Kingdom Living: Dynamic Disequilibrium
What follows is part three of an ongoing conversation between Mike Todd and myself about the economic theory of George Soros and the nature of the kingdom of God.
I think we’re in agreement both regarding the nature of the salvation/redemption God will bring about and that we have an important role to play in the process. I particularly like how you put it in a response in the comment thread:
I believe the timing of God’s plan is subject to our involvement, and I find no conflict with using the terms “inevitable” and “ultimate” in this. God’s Kingdom comes—we know that.
So the question now becomes, what does this involvement look like in concrete terms (I appreciated the “so what” reminder delivered elsewhere!)? How does what we do participate in/herald/advance God’s kingdom right now? Can George Soros’s theory contribute anything to our understanding of how we are to understand our role and what we are to do, for Christ’s sake, in the present?
For me, Soros’s term”dynamic disequilibrium” is worth thinking about (you might have to explain what the term means in financial terms—I understand it to mean that the market is volatile and more responsive to human values than “economic laws,” but I could be wrong). It seems to me that this is exactly what we, as Christ-followers, need to be promoting/embodying. Too often, I think, the Christian community lapses into “preservation” mode, as if the status quo (whether that has to do with the level of cultural influence we have, the size of our church, or whatever else) is the end game and our job is to simply protect it.
As followers of Jesus, our job is not to guard some kind of a mythical “Christian nation” or “Christian culture” or “growing church.” Our job is, at times, to be disruptive and disorienting. If we believe that human beings are called to a destiny and a purpose that transcends our present experience, that this future destiny and purpose ought to feed back into and transform the present, and that our task is to represent this hope to the world around us, how could something like “equilibrium” ever be enough for us?
Yet equilibrium—predictability, safety, balance, etc—is something we seem to instinctively cling to, even as Christ-followers. I see this in myself, and find it troubling. In my more honest moments, I wonder what it says about my faith. If I really believed what you said in your comment above (“God’s kingdom comes—we know that) what would change about how I lived?
Speaking of all things unsettling, I’ll close with a quote of a man I know you admire greatly. I’ve recently been reading Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change. At one point—after discussing how a relief worker in a slum in South Africa saw no practical help from pastors, only talk of being “born again” and tithing— McLaren unloads this firecracker of a quote:
At that moment, I realized this man saw clearly what I had begun to see: that religion, even the religion we are committed to and in which we have found God and purpose and meaning and truth, can become captive to a colossal distortion. It can become a benign and passive chaplaincy to a failing and dysfunctional culture, the religious public relations department for an inadequate and destructive ideology. It can forego being a force of liberation and transformation and instead become a source of domestication, resignation, pacification, and distraction (emphasis mine).
As a newcomer to the pastoral guild, this is one of my greatest fears: that I will come to represent a “benign and passive chaplaincy to a failing and dysfunctional culture”—that I will become part of the machinery of producing “nice” people to populate a drowning ship rather than holy shit-disturbers for the sake of the kingdom. Perhaps the role of a pastor (or any follower of Jesus) is to consistently and fearlessly promote a kind of dynamic disequilibrium, where kingdom values and ends are forever impinging upon, subverting, and reorienting what is normal, expected, or possible.
Hey Ryan (& Mike), I’m enjoying your conversation and definitely being challenged to consider my own role in God’s kingdom in our world.
A word I’ve come to accept for our role in God’s kingdom is “participation.” God’s reign in our world is a tangible reality that Christians bear witness to by participating in the life the kingdom requires. As this discussion points out, however, the churches kingdom participation is more often lamentable than praiseworthy.
A question I have for you two, is how do we measure the degree to which “dynamic disequilibrium” should be experienced by us kingdom followers? While disequilibrium is likely appropriate more often than not, I’m worried this theory may lead to an a priori rejection of all things “culture.” I guess I am wondering if anywhere we can provide affirmative examples in reponse to Ryan’s question: “how could something like “equilibrium” ever be enough for us?”
Good questions Dave. Thanks for challenging us to pause on the term “disequilibrium” for a bit.
I certainly do not want to advocate an a priori rejection of all things cultural. One obvious example of an element of culture that we ought to be affirming and embracing might be the fight against racism. As kingdom people, we can celebrate an emphasis like this regardless of whether or not it is explicitly motivated by “Christian” principles. But perhaps you had other (better) examples in mind?
Like you, I appreciate the word “participation.” I think that part of what it means to participate in God’s kingdom is to do the hard work of discerning when our job is to be be disorienting and when our job is to be affirming of this or that feature of the cultures we find ourselves in. It will rarely be exclusively one or the other. But given Scripture’s emphasis upon justice, care for the poor, lonely, alienated, etc, and given our record on these things—in “the West” and elsewhere—I think that most cultures could still stand to get a healthy dose of disequilibrium from the church from time to time.
Ryan, I’m thinking we’re pretty like-minded on this issue and I agree that our support/rejection of culture is a both/and issue as we wade through both the good and the bad. Oh, and the fight against racism is an excellent example. Environmental concern is another, and I also wonder if technological advance, while highly problematic in many areas of kingdom living, doesn’t also help us participate in what God’s doing in this world (e.g. a blog discussion on faithfulness to the kingdom that leads to genuine action in our lives)
I would also agree we’re likely needing more disequilibrium at the present in our N.A. churches and thank you for your honesty as a church leader as you wrestle with your role in recognizing this situation. I hope we always feel that burden as leaders, however difficult that may be.
Thanks Dave—I think the examples you’ve added are good ones. I think we need to take notice of and celebrate the good that is being done, the little ways in which God’s will is being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
(For a couple of excellent somewhat related pieces on participation as a way of understanding the church’s role in the world and how what we do as the church is tied up in who we understand ourselves to be, see Dave’s thoughts here and here.)