'We have not shed what others call a Christendom imagination where the church is basically the centre of activity and conversation. Church questions are at the forefront of our thinking, so we default to questions about what the church should be doing and what the church should look like.' (p54).
Alan Roxburgh argues that he isn't church bashing; rather he is trying to free us from a picture that has held us captive for too long. Between parts 1 and 2 of Missional, there's a fascinating intermezzo called 'the Language House' that reflects on the stories we tell to make sense of our lives. Drawing on the ideas of Charles Taylor who speaks of 'social imaginaries', the 'unstructured and inarticulate understanding' that we have of our lives, Roxburgh explores what it means to live in a 'language house'.
The term comes from Mark Lau Branson, a teaching colleague of Roxburgh on a course at Fuller, and grew out of reflections his congregation had on seeking to be community. They realised that while they thought they were being shaped by the Bible's story and teaching on how to be disciples in the modern world, they were actually being shaped by other stories.
Branson says we were 'formed during late modern consumerism...shaped by such priorities as individual choice, personal affectivity, and expectations (imaginations) that emphasised the pursuit of careers that should supply meaning and resources for our lives.' In the west we are all to a large measure shaped by this story of individualism, consumerism and careerism; that is the language house in which we live.
I found this idea richly explanatory for some of the things that have long puzzled about church in the UK, not just my current church but to a large extent, every church I've been involved with. And it's this: we are able to say one thing and believe it and yet find ourselves living as though we had said and believe a different thing. Roxburgh suggests, for instance, that we talk about community and how important it is that our churches are expressions of community while at the same time living lives that are shaped by the story of individualism that we have grown up with.
So, he suggests that we need to move. He argues that there is another language house that offers a different, better understanding of who we are and what stories should shape our lives. That language house is scripture, particularly in this book, Luke-Acts, which is where part 2 of Missional takes us (more to follow).