When Two Become One (tribalism in the church part 2)

Despite the continuing power of the theological tribalism  within the Church (see When Two Tribes Go to War) something exciting is happening which is subverting and challenging these divisions.  In my work alongside a wide range of different Christian traditions, I am conscious every week of a growing synthesis that is emerging which is not confined by the tribal divides.  

Conservative and charismatic Christians are genuinely getting more into social activism -initiatives such as Christians Against Poverty and Street Pastors are testament this as well as the growth of churches like Holy Trinity Brompton’s work for Social Transformation.  Even the most hardline evangelicals are being defrosted towards a more holistic approach by leaders such as Tim Keller and Tim Chester

And there is movement on the other side too.  It is also more common to hear liberal Christians, who have been emphasising social justice for years, increasingly concerned about the need to share their faith more overtly and raise questions about the Christian distinctiveness of their social action.  Also the rise of local joint initiatives has led to a greater appreciation of the strengths of the more conservative parts of the church.

In contrast to the silo diagram I used in the previous post, this more integrated approach could be pictured like this:

The personal message of the gospel should never be lined up against activism for social justice but rather seen as integral to its sustainability.  Rather than being in opposition, tolerance and inclusion of others is dependent on being clear about our distinctiveness.  And of course, almost everyone’s faith story involves both a journey and important moments of conversion.  In short, rather than being lined up against each other, the tribal emphases of Christian theology can be seen as complimentary and necessary to each other.

It is interesting that this is a theological version of the growing emphasis in social work with homeless people on personal responsibility and avoiding the dependency culture.  Things are very different than they were 10 years ago.  Professional agencies are increasingly concerned to address the ‘inner homelessness’ – the poverty of relationships and identity that underlie the physical lack of accommodation.  This brings with it is an increasing appreciation of spirituality and there are many signs that the years of ‘muscular secularity’ in homelessness work are drawing to an end.

As I said in the last post, true radicalism and transformative mission will not be found in the tired tribalism as set out in the first chart (below).  It may sell books and win applause at tribal conferences but it will not equip us for transformative mission in the real world. 

Radical Christianity means taking seriously both personal and inward change as well as the outward demands of social justice.  As Jim Wallis says,

‘The world will not change until we do; personal and social transformation are inextricably linked together’. 

What God has joined together, let no-one separate.

4 thoughts on “When Two Become One (tribalism in the church part 2)”

  1. A hopeful, positive and motivating post – thank you for this – the Spirit is hard at work and we really do just need to open our eyes to what is happening. Praise God for all that God is doing in and through those who love God – conservative, liberal, charismatic!


  2. I think that you are very much right about this. A couple of observations of late.
    The pentecost service at Southwark Cathedral this past week where evangelicals were invited in to help form the service (I was invited to be on the group but unfortunately I was away in Kenya when they met). This led to a service where the bishop was interviewed, a charismatic gave the sermon and they even had a band amongst the cathedral liturgy. It gives hope that even in a very fractured diocese such as Southwark there is hope that people can talk and listen to one another.
    Secondly, we have planted a charismatic cafe church congregation in the parish of a liberal catholic with their full permission. In fact the priest and I are helping to lead a church planting day in Southwark in July! People with very different views but both starting from the point of view of asking “who’s church is it?” and seeing that diversity and working together are real strengths. Of course, as we have worked together we have come to appreciate each others strengths and worked through some tricky issues in a framework of mutual respect.


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