In short, this is an introduction to the theological work of James McClendon for a specific audience: North American suburban church (or ‘small group’) communities. To be even more specific, it has been written in the context of middle-upper class Southern California evangelicalism. This social location has many challenges and obstacles to following Jesus.
With that said, I don’t claim to have much of anything to say to how McClendon’s ‘baptist vision’ translates to communities in other contexts in North America or other regions of the West, let alone anywhere in the Third World. To be frank, I have much to learn from these locales and I’d love to read a blog from someone engaged with McClendon’s work from Washington D.C., Warsaw, Detroit, New Delhi, Portland or Perth. Let this blog be an invitation to other voices of the ‘baptist vision’ all over the world.
My prayer is that it excites and ignites communities into deeper and deeper readings and conversations about McClendon’s baptist vision—-his attempt to portray ‘authentic Christianity.’ My anxiety is that I’ll somehow counterfeit or misrepresent McClendon. Instead my goal is to utilize and translate his thought into a slightly different context—-churches and ‘small groups’ in 21st century North American Suburbia. In this effort, I hope to honor McClendon’s work by beckoning others to perform it.
With this in mind, consider McClendon’s definition of theology:
The discovery, understanding, and transformation of the convictions of a convictional community, including the discovery and critical revision of their relation to one another and to whatever else there is.
As he points out in Ethics, this discovery and understanding is what the active theologian does ‘in homage to what is handed on to them’ and this transformation is where the theologian gets creative in the process.
As I have discovered and understood McClendon’s work I want to interpret it for a 'popular' audience of American Christians living in North America today [to be even more specific, the Southern California Evangelical Suburban sub-culture].
I have been working as a social science teacher at a large public high school in Southern Orange County for the past 17 years. In addition, I have had the pleasure of working in church and parachurch ministries with, mostly, an 18-35 year old age bracket. It is my deep conviction that the representative lifestyles and beliefs in and around these ‘evangelical’ and 'post-evangelical' communities (and many others) would be greatly enhanced by McClendon’s vision of what it means to be ‘Christian.’ Hopefully, these groups, by participating in this blog, will be compelled by McClendon’s ‘baptist vision’ and will own it both individually and communally. Again, I hope and pray that neither my lack of creativity nor lack of comprehension crowds out McClendon’s deep insight and that it may even inspire a ‘slow reading’ of McClendon’s works.
Since McClendon’s death in October 2000, our world has added much to its glossary: 9/11, War on Terror, jihad, hybrid, trans-fat, blue states, red states, soccer moms, text-message, blue-tooth, IPOD, MySpace, YouTube, DVR, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix queue, high-def, flat-screen, and plenty more.
This vocabulary lends itself to a complex situation with lower-attention-spans, constantly honing the ever-needed skill of multi-tasking. Inundated with images and slogans that coax us to consume more and more as the key to fulfillment, we are confronted with a multitude of mini-stories that compete to be our ‘master story.’ A community that creatively participates in the Great Story of God and His people, instead of defaulting into counterfeit stories, need not hibernate into an evangelical ghetto
nor feel the need to militantly battle the evil all around us
nor take the default option and live out the status quo.
Instead the thought and performance of the 'baptist vision' community engaged with culture creatively and imaginatively ‘requires almost infinite adjustments, distinctions and gradations’ [Ethics, 176].
This blog beckons Jesus-following communities to consider, for 10 meetings, what it means to be authentically Christian in their context, what it is that these communities must do and teach and be in and to this culture. These communities do not need to be ‘Baptist’ or to even consider themselves formally a ‘church.’ What these communities need to be committed to is passionate and honest dialogue.
What, indeed, is the vision that shapes the life of your community?