Reading the quote in Prodigal Kiwi Blog: Churches – They Just Couldn’t Speak to Me reminded me of theologian Miroslav Volf’s comments on the transmission of the Christian faith in his book After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity.
Volf says that the successful transmission of the Christian faith, within the church context, involves two different identifications.
- The mediation of faith can succeed only if those standing outside that faith are able to identify with the church communities embodying and transmitting it. Those outside will connect with the community if they see something within it that they can sympathise with.
- The degree to which transmission of faith occurs presupposes the identification of a church’s members with that church. The more included, affirmed and participatory people are, sharing in the values of the community, the more they are willing to be involved in transmitting the faith that underlies that community.
Volf argues that both are missing in contemporary Western society, particularly in the Protestant Free Churches – the “gathered churches”.
In particular, Volf thinks that we need “to develop an ecclesiology that will facilitate culturally appropriate – which is to say, both culturally sensitive and culturally critical – social embodiments of the Gospel.”
I think the situation is two-fold too. Those outside the community can’t see anything within the church to connect to – either it doesn’t appear relevant or it appears simply a mirror of contemporary culture. And those within the church either don’t have a strong commitment to the local body or cannot understand or connect to those outside of that community – they don’t know them well enough to care about them in a personal sense.
Sympathetic connections need to be made in both directions.