Thursday, January 1, 2009

Outcome-Biased Christianity?

Phyllis Tickle had an interesting post at the Emergent Village site that led me to write a comment I wanted to share here as well. She was writing about how people are rethinking the very definition of church and Church (which often ends up significantly shaping how people actually live as C/church.) She offered this expression: of right now, I believe both church and Church are “a body of people delighting in God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.”
Here's what that triggered in me:
I like the feel of C/church as a “body of people delighting…” because it moves away from trying to define C/church on the basis of it’s attributes, and instead looks at how one might recognize C/church through it’s actions and attitudes. (I think that’s what you mean when you say it has “predication.”)

In my own thinking, I’ve begun to look for C/church as the body that, because of its delight in its relationship with the God revealed in Jesus, lives into three outcomes:

  • Growth of individuals into Christlikeness,

  • Growth of the C/church body itself (deeper in relationship among members, wider in drawing more into the body), and

  • Growth of the Kingdom beyond the C/church (as seen in justice, mercy, kindness, abundance etc. for all.)

To me, that expression provides the necessary specificity by linking C/church directly to Jesus, while also allowing for enormous diversity of belief and practice around him as the center.

I thought about referring to this as "Outcome-based Christianity" but that's not quite right... The basis isn't in the outcomes, so much as the relationship which impels us to pursue them. But I am drawn to the idea of being "outcome-biased." For one thing, I think it steers us away from investing too much into theologizing on the front end about what the C/church is or isn't. And for another, it pushes us past simply focusing on what the C/church does (e.g. we do "word and sacrament" or we do "worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism") without at least checking to see if all our activity is resulting in anything or not.

I think I'll continue to muse on that, and I'd appreciate some feedback, particularly about how this might help shape the life of the C/church in practical ways.


michael said...

Tim, Happy New Year to you and Kisten and the kids.

I am led to ask why you focus on outcome based vs. bias when the real test is relationship. Seems any focus on outcome will keep us focused on things that require us to interpret and judge others based on our own humanity rather than merely accepting them on a basis of relationship thru Christ.

I'm not sure how outcome concept can be introduced without warping the entire thing back into rules and works...

Let me know when you are free for coffee again. I am in need of some spiritual stimulation...


The Feral Pastor said...

Hi Michael - thanks for your comment!

Maybe I am showing my... fixation, perhaps?... on wanting to see outward evidence of inward spiritual life here (i.e. "outcomes.") But I think we agree that relationship is primary. That's exactly why I decided it was necessary to talk about being outcome biased instead of outcome based.

Yet it seems clear to me also that God really has work for us to do. And in a powerful way, or willingness (or unwillingness) to pursue that work serves to shine a revealing light on our relationship with God and with our neighbors. So I think attending to what we do and how we live is important both for it's own sake, and for the sake of the relationships.

As to having coffee... you bet! I thought we might cross paths at the emergent cohort gathering yesterday but since we didn't, I'll shoot you an e-mail and we'll set something up.