Hope in the Trinitarian Community

Postfoundational theology is a story of hope. Hope has a future orientation. It invites us to look forward with anticipation and imagination. Proverbs tells us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Spiritual formation in the missional church is a hopeful endeavor. The DITB project is one of a public prophetic imagination of hope in God’s preferred and promised future.[1] This is a countercultural move. Taylor suggests that the modern, buffered self has lost this hope.[2] The modern schism between fact/value, public/private, and science/faith has collapsed our public sense of identity to radical individualism, the loss of meaning and purpose, and the reduction of life to that of utilitarian transactions for the sole purpose of individual survival. The modern self is left in isolation and with no ultimate hope.

The hope of the world rests in the Triune God. Kiefert argues that the church has lost hope because it has lost its connection to the life of God.[3] The Trinity is the life of the world. The Triune God is the ground of being-in-time, moving the world in the past, present, that is a hope of a preferred and promised future.[4] God is not a timeless, transcendent being that is separate from the created universe. Nor is God the animating, non-personal life energy that is completely synonymous with the universe. God is the relationality of the Triune persons from which we realize that all people—and all things—are interdependently entangled.[5]

I will explore this more closely in the Trinity Frame. For now, it is enough to agree with Keifert that the church exists in the life of God and “is a being in communion within the history of God that is drawn into a promised future, coherent with, but not fully available to us, in the fate and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”[6] The church is invited to dream God’s dream and to live into the hope within it. Gorringe says, “that everything that we do as Christians, including our politics and our fashioning of the world, should be shaped by that hope.”[7] This creative frame is not a subjective romanticism or the whimsy of the idealistic artist, but it is a public imagination. Simpson argues that

As prophetic public companions, missional congregations acknowledge a conviction that they participate in God’s ongoing creative work. In a communicative civil society, these congregations exhibit a compassionate commitment to other institutions and their moral predicaments and to contesting the systemic colonization of the lifeworld. In these two senses, congregations as communicatively prophetic public companions are thoroughly connected, both to God and to the social and natural world. This vocational conviction and commitment yields a critical and self-critical, and thus fully communicative, practice of prophetic engagement. Finally, as communicatively prophetic public companions, congregations participate with other institutions of communicative civil society to create, strengthen, and sustain the moral fabrics that fashion a life-giving and life-accountable world.”[8]

The Deep in the Burbs Research Team came together to dream. I invited them to be open to explore new ideas about God (the social Trinity) and imagine new ways of engaging in the practices of spiritual formation. Dreaming is a struggle and the team experienced the agony and ecstasy that always accompanies the process of renegotiating boundaries of identity to be able to welcome the other. The specific stories that I will share in chapter five will give granular texture to this rich story of a group of suburbanites who were willing to say, what if?

Footnotes

[1] This statement merges Simpson’s prophetic public companion with Keifert’s preferred and promised future.

[2] Taylor argues that pre-modern Western culture and most non-Western cultures understand the self to have porous boundaries. In other words, the human self understands that it is not an isolated, atomistic substance, separate from all other substances—human or otherwise—in the universe. Rather, the porous self recognizes that it is interconnected and interdependent with the world—both physical and spiritual, seen and unseen. Taylor calls this the enchanted world of the porous self. Taylor further argues that the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment project of Western Europe in the sixteen and seventeenth centuries denounced the porous self and gave rise to the buffered self. The modern Western “enlightened” self functions within the perspective of Cartesian dualism and understands that the only acceptable form of knowledge comes from the acquisition of scientific information through the process of empirical observation. The only thing that actually exists is that which can be observed with human senses and explained by human reason. Anything else is ignored as superstition and relegated to the private sector or disregarded altogether. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).

[3] I will discuss this premise in the Epistemological Considerations section of the Adult Learning Frame. See Gary M. Simpson, “No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity,” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998); Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination; Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism; Patrick R. Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum,” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998); Keifert, We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery; Keifert, Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations.

[4] I will explore this more fully in the Trinity Frame. For now I will acknowledge that this language of being-in-time and God-as-history draws upon Robert Jenson’s understanding of the Trinity framed in Heideggarian and Hegelian thought. Kiefert connects this to the life and hope of the congregation. Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum.”

[5] I define my use of the term entangled in the Trinity frame in chapter three.

[6] Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum,” 288.

[7] Timothy Gorringe, “Living toward a Vision: Cities, the Common Good, and the Christian Imagination,” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 4 (2009): 523-524.

[8] Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination, 144-145.

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