If there has ever been any post that is incomplete and in process, it is this one. But bear with me as I throw out some thoughts. And please interact if you have any opinions. This post is a ramble of several different ideas that I think are congruent or attached to one another.
I have recently been thinking a lot about the “bottom-up” concept, especially its role in the church, and therefore its implications on church structure and the theological process. I am no expert, but in short a “bottom-up” theory is a theory where influence, power, thinking, action, etc., flow from the bottom to the top. So for example: In a church structure the flow is usually “top-down” from the pastors, elders, denominations, etc. to those in the pew…the lay people. A “bottom-up” theory challenges this line of thinking and sees the flow moving from the laity and those in “grassroot” positions to the top. This type of theoretical praxis is probably most evident in the “emergent church” movement and its practitioners.
We have seen this most powerfully on the internet, where blogs in the last few years have become the source of information, toppling some of the giants in the mainstream media such as Dan Rather and other news outlets. This is an example of “bottom-up” movement.
We have seen it in entertainment. I wrote a post about the dying of the Oscars and the bottom up culture last month after reading an article in the LA Times. The gist of the article was this:
There is another, even more radical shift in today’s pop culture that is helping to undermine the Oscars and other tradition-bound award shows. For years, the Oscars have mattered because the awards served as a barometer of cultural heft. Just the name alone–the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–has the air of high-minded authority.
Millions of moviegoers who would’ve been wary of seeing a challenging film like 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy” or 1999’s “American Beauty” caved in and plunked their money down, soothed by the academy’s best picture badge of distinction.
But this elite, top-down culture is being supplanted by a raucous, participatory bottom-up culture in which amateur entertainment has more appeal than critically endorsed skill and expertise…….
Though he may not directly use the phrase “bottom-up”, blogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit understands this idea, and writes about the role of technology in empowering “ordinary people”, which he talks about in length in his book An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government and Other Goliaths.
And we see it in theology, where theologian and scientist John Polkinghorne discusses bottom-up thinking in Science and Religion.
The Exclusion of the “bottom” in a “top-down” Structure
So what’s the big deal you may ask? Well, I was reminded yesterday, though I shouldn’t need to be reminded, that those at the top often don’t speak for or represent those at the bottom, though in theory they (those at the top) would hope so, or would like to believe so. And when the top does not speak or represent the bottom, there are naturally those left out of the conversation. Those at the bottom for a long time have had no power, no voice, no ability to stabilize action. But the bursting forth of the web, along with blogs and community groups such as My Space has mobilized the bottom and have help enabled the movement of a “bottom-up” theory.
As part of my program in the MFT program at Fuller, we are required to take an integration class and be in a small group, where we discuss the implications of integrating theology, psychology and other disciplines. My small group consists of two Asian men, one African American woman, two Latina women, three white men, and two white women. I tell you that because as we talked in our group yesterday about integration, we discussed that one of the great things about postmodernity (because of its fear of power and exploitation, especially relating to overarching narratives) is that it levels the playing field. It allows for those at the bottom to be able to come and sit at the table and contribute to the discussion. The African American women explained to us how minorities and the less privileged are often excluded because they are not allowed, or are not often in the powerful, top positions. But with the combination of postmodernity and technology, we are now more than ever, seeing the rise of a “bottom-up” culture….which I think is quite refreshing. I also commented in my small group that most seminary small groups would consist of only white men, while often excluding women, and sometimes lacking in in any ethnic diversity. How can we have a theological discussion which involves only one segment of society? Talk about seeing and speaking out of rose colored shades.
The Bottom-Up Culture and the Ability to Embrace Multiple Strands
When operating in a “top-down” environment, the goal is often to forumlate, develop and disemminate that information to the bottom. This can happen in theology where the top sees the importance of developing doctrine, embracing an absolute truth, and then conveying that to the bottom. It can be seen in media, where the major news outlets control stories and are biased in their reporting. But with the rise of the “bottom-up” culture, there is now the ability to not only disagree with the top, but to challenge the top by mobilizing the “troops” if you will. Those at the bottom no longer have to sit and take in without question whatever is preached, teached, handed over to them, etc., whether it be in a church, business corporation, media, etc. And with the new abililty, there is now the situation where many things must be held and embraced at once, whether it be doctrinal truth, business policy, or newstelling. Why? Because with the rise of the “bottom-up” comes multiple voices, not just one.
The Bottom-Up Culture and its Impact on the Church
If there is a place I have seen this more than anywhere else, it is in the church structure and the preaching/teaching event. No longer do those in the pew sit idly by and simply take in what is taught, and without thinking, regurgitate it to others. No longer are those at the top simply allowed to make decisions that affect the bottom, and not be concerned that the bottom may disagree and rise up. Now we can go round and round and exegete the idea of postmodernity, or blogs, or authority in the church, but that’s not really the issue to me. The issue is that, whether you agree of disagree, like or not like, the bottom-up culture is present and is impacting the church. I tend to think that this is a wonderful shift taking place in the church and in the media and online.
What has brought all this to my attention, is this. I have a friend from Fuller who preached a sermon last month about homosexuality, and the difficulties regarding some of the differing Christian opinions, etc., etc. Jason preached this sermon at Lake Avenue Church, in the young adult ministry called the Warehouse. Jason gave different Christain viewpoints on the issue and ultimately acknowledged that it is a tough issue. But what seems to be evident is it is not so much what he said, but what he didnt’ say….i.e., didn’t come down strong enough on homosexuality being a sin. This is my interpretation of the events and the outrcy over the sermon. But in this post I am not so concerned about this issue, as I am wanting to show what the “bottom-up” culture can do in the church.
The Fallout After the Sermon
Word soon got out about Jason’s sermon and once the “leadership” at the top caught wind of the controversy, certain actions were taken, such as Jason losing his preaching privileges, etc. As the “top” leadership stepped in though, the “bottom-up” culture mobilized and rallied on behalf of Jason.
Josh Whitler from Fuller has posted most about this issue. Here was his first post, where he acknowledged basically how Jason in preacing on “Your Gay Neighbor”, expressed many of his own sentiments.
Josh follows up this post where he explains how Jason’s sermon was taken offline. And he gives inormation about a petition that was started within the Warehouse and mobilized on My Space to affirm Jason, and to express their disappointment over the decision making process by the church leadership.
Josh follows up with a third post regarding the circumstances regarding Jason’s preaching of the sermon, as well as posting some of the letters from leadership.
If you go to Lake Avenue Church’s website and look for the sermon preached on March 12th, you will find this statement: The Warehouse Sermon for this date is currently unavailable.
For more information please click here. Which will lead you to this statement.
You can also follow some of the My Space thread, Jason Djang needs to step down from leadership for his sermon on homosexuality, where they rally in favor of Jason and get a petition going.
As for now…you probably know as much as I do. But I think this is a great example of the impact of the “bottom-up” culture within a church, as well as a good example (if I may stereotype) of the rub or disagreement that often occurs between the different congregations within a church. I am finding that many young adults and those who might best be described as postmodern are having difficulty with those operating out of more modernistic mindsets. Postmodernists are quite comfortable with someone preaching at times and never stating a postion, but instead opening up a discussion. Where modernists are often more comfortable where an absolute truth is clearly stated and there is no room left for other interpretations or discussions.
Like I said, I am not wanting to get into the content of the sermon at this point, but I was more interested in some of the shifts taking place in church. Primarily the movement of the “bottom-up” culture.
Last week I preached a sermon stating my position of women in ministry (pro), and of the equality between men and women in general. I acknowledged that it was a tough issue, and that there were different sides. But more than anything, I told them that I wanted to bring this topic out for discussion and I wanted them to think about it. I had more people come up afterwards, whether agreeing or disagreeing, who said, “Thank you for allowing me to think for myself.” The “bottom-up” culture wants to be at the table. They want to be part of the process. But as long as the church operates in a “top-down” model, those at the bottom will often be excluded and will not be allowed to think for themselves.
Whether you agree with Jason or not (and how will you know…they pulled his sermon offline within a couple of days), I admire his willingness to discuss a very difficult issue with love and grace. And I appreciate the movement of the Warehouse community in speaking out on behalf of Jason, rather than simply allowing him to bear this alone.