Today’s gathering of the Oikonomia Network began with Greg Forster providing updates on efforts within and beyond the Network. ON continues to cultivate new partners, such as the LABI College/Latin American Theological Seminary (LABI/LATS) in Los Angeles, as well as seek strategies for providing sustainability in existing programs. In particular, the Network now partners similar efforts working directly with clergy, such as the upcoming conference lead by Pastor Tom Nelson on Flourishing for the Common Good, 2017 in Kansas City and at satellite locations. This conference is designed for pastors and congregational leaders to discuss how the church participates in flourishing in our neighborhoods. Flourishing in our workplaces. Flourishing in our churches. And flourishing for the good of our cities
The remainder of the day focused on small group presentations addressing several “social worlds” or institutions that intersect with the church: the legal/political world, Wall Street economics, and the life of the family, as well as a discussion on extending the faith, work, economic conversation at different educational institutions.
John Inazu, from Washington University, presented on his book “Confident Pluralism.” Inazu noted that pluralism reflects a practical matter that demands a political response. The challenge remains engaging pluralism without demanding a form of “unity” based on previous assumptions. Inazu noted this approach proves most difficult for White Protestants since the majority of the cultural norms of the past were shaped by their values. John reminded listeners that Christians live as a pilgrim people and “resident aliens” in our society. In the future, where pluralism reflects a diverse ethnic and even ideological perspective, “going back” may not serve previous groups (Japanese Americans during the 1940s interment or 1950 African American racism) nor anticipate the diverse shifts of the future. The challenge revolves around embracing the present rather than recovering the past. To do so, Inazu calls for a “confident” pluralism anchored in one’s comfort with one’s own convictions while recognizing others have rights to associate, interact in public spaces for the common good, and receive some level of social and governmental support. The best way to maintain a “confident” pluralism entails people embracing three “aspirations” of tolerance (but not acceptance/approval), humility (recognizing some truths cannot be proved), and patience (particularly the ability to listen but not approve before reaching snap judgments). Inazu noted that Evangelicals need to be confident enough of their beliefs to enter into “messy spaces” where differences can be engaged for the sake of our world today.
Guillaume Bignon, Wall Street trading firm software developer and manager, provided a presentation on “A Christian Theologian/Philosopher on Wall Street.” Guillaume provided a very “human face” to Wall Street, discussing the people he works with daily. Bignon himself came to Christian faith and completed a PhD from the London School of Theology in Philosophical Theology, yet remains a team manager and developer of software designed to maximize profitability in firms. Guillaume primarily discussed his personal journey, both his struggle to accommodate to his new Christian identity in a secular world, yet also appreciative of his encounters with secular, yet friendly and often curious people. Often Bignon has to use his command of moral philosophy to explicate his Christian practice, at least until he can meet with people personally to relate his actions to the Gospel. His presentation helped attendees move past the abstraction of Wall Street to see people who live and work in this environment.
Bradford Wilcox, National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, presented on “When Marriage Disappears: Why Marriage Is in Retreat and What the Church Can Do About It.” Wilcox’s research, much of it included in his book Soul Mates, revealed a major social shift in society since the perceived “divorce culture” of the 1980s. Today, educated and moderately successful couples really remain more committed to marriage and family than many people associated with working class and poorer populations. Wilcox stressed the shift relies less on the moral fabric of working class people and more on the economic options and social networks associated with people who tend to move from education to work to marriage and then to family. When any of these steps are interrupted, they present challenges for the long-term family. Wilcox offered the following suggestions to the church to help support the family in transitional times.
- Resourcing less-educated young adults, as well as targeting college students
- Making worship and ministries friendly to the working-class
- Doing more for less-educated men, who are the least churched adults
Gerry Breshears, Western Seminary, and Scott Rae, Biola University discussed “Taking Curricular Integration to the Next Level” with the Oikonomia Network’s emphasis on faith, work and economics. Both presenters noted that curricular integration remains difficult at times due to specifically entrenched perspectives on clergy education and theological specialization. However, they also noted that work and economics can engage the theological curriculum in through both curricular and co-curricular strategies. Often having administrative support proves very helpful, but faculty can embrace the need for whole life discipleship through discussion and reflection.
Greg Forster closed the day with an evening presentation around the theme of “Tending the Vineyard of Theological Knowledge.” Greg acknowledged that three of the workshops addressed key domains that intersect with discipleship and the church: the family, economics, and the public square. Forster noted that an emphasis on human flourishing inevitably pushes ministry outside the church. Disciple making proves important to every domain of life, and every domain of life remains important for disciple making.
Forster noted that the traditional political divide of left and right leanings may not mark the greatest divide in this country. Instead, Greg observes another division, between the desire for human choice, where everything else remains malleable to their personal decision, against the desire for social order, where accountability and constraint provide an important framework for life. Unfortunately, society risks being governed by a technocracy with a “thin” moral narrative that privileges arbitrary notions of right and wrong based on utilitarianism. In the face of this movement, many people seeking common ground find this view dissatisfying. Instead, seeking order, they resort to tribalism and attempt to “conquer” the common ground, self-imposing their view. Forster notes only the Gospel provides a moral narrative with the hope for human flourishing instead of control.
Forster reminded the group of the words of Dallas Willard at a previous retreat. Willard noted that, outside of the church, flourishing is defined by being able to satisfy natural desires, a view that leads to conflict and despair. Instead, the biblical view of flourishing remains anchored in the blessing of God expressed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is this vision that guides the efforts of educators, employing the richness of the theological heritage we possess, toward our goals of whole life discipleship. This vision also capped two excellent days of presentation, discussion, and reflection, during our stay in Tempe Arizona. Time well spent by all.