Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Busting Frames - Paradigm Shift in the Church

About a month ago I wrote about Brian McLaren's coverage of, what he calls, "framing stories" in his book Everything Must Change.

The concept of framing stories is not anything new. In the past they have been referred to as "world-views" and could also be called paradigms. Paradigms exist at many different levels in culture and society.

The interesting thing about a paradigm is it creates an interpretive lens through, if we think of it as a frame, everything within its boundaries is viewed. Evidence supporting the paradigm is kept and evidence refuting it is re-interpreted until it fits or, if this isn't possible, it's discarded. The problem with paradigms is they can be extremely difficult to refute, particularly where they become the common currency and voices of dissent are marginalised, no matter how convincing their evidence.

The tendencies with paradigms, however, is once the evidence against them becomes overwhelming a shift takes place. The old paradigm is toppled, like a dictator in a coup, and replaced with a new paradigm. The new paradigm takes over as the interpretive lens.

This process of paradigm shifts is very evident in the history of the church, no more so than now. The "old" paradigm, that of the Christendom church, is being challenged by a "new" paradigm and a shift is taking place. Originally (and even now in many places) the evidence against the old paradigm was refused, ignored, or assimilated. More recently a clear division began to appear - the old paradigm on one side and the new on the other.

For those of us involved in the process of transition within established churches the goal is essentially that of instigating a paradigm shift. But it is slow and it is painful, particularly where a lack of awareness exists of the manner in which the old paradigm affects (or dictates) the way the church is viewed and should operate. It's possible for two people to be discussing the same thing and to be at complete odds with one another simply because their paradigms are different. For example, what is "the gospel" in an institutionalised, Christendom setting may not be "the gospel" in an EMC setting.

If we don't fully appreciate this we are never going to be able to fully understand the process of transition. It will seem to those looking at the EMC through the interpretive lens of the old paradigm that there is something wrong, something missing. That the things being talked about and the actions being taken are somehow not right. That while there may be some merit in the approach being advocated to fully accept it is to "throw the baby out with the bath water". In the example I gave above, if "the gospel" seems to mean something other than (or more than) Jesus substitutionary death on the cross it's considered suspect, and often, no matter how hard we try to explain it and make it make sense it just won't. Simply because the other party is viewing it through a completely different lens. A lens that essentially has to be smashed if any significant move forward is to be made.

The great photo at the top of this post is from Rubenshito and is used with permission.

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