Jeff Haanen

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Loving Faithful Institutions: The Building Blocks of a Just Global Society (From Comment Magazine)


Occasionally I’ll post on this blog an article I really like. And I really like this one by Dr. Jonathan Chaplin, who’s on the divinity faculty at Cambridge University. It’s about an unpopular topic that should be popular: the importance of institutions. One of my convictions at the founding of DIFW was that in order to change the conversation about faith and public life in Denver, we needed not just an event or a “network” – we needed an institution that can last for years, decades…generations. And that meant doing things like admin work, building a board, building long-term relationships, writing emails, and zillions of other unsexy tasks.  

Happy reading – and I hope you’ll commit yourself to building strong, healthy institutions as well. 

Postmodern Christians won’t get very far in transforming society until they learn to love institutions again.

Institutions and organizations are out; networks and relationships are in—or so goes conventional “postmodern” wisdom on how to transform society, at least among those who hold out hope that societal transformation is still possible, who resist the despair implied in a consistent logic of deconstruction.

Yet I want to propose that a credible twenty-first century Christian voice on the theme of economy and hope needs to affirm loving institutions as key building blocks in any constructive response to our current economic and political malaise. To complicate this thesis, I also propose that Christians need to reckon with the fact that all institutions are in some sense faith-based, and that Christians should be unapologetic both about working to shape existing institutions from within according to their own vision of hope or, where necessary, founding their own institutions.

The current narrative favoured by many Christian progressives isn’t very congenial toward these proposals. Institutions, so the story goes, are the classic instruments of social control generated by “modernity.” Shaped according to the imperatives of instrumental rationality and bureaucratic efficiency, they serve the interests of oppressive global capital—entrenching economic inequality, stifling human creativity, and suppressing dissent. They march toward their hegemonic goals regardless of the welfare of the people they purportedly exist to serve—those whom they promised to liberate from the supposed bondage, ignorance, and squalor of preindustrial society.

But many critics now observe that modernity and its leading institutional bridgeheads are beginning to teeter. They point to deep fault lines appearing on the smooth surface of institutional bureaucracies and to new social formations emerging in the wings. To many people, the cumulative and interconnected failures of modernity—economic, political, environmental, and spiritual—seem to herald the decline of institutions and the arrival of new models of social interaction rooted in open, dynamic relational networks. These networks, it is said, are flexible enough to adapt to ever-changing contexts, and spacious enough to allow human beings to continually redefine their identities and projects and to realize greater freedom and authenticity.

Read the rest of the article at Comment Magazine.


Three Lessons for Evangelical Leaders

Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics won Christianity Today’s 2013 “Best Book of the Year” award in “Christianity and Culture” for a reason. Check out this stunning quote, pasted on the back of the Fall 2013 Issue of Comment Magazine:

“This turn boded ill for Evangelicalism’s long-term future, because although the ‘para’ groups were immensely successful at religious mobilization, they weren’t as effective at sustaining commitment across a life span or across generations.

“They were institutions for an anti-institutional faith, you might say, which meant that they were organized around personalities and causes and rarely created the sense of comprehensive, intergenerational community…You couldn’t spend your whole life in Campus Crusade for Christ, or raise your daughters as a Promise Keeper, or count on groups like the Moral Majority of the Christian Coalition to sustain your belief system beyond the next election cycle.

“For that kind of staying power, you needed a confessional tradition, a church, an institution capable of outlasting its charismatic founders.”

As one who’s now launching another one of those ‘para-church groups,’ this quote  struck a chord. Some immediate takeaways for me – and maybe for you if you’re a part of Evangelicalism:

(1) Build inter-generational (and intercultural) partnership into your organization. The powerful para-church movements of the 20th century were great at reaching college students, political interest groups, or middle-aged men, but not at building deep partnerships between generations and cultures. Woe to us if we don’t intentionally create teams of leaders who are different from us! Double the woe if we serve our narrow market niche and consign ourselves to yet another “tribe” in social media land – while ignoring the rich diversity of Christ’s body.

(2) Quit building movements and organizations around charismatic leaders. I don’t think this is the intention of ministry leaders, but it’s what happens when we’re not more institutionally-minded. It happens when we build great conferences, praise great speakers, and publish great books, but neglect the time-consuming work of crafting policies, habits and practices that are intended to outlive their founder. Please, serve the vision, serve the organization, serve the ideal – but let our leaders become servants who become less while others become greater.

(3) Love the church. Go to church. Serve the church. Attend the church. Give to the church. Pray for the church. Quit criticizing the church. Join a church. And remember, when companies, non-profits, and even states pass away and are long forgotten, the Church will still be there. And oh yeah, if you’re in business or a non-profit, listen to the leaders of the church.  The stewards of the mysteries of Christ may just surprise you.

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