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Title: Experiments in love : an Anabaptist theology of risk-taking in mission
Author: Servant, Emily
ISNI:       0000 0004 8504 7851
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2019
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Born out of the fiery evangelism and bold risk-taking of the Radical Reformation, today's Mennonite Church USA has become risk-averse in local, congregational mission. In the past two decades, there has been a movement by Mennonite leaders to shape a missional Church. Some of the stories that continue to be told may undermine these efforts, while stories that may encourage risk-taking in mission have been under-utilised in Anabaptist theology, ecclesiology, and missional literature. This thesis argues for a new Anabaptist theology of risk-taking, developed around stories of a risk-taking God and utilising a methodology that promotes change through engagement with the behavioural and social sciences and dialogue with theological voices from the margins of the Church. Part one provides a survey of Mennonite mission, which identifies initial risk-taking behaviours and shows how, over time, the early Anabaptist inclination to take risks in evangelism has diminished in response to the threat of persecution and the building of an insular, homogenous community. In the stories that Mennonites have traditionally told about God in theology and missiology, images of a risk-taking God are largely absent. In response to these findings, this thesis articulates a correlational method of liberation designed to facilitate change in the theological stories of the Mennonite Church. In conversation with social and behavioural sciences, vulnerability is identified as the nature of risk, community as the courage for risk, creativity as an essential energy for risk, failure as an unavoidable consequence of risk, and love as the ethical barometer of risk. Literature on risk in the church provides additional themes of relationality, sacrifice, love, creativity, vulnerability, and failure. In light of these themes, this thesis argues that common stories in the Mennonite Church around the divinity of Jesus and the importance of suffering for the faith mask the vulnerability of ordinary, everyday risk, including the risk of being changed. If the Church is not open to being transformed in our encounters with the 'world,' then stories of the Spirit's unpredictable work will be limited in their efficacy. If we are unreceptive to the Spirit, we will remain unconnected to the Trinity, a relationship which offers us safety and community for risk-taking. Without this narrative of reunion with God, we are cut off from the source of motivation for risk-taking in mission: God's overflowing love. The stories we tell in our churches weaken our efforts to be transformed into congregations who take risks in mission for the sake of love. Part two begins the process of re-storying Anabaptist theology by constructing a new narrative built upon the story of a God who takes the risk of being radically present to a vulnerable world. By sharing in our vulnerability, Jesus breaks down barriers to the Spirit's energies in and around us, so that we may share together in God's life. Because of God's radical presence with us, we can be radically present to others, taking the risk of vulnerable closeness as an overflow of God's life and love. The nature of the Good News is an invitation to union with God so that we share in God's life of healing, wholeness, and well-being.
Supervisor: Skuce, Stephen ; Pugh, Benjamin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: risk ; theology ; mission ; feminist ; liberation ; Anabaptist ; Mennonite