I had originally intended not to post on the blog until my return from Hong Kong and the conference, but fellow consultation attendee and blogger John Smulo talked me into it. John has been blogging each day all week and I figured I could put a few things out at least to try to keep up with him.
The conference has seen two days of interesting discussion among consultation members as they shared their backgrounds and ministry experience. This has been followed by discussion in the evenings following the day's reflections on the morning time of sharing.
As I listened yesterday I was struck by a couple of things. Our attendees include Steve Hollinghurst and his wife Anne. As Steve shared his experiences it struck me that he was arguing for the necessity of focusing more on communicating Christ as the defining center rather than emphasizing the boundaries between Christianity and alternative spiritualities. Put in the language of missiology (and discussed in a previous post on this blog), Steve is talking about a centered set approach rather than a bounded set. That is, in missional work among alternative religions, rather than emphasizing concerns over doctrinal heresy as putting them outside the boundaries of orthodoxy Christianity, the emphasis instead is put on articulating Christ within their religious or spiritual cultures. I touched on this some time ago by quoting anthropologist and missiologist Paul Hiebert:
Hiebert then applies the concept of centered set to missions and states that "our primary aim would be to invite people to become followers of Jesus, not to prove that other religions are false. We would stress our personal testimonies of what Christ has done for us more than argue the superiority of Christianity."
While this might cause some evangelicals to go into a panic as if concerns over sound doctrinal beliefs have no place in this emphasis, several things need to be understood. First, there is overlap between the two approaches in that both centered and bounded sets have defining centers (Christ) as well as boundaries (doctrine and practice). Second, the differences come down to the area of emphasis. Third, these concepts are held in tension and relationship with each other as the gospel is shared contextually in the alternative spirituality milieus.
Another facet of our discussion came out when Steve mentioned the celebration of life that Pagans and New Spirituality adherents have at their festivals, and in life in general. This often comes as a sharp contrast to evangelicals who tend to emphasize the significance of Jesus to the afterlife rather than the present life as well. Related to this is the issue of festivity. I shared that in my Burning Man experience I found a parallel to the celebration found at Pagan festivals, which indicates a desperate need for the development of a theology of festivity, as Harvey Cox articlated in The Feast of Fools (Harper Colophon Books, 1969). In this book Cox also mentions the notion of Christ as Harlequin or Christ as Fool which tie directly into the notion of festivity and which hold great promise for inclusion in an overall missional approach to alternative communities like Burning man. I hope to research this next semester at seminary as a guided research project for incorporation into my master's thesis on Burning Man. I began the research into this in early morning hours of Hong Kong and found some fascinating possiblities.