Students will understand and evaluate various models for how the Church negotiates its position vis-à-vis those deemed outside the community. This course will utilize the methods of the social sciences, including, social-identity theory and social psychology, for the purposes of better understanding how the early Church addressed its own distinctives in diverse cultures and contexts. This will be done for the purpose of translating the earliest practices into the contemporary Church in its worldwide diversity. Student evaluation will include reading, lectures, discussion forums, an essay, an exam, and a service project.
Students will be helped along as they think through the various aspects of Christian identity. Determining which are crucial, and which are not, is key. Sometimes our sense of what constitutes true Christianity has been so informed by particular cultural and contextual expressions of Christianity that we mistake certain expressions with necessary components of Christian ethos. This is particularly important for our missional witness because we do not want to make our cultural expressions of Christianity binding or normative for others in different contexts, and at the same time we do not want to compromise our identity for the sake of promoting conversion at any cost.
In order for Christianity to be ‘Christian’ in any meaningful sense of the word, it must maintain its distinctive boundaries. This is a tricky task—how inclusive should these boundaries be and where precisely are they to be drawn? Which practices and beliefs are essential to Christian ethos, and which are cultural/contextual expressions? Towards answering these questions for the contemporary Church in its global and multi-ethnic makeup, we will look at how the Christians maintained their ethos in their missional efforts across the known world.
We will investigate the ethos of the Christian community from a biblical and theological perspective, noting how Scripture informs our understanding of what the Church is meant to be.
Our focus will be on the importance—as well as the difficulties—of maintaining a distinctly Christian ethos as we participate in the missio Dei.
Different cultures and contexts will manifest Christianity in different ways. Our course will note how we need to be sensitive to these various expressions, without promoting one expression over another. In addition, we also need to be careful about discerning what is an appropriate contextualization versus what morphs into syncretism.
Maintaining a Christian ethos also means reexamining critically where our conceptions of what is Christian may be rooted in a culturally defined expression of Christianity. As such, this class will address how we need to avoid holding forth something as a critical component of Christian ethos that may be too culturally-located to be a necessary condition. These reflective issues will arise naturally from our study of how early Christians navigated these same concerns.
In this class we will consider how maintaining a distinctive Christian ethos has practical ramifications. We will address practical concerns and questions that emerge in our contemporary settings and address those in the light of the way early Christians similarly faced these problems.
In this class we will explore the dynamic between individual and corporate expressions of Christian ethos, upholding the fact that both are crucial to Christian ethos, and as such we will promote living in a way that is fully transformed by the gospel. Students will also participate in a hands on service project.