” This demands that we dialogue with an open mind to others believing we have stuff to learn. This is what it means to believe Jesus is Lord. Any other posture is Constantinian. This breeds “a new inclusivity,” an openness to the world. It is not an imposing of truth, not a rejection of the truth of our well-worn history in Christ either (orthodoxy). It is a diligent pursuit of the truth that extends Christ (and the historical work of Him in the church through orthodoxy) into new territory humbly inviting others to become partners with us in this.

Principle 3 – Open Discernment We enter the world not to reject the world but to be transforming agent of the Kingdom. We can neither reject all desire and culture nor embrace it all. We cannot be set off and apart from the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can we merely blend into the world for then all Mission and renewal is lost. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing Missio Dei)). As Yoder puts it, loving the world as well as refusing conformity to it are “two sides of the same coin” of incarnational presence in the world. This breeds a new kind of inclusivity because we do not just blend with the world, nor do we merely reject/exclude the world, but as one of them in the world, we seek to participate in God’s transformation of the world in the Kingdom.

Principle 4 – Communal Enfleshment (Embodied Witness) Lastly truth and salvation is best communicated by being enfleshed in a community. We are His flesh – the body of Christ in the world. Through our own repentance, restoration, reconciliation, the renewal of all things begins in this social space of our communal life together. His reign has begun and through the visible reality taking shape here, His Lordship is extended in our lives and into where we live where God is already at work. This community however provides the hermeneutic for people to understand in embodied form what God is doing in the world.  This social embodiment is incarnating Christ in the world. Through the ministry of this gospel among our neighbors the Reign of God begins (but does not end). And so we always look at ourselves first, never making judgment on others, yet always inviting others “to come see.” This breeds a new inclusivity, one enfleshed in a community, not one enforced by procedural rules of democratic tolerance.

Admittedly this is a POSTURE OF INCLUSION as opposed to a CONCEPT OF INCLUSION. Nonetheless, I suggest that four elements of the logic of incarnation (and Missio Dei and Witness) lead to an approach to the women in ministry issue as well as GLBT relations that in essence amounts to a different kind of inclusivity and yet looks different than either the harsh exclusivity and/or bland democratic tolerance that we all have become tired of. I hope to post next week on Position No. 3 towards Women in Ministry/GLBT relations mentioned in this post.

Until then, do you buy this kind of inclusivity? It is admittedly Anabaptist. Does that turn off the Reformed among us? Why? Is it just a guise for another form of exclusion for “Emergent and friends”  thinkers? Is it too soft? Any suggestions for improving/clarifying this incarnational logic of Mission?