After SVS 2010 is an extended dialogue with presenters from the first annual Society of Vineyard Scholars conference, held Feb 11-13, 2010. Monday through Friday until March 26th we’ll profile an SVS presenter and dialogue with them around their paper. Click here for a brief intro and link directory of the series. Full text of papers are available to SVS members.
Doug Erickson: “Advice to Vineyard Theologians (and Philosophers, and Scholars…)”
Due to the diversity of interests and shall we say, the “complexity” of the short Vineyard history, there is some variety of opinion as to just what the “center” of our center-set movement is. For some, the center is our commitment to social justice issues: caring for the poor, and bringing the kingdom of God to the last, the least, and the lost. Other options could be a renewal movement, a signs and wonders movement, a power evangelism movement, a church planting movement or a pneumatologically orientated movement. I argue in my paper that while these elements are all important as to what it means to be a Vineyard, the true “center” is our enacted, inaugurated, eschatological vision of the kingdom of God. I really like the way people like Derek Morphew and Don Williams have expounded on this. We say enacted because we are committed to not only talking about the kingdom, but doing the works of the kingdom which includes things like social justice and evangelism, but much more: praying for the sick and demonized, bringing hope and restoration to hurting people, and doing our best to tend the garden- that is, taking care of this amazing creation that has been entrusted to us. We say inaugurated because this kingdom mission is established, inaugurated and primarily understood through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. This picture of the kingdom is Eschatological because we see in the inauguration, the in-breaking of the powers of the future, into the present. When we pray for a sick person, and the Holy Spirit comes to heal, that is a prolepsis event: a “down payment” if you will, on the future age when there will be no sickness or suffering. This kingdom ideal can be loosely defined as the effective range of God’s rule, that is, it is encompassed by those places where God’s will is done on earth, as it is perfectly expressed in heaven.
This theological self-identification is important for a young movement like the Vineyard as we, more and more often, are engaging in dialogue with Christians from other theological traditions. As Christ’s prayer “that they shall be one” calls us to ecumenical dialogue, we must, and can, enter into this dialogue from our decidedly Vineyard presuppositions and commitments. I contend that we have a unique and significant contribution to the larger body of Christ, but we are just beginning to discover what those contributions may be.
Interview with Doug:
Q: How did you become interested in your topic?
A: I became interested in this topic because although I haven’t been in the Vineyard that long, less than 17 years, even in that time that have been several twists and turns as we have struggled to identity ourselves. The question of “what does it mean to be a Vineyard” has been answered many different ways. To some extent, there are different answers to this related to the issues of theological commitments or praxis, although the two are obviously related. So in this paper, I wanted to re-establish what I, and many others, consider to be the central theological distinctive of the Vineyard: our commitment to the practice and proclamation of the already-not yet conception of the kingdom of God. In my view, our eschatology drives other theological commitments, so rather than being a pneumatologically driven movement, I see that eschatology conditions our pneumatology, especially the work of the Spirit.
Q: How do you think your paper is relevant to the Vineyard movement at large
A: I think this paper has some import on the movement especially as pastors and structural leaders are increasingly moving into discussions and dialogue with Christians from other traditions. A base element of ecumenical dialogue is answering the question, “what makes you tick?” or, what theological doctrines do you ground yourself in? How do these grounding beliefs affect other areas of theological reflection, such as the doctrine of God, anthropology, soteriology, or ecclesiology? At the conference, I was quite amazed and encouraged by the breadth and depth of theological reflection ongoing in the movement. We are just now probably entering into a stage where we can began some significant constructive theological development, so understanding our central theological distinctive is absolutely crucial as we move into this type of work.
Q: What do you think might be the practical implications of what you’re exploring?
A: It’s a tautology that theological commitment influences praxis and visa versa. So there is an obvious connection between what we teach, train and preach and what we practice. For those of us in the academic community, understanding our theological grounding should assist us in dialogue with believers from other traditions. Practically as a movement, we can think about how the various areas of cultural engagement intersect with kingdom grounding. We are a movement known for caring for the poor and seeking justice, and that should continue. We are not however, primarily a social justice movement; we are a kingdom movement, who sees caring for the poor as an essential feature of the kingdom message. We embrace evangelism and power ministry, but again, centrally we are not just an evangelistic movement; we do evangelism because we see that a central feature of the kingdom conscription is to “go and make disciples”. Many of our churches and structural leaders have embraced the challenge to creation care, but we are not primarily an ecological movement, we are a kingdom movement that sees the call to tend the garden as an element of the kingdom message. So as we enter in to all of those areas, our engagement should reflect our central belief in the enacted, inaugurated eschatological kingdom of God.
Doug will be available for questions and interaction in the comments below
Doug Erickson is from the Duluth Vineyard in Duluth, Minnesota, where he makes constant supplications to St. Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcyclists. He is currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation from Marquette University on the relationship between eschatology and pneumatology in the Vineyard movement. He teaches for the Vineyard Biblical Institute in the U.S. Doug is married to Sandi, they have three kids and the entire family enjoys the outdoor lifestyle that Duluth offers.