The Macro-philosophical Context of the Dutch Reformed Church

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The Macro-philosophical and Historical Context of the DRC

To be able to develop a missional ecclesiology for the DRC, the history of, and cultural influences on the people of South Africa and the DRC need to be understood. The philosophical influences in the DRC, theological influences on the development of the DRC theology, and the socio-political and cultural influences on the members of the DRC have been dealt with. The current research started by looking at the philosophical influences on the DRC since the Enlightenment (Sections 2.1 and 2.2). This period is crucial to the understanding of the Reformed tradition, because the DNA of the tradition was formed during this period.

Contextual Discernment

Contextual discernment will be necessary to develop a context relevant ecclesiology for the DRC. Doctrinal, missiological, and ecclesiological principles from the Gospel in our Culture, Fresh Expressions or Dutch context are all important and useful, but they all developed within a very specific local context that shows similarities to that of the DRC, but also differences. The relevance of these ecumenical principles should be evaluated through the lens of the local context. The context of South Africa as a whole, but also the context of a specific congregation.

A lot can be learned from the fresh expressions movement; in the way they use contextual discernment in the process of developing a missional ecclesiology. From the initial writing of the Mission-shaped Church report (The Archbishops’ Council 2004, 2004) (Section 5.3) to how Fresh Expressions approach (Section 5.5.3) new church plants, an analysis of the context has been central in developing a context relevant ecclesiology. Contextual discernment includes many aspects, among them listening to the needs of the community, discerning where God is already working and doing a demographic analysis of the community, etc. There are also other processes available that are beyond the scope of this research (cf. Keifert, 2006; Rouse and Van Gelder, 2008; Keifert, 2009).
In the evaluation of the General Synod (Chapter 6) documents, it was evident that since the introduction of the Season of Listening programme (Section 2.1.3.3) there was an increasing sensitivity towards the context of the Church. Although the programme is not that prominent currently, the values of the programme, a teachable spirit (‘leerbare gesindheid’), trust (‘vertroue’), compassion (‘deernis’) and openness (‘openheid’) are still important and should be part of the culture of every congregation. The newest programme by the General Synod, the Season of Human Dignity (Nederduiste Gereformeerde Kerk, 2015), builds on the Season of Listening with its values of listening, respect, love and embrace. It is, however, not enough that the General Synod is propagating these values; congregations that practise these values will find it easier to develop a context relevant ecclesiology.

Theological Influences

The DRC has a rich theological tradition (Section 3.3). The theology of the church was influenced by many spiritual traditions of which five prominent ones, were identified in the research, namely: the Reformed theology, the Evangelical-Pietist tradition, Liberal tradition, Neo-Calvinist theology and influence of Karl Barth’s theology. Although all five these theological traditions had an influence on the development of the DRC theology, only three are currently prominent. The liberal theology was initially suppressed by the dominance of Evangelical-Pietist tradition and later the by the neo-Calvinist theology. Later, neo-Calvinism became discredited in the dying days of Apartheid and the strong influence of theologians influenced by Karl Barth’s theology (Section 3.3.5).
The Reformed tradition still forms the core of the DRC theology. This was also reflected in the documents of the General Synod (Section 6.2.1). A document like the Document on the Reformed Identity of the DRC 2007 focused exclusively on the Reformed identity of the DRC. It is, however, a Reformed theology softened by the Evangelical-Pietist and Barthian influences. The Reformed confessions and the Five Solas remain reference points for the DRC theology. The challenge to the Reformed tradition is that its main reference point, the Reformed confessions, were written in the 16th century in a predominantly Christendom context, with little attention to the missio Dei and missio ecclesia. The aim of the confessions was to settle dogmatic disputes and not to motivate missional engagement (Section 2.2.iii). Because the confessions are so entrenched in the Reformed theology and ecclesiology, Reformed churches find it difficult to accept new and relevant confessions. If the core DNA (i.e. confessions) stays the same, it is very difficult to develop a new ecclesiology and missiology. This is particularly true for the DRC in her struggle to accept the Confession of Belhar as a fourth confession. New articles in church orders and missional documents are not enough to create a missional culture in the DRC; deep fundamental changes to the DNA is also needed. The irony is that part of the Reformed DNA is the famous dictum ‘ecclesia reformata semper reformanda’; a church in the Reformed tradition should always be busy discerning wat God is doing in fresh ways in new contexts.

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Chapter 1
Introduction
1.1 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.3 CONTRIBUTION OF THIS RESEARCH
1.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.5 RESEARCH STRATEGIES
1.6 THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING: TRUTH, VALIDITY, RELIABILITY AND RIGOR
1.7 OUTLINE OF CHAPTERS
1.8 THEOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY AND POSITION OF THE RESEARCHER
1.9 DEFINING MISSIONAL ECCLESIOLOGY
1.10 CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 2
The Macro-philosophical Context of the Dutch Reformed Church
2.1. HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF CHRISTIANITY SINCE THE ENLIGHTENMENT
2.2 INCARNATIONAL CHURCH: THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT CONTEXT
2.3 CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 3 
Contours in the Historical, Theological and Missiological Development of the DRC 
3.1 THE BIRTH OF THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA AND THE DRC’S STRUGGLE FOR A NEW IDENTITY
3.2 THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF THE DRC
3.3 REFORMED, EVANGELICAL, PIETIST OR LIBERAL?
3.4 MISSION AWAKENING IN THE DRC
3.5 CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 4
Broad Ecumenical Consensus on Missional Ecclesiology
4.1 MISSIO DEI
4.2 THE CENTRALITY OF THE TRINITY
4.3 KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE CHURCH
4.4 SALVATION IN GOD’S KINGDOM
4.5 MISSIONAL HERMENEUTIC
4.6 CONCLUSIONS
CHAPTER 5
The Fresh Expressions Movement
Lessons Learned from the Development of a Missional Ecclesiology in a Mainline Church 
5.1 POSITIONING THE FRESH EXPRESSIONS (FE) MOVEMENT
5.2 HISTORY OF THE FRESH EXPRESSIONS MOVEMENT
5.3 A FRESH VISION FOR A NEW CONTEXT
5.4 MISSION-SHAPED CHURCH: CHURCH PLANTING AND FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CHURCH IN A CHANGING CONTEXT
5.5 THE THEOLOGY UNDERLYING THE FRESH EXPRESSIONS MOVEMENT
5.6 FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CHURCH AND THE MISSIONAL CONSENSUS: AN EVALUATION
5.7 CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 6
Evaluation of the Decisions of the Dutch Reformed Church General Synod on a Missional Ecclesiology
6.1 DEDUCTIVE QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS
6.2 PEER REVIEW OF FINDINGS
6.3 CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 7
The Contours of a Missional Ecclesiology for the DRC 
An Integration of the Findings 
7.1 CONTEXTUAL INFLUENCES ON THE REFORMED THEOLOGY AND THE DRC
7.2 THEOLOGICAL INFLUENCES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE DRC’S THEOLOGY AND THE DEVELOPMENT IN MISSIOLOGY
7.3 ECUMENICAL THEMES WITHIN MISSIONAL ECCLESIOLOGY
7.4 THE CONTRIBUTION OF FRESH EXPRESSIONS OF CHURCH TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MISSIONAL ECCLESIOLOGY
7.5 CONCLUSIONS
Bibliography

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