Sunday, October 28, 2012

Theological sketchings for NuDunkers

From Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
The joys of the arbitrary Google Image search...
The first order of business in this post is to answer the question...

What the heck is "NuDunkers?" - We don't know yet, but the more appropriate question is who are NuDunkers...

Okay, wise guy, who are NuDunkers? And who's this "we?" - "Dunker," for the uninitiated, is a throwback term to the Schwarzenaru Brethren practice of full-immersion baptism, and the word used to be somewhat of a group epithet used by outsiders looking in (like the word "Anabaptist" and even "Christian" in their original contexts).

So NuDunkers are, We self-described NuDunkers are very few at this point and are in our early stages of gathering. There are currently four of us - Andrew Hamilton, Dana Cassell, Joshua Brockway, and yours truly - all inhabitants of the Schwarzenau Brethren tradition in two of its current denominational forms: Church of the Brethren and Brethren Church.

For me, connection to these three fellow Dunkers began in the Brethren blogosphere. I first made connections with Josh nearly two years ago, and he's slowly worked me into conversations with Dana and Andrew over the past year. In recent months, in addition to our blog and Facebook conversations, we have had a few e-mail conversations and hangout sessions on Google+.

So it's safe to say at this early stage that NuDunkers is also a conversation.

Fine, so what are you NuDunkers conversing about? - Andy was the first to take this term to the virtual streets, so I'll use his words. NuDunkers...
  • "(is) a renewal movement within the church"
  • "(is) a growing group of organic-intellectual Brethren who share a dissatisfaction with the current state of the church and a deep desire to define what it means to be Brethren in the 21st century"; (thanks David Fitch/Antonio Gramsci for introducing me to the idea of "organic intellectual!")
  • "is especially disenfranchised with the wide embrace of national politics (by all constituencies) and its acceptance as the most effective way to affect the change believed to be commanded by Jesus"
  • "is a christocentric group who are about missional faith and practice"
This is a great start. As an aside, I'm reminded of the statement of the Anabaptist Missional Project/AMP, with whom I'm also affiliated. AMP is "(a) network of emerging leaders who love Jesuscare about the church, and seek to be part of God’s mission in the world." This, I think, resonates perfectly with what NuDunkers is about, and I hope to keep the two in conversation by my participation in both.

The only nuance I'd add is on Andy's third point, on "the wide embrace of national politics." Though that certainly is the case for contemporary Brethren, deeper than American politics is the American social imaginary and all its cultural practices and institutions - political, economic, pop culture, the media, etc. The American experience has become the horizon of possibility for Brethren, which has killed our imaginative capacities for the radical call of discipleship to Jesus Christ and the missio Dei.

The critical assessment of contemporary Brethrendom that NuDunkers share leads me to what I hope to be constructive "theological sketchings"...

Theology for NuDunkers to chew on

The following list of theological topics are shorthand for my own general theological musings as of late. While I have tested them briefly with the NuDunker group, they by no means constitute "NuDunker Theology" - because that genre has yet to be worked out in any substantive, sustained way; hence my characterization in the title of these points being "sketches." Still, I think they're germane to the NuDunker conversation.

Also, these topics have been cultivated by conversations in non-NuDunker circles, primarily in my Mennonite village, with radical Christian friends from other traditions. You might say, then, that one mark of NuDunker theologizing is that it is ecumenical.

So here are my four theological topics of interest:
  • Pacifist christology
  • Radical ecclesiology
  • Anarchist pneumatology
  • Practical eschatology
I should at some point offer extended explorations of each topic, but to do so here would create an unreadably long post that is already nearing "too-longness." But here is a ridiculously brief run-through of these topics...

Pacifist christology - The core Christian confessions that "Jesus is Christ/Messiah" and that "Jesus Christ is Lord" commits us to a form of life under a lord/king who washed feet, loved enemies, and carried a cross to his death, commanding those who had ears to hear to go and do likewise (cf. Luke 10:25-37). "Pacifism" in this christological sense is not some cute, but ultimately unlivable, ethic; it is rather "the grain of the universe" - the shape of things to come in God's peaceable kingdom, which we  see most fully in the birth, life, teachings, actions, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Radical ecclesiology - This new form of life entails a conversion, a change of citizenship to a priestly nation not of this world, but called together to be the site of God's healing of the world. This priestly nation is the body of Christ, the church. The church catholic is the "weightiest" site of God's reconciliation of all things in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-21). Birth to new life in this body begins the slow, painful process of liberation from the power of death - learning to see and be in the world anew, re-educating our bodies into the virtues of humility, peace, joy, hope, gentleness, and self-control through the practices worship and service - prayer, reading Scripture, corporate gathering, mutual submission, forgiveness, "seeking the peace of the city," care for the marginalized, among others.

Anarchist pneumatology - Christian virtues are gifts from the Spirit and are not our possessions or accomplishments. To hedge against such sinful pride amidst the people of God in Christ's body, that same Spirit will not be contained or controlled, and will in fact defeat such attempts. The Holy Spirit is breath, ruach, and it will blow whence and whither by God's direction (cf John 3:8). That wind is also consuming fire, revealing kernels and burning chaff. The anarchist impulse of the Spirit, then, deconstructs our quixotic attempts to channel its will and work (cf. 1 Sam. 8:1-18) and reconstructs faithfulness for life in the body. Seeking to be in accord with the will of this Spirit in our midst occurs in practices mentioned above.

Practical eschatology - The reconciliation of all things, new heavens and new earth, the New Jerusalem. These visions of God's final redemptive acts in history promise the hope of things not seen, things not imagined, offering a rightness/justness and flourishing deeply longed for in our fallen world. But the fantastic revelation to John which pictured these final acts, for instance, carried practical implications. Amidst descriptions of the war of the lamb against the beast comes this: "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Elsewhere in Revelation there are calls for the virtue of wisdom in order to accurately "read the signs of the times" for faithful living in the present, in light of the promised future. Hence, turning a phrase from John Howard Yoder, there is no peace without eschatology. (I have my friend, Robb Davis, to thank for this topic's addition to the previous three.)

Onward from here...

In the coming weeks and months, we NuDunkers will continue to discern what this group is about, how we'll proceed from this formational stage, and see who else might be interested in joining the conversation. Hopefully Andy's and my points will soon be supplemented by Dana and Josh, and whoever else wanders in to the discussion!

[Housekeeping - all four initial posts are up, listed here...]

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