the temptations of community #1

elephant_rocksI want to pick up the thread of my reflections on Total Church

As I hinted in an earlier post, I think there are some potential pitfalls.

There’s no problem with their emphasis on community. (After all, the gospel is about God fulfilling his eternal purposes to gather and sanctify a people — a community — for himself.)

But there is a danger with the way they emphasise it, I think.

Let me take my cue from Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

He begins the magnificent first chapter of Life Together by singing the praises of the Christian experience of gospel community.

And the rich, risky and deeply rewarding texture of the experience he evokes — of knowing and being known — sounds very much like what the Total Church guys are on about.

Bonhoeffer is genuinely thankful for such nourishing experiences. But he is forced to sound a warning:

Such experiences are the gift of grace, so we cannot — must not — presume on them.

My sense is that the whole first chapter really spins out of this…

  • Because community is God’s gift not a human achievement, it’s an indicative before it is an imperative.
    It’s about a status and identity we’re to accept and live in. Not something to be sought and produced by us (through the kind of techniques and strategies we might dream up, and which can slide over so easily into manipulation).
  • Because it’s a matter of grace, Christian fellowship dispossesses us rather than leaving us in control of community or our participation in it.
    Thus, we’re to accept each other as those who’ve been graced. We’re a family. Given to each other. Whether we find that comfortable and convenient or not.
  • Finally, because such fellowship cannot be presumed upon, we need to be very careful about making its creation (or cultivation) our aim.
    ‘God hates visionary dreaming … The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly’ (p 2).

Any insistence on the importance of community — right and proper as it is — must be tempered by a recognition of God’s dispossessing grace.


  1. Nice. I like “dispossessing grace”. I think Bonhoeffer’s criticism of visionary dreaming, though, is more pertinent to contemporary accounts of church growth that are big on “leadership” than, perhaps, the Total Church guys.


    1. ‘Dispossessing grace’ is all Rowan Williams. (Credit where credit’s due.)

      I take you’re point, mate. The TC guys seem to want to steer clear of the kind of thing Bonhoeffer rails against. So they’re pretty keen to disown ‘heavy shepherding’ and other sorts of strategies that travel in that orbit.

      I guess I’m just flagging a trajectory that feels like it’s a couple of degrees off the mark. There’s plenty of scope for course correction — in God’s abundant grace!

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