Earlier this week I posted about Mark Driscoll and the need for another way beyond evangelicalism’s “empty politic.” I talked about how some third-way evangelicals (including me) are getting together in April for the inaugural Missio Alliance gathering. I hope I made a good case for the need for groups like Missio as we hope for an evangelical future in America.
But I probably left something out, and a local United Methodist bishop pointed this out to me on Facebook. If Driscoll and conservative/Reformed evangelicalism represents the “first way” and missional-anabaptist evangelicals might present a “third way” – then what’s the “second way”?
I at least mentioned this second way in my post as marked by a deconstructive skepticism that essentially leaves no substantial gospel or church intact. But it is hard to locate a group or organization or movement that is decidedly “this.” While some might kneejerk and say this is obviously about Emergent Village or Wild Goose or even the “mainline” and “progressive” and “interfaith” expressions of church, I see too much overlap between third way evangelicalism and these other streams to make such a strong contrast.
But there are thinkers who, I think, represent the second way and have a good deal of influence nationally. And one of them, I think, is Pete Rollins.
Now, I really, really like Pete Rollins. Like, really like him. His work is always challenging and sometimes downright beautiful. In the face of an overwhelmingly banal Christian publishing world, Pete brings a level of art and depth to his work that blows pretty much everyone and everything else out of the water. The guy’s tops.
But the fact is that Rollins’ project is going somewhere, and I believe it’s going in the direction of a deconstructive skepticism that is inherently self-defeating. That is, his work, if successful, would deconstruct both ecclesia and evangel into oblivion. And with no church left to deconstruct, it would also put Pete Rollins out of business.
Some might counter that the end of the gospel and the church is precisely what’s needed, but as a committed follower of Jesus and an evangelical, I disagree.
Here’s a video from Pete that expresses the trajectory of his sentiment regarding the church quite well:
Now, I admit, my lips were forming amens throughout that thing – it’s brilliant! As in all of Pete’s work, there is much to be learned and explored and applied here. But do you see the trajectory? I think the admission by Pete (around 2:00) is especially helpful: his understanding of church is such that attending a weekly gathering is a sign of addiction, an unhealthy dependence on the experience of worship. In his view, one ought to simply attend occasionally when needed – when our emotional and spiritual health requires it. And, the implication may be that one may arrive at such a place of health as to not need it at all. Indeed, Pete’s proposal, if followed by everyone, would quite obviously mark the end of any sustainable church expression.
I love that Pete says he believes in a certain kind of church at the end of the video, and his description of that church resonates! But I don’t know that he is thinking ecclesiologically here – at all. In fact, I’m almost sure he’s not. What Pete is imagining is likely an alteration to the existing institution that would bring it into line with modern categories of psycho-spiritual health, but not a vision for the future of the institution itself. Again, some folks might think the whole thing needs to end anyway, but I’m not one of them.
In my view, and perhaps this is intrinsic to the third way view, the evangel and the ecclesia must continue and will continue because Jesus is the Lord of his church and continues to build his church by the Spirit. This is a fundamentally Spiritual, and not simply psycho-spiritual, perspective: that the Spirit of Jesus continues to give gifts to equip his church for the work of gospel mission, unto the restoration and renewal of all things.
In this sense, I agree with Rollins that the church needs way less addicts to the emotional high of the worship experience – be it megachurch lasers or high church liturgy.
But I also believe the church needs way more crackheads in another sense. We need those who are desperately committed to the life of Jesus made manifest in the community of faith. To the embodiment of the Messiah that takes shape only when we are gathered and organized and “fitly framed together.” To the kingdom of God that is breaking in among us, if only we are willing to not forsake the ecclesia wherein the kingdom is rightly discerned and the reign of God becomes so evident and available and palpable that our lives may bask in its abundance.
We need another, if not a “third,” way.
We need the Jesus Way.
So…what say y’all?