MB's Beyond 2010

This month has seen its fair share of top ten lists, most reflecting on 2009 or the decade past. One such list reflects on the past ten years of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) movement, the Christian denomination to which I belong. As one hanging onto the notion that denominations can still serve a purpose in the grander scheme of the global Christian church, reflecting on recent developments can be a valuable exercise towards better understanding, and as Christians, hopefully better faithfulness. In discussion with the author, former MB Herald editor, Dora Dueck, I suggested an interesting exercise would be to explore the next ten years as well (not unlike Bono's list for the world in general). Dora promptly replied that such a task is likely better suited to the likes of the younger MB's. So I got the not-so-subtle hint (thanks Dora!) and decided to contribute yet another top ten list - "Beyond 2010"

Now, before I begin, I should probably qualify my list. By no means are these brand new issues as many of them have been percolating in the past decade and beyond. This list is more of personal interest to me, if anything else. In no way are my claims to be seen as predictors of the future or even substantive statements of fact. I simply see them as pressing issues from my vantage point as a younger MB pastor - I could be wrong!. And while I speak specifically into the MB situation, for those of you from another tribe (or no tribe at all), I hope this discussion can be relevant to any individual, church or denomination seeking to understand itself better in the years ahead.

So here goes (in no particular order):

1. Global identity – International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB)

While an issue for Christianity in general, it will interesting to see how the development of ICOMB and the continued growth of the global MB church affects ongoing questions of MB identity. For example, how can North American MB's learn from ICOMB's use of narrative in the international confession of faith?

2. Theological diversity

As recent gatherings in Canada have revealed, MB’s are a theologically diverse bunch. The question is whether this diversity will bring unity or division. For some the ongoing tension of Anabaptist-Evangelical identity will never be resolved - and perhaps shouldn’t be. For others, priority is given to either one over the other, depending on who you ask. How we handle our differences will continue to define us.

3. Community Hermeneutics

As discussions surrounding our definition of the atonement continue to percolate (rage?) in MB circles, the real issue, it appears, is our understanding and practice of the oft-expression “community hermeneutic.” Do we agree on what that means and how it should be practiced in study conferences and denominational gatherings? This question needs to be answered!

4. Denominational affiliation

I’ve heard rumblings of disgruntled churches in Canada and I can remember hearing on several occasions that the conference continues to struggle with drawing financial support from the whole constituency. And based on participation in gatherings and study conferences, my guess is denominational affiliation isn’t too high on the list of local church priorities, likely for many reasons. Have denominations run their course? As the next wave of MB leaders enter the fold, I believe they will have an opportunity to influence whether or not the current trends continue. Quite simply, do people still care? I know I do.

5. Leadership model and involvement

As questions persist around how to best make decisions regarding both programs and theology (e.g. possible theological chair on Canadian Conference staff), the question for me is this: what’s the MB philosophy for leadership? Does an underlying desire for efficiency and effectiveness (good things by the way) trump our theological identity as a covenant community (also a good thing!). Similarly, like each decade past, it will be interesting to see how upcoming leaders are integrated into conference leadership.

6. Missions shift

As missions in many denominations gets redefined towards a more holistic approach to sharing the gospel, both locally and worldwide - both for practical and theological reasons - I hope our missions board (MBMSI) is able to lead the way in creatively exploring what 21st century missions can and should look like. Some may lament this shifting landscape, but personally, I find this new approach refreshing and full of opportunities to "love our neighbors" in tangible ways.

7. Role of theological education

As the past decade has seen MB theological schools face several struggles - enrollment, controversy over shifting theological language, leadership changes - some serious decisions will need to be made in the decade ahead. Will the bottom-line force the bible-school model to adapt to offering more “practical” programs for students or will there be a renewal towards having a theological foundation prior to beginning one’s career? While it’s my hope, it will take a collective effort (both financially and philosophically) from parents, churches, and the MB denomination to make the latter a reality.

8. Church planting

It’s exciting to see the MB church growing in parts of North America. Vancouver has seen a significant number of church plants in recent years, many exploring creative and culturally engaging models for church. One concern, personally, is how these church plants will balance cultural engagement with their MB affiliation. Related to point #4 above, I fear MB theology will be downplayed for the purpose of growth and inclusion, creating a generic evangelicalism detached from the greater MB story. For some, this may be necessary and actually a good. Personally, I'm not so sure...

9. Homosexuality

As the integration of homosexual individuals and couples into society continues to establish itself in culture - Canada particularly - will the present MB position on homosexuality (see here) maintain a united response from local churches? As situations arise how will the ideological position translate practically? While unity is my hope, this could prove challenging in the decades ahead.

10. Theology of Culture

As I’ve become more involved with MB’s churches and the Canadian conference, I’m realizing a need to articulate an MB theology of culture. The past two study conferences have dealt with culture – “Culture, Gospel and Church” and “Confessing Jesus in a Pluralistic World.” But rather than leading to consensus surrounding faith and culture, these gatherings have revealed a great diversity in how MB’s view culture. I’d like to see the conversation continue, perhaps even expanding our confession of faith article (“Society and State”) to address culture in general.

Thoughts? Additions or deletions?


Len Hjalmarson said...

A longer response on the MB forum, but the short form is two items. 1. unless we find a new "missional" imagination for ecclesiology there will be many fewer of us MBs in ten years time. Some work to do here that is first theological work. The UK thinkers in the Anabaptist network are out ahead of us.

The second, at the interface of culture and theology, a theology of religions. Amos Yong, John Stackhouse, Clark Pinnock and others have done some good work here. I think Anabaptists actually have more resources than the Reformed tradition. With the huge rise in our multi-cultural milieu and the hugh increase in competing truth narratives, this is going to be essential work. LeRon Shults promised a paper on this a while back.. not sure if he ever wrote it http://leronshults.typepad.com/my_weblog/religious_pluralism/
This is going to be a contentious issue, esp so long as our soteriology is founded almost exclusively on Christology, neglecting Pneumatology and Anthropology..

David Warkentin said...

Which resources do think Anabaptists have in the area of theology of religions? I've actually studied this topic under John Stackhouse and didn't encounter a strong Anabaptist influence. But perhaps the resources are more on the ground represented in our global diversity.

I definitely agree on the need to articulate better our theology of religions, especially in examining the implications of Pneumatology and Anthropology as you suggest. Interestingly, MB's aren't overly conservative on the topic, leaving room for interpretations in regards to beginning to address a theology of religions. You can see the article in the confession here: http://www.mbconf.ca/home/products_and_services/resources/theology/confession_of_faith/detailed_version/#17

Len Hjalmarson said...

Anabaptist resources and not specifically MB.. a more positive anthropology than the mainline Reformers.. certainly in comparison to Calvin. It is then possible to find genuine good in the heart of a pagan and the possibility that God is already at work there.

The other is our stance on peace and reconciliation. I think historically we have this theology of dialogue and listening. And we know what it is to be marginalized..

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