Friday, February 05, 2010

Thy Kingdom Connected

A book I received as a participant with The Ooze Viral Bloggers -

They Kingdom Connected by Dwight J. Friesen is a book that I will be recommending to the two professors who teach with me who specialize in “Practical Theology.”

There was very much to appreciate about this book. Having said that to get started, let me point out a few critiques before I sing praise.

The book’s subtitle is poorly framed: “What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks.” I anticipated reading a sort of “how to” use these networks for developing and working with the church. Instead, this book has very little to offer about “how to” use networks in the computer/internet spectrum. (More on what this text does say about networks in a few paragraphs.)

Second, I thought the book could have been much more deeply connected and structured with Biblical support for the claims that are offered. And, for a few of the claims, I was left wanting to ask, Dwight what Biblical text supported his characterization of the church. For example, on page 41 Dwight finishes an analogy of the church built, in part, on the parable of the yeast from Jesus. But, the analogy wherein the yeast is seen as a positive issue of expanding the networks of the kingdom might be well out of line with Jewish understanding and frameworks within the Hebrew Bible because of the clear implications of yeast’s impurity. Not that Dwight thereby could not have used this as an example, but it could have been better parsed out with a fuller reading of Biblical texts, and specifically of the Hebrew Scripture.

That being the case – and fully cognizant of the fact that I would likely not agree with “every claim” of any author, I value and appreciate what Dwight has constructed. I think his organization of the text and examples including modern networks – both computer and biological – are creative and inventive. I found his work to be grounded in a clear articulation of Trinitarian theology that understands God to be relational and thus, God’s intention for the kingdom is intended to be relational as well.

At several points in the text Dwight creatively recycles language to cause his readers to (re)think perspectives. For example, “Failure to see the interconnections of the world created by God can only result in ‘di-vision’” (page 19). And, much later in the text, he provides an appropriate Calvin and Hobbes cartoon to bear on his creative (re)use of language in his chapter on “And’ing.”
The book was not difficult to read, and it offered some intriguing analogies and images to re-think – including the image and idea of the lighthouse – but it was neither a simple read. Dwight engages early the work of Martin Buber (page 49ff) and then appropriately comes back to Buber later in the final few pages of his text (page 169ff.) His conception of the Christ-commons and the idea of cultivating fertile soil for new life were helpful.

A few places along the way I would suggest that Dwight might want to rethink a few analogies or metaphors – but in the end, the book comes together in a clear, wholistic way. His final few chapters, especially the one on Network Ecologies, were a delight to read. I am certain that the students I have taught over the years – if they were empowered to see the Church in the way Dwight outlines – they would be greater empowered to be in ministry for the long-haul. Not to become pastors that “grow” or meet denominational expectations to be a certain size – but churches that “build and steward sustainable communities in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the same for future generations” (page 149).

Students training for ministry and pastors in ministry could learn from Dwight. “It is very difficult, maybe impossible, to determine a network’s relative health by looking at a smaller set within the ecosystem. It's best to look at a larger set. . . . How is your local and community participating with God and God dream for the re-creation of heaven and earth? How is it your church participating in the flourishing of God dream of abundant life for all?” (page 156-157.)

Dwight’s vision would help the church look to the larger life of expanding God’s Kingdom, advancing the good for all, announcing and enacting good news.

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