A Missional Shift in Our Thinking About Purity


I’m convinced that at the center of the missional shift in Christianity there’s a theological change in our thinking about the Church that needs to happen to not only re-orient the Church around mission but to recognize God’s mission is larger and greater than the Church itself. That’s the first and primary theological challenge that needs to be addressed for any faith community to become missional, but there are other theological things to be wrestled with along the way as well.

One of these other challenges is what Richard Beck talks about in his book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (2011, Wipf and Stock). In short, it’s the age-old debate about Christ and culture — and how far the Church should go in its engagement with “the world.”

If you’re a recovering evangelical (post-evangelical?) like me, the struggle Beck unpacks in Unclean is a familiar one. It’s the same thing Tony Jones talks about in his new book, encouraging us to adopt a theological posture of panentheism. That may be a leap for some people, especially those who’ve grown up in church environments that preached “holiness” as being “set apart” and untainted by the evils of the world (which is, essentially, a posture of “Christ against culture”).

If you’re struggling to adapt your thinking about how to do church in the emerging culture, you may need to consider starting here, with your theology of purity. Richard Beck explains why in this short video:

UPDATE 12/9/2011: Skye Jethani has posted a short excerpt from a sermon he gave recently at Newsong in California, where he makes this insightful statement, which relates to the conversation above about our theology of purity: “We are so focused on trying to change the world that we haven’t let Christ first change how we see the world.” Watch the whole clip:



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Posted on 12-02-2011


  1. Adam Gonnerman says:

    December 6th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I read the blog post, watched the video and checked out reviews on the book’s Amazon listing but still don’t get what he’s talking about. Is it the tendency to avoid people who are engaged in actions considered loathsome? Prostitution, alcoholism, etc? An avoidance of getting our hands dirty?

  2. Steve K. says:

    December 6th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    ha! good question, Adam. Beck is talking about the sacred-secular divide. The tendency of Christians to shield themselves from the world, instead of engaging it … to fear culture (or mindlessly consume culture) instead of creating/shaping culture. I think that’s pretty much it.

  3. Adam Gonnerman says:

    December 7th, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I requested a sample and read part of it on the commute home last night. It’s surprising high-priced in the Kindle edition ($14), but it looks substantial. I’ll likely end up getting it.

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