The New Restorationism

William Baker of Cincinnati Bible Seminary and the Stone-Campbell Journal has been facilitating a conversation on Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement for some time (see vol. 1 (2002) and vol. 2 (2006)).  This is a fascinating discussion about some of our fundamental agreements and disagreements with broadly “evangelical” Christianity.  Yet, there is a great deal of diversity within evangelicalism as well, making the basic question more interesting, and an important divergence within evangelicalism has also been accelerating since 2006 when the last volume came out.I appreciate the motive of the underlying question about unity between us.  There should be unity in Christ between the variety of SCM churches and the variety of evangelical churches, but the issue is not so simple as a questions about static doctrinal nuances defining who is “in” or “us” and who is not.  Rather, I tend to think that, for all our historical and cultural overlap, the distinctions between our movements (or denominations) is significant in terms of identity and priorities.  I should reiterate, I do not see this as undermining substantial, essential unity in Christ.Roger Olson has written a very helpful post about “The New Fundamentalism.”  The questions facing what I call neo-restoration are very similar to the ones facing evangelicalism, for precisely the reasons that Baker has been able to generate the dialog.  Our shared context is powerfully influential.  Yet, many Churches of Christ (again, I limit myself to my context) seem to be voting one way or another with their actions, perhaps without critically engaging all the question facing us.  We cannot speak helpfully of Churches of Christ simply “mainstreaming” into Evangelicalism, because there are a lot of currents in that main stream.  There is, in fact, quite a diversity of directions among Churches of Christ at this point in the century, and I would like to consider where we should be going.As I have said elsewhere, SCM churches need to be looking long and hard at missional (and emergent) ecclesiology from our particular starting point.  But starting with and focusing on ecclesiology, as SCM churches are in a bad habit of doing, is not the way forward.  Olson identifies himself theologically with the “postconservative” current of evangelicalism, and while I don’t know if he is referring to Kevin Vanhoozer’s use of that term in The Drama of Doctrine, I have great appreciation for the hermeneutical approach Vanhoozer lays out in that volume.  And because SCM churches are so disparate and essentially autonomous (as is much of evangelicalism despite a more institutionally inclined way of organization) it is helpful to think about the way forward in terms of what Olson is doing in his post: engaging the discussion openly for the sake of clarifying where he is and who he is not to be confused with.  That is the only way to chart a course with intentionality, and that is what the NR community discourse is aiming for.

As my post on baptism indicates, I think a convergence of New Perspective scholarship (N. T. Wright and co.) and missional concerns is the best option presently available.  While emergent church types have been a fan of Wright in particular for some time (despite his Anglican commitments), I have not seen an positive discussion of this convergence until Andrew Perriman’s recent posts “The Great Convergence: the emerging church and the New Perspective” (March 3, 2011) and “From New Perspective to missional praxis: plotting the tensions” (March 25, 2011).  I won’t reproduce his diagram from the latest post, because it requires his explanation as well.

The question for NR, though, is what this diagram looks like from our starting point.  Because the “old perspective” is so broadly Lutheran-Reformed, it is easy to affirm that we as a Protestant branch are there as well.  And, to reiterate, I believe both of these direction (New Perspective and missional praxis) are the brightest future.  Yet, we are thankfully not fully entrenched in the concerns of the evangelicals who are resisting the burgeoning Neo-Reformed movement’s anti-emergent u-turn.  Churches of Christ in postmodern contexts are, however, manifesting an interest in what Perimann labels “Emerging theology” (by which he means Rob Bell and Brian McLaren).  If I could offer one critique of the diagram, it’s that I would much rather see a rigorous post-conservative theology equally rooted in missional praxis than one that is all “hesitancy to give solid answers.”

So, is this the best way forward for SCM churches?  What particularly restorationist concerns change the landscape?  What are our “measurable and ‘orthodox’ results”?

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