I recently completed four years in the U.S. Air Force. Unfortunately, I did not consider the philosophical implications of what I was preparing for and eventually did before I joined. Now I have the unenviable task of trying to discern the moral underpinnings of one of the most honorable and horrible vocations known to man. Following is one example of what I did, and why I did it.
Time was ticking. We had just received word that Headquarters (HQ) wanted geographical coordinates for the image we were looking at, which would allow them to destroy the target, and this information was needed as soon as possible. I analyzed the image, confirming in my own mind that we really were looking at the right target, and having maid this confirmation, I began the intricate task of providing the computer, and there by HQ, the information it needed to destroy this target as soon as possible.
I set about the task the same way I had practiced a hundred times before. Yet in the back of my mind I knew that this was real. Today a real bomb would go off at a real location, and any real person guarding this target would die. Should I enter the wrong information and cause the guided bomb to miss its target by a few feet? Might this save a life? These thoughts registered their presence for a split moment but were quickly dismissed. I had a job to do. If I didn’t do it right then someone else would have to go back and do it again, which might itself cost an American life. Larger philosophical questions concerning God’s command to turn the other check, or his command to kill every man women and child at a particular point in history did not register. All I knew was that I had a job to do and that unfortunately it would probably take someone’s life. I completed the task of passing the geographical coordinates on to HQ and then waited for the next target to analyze. A few days latter, I got visual confirmation that our target had been successfully destroyed. This time, no pesky moral thoughts bothered me, instead I was proud of myself, and the team I was a part of.
Where I am from, serving in the military is a noble thing. Before I joined the U.S. Air Force no one asked me to consider the ramifications of what I was embarking on, and if they had, I probably would have only giving it a passing thought. I did consider the implications for myself, and the fact that war may come, but I did not factor in larger moral considerations, especially as they related to an enemy.
Now I’m here in seminary, on campus with not a few people that find war to be highly distasteful. Ironically, those that argue against war hold more in common with state sanctioned killers like me than they would like to imagine; both find war to be extremely distasteful, they for vague philosophical reasons, me for reasons I have seen with my own eyes.
For me the debate on just war is young. I have not made a decision concerning various positions for and against war, though I certainly have some biases. What I do know is that as we in the Fuller community hypothesis grand philosophical ideas, there are men and women who make it possible for us to critique them, and who have to use what we decide in these hollowed halls of higher education, something we could never do if we found ourselves located at some other geographical coordinates, not protected by these same men and women.
As for the winter quarter just finished, it was a challenge but an enjoyable endeavor. I took classes in Theology, the “Emerging Church” and Early Church History, the latter completing the first rather nicely.
It is the middle class, concerning the “emerging church” which was of particular interest to me though. I put the phrase “emerging church” in quotes because what it means and represents can be a bit grey.
Currently, in cities throughout the western world, a new missional approach is being taken to reaching out to people who would never darken the door of a church. The approach is often critical of the “seeker sensitive” model because it is largely confined to the suburbs, and caters to our ungodly consumeristic tendencies. The “emerging church” model usually relies a great deal on either postmodern approaches to theology, sensory oriented worship motifs, or both. Things such as movies, candles, incense and participatory styles of information dissemination factor heavily in this way of doing church. My professor, Eddie Gibbs, described the situation this way in one of his books.
“From living in the past to engaging the present.”
“From being market driven to being mission oriented”
“From following celebrities to encountering saints”
“From holding dead orthodoxy to nurturing living faith”
“From attracting a crowd to seeking the lost”
(for more info on what an "emerging church" is click here)
I for one am a bit critical of the movement. I appreciate many of it’s critiques regarding the former ways of doing things, but in many respects I think it may simply be a GenX, urban, seeker sensitive approach, a critique I think many of their leaders would not appreciate. I think the more important thing is to be missional, that is, to do church in a way that will reach out to people where they are. For the urban areas the “emerging church” may be great. But the principles behind it, applied to a rural setting, whether here or in another country, may look much different.
For too long the church has had a program called missions which it thinks about once a year and with any luck contributes to faithfully. This must change if a local church is to have any success in its God given mission of being a change agent within its local community. The church must embody the mission given to us by our Lord and Savior, to go and make disciples of all nations. Much of our failure in the area of evangelism and mission(s) is the way we think about, use, and do this word: mission(s) We have a false dichotomy. On one hand we have people, (definitely not us), who go somewhere else to do missions, and on the other hand we have no concept of what the “great commission”, our mission, is in the here and now. In effect we must abolish the word missions and begin to think both globally and locally about the mission of the church!
This concept of being missional seems to be a growing theme of my time here in seminary, where that will lead I’m not sure, but I’m excited about it just the same.