“Can I be a Pioneer if I am also an Evangelical?” A starter for ten….

Wednesday, 7 June, 2017

Every now and then at Fresh Expressions (FX) HQ we notice a ripple of conversation out there in the ether – and, incorrigibly curious folk that we are – we can’t help but seek the source. So when the virtual jungle drums beat out “Are the evangelical tradition and pioneer identity compatible…?” recently, well – you know what we’re like. So, we tracked down Ray Driscoll, a Pioneer, ordinand and missional muser who wrote a blog that got tongues wagging and asked him to let us be part of the conversation. Here are some of Ray’s thoughts and questions about theological integrity, identity and faithfulness in different forms – lots of our favourite topics, and we would LOVE to hear your responses and comments….

Ray writes:

“Pioneers are defined as those “called by God who are the first to see and creatively respond to the Holy Spirit's initiatives with those outside the church; gathering others around them as they seek to establish new contextual Christian community”. [1]  Moreover, we follow Christ as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” [2].  Christ’s pioneering is multi-faceted; he pioneered a new way of relating to God, he pioneered a new way of being with others and he pioneered a new humanity. Pioneering is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Missional at heart and located far from the established church, Pioneers obsess about new things. We are perceptive and observant, reading culture; always looking for an edge to begin to work with. We believe that God is always at work in culture before we arrive. If we listen and wait long enough, we will hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and join with the ongoing work.

The theologian Stephen Bevans surveys six models of mission and the theology behind them[3], and it seems to me that pioneering sits closely aligned to two of these - the anthropological and the transcendental model.

The anthropological model is one in which the practitioner looks to culture to identify the gospel which is already present and at work. They then point to God, already present and at work. The gospel and culture form a partnership, and God works in and through human experience.

The transcendental model is closely related. Assuming that God is implicitly at work in human experience; the discovery of individual subjectivity is the beginning of the journey towards God. Less about learning doctrine, theology is a process in which we grapple with our own existence and the existence of God in tandem. This approach has much to offer us in the post-modern world in which individuals are “spiritual but not religious”.

But bring the evangelical tradition alongside these missional models and definitions of Pioneering – and I see a bit of a problem. The Evangelical tradition is rooted the reformation and the cry “Sola Gratia” (Grace alone).  It is by grace alone we can be saved and not by work of man. This resulted in a shift in emphasis from sacrament to word,[4] and evangelicalism emerged with the emphasis on the word alone intact. By the 20th century, Lloyd-Jones argued that within the evangelical tradition one must begin and submit only to scripture: “the evangelical distrusts reason, and particularly reason in the form of philosophy”. [5] Evangelicalism in this era has been characterised by a reluctance to see creation, ecology and social issues as Christian priorities.

The ‘scripture alone’ principle naturally influences the missional model adopted by evangelicals. Bevans calls this the translation model. The gospel has a core, coming to us wrapped in the culture from with it emerged. The practitioner unwraps the gospel from the culture and then rewraps it with the target culture. 

Evangelicalism has become more nuanced since Lloyd-Jones gave this address in the 1970s. However, Lundin highlights that whilst evangelicalism has softened to culture, there is still a failure to engage at the cutting edge. The pattern has been “for new theories to surface and circulate for a decade or more before evangelical scholars begin to appropriate them”. [6] (An example of this from my own life can be seen in ‘The Simpsons’ – rejected by evangelical friends whilst I grew up, and now used as a Youth resource!)

So, can I be an evangelical and a pioneer when the pioneer approach to creation and culture seem incompatible with evangelical theology? We operate at the forefront of cultural change and innovation, yet evangelicals situate themselves a way back from the frontline - wavering from outright denial to caution at best. As Pioneering establishes itself in the Church of England, the challenge to develop a coherent theology and methodology is on!”

Well, that’s given us something to think about! How about you? Let us know your thoughts….

 

Interview by Hannah Skinner

You can find Ray Driscoll's blog at http://raydriscoll78.blogspot.co.uk​

 

[2] Hebrews 12:2, NIV

[3] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, 2002

[4] Louis Berkof, Systematic Theology, 607.

[5] Martin Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical?, 44.

[6] Lundin, Roger, The Arts, in McDermott, Gerald R, The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 427.

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