Наслаждайтесь миллионами электронных книг, аудиокниг, журналов и других видов контента в бесплатной пробной версии

Только $11.99 в месяц после пробной версии. Можно отменить в любое время.

Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition: The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World
Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition: The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World
Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition: The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World
Электронная книга574 страницы13 часов

Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition: The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World

Рейтинг: 0 из 5 звезд


Читать отрывок

Об этой электронной книге

Christians are often tempted to encapsulate God in their own little boxes, as if God could be tied down to our finite way of thinking. But we can neither domesticate nor fully understand God, for theology has a lot to do with coming to terms with the mystery of God. This revised edition of Dancing in the Dark--shaped, as in the first edition, by the two overarching themes of God as Trinity and a theology of participation--embraces the notion of mystery in presenting a compelling vision of seeing all things finally united within the inner life of God. As we engage in Christian ministry, we are summoned to participate as grace-filled faith communities in the triune God's immeasurably loving and healing work in the world, leading those who are in darkness into an awareness of the God who imparts life in all its glorious abundance, that which is so . . . and a journey into the mystery of that which is to come. The liberating ministry of the gospel is both a declaration and an invitation--an invitation to the dance!
ИздательCascade Books
Дата выпуска8 нояб. 2016 г.
Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition: The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World
Читать отрывок

Graham Buxton

Reverend Dr Graham Buxton is the Director of the Graeme Clark Research Institute and Head of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor Adelaide. He is an ordained Anglican minister with extensive experience in pastoral ministry.

Похожие авторы

Связано с Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition

Похожие электронные книги

Похожие статьи

Связанные категории

Отзывы о Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition

Рейтинг: 0 из 5 звезд
0 оценок

0 оценок0 отзывов

Ваше мнение?

Нажмите, чтобы оценить

Отзыв должен содержать не менее 10 слов

    Предварительный просмотр книги

    Dancing in the Dark, Revised Edition - Graham Buxton


    Dancing in the Dark

    Revised edition

    The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World

    Graham Buxton

    foreword by Scot McKnight


    Dancing in the Dark

    The Privilege of Participating in God’s Ministry in the World

    Copyright © 2016 Graham Buxton. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Write: Permissions, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401.

    Cascade Books

    An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers

    199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3

    Eugene, OR 97401


    paperback isbn: 978-1-4982-2116-0

    hardcover isbn: 978-1-4982-2118-4

    ebook isbn: 978-1-4982-2117-7

    Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

    Names: Buxton, Graham.

    Title: Dancing in the dark : the privilege of participating in God’s ministry in the world / Graham Buxton.

    Description: Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016 | Includes bibliographical references and index.

    Identifiers: isbn 978-1-4982-2116-0 (paperback) | isbn 978-1-4982-2118-4 (hardcover) | isbn 978-1-4982-2117-7 (ebook)

    Subjects: LSCH: 1. Pastoral theology. | 2. Pastoral care. | 3. Pastoral counseling. | I. Title

    Classification: BV4011.3 B80 2016 (print) | BV4011.3 (ebook)

    Manufactured in the U.S.A. 10/27/16

    Extract of text of I danced in the morning (Lord of the Dance) by Sydney Carter (1915–2004). © 1963 Stainer & Bell Ltd, 23 Gruneisen Road, London N3 1DZ, England. www.stainer.co.uk. Used by permission.

    Jeu d’espirit from Watching for the Kingfisher by Ann Lewin, published by Canterbury Press. © Ann Lewin 2004, 2006, and 2009. Used by permission.

    The Post-Communion prayer, Holy Communion Rite A from Common Worship: Services and Prayers is copyright (c) The Archbishops’ Council, 2000 and is reproduced by permission. All rights reserved. copyright@churchofengland.org.

    Table of Contents

    Title Page



    Prologue: An Invitation to Participate in the Dance

    Part One: A Theological Paradigm for Ministry

    Chapter 1: Ministry Myopia

    Chapter 2: A Landscape to Explore

    Chapter 3: An Icon of the Trinity

    Chapter 4: The Gospel of Salvation

    Part Two: Some Implications for Ministry Practice

    Chapter 5: Culture and Creation

    Chapter 6: The Context of Mission

    Chapter 7: The Spirit of Worship

    Chapter 8: The Dance of Blessing

    Part Three: Participating in Liberating Ministry

    Chapter 9: Listening Leadership

    Chapter 10: Living in Hope


    "This welcome second edition of Graham Buxton’s Dancing in the Dark deepens the themes of the first. Buxton creatively explores what it means to participate in God’s ministry in the world, developing a helpful paradigm for ministry, exploring its implications in practice, and closing with a portrait of listening leadership and living in hope. Informed by significant ministry experience and rich and wide reading, it is a treasure not to be missed."

    —Brian Harris, Principal, Vose Seminary, Perth, Australia

    I dedicate this book to my wife Gill


    Dance, then, wherever you may be,

    I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

    And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,

    And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

    Sydney Carter


    Flame-dancing Spirit, come,

    Sweep us off our feet and

    Dance us through our days.

    Surprise us with your rhythms,

    Dare us to try new steps, explore

    New patterns and new relationships.

    Release us from old routines,

    To swing in abandoned joy

    And fearful adventure.

    And in the intervals,

    Rest us,

    In your still centre.

    Ann Lewin

    from Watching for the Kingfisher: Poems and Prayers

    (Canterbury Press, Norwich).


    At times a student asks me if I think he or she is called into the ministry. I consider being asked this question one of the most profound moments I have as a seminary professor, namely, the opportunity to guide or even redirect someone’s calling. I’ve never been asked that question when the questioner was not in a moment of existential anxiety and nearly always wondering if he or she is living an illusion. My tack has been to ask this question first: Are you pastoring anyone now? I follow that up with this: Who considers you their pastor?

    Some are bowled over by the questions and not a few times because the student had been thinking all along that pastoring was preaching and that the entire question was more Do you think I could become a decent enough preacher? But pastoring, as Graham Buxton makes abundantly clear in Dancing in the Dark, dare not be reduced to the Sunday morning, behind-the-pulpit, show-and-tell sermon that so many consider to be the only thing the pastor seems to want to do. No, pastoring is about the care of people under our charge, and the sermon is to arise out of the pastoral care life. So the question for the pastor, whether future or present or past, is this: Are you entering into what God is doing in a person’s life or in a fellowship’s life? Are you entering into the work of God’s grace in this world by nudging this person toward God and coaxing that person to reconsider their decisions or by pressing someone to decision?

    I sometimes wonder what went through Paul’s head—and he wasn’t alone so we might better ask what went through Paul and his friends’ heads as they entered into a new city or village. They had no blueprint; they had no wisdom from the fathers and the fathers behind them on which to draw. No, they too were dancing in the dark as they entered, say, Corinth and decided to plant a church, form a fellowship, establish a new kingdom community, and then move on to the next city. Pastoring, as you can see from Paul’s experience, can be described quite effectively without considering pastoring to be primarily about preaching. Teaching? Of course. Preaching? Of course. But pastoring is about entering into the work of God in this world in the soul of a person and in the heart of a new fellowship created by a miracle of grace by the Spirit of God.

    The liberating joy of pastoring, then, is not reducible to formulas and techniques and strategies. Rather, that joy emerges when the pastor realizes in the moment that he or she has touched a person’s life with God’s abounding joy and God’s abundant grace as God draws that person and that community into the dance of the trinitarian fellowship. What a breath of grace Dancing in the Dark is.

    Scot McKnight

    Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament

    Northern Seminary


    The first edition of Dancing in the Dark was published in 2001. This revised edition incorporates new insights that I have gained over the past fifteen years, leading to some revisions in the structure of the book. Whilst familiar significant themes are woven throughout the fabric of the text—trinitarianism, the mission imperative, incarnational theology, the creativity of the Spirit and community life—I have given more consideration in this new edition to the nature and scope of the gospel, and the fact that our calling as Christians is to live redemptively in the world because we are looking forward to experiencing it in all its glorious physicality, beauty, and fullness in the new creation of God’s promise. I have also added some important reflections on the mystery of faith. Mystery speaks to us of the incomprehensibility, the fathomless depths, of God. Whenever the theology we espouse or the ministry we practice betrays a lack of humility before ultimate mystery, we need to be willing to acknowledge how little we know about God and his ways. This is a perspective that is hastily overlooked by those whose hearts and minds are easily seduced by the attractions of pragmatic, dualistic, or simplistic thinking, themes that I have dealt with in my trilogy of texts on Christian ministry: the first edition of Dancing in the Dark, Celebrating Life, and An Uncertain Certainty. I should also add that in this revised edition, whilst aware of contemporary sensibilities, I have nonetheless retained the traditional use of pronouns relating to God as I have been unable to find satisfactory alternatives.

    As I have been working on this revision I have become aware of the debt that I owe to so many who have mentored and encouraged me throughout my Christian life and ministry. It is a privilege for authors to acknowledge those who have had a formative influence upon their work, and it is customary to add a rider acknowledging that such people are too numerous to identify by name, with an apology if some names have not been mentioned! I am happy to subscribe to both conventions! This revised edition of Dancing in the Dark represents the fruit of over forty years of Christian life and ministry, so it is appropriate to mention by name those whose lives have had a lasting impact upon me, as well as those who have more directly contributed to the writing and publication of this book.

    I wrote in my recent book An Uncertain Certainty that I have been profoundly influenced by three people for whom the eschatological not yet has become a glorious now—Harry Cooke, pastor and dear friend and counselor at my first local church in Leeds, UK; Tom Smail, who taught me so much about myself whilst teaching me theology at St. John’s College, Nottingham, UK; and Ray Anderson, a wise and deeply pastoral theologian with whom my wife and I enjoyed many stimulating conversations during my visits to Fuller Theological Seminary, USA. Each has contributed in no small measure to my own personal faith journey. In recent years I have been deeply influenced by the theological writings of Jürgen Moltmann, whose theological insights and understanding of theology as an adventure of ideas have encouraged me in my own theologia viatorum.

    I would also like to acknowledge friends and colleagues over the years at St. John’s College in Nottingham, St. John’s College at Durham University, Fuller Theological Seminary in the USA, and Tabor College of Higher Education in Adelaide, where I have engaged with students over the years in the reshaping of my thinking about God and his world. I also wish to acknowledge the richness of life that I have experienced in a number of local churches to which I have been privileged to belong: St. Matthias in Leeds, UK, where my journey of faith began; St. John’s in West Ealing, UK; St. Paul’s in South Harrow, UK; and Coromandel Valley Uniting Church in Adelaide, South Australia. I have learned from them what it means to be a fellow traveler as I have wrestled with the profound complexities of life, and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to share my journey with them.

    Numerous people have therefore contributed unknowingly to this present work, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude to them all. It has been a pleasure to collaborate again with the team at Wipf & Stock, and I thank them for their support and encouragement in bringing this revised edition to print.

    Finally, and without her being aware of it, my wife, Gill, has challenged me about my beliefs more often than I was willing to appreciate at the time, and for that I am truly thankful. She has been an invaluable support to me in all my endeavors to put my thoughts into print, and I have greatly appreciated her perceptive insights into the nature of Christian life and ministry, insights that have found their way into my writing in one way or another! I dedicate this book to her with my love.

    Adelaide, South Australia

    March 2016


    An Invitation to Participate in the Dance

    "Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    who have set their hearts on pilgrimage" (Ps 84:5)

    Evolving Theological Understanding

    In Psalm 84 we are reminded that life is a journey, a travelling through a progression of stages of understanding, of mystery, of experience. For the psalmist, the pilgrimage carries with it the promise of drawing closer to God along the way. In this book I adopt the metaphor of journeying with God as a parallel theme in my exploration of the nature and content of contemporary Christian ministry.

    When I began my Christian life at the age of twenty-seven I did not understand that I was beginning a pilgrim walk that would lead me along a path not only of personal spiritual growth, but also of evolving theological understanding. I thought that once I had grasped the essentials of the Christian faith—the doctrinal core—the challenge was then to live out the doctrine as faithfully as I could. In other words, once my theological foundations had been decisively established, they would serve my ethical and moral life as a Christian.

    Over the years I have come to see that, although there is a necessary connection at the personal level between faith and lifestyle, and at the vocational level between theology and ministry, it is far too simplistic to assume that we can accumulate a set of doctrines and wrap them up in a neat and tidy package ready for consumption throughout life. Life has a habit of unraveling the packaging and leaving us with more questions than we had at the beginning of our Christian walk. In conversations with pastors and church leaders over the years I have discovered that many are tired of simplistic certainties: what they need is permission to live with uncertainty, with mystery, ambiguity, and paradox. In my recent book, An Uncertain Certainty,¹ in which I argue for a more generous both-and perspective in place of a more narrow either-or interpretation of the Christian faith, I point out that while there are some things of which we can be certain—or as certain as our own worldview permits—there are also many things connected to that certainty of which we cannot be certain. We do well to confess faith’s uncertainties in the midst of life’s ambiguities and contradictions, acknowledging with Douglas John Hall that there must always be a prominent element of modesty, or even tentativeness and hesitancy, in what we profess concerning the knowledge of God.² In our finitude we cannot yet see the fullness of all that God has purposed and in our weakness and sinfulness we are too easily consumed by trivial hopes rather than the hope of the gospel, a hope which is far more glorious and extravagant than our own often far too limited visions allow us to entertain.

    I have often referred in my teaching to a God with fuzzy edges precisely because we cannot encapsulate God in our little boxes, as if he could be tied down to our finite way of thinking. We can neither domesticate God nor fully understand him, for theology is all about coming to terms with the mystery of God . . . and allowing him to remain mystery even as he reveals something of himself to us along the way. The definition of mystery that I find most helpful here is that which is "sensed to be unknowable, and incomprehensible, and inexplicable, or even inaccessible in its fullness to the human mind."³ This implies a way of seeing that offers a way forward as we seek to incorporate the element of mystery into all that we do in pastoral work. It is a mode of seeing that has to do with the imagination, and implies paying attention to what is in a way that takes us beyond observation and into participation.

    I have been a theological educator for over twenty years, and during that time I have become convinced of the vital importance of theologia viatorum, or doing theology, a term which I will explore more substantially in a number of places in this book. If we are willing to see ourselves as theological explorers, learner-disciples who engage in theologia viatorum in our Christian ministry, we will be open to wrestle with our faith, eager to discover truths yet unknown to us. As I have engaged not only in theological reflection, but also in debate and encounter with other Christians, I have discovered the truth of the statement that theology was made for human beings, not human beings for theology.⁴ Throughout my Christian life, I have been challenged about what I believe as much as about how I am to live. Lest some are troubled by this, I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not advocating the wholesale rejection of foundational Christian beliefs. Just as Luther proclaimed his unswerving loyalty to the testimony of God’s Word and would not—indeed, could not—recant at the Diet of Worms, so we are summoned to affirm the central reality of the living Word, Jesus Christ . . . a reality, however, that is at its core a mystery. So my plea in these pages is for us to be open to mystery, which involves a willingness to think more imaginatively and creatively about what we believe.

    The transcendent mystery of God is accessible precisely because this wholly Other God of Christian faith freely chooses to open up himself to those who desire to participate in his infinite goodness. In his stimulating book entitled The Spirit of Life, the well-known German theologian Jürgen Moltmann argues that the essential obstacle to our experiencing the full life that is ours in Christ is to be found in our passive sins, not our active ones: for the hindrance is not our despairing attempt to be ourselves, but our despairing attempt not to be ourselves, so that out of fear of life and fear of death we fall short of what our own lives could be.⁵ As Daniel Hardy exclaims, we limit ourselves so much! In his last book, Wording a Radiance, written as a conversation with his family as he was dying of cancer, Hardy cites the work of the English poet and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who refers to our capacity to be drawn by light, drawn through divine love into levels of existence of which we can hardly begin to imagine or dare to dream.⁶ Hardy expresses this attraction in the language of a Goodness that draws us into something fuller, creating in us

    . . . a new awareness of the simple wonder and beauty of creation and life itself; and with that, the awareness of how little we’ve got it. So with the light comes sadness and loss but also a yearning to live from this source and to be oriented to it: to the life and health bubbling up deep within. The sense of sorrow is sharing in the grief of God and his longing for the best for his people and for the world: longing for us not to be distracted or to waste time. It’s about recognizing how much more there is than you’ve ever seen before and being attracted by it and lifted up to it. His light is something that’s capable of lifting you deeply from within: the word I’ve used a lot for it is simply attraction.

    I remember early on in my Christian life having a vision of a blazing fire, with people dancing in the midst of the flames. And a voice was calling to those who were hanging back for fear of the flames: Come. Don’t be afraid. The flames won’t burn you. Don’t hold back—you will find life and joy and freedom in the fire of my love. Indeed, it is only when we are what Hardy calls rationally frustrated by a sense that we are not what we ought to be and we are not doing what we ought to do that we reach out for something that lies beyond anything that we, as mere mortals, can create or bring about. I often think here of the psalmist’s words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it (Ps 81:10). Too often, however, we come to God with our mouths only partially open, whereas God encourages us to open wide our mouths!

    The same caution—perhaps it may be a fear of lapsing into heresy?—afflicts what we believe: we do well to remember that humility is an indispensible handmaiden in our response to the difficult questions that confront us in our life of faith. In one of his most recent books, The Passionate Intellect, Alister McGrath invites us to embark on a quest of wrestling in a vigorous and exciting way with God and his world, describing theology as an activity of the imagination as much as of reason, in which we seek to transcend the boundaries of the given, pressing upward, outward and forward. Theology frames the landscape of reality in such a way that our everyday existence is set in a wider perspective.⁸ Both in our personal lives and in what we believe we often fear treading out into the unknown, preferring the safety of familiar things: that is not something to despise, of course, for it reflects the inbuilt tendency many of us have for security and safety. But the gospel encourages us to move beyond the security of our own comfort zones into a life of adventurous trust in God, a life in which we discover our full humanity.

    Formative Themes in Ministry

    As pointed out in the first edition of Dancing in the Dark I did not embark on a systematic treatment of the theology of ministry, although the book certainly examines key dimensions of Christian ministry in some depth. I attempted to write not so much a textbook as a theological investigation into the nature of ministry, with appropriate emphasis on the contemporary cultural climate. In the process I explored themes which were formative up to that time in my own personal journey as a Christian pastor and educator. These themes, notably trinitarianism, the mission imperative, incarnational theology, the creativity of the Spirit, and community life, were framed within the overarching paradigm of participation and woven throughout the fabric of the first edition, and they are still fundamental themes that inform my understanding of Christian ministry.

    In more recent years, however, two further themes have shaped my thinking. In a polemic against the so-called sacred-secular divide,⁹ I wrote about the need to explore the gospel-culture interface in the language of two-way traffic. In other words, we need to recognize both the freedom of the gospel as gift to all people, manifested and transmitted through the church, and the joy of life and living which is also God’s gift to all people (see John 10:10), present and available in many dimensions of what has too often been disparaged as secular life. And so, in Celebrating Life—in which I metaphorically nail nine theological theses to the doors of dualism—I argue that in the midst of the darkness and pain in the world today there is much that is good and holy and beautiful, which Christians can appreciate and from which they can learn.

    Dualistic thinking is one particular manifestation of what I call ministry myopia, where vision for ministry is limited as the result of focusing on only one dimension of what is essentially a multifaceted pastoral reality. A second major theme in my reflections on pastoral theology since Dancing in the Dark first appeared is my growing awareness that many in Christian life and ministry have been paralyzed by a rigidity in their thinking that locks them into narrow expressions of ministry. In Tom Wright’s perceptive words, the Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are color-blind. It is multidimensional, and most of us manage to hold at most two dimensions in our heads at any one time. It is symphonic, and we can just about whistle one of the tunes.¹⁰ By failing to perceive the big picture of Christian ministry pastors forego opportunities for developing an understanding of a more generous and ultimately more satisfying participation in all that God is doing in his world. I develop this dimension of ministry myopia more fully in An Uncertain Certainty, in which, as pointed out earlier, I argue that we need to embrace the complexity of both-and rather than be satisfied with the simplistic either-or that characterizes the naïve fundamentalism that too frequently shapes people’s faith.

    In a landmark book written fifty years ago, Harry Blamires declared that our responsibility as Christians is not to seek a Christian line concerning this or that particular issue; what is needed first of all is a Christian dialogue in which a given issue can be expressed and known by the thinking Church. And even then that is not the beginning. For there is something before the Christian dialogue, and that is the Christian mind—a mind trained, informed, equipped to handle data of secular controversy within a framework of reference which is constructed of Christian presuppositions.¹¹ The implications of this statement are profound: if the Christian community is to witness effectively to the power of the gospel in a world that is both confused and confusing, it needs to think seriously about the nature of Christian ministry. It simply will not do to assume that our own favorite model of ministry, or the approach which prevails in our own particular church or denomination, should be applied wholesale to any and every situation we encounter.

    My exposure to Christian ministry within a wide variety of denominations is evident in the diversity of ministry approaches and models identified and referred to in these chapters. My roots in Anglicanism have been nourished not only by my charismatic experience but also by my involvement in a multidenominational Christian education center. Over many years I have been privileged to enjoy a richness of input in my theological journey, during which I have been challenged and changed. I hope those who read this book will be similarly encouraged to explore the nature of Christian ministry in a spirit of openness and enquiry.

    In this book we shall discover afresh the importance of responding sensitively to the context in which we are living and working: it is not our task within the Christian church to export a particular ministry style into whatever environment we face. Rather we are called at all times to respond to the voice of the Spirit, whose prerogative it is to open our eyes to the heartbreaking brutality and the equally heartbreaking beauty of the world.¹² More than that, it is the Spirit of God who is already at work in the world, touching lives, revealing the life of God in situations of distress and hopelessness, into whose agenda we are invited to participate. Caught up in the love of the Trinity, we are privileged to dance with God in the darkness of his world: hence the title of this book. Christian ministry has, as its starting point, God himself. In fact, we are unable to develop sound theological foundations for ministry until we have critically examined God’s ministry in the world. What God has done incarnationally in Christ is the starting point for our theology: ministry thus precedes theology.

    So a clear trinitarian framework is established for our understanding of ministry. If we define all ministry as God’s activity in the world to reconcile those whom he loves to himself, then it has already become evident that both Spirit and Son serve the mission of the Father. The three persons of the Trinity are caught up in glorious unity in their love for and work in the world. This interpretation of ministry will undergird much of what I have to say about the nature of the church. In recent years, the concept of community has been proposed as that which most appropriately describes the essence of the Christian church.¹³ Along with many other trinitarian theologians, I argue that the social community of the Trinity is a necessary way into understanding the dynamic reality of the church, which has been called into being as the expression of the life of God on earth. In offering a trinitarian framework for ministry, the Greek word perichōrēsis is introduced as a way into understanding the social community of the Trinity. Moltmann suggests that this word "grasps the circulatory character of the eternal divine life . . . . The Father exists in the Son, the Son in the Father, and both of them in the Spirit, just as the Spirit exists in both the Father and the Son. By virtue of their eternal love they live in one another to such an extent, and dwell in one another to such an extent, that they are one. It is a process of most perfect and intense empathy."¹⁴ Such perichoretic empathy enables the threeness of the Trinity to be expressed without violating the oneness.

    In this book I suggest that the metaphor of dance expresses the energy and life which is implicit in this intense circulation of the eternal divine life. Though technically it may be possible to dance alone, that is not the essence of dancing: it is meant to be an exuberant, communal activity. We dance with others, not apart from them. Similarly, though each person within the Trinity is distinctive, they are at the same time bound together in a rhythmic pulse of dynamic life. To have our eyes opened by the Spirit is—de facto—to be drawn into this perichoretic dance of trinitarian life, which is both immediate in its availability to us as well as a promise of richer things to come. Some may be hesitant to step onto the dance floor, but soon that hesitation is transfigured into an eagerness to participate in what Moltmann has described as an unconditional Yes to life. One evening he was reading a passage from Augustine’s Confessions which led him to respond: When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love.¹⁵ Is this not the language of dancing? The Spirit of God calls us into an erotic and sensual symphony of life, a dance of praise to our Creator, who alone can meet our deepest longings.

    The ministry of Christ in the world, on behalf of the Father in the power of the Spirit, is continued by the church in ways that not only reflect the truth of the gospel as it has been handed down to us over the past two millennia, but also relate to the many unique and varied contexts and cultures in contemporary society. Two words which I found helpful in my early understanding of Christian ministry were faithfulness and relevance. In the first edition of Dancing in the Dark I suggested that they are the two essential requirements that govern the ministry of the church, whether in far-flung corners of the globe or in the immediate neighborhood. Since then, however, I have come to think that relevance may in fact be too weak a stance in the church’s relationship with the contemporary cultures in which it is embedded. Relevance suggests a reactive posture that is not at all in keeping with the more proactive injunctions implicit in the gospel command to be salt and light in the world. With this in mind, it may be more appropriate to speak of the church not only as a relevant presence in society, but also, more fittingly, as a prophetic voice in the world, communicating a vision of the kingdom of God that challenges the norms and patterns of behavior that characterize contemporary society.

    Our ministry needs to reflect the ministry of Christ in the world: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you said Jesus to his disciples, as he breathed on them the empowering Holy Spirit (John 20:21). We dare not lose our center in the unchanging Word of God. However, at the same time, we dare not lose touch with the world that Christ came to save. Christian ministry has to do with contextualizing the truth of God in an accessible, relevant and prophetic way. Herein lies the inevitable tension implicit in all ministry, for the possibility of a dilution or loss of the Christian message in specific contexts is very real as, living in the world, we endeavor to resist being contaminated by those values of the world that are hostile to the purity and promise of the gospel. As we develop these thoughts through these pages, we shall consider the importance of understanding the different worldviews that inform how people live and behave in society, especially in the light of the multiethnic, multicultural fabric that now stretches across many parts of the world. The future engenders both excitement and apprehension for all who are engaged in Christian mission and ministry. We also need to recognize that the turn towards postmodernism, the origins of which may be traced back to the second half of the twentieth century, has implications for Christian life and ministry that remain alive and well today, including a more holistic theology of the church’s engagement with, and participation in, contemporary society. Sadly, however, some parts of the church have adopted either a siege mentality or an unwholesome triumphalism, both of which have their roots in dualistic thinking, a perspective that we will be examining more fully in chapter 5.

    There are many today who insist that the church needs to change radically if the gospel is to be heard at all by those whose perception of Christianity has been negatively distorted by past experiences, secular stereotypes, and ineffectual ministry. The comedian Lenny Bruce once quipped that every day people are straying away from church and going back to God! However, for all its weakness and failings—exacerbated by recent exposés of sexual abuse scandals which have contributed to the church’s present discreditable public profile—God still loves his church. Governed by this conviction, I examine several dimensions of church life in order to direct us to an authentic, vital and dynamic ecclesiology that enables Jesus Christ to be seen as an attractive and compelling alternative to the many philosophies of life currently in vogue.

    Liberating Theology of Ministry

    In this revised edition of Dancing in the Dark, Part One—A Theological Paradigm for Ministry—is an extended four-chapter treatise on ministry as participation in the continuing ministry of Christ in the world, offering the basis for a liberating theology of ministry that has its source in the gracious ministry of Christ, not in what we do for God. The role of the Spirit is highlighted within this theological perspective. The first chapter discusses the extent to which different expressions of myopic thinking have shaped the way many pastors engage in pastoral ministry: they may have been caught up in pragmatic methodologies promising growth and renewal, or bound by dualistic models of faith that put a wedge between the church and the world; or they may be unsure about how to deal with the paradox, ambiguity, and mystery implicit not just in Christian ministry, but in life itself. This chapter therefore sets the scene for much that follows in the rest of the book, orienting us towards the mystery of faith so hastily overlooked by those whose hearts and minds are easily seduced by the attractions of pragmatic, dualistic, or simplistic thinking.

    In chapter 2, the contours of the Christian faith are presented in the generous language of a landscape to explore rather than a set of propositional statements to sign up to. Within this overarching framework, two themes are explored: the nature of theology—particularly as a contextual endeavor—and the importance of thinking. The two are necessarily connected because whenever the theology we espouse or the ministry we practice betrays a lack of humility before ultimate mystery, we need to be willing to acknowledge how little we really do know about God and his ways in a world that is characterized by great diversity and complexity. This demands that—in true humility—we examine ourselves and think deeply and honestly about one of the most foundational disciplines in human life, the discipline of thinking itself. We need to be more audacious and exploratory (though not in a cavalier manner) with regard to the way in which we make judgments and arrive at conclusions about life and living, which of course includes what we think about such weighty matters as God, the gospel, the church, culture, and pastoral ministry. Rigidity in our theology is something that needs to be eschewed in favor of an aliveness to the Spirit who teaches us as we travel on the waytheologia viatorum—and this is always a personal way, and a way that necessarily embraces the insights of fellow travelers.

    Chapter 3 returns to the underlying paradigm of participation—developed with specific reference to Christ, the Trinity, and the Spirit in chapter 1—and offers a way of looking at the church as a participation in the community life of God as Trinity. Here we might note Catherine LaCugna’s proposal that when men and women live their lives in close and inclusive interrelationship, giving and receiving without separateness, subordination, or division, the church might be regarded as an icon of the Trinity, a visible image that represents in concrete form the ineffable and invisible mystery of the triune life.¹⁶ Because God’s life is essentially ekstatic, reaching out to embrace all that he has created, the life of the Christian faith-community is similarly inclusive in its welc