Relationship and relationality – truth wrapped in flesh

Last night while walking to the U2 show in the Key Arena here in Seattle (had to get that in somehow!) we got to talking about some of the threads weaving their merry way through the blog postings. One of the comrades chimed in with “shouldn’t we say something about the nature of relationships?” I couldn’t agree more…

Much of the dichotomy that seems to have arisen – logic vs. beauty, head vs. heart – are certainly false dichotomies and merely thought experiments at best. What is the middle way then? To add to my earlier thoughts on ‘credo’, I will add the following corrective to my earlier posts:

“Truth travels most authentically across a narrow bridge called relationality”
– jfk

‘Relational theology’ is certainly not a new phrase – Bruce Larson pushed the notion forward in his wee book “No Longer Strangers: An Introduction to Relational Theology” back in the 1970’s. Bruce Larson, to many of a certain age upon entering pastoral ministry, is a protestant Henri Nouwen/Brennan Manning of sorts and in some ways a precursor to post-evangelical thinking long before Dave Tomlinson’s ‘post-evangelicalism’ or Brian McLaren and the ‘Emergent’ movement became a profitable brand for Youth Specialties (hip re-branding as Y/S) and Zondervan. As Larson wrote in the beginning of No Longer Strangers, there are four basic principles in relationally-minded theology:

1. There is a relational principle that says, “Don’t bring people to Christ, but rather discover Christ with people” – “it is perfectly in line with the experience of the early Church: that we stand with people as those in need and discover with them the adequacy of Christ.”

2. The second relational principle is one that involves leadership dynamics. It states that people support only what they help to create – i.e. we give ownership of the church away… all the time.

3. relational theology is that the ministry of a Christian – lay or clergy – is not to give to others, but to help them discover their own gifts – we walk with… not in front nor behind… as fellow pilgrims in the journey of life.

4. through the rediscovery of a relational theology, we are seeing something unique about the nature of the Church.

On the 4th principle, Larson goes on to say, rather prophetically, that “we are acknowledging that the Church is for losers. The Church is not made for those who “have it made” or for those who are an entrenched part of the “establishment,” however you choose to identify or interpret the establishment. Yes, the Church is for the dispossessed and for those who can honestly say that they do not have it made.” (25)

In short, I think (hear that term again – ‘think’) that what needs to be overcome first and foremost in our current string of discussion is objectivity – that we can somehow stand in a place apart from and not implicated in the lives and thoughts of others. We are intermeshed in this life – grafted to the vine as branches to use the metaphor from John’s Gospel – and therefore deeply subjective in everything and with everyone. Relationships not only matter as a part of the discussion regarding truth, but as any neo-Lacanian (aka Slavoj “academic rock start” Zizek) will ultimately get to once they have exhausted the core dump of name checks to validate their pronouncement, relationships matter… and for a materialist like Zizek, matter is not to be taken lightly!


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  1. Here here, sensei. That has to be the most “pastoral” you’ve gotten on the blog so far. And like a good sermon, you’ve left me with little to say but much to think about. Remember: you’re the one who pointed me to Zizioulas (and Levinas, and Buber, and Hodgson – okay, enough name checkin’…), so this all resonates with me. Personhood is only actualized in relationships. Being is communion. And if we’re going to be at all Christian, we will go on to say that Being is in communion with God, which is by virture of our communion with the Son, Jesus Christ (and through the communion of Christ’s Body, the Church). And that communion is one that calls us to lay down our lives for the sake of other(s). I applaud your post.

  2. you did it, you “theological rock star”. i concur with brannon… and Jesus:

    “buold up for yourselves treasure in heaven; ie, relationships” it all goes back to Jesus baby.

    If you can think like a mad man but can’t love your neighbor – yer a jackass… ha, just bein polemic (my new favorite word)

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