Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reductionist thinking when big thinking is necessary

God is big.  God is really big.  God is bigger than anything we can imagine. Now, I am not suggesting that God is physically big as someone might be from having a diet high in trans fat, I'm instead suggesting that God's bigness is from his magnificence and wisdom. 
free and unattributable

God's call upon his disciples is also big.  In Matthew 28 Jesus says to his disciples:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations"

"Go" and "make" are both doing words.  They are active words.

Now, with a magnificent God and a big call upon disciples you'd think that God's current set of disciples would play the game.  Making disciples of all nations starts at home; first in the household, then in the neighbourhood, then through worship in a local church and then through supporting church welfare agencies and missionaries and so on.  Unfortunately, sometimes boundaries appear around the "all nations" focus.

Most recently I have been disturbed to find that a book took a proximate horizon view of "all nations".  The view was tight to the operation of the local parish church.  It is difficult to surmise the book's position in a short blog post like this; however, let's just say that the book proposed that:
a focus on local parish church life >
led to a glowing local church community >
being a community to which people would flock towards. 

Two failings are discernible from that position:

1) a local parish church has a relatively narrow capture, and,
2) Jesus said "go" to the people not "have the people come to you".

Further difficulties arise when one considers that some churches expend the majority of their time servicing their current flock (whom largely are already disciples) rather than actively making new disciples.  Instead of "go" and "make", the book effectively promotes a rather limp 'they will come' and 'they will fall into line over time'.  The congregational capture in the area in which I live and worship - North Shore Sydney Anglicanism - is highly Anglo in a world that is increasingly not highly-Anglo.  If you walked into North Shore Sydney Anglican church buildings during the usual Sunday morning service you could ponder whether the White Australia Policy still had a hold.

The book is an example of reductionist literature.  It takes a complex (or broad-reaching) idea and minimises that idea.  The minimised idea is favoured as it is much more manageable than the complex idea. As reductionist literature any proponent of the book is at risk of positioning a different gospel than the one God intended.  To give an example of the book's reductionism one need not
consider any further than the treatment of a single word.  That word is "brother".

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells of the response that his followers will receive upon being accepted into heaven:

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

The word "brothers" refers to all mankind.   So in Luke 10, the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan treats the beaten man by the roadside as a "brother". 

The reductionist thinking of the book instead finds "brother" to be a reference to a fellow member of a local congregation.  Such thinking leads one to think that one should ignore a beaten fellow happened upon if such fellow is not a fellow congregant!

God's church will grow if it first lives up to God's magnificence and God's big call upon his disciples.  We need big thinking Christian pastors, big thinking Christian congregants and big thinking Christian authors.

Reductionist thinking has little place in the church.

"In a scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind, the brilliant but socially inept mathematician John Nash approaches an attractive woman in a bar: “Listen, I don’t have the words to say whatever it is that’s necessary to get you into bed, so can we just pretend I said those things and skip to the part where we exchange bodily fluids?” He learns quickly, from the imprint of her palm on his face, that reductionism does not work well as a pickup line."
Quoted by Philip Yancey