5 Tracks in American Christianity: Expanding on Joel Singleton’s Article in Renew

Recently I read a terrific article in Renew.org by Joel Singleton.

4 Tracks in American Christianity: A Tool for Cutting Through the Smoke and Heat

I highly suggest you read it, as I’m going to take this post to talk about it.
Singleton puts forward a basic way of understanding the difference in church philosophies in America, and he cautions that this is just a tool for understanding, not a surefire way to just group churches into categories.
(the above image is supplied by Renew.org)

I really appreciated the article as it helps me understand not only how churches see their missions differently, but how I’ve gone back and forth about how I see my role in the mission of God’s kingdom.

The rundown is basically this: Every church is in a tug-of-war between biblical authority and cultural authority, as well as regressive and progressive impulses.

This creates 4 basic orientations of the mission.

  1. Mission as Keeping Commandments
  2. Mission as Making Disciples
  3. Mission as Questioning
  4. Mission as Defending Oppressed

Based on your orientation, your mission will fall mostly in one of these camps. You’ll be obsessed with legalism, evangelism, antagonism, or activism.

Clearly, Singleton favors the top right. The best “extreme” to go to is to focus hard on Kingdom Growth. He admits that while that’s always good, the downside is just focusing on growth by the numbers.

For the most part, I like his model, and I’m thankful for it.

But I considered this, that alongside cultural changes in and of themselves, there are two major developments in our culture that have affected and are affected by the church: social media and accessibility of literacy tools.

Because of this, I propose a 3rd axis (or Z axis for those who like math stuff), that expands on the “Discovery” point zero laid out:

Formation direction: Inward to Outward

Inward formation is the impulse to focus on study, meditation, fasting, praying, etc. for the purpose of personal formation and discovery.

Outward formation is the impulse to guide, give testimony, confess, encourage, and prepared and devote resources to others.

Going to extremes:

Inward is navel-gazing (as the kind mentioned in the article)

and outward is seeking the praise of men.

Navel-gazing<—–Discovery—–nurture—–Congregational Formation-—-shine—–share—–>Vain performance

Both extremes are vain, as they have no substantive spiritual reward. Abuse of technology tools has led many Christians to either a spiral of gnosticism or a spiral of narcissism. Or both.

However, both impulses are good, as they are about nurturing the flame (inward) and shining the light before others (outward).

And I think the advent of social media and the advance of information technology both enable the positive and especially negative push of these.

So the middle ground here, a good one, is congregational formation, in which people internalize and share their growth and promote it in one another. For example, the rise in small groups has helped cement formation in a practical, measurable, Biblical way for many churches.

Finally, I would add a point of nuance. If I had to change one thing about the chart presented in the article I would say that, focusing on Christ as center of all these branches, we do want to aim for a balance of these.

In doing so, I would say that the extreme of “Kingdom Growth” is actually the focus on numbers, relying either on programs, or sensationalism, or watered down gospel presentations to get people converted.

But to be centered on Christ means to be centered on the healthy aspects of these orientations, including inward formation and outward formation. In Christ, as we are sanctified, we make disciples and keep them, keeping the commandments as we question how we’re doing that very thing, uplifting the oppressed, and growing as individuals, and whole churches.

Of course, it’s hard to make a 2D chart for that.

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