The Research Question

Question-MarkWhat do suburbia and spirituality have in common? The term suburbia often conjures up caricatured images of plastic, white, middle-class Americans driving gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles past white picket fences into cavernous garages that swallow them up into isolated fortresses behind automatic garage doors. The term spirituality often conjures up equally caricatured images of bald-headed, robed monks sitting in the lotus position, precariously perched on the precipice of a majestic mountain peak. These two images could not be more unrelated. This study will explore the intersection of these two seemingly disparate worlds. Further, it will explore how the specific doctrine of the Trinity might weave a connective thread between these realms. The questions and conversations pursued in this study will be framed within the larger conversation that many call the missional church.

The specific research question is this,

How might an increased awareness and understanding of the Social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?

Many assumptions and preconceived definitions lie behind this question and much definition and clarification is required to proceed. There are four major fields of academic discipline that create the broad frame and converge on this question in an interdisciplinary exercise. Some are apparent, some not. The first, and least apparent, discipline is that of adult learning, and more precisely, the field of adult religious education. This research will get inside of a local congregation and explore how the conversations around the topic of the Trinity contribute to the spiritual formation of adults. Second, and closely related to the first, the research will explore the newly emerging academic discipline of Christian spirituality. Third, this research will delve into the mystery that is named the Trinity. It will, more specifically, introduce a local congregation to the late twentieth century theological conversation centered around the economic, or social, Trinitarian formulation. Finally, the research will function within the larger conversation of missional ecclesiology—the missional church—within the specific concrete manifestation of a congregation that is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in the context of three adjacent suburbs northwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota—Andover, Anoka, and Coon Rapids.

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