Friday, March 30, 2007

up/rooted.north recap

A really diverse group gathered Wednesday evening to reflect on Brian McLaren’s lectures. The breadth of viewpoints and backgrounds made for a great conversation. Thanks to everyone who came out.

Dave Fitch spent some time re-presenting a piece of Brian McLaren’s lecture from earlier in the day that dealt with possible responses of the church to globalized capitalism. Dave outlined how historically the church has existed through several shifts in the world: (I wish I had a cool diagram like Mike, but you'll just have to imagine).

  1. In Medieval times, the church was the main power in the world, and states functioned within the realm of the church’s existence and power.
  2. In Modern times, the nation/state was the main power in the world, and the church functioned within the realm of the state’s power.
  3. In Postmodern times, the Theocapitalist Empire (McLaren’s term) is the main power in the world, and both the state and the church function within the realm of its power.

The Theocapitalist Empire represents, of course, multinational corporations who intentionally shape culture (particularly youth culture) and spend massive amounts of money and energy in politics. But it also represents the larger (and smaller) systems and subsystems of global capitalism that influence the world profoundly in terms of lifestyles, values, personal aspirations, family systems, international politics, and the list goes on and on.

The three negative responses of the church in such a setting according to McLaren are:

  1. Dominance-Empire: The church seeks to influence those in power or gain power. Think Dobson or Falwell in relation to the nation state, and all the corporate mimicking and emphasis on successful CEOs, efficiency, and size in relation to the Theocapitalist Empire.
  2. Revenge-Victimhood: Think terrorism. Shooting abortion doctors. You get the point.
  3. Isolation-Abandonment: The church isolates itself, abandoning the larger culture. (Isn’t it helpful to use all the same words in the definition? I thought that one seemed pretty self-explanatory.)

Our discussion tried to address our “Now what?” response to these ideas. We shared our impressions of our own churches, and discussed what a fourth, “Kingdom” alternative would look like in our own settings, living between dominance and isolation in the subverting way of life shown to us and enabled in us by Jesus. Through a lot of great conversation, I came away very aware of how much thoughtful and critical reflection is necessary to identify and address the shaping forces we find ourselves living within.

So I pass on the conversation to the rest of you. What negative response does your own church lean toward or struggle with? How can we resist the shaping forces of global capitalism in our own lives and the lives of those in our churches without seeking dominance, revenge or isolation? Perhaps as an entryway into that huge question, what do you identify as the shaping forces of capitalism in your life and the life of your church?

Because knowing is half the battle! (G.I. J-nevermind.)


Jon Berbaum
-up/rooted.north coordinator


Mike Clawson said...

Thanks for that great summary John. Now you make me really regret having missed it (both McLaren's lecture and the up/rooted discussion). :)

Jason Hesiak said...


I like this post. Interesting how the bad responses correspond to those of the first century. I must say, I have a bit of Saducee, Zealot and Essene in me...thankfully some Jesus too.

BTW - its g.i. jOE - THE REAL AMERICAN HERO! They can save us! Uumm...just kidding.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I'll have to think it over to get a better personal understanding of it, but on the surface sounds right on.

I would add the caveat that perhaps (as I thought aboout Jason's comment), the answer is the redemption of each of the three responses (as opposed to a completely unique fourth). I believe we must have an influence on others, though not necessarily one that is Dobson-ian or Falwell-esque. I also believe that we must pursue social justice and more importantly, God's justice - even if it require violence (when God calls us to it). Finally, though we must never abandon the world, we are from time to time called to monastic retreats, mountain-top experiences, private pilgrimages, wanderings in deserts.

hoping we're not throwing out the baby (with the bathwater that is),
a brother in Christ

Mike Clawson said...

For anyone who was at the lectures - did Brian recommend any books where we could read more about this "Theocapitalist Empire" stuff? I'm really intrigued.

Jon Berbaum said...

Jason, it's like your cheating! McLaren actually mentioned these first century sects as stereotypical of his categories. Nice connection.

Anonymous, I hear what you're saying about redeeming those categories, but the danger in all of them is that we still allow the cultural powers to define us. The stories of dominance, retaliation, and retreat are all formed with "the world" at the center: the church is reactionary. But we have our own story, powerful and very subversive, and perhaps we can start somewhere that isn't reactionary, but actually foreign to the world and its ways of dominance and violence. Perhaps.

Jason Hesiak said...

Thanks Joe for the shout-out. And in response to anonymous...I'm with Joe; I think perhaps he's right. At least in essence. I suppose its always a fine line, in terms of a question of one's actions. Retreats are good. I suppose maybe Just War Theory has some merit (not entirely sure where I stand there). And I guess the whole Protestant tradition involving worldly vocations has some merit. But when I say I'm with Joe, I have in mind a question of idendtity, of who we are, of being and becoming...and especially a question of grounding, of who our ground is. Here I am thinking of Joe's reference to "letting those things define us" then, when I say I'm with him.

David Fitch said...

Great summary ... of an all around great day w/ McLaren.

Adam said...

I've been working my way through "Everything..." Can't help but ask the question: Does Brian have his PhD in sociology, missiology, history, economics, political science, etc. Like it or not, it seems he's moving way beyond his pay grade and expertise. As someone who's done a little bit of schooling, I question the integrity of receiving your economic worldview from a guy with a MA in literature.