Thoughts on the Missional Movement ~ Part Four

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism
and the Precipitation of the Missional Movement

Part Four: When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: The Way We Process Information and What We Value Create “Irreconcilable Differences”

Overview of Parts 4, 5, and 6

This series has looked at aspects of the uncontrollable process we find ourselves in as a result of a global shift in paradigms and cultures. Some forces in the process work to fragment the old, others to reformulate the new. To my thinking, this has resulted in six streams in the post-Evangelical vein. Other forces, like the power of paradox, help us consider why the missional stream has more potential for drawing in a wider range of elements from other sources to create a more comprehensive structure and a more dynamic trajectory.

In the next installments (yes, it’s grown past four parts), we’ll look at some powerful principles that seem to have the opposite effect from paradox. In brief, they don’t provide a safe place for people to land while they sift through the complexity to figure out if they fit. Instead, some variations in these sets of frameworks set up conditions and pressure people to decide if they fit before they enter. Some don’t go anywhere once people have entered.

So, as to potential collaborations, they represent “irreconcilable differences” in terms of entry and trying to merge into the missional movement, or trajectory and trying to collaborate and journey toward a common goal, or destiny and what goals they would value. Even if they all apply the label of “missional” to themselves, it doesn’t mean they’d survive as a long-term part or partner in a coherent missional movement.

After we look at elements that potentially set us up for “irreconcilable differences” (in Part Four), we’ll look at two such sets of frameworks. The first one (in Part Five) captures a range of ways to set up our operating systems for discipleship, based in part on some views about freedom in Christ, personal sanctification, and responsibility toward others. Do our systems promote being bound by rules (legalism), freedom in Christ (liberty), or being out-of-bound with no rules (license)?

The second set (in Part Six) focuses on different ways we create the internal culture of our church or ministry, and our stances toward external cultures in society. Specifically, we’ll consider whether we’re welcoming or rejecting of specific kinds of people; and whether we affirm, transform, conform, or condemn them. Also, do we isolate or insulate ourselves from the culture at large, try to control it, try to engage it, or end up absorbing it? How do these approaches affect our trajectories, as those seeking to follow Christ and make a difference in our world? How do they affect the possibilities our post-Evangelical stream joining into a movement?

Before getting into the details of these two sets of systems, there’s an important point to cover on why I’m looking at them in what may be a very different way from the usual analysis.

Irreconcilable Differences – Based in Theology? Or in Something Deeper?

Differences like these APPEAR to be theological, but actually, I think they go to something far deeper – to epistemology (information processing modes) and to axiology (values). I’ve long felt that values are what drive us, not beliefs. If we don’t value something, we don’t do anything with it. In talking about post-evangelical streams and the missional movement, this is where the magnetism and repulsion are. Values guide how we configure our theological principles, and values determine whether “missional” is merely a new set of programs and a label, or a genuine paradigm and a lifestyle of “Live your faith. Share your life.” (Hat Tip to Brother Maynard for that essence-of-missional slogan!)

For instance, do we value analysis? We’re more likely to create systematic theologies. Do we value closure (a function of even the deeper epistemology of black-and-white thinking)? We’re more likely to create or gravitate toward a clear and precise and comprehensive theology that explains the maximum amount of material and lays out all our decisions for us. And while these approaches may seem “missional,” they don’t actually work all that well in complex situations that are often cross-cultural. When we spell out too much, our system often imposes rules where the Bible does not. And so we end up taking away areas of decision-making that were meant to be part of the discipleship growth process.

These different kinds of very deep guiding principles are what reside at the core source of entire paradigms. And despite what may look like common ground on the surface of things … culture, behaviors, lifestyles, issues of concern, collaboration style … it’s what’s deep in that core which drives “irreconcilable differences.”

In a later post, I want to tackle one of the more complex issues that has the paradoxical potential to draw people from different backgrounds into the missional movement – those who value both personal morality and social responsibility. But also has the paradoxical power to repulse people out of it, if they value only one or the other.

Because this is complex, I need to build layer by layer to get to the actual “Big Discussion” itself. So, I hope you’ll stay with me as I look at some component concepts that will eventually let us get to some very important issues that have the most probability for creating “irreconcilable differences” whereby countless individuals and groups may opt-out of the missional movement.

The Epistemology Piece

“EPISTEMOLOGY.” While many people may not be familiar with this term, they likely have experienced the concept and will intuitively understand some things about it. Epistemology is about thinking … not the content of WHAT people think, but HOW they process information – what they integrate their thinking around. For instance:

I am very analytical and mind-oriented. It’s why I process information in details. Huge. Amounts. Of. Detail. I can describe concrete objects as if I were a human Cat Scan machine, or break down a concept into many component parts. At its core, analytical thinking integrates around an “either/or” mindset, always dividing things into parts, and categorizing it as EITHER this OR that.

Some people are more synthesis and imagination-oriented. Ask them to give you some options for this or that event, and they’ll spin out lists of imaginative possibilities – probably until you tell them, “Enough!” At its core, synthetic thinking integrates around a mindset of “or” – the options include this, OR that, OR the other, OR the other other, OR …

Others are more symbiotic and emotions-oriented, and they will clue in to people’s emotions, how individuals and groups of people are being treated or mistreated, those kinds of relational concerns. At its core, symbiotic thinking integrates around a mindset of “and” – bringing together this person AND that person, AND that resource, AND that support network, AND …

Some people are more paradoxical and aesthetics-oriented, looking at layers of complexity in a situation, or looking at both a concrete, real-world experience and the abstract concept it embodies or implies. (I’m one of those also, which goes to show that an individual can integrate thinking in more than just one way.) At it’s core, paradoxical thinking is analogical in the sense of holding BOTH abstract AND concrete in tension together instead of dividing them and emphasizing either one or the other.

All people are integrational and volition-oriented. To some degree, we all choose to bring elements of all these other different kinds of thinking processes, and their products, into who we are and what we do.

You might be thinking, This doesn’t exactly look familiar … where did he get that? It started out of my studies in cross-cultural linguistics and the technical discipline of “discourse analysis” (the “glue” that pastes thoughts together in a coherent way – to people from a specific language group). And then there is a long story associated with this framework, but the short version is that it emerged from a church planting situation. There were participants from very different cultures that strongly embodied each of these various information processing approaches. As they found themselves in conflict with the lead pastor, they left when it became clear their voice would not be heard and their contributions (other than “tithes”) would be rejected. At the end, only those who processed life and theology and values the same way as the pastor remained. And then there was this amazing quote that someone gave me after all the above took place:

A basic trouble is that most Churches limit themselves unnecessarily by addressing their message almost exclusively to those who are open to religious impression through the intellect, whereas … there are at least four other gateways – the emotions, the imagination, the aesthetic feeling, and the will – through which they can be reached. ~ A.J. Gossip (1873-1954)

(If you’re interested in more information on these five epistemology styles and how I developed them, see the Paradigm Framework section of this blog post on Paradigm Profiling in the Missional Zone, and also this tutorial on Learning Styles.)

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Because epistemology leads to values (axiology). And our epistemology and values are what drive our theology, far more than we think. I know that is a huge assumption, but I do believe it’s accurate. Think about it … and consider this set of questions, which I’ve heard used many times to illustrate the point:

  • Who thinks that physical exercise is important? (This is, what do you believe about the subject.)
  • Who here exercises regularly? (If you don’t value exercise, you won’t do it, even if you supposedly “believe” it is important.)

So, if we’re missing some biblical values, or our values are anti-biblical, we can easily end up with beliefs and behaviors, and lifestyles and cultures that go against Scripture. And that gives great importance to the issues of how we process information and what we value as a result. And despite what we might SAY we believe, these deep, hidden drivers of our lifestyles may bring us into conflict with people we SEEM to have common ground with, based on what they say.

So – can you see the direction this is going?

Next post – how the ways we think and what we value affect the shapes of our “operational systems” for discipleship. In other words, the everyday ways we connect with God and interact with others.

Thoughts on the Missional Movement – Series Links:

  • Part 1 – Making Taxonomies in the Midst of Transformation
  • Part 2 – Six Streams in the “Missional Movement”
  • Part 3 – Principles of Paradox, and Magnetic Attractions and Repulsions in the Making of a “Missional Movement”
  • Part 4 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: The Way We Process Information and What We Value Create “Irreconcilable Differences”
  • Part 5 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: “Irreconcilable Differences” on Operating Systems for Discipleship
  • Part 6 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: Operating Systems of Legalism or License Instead of Liberty
  • Part 7 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Access
  • Part 8 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Activities
  • Part 9 – How These Frameworks Play Out in Our Overall Attitudes, Styles of Interaction, and Community Connections