On Resistance (responses requested)

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 27, 2006

We’ll, those of you who have read my blog for a long time know that I’ve struggled with the decision of whether or not to write a book. I’ve never taken the leap, because I wasn’t sure I has anything worth saying in a book and because I was afraid to write something that ended up being a big steamy pile of failure.

Well, I’ve made a decision: I’m writing a book. The book will be a call to resistance. It will examine the usefulness of “resistance” as a concept for discipleship-particularly in the context of Christian community. After justifying resistance as a central category for understanding the relationship between church and culture (here I draw primarily from the Anabaptist tradition and contemporary neo-Anabaptist thinkers), I will name eight “powers” within American culture that need to be resisted. Each chapter will explore why the particular “power” needs to be resisted, offer suggestions for mounting resistance and then point to a faith community that embodies the necessary resistance. My own experiences as an urban practitioner will be woven throughout.

So, here’s how you can help: Tell me a few “powers” that need to be resisted in A) the American Church and/or B) American culture. If you want extra credit, you may also offer an example of a church or group that does a good job in mounting resistance.

If I like your idea is useful fodder for my book (and my book gets published), I will find a way to tangibly express my thanks (if you’re local, that means coffee or beer, if you’re not, I may involve an gift certificate).

for further reading . . .

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10 Responses to “On Resistance (responses requested)”

  1. JVD on September 27th, 2006 9:30 am

    Things that need to be resisted in the church? Sectararianism

    Now, I am not arguing for watering down the truth in a model that does not offend people. What I think needs to be resisted is the church defining itself by what it is not, or what it does not believe, vs. what is does stand for.

    Example - I go to City on a Hill church and we believe these 25 things about the bible and we don’t believe in these 25 things - and you have to adhere to both lists or do not become part of our community. This is the antithesis of ecumenical conversations that need to be taking place.

    So, resist Sectarianism and support Ecumenical movements. Can’t we learn from our bigger church family about our common mighty God? JVD

  2. b-nut on September 27th, 2006 12:30 pm

    I concur with JVD. Does that get me anything?

    I will give it some more thought…although I am tired of resisting lately so I just do differently. It is easier to abandon that which needs to be resisted and to simply pursue that which can be done more meaningfully. The big picture isn’t easy to change, but my particular story seems more manageable. I have consequently grown somewhat out of touch with what it is that American Church actually does.

  3. Van S on September 27th, 2006 2:44 pm

    I agree that we should resist sectarianism, although I think it is perfectly valid to have a list of things one is against–like poverty or sexism or consumerism. Some of these things need to be combatted instead of merely promoting their opposites. When it comes to matters of justice in particular, simply promoting the positive and leaving the negative alone doesn’t go far enough.

    While it may not be useful to resist things within the American Church, there are larger American and/or global issues that should perhaps be named and resisted. True, it is never enough merely to resist without offering an alternative. But often it isn’t enough merely to offer the alternative.

  4. Luke on September 27th, 2006 5:05 pm

    How exciting!

    If you haven’t decided on the powers your book will address, why have you decided on their number?

    I’m confused by the breadth of your question. Are the “powers” with which your book is concerned ANYTHING in the American church or American culture that may counter discipleship to Jesus? If so, a million things come to mind; everything from the PATRIOT Act to MTV to Bob Barker to internet pornography to Sunday morning inauthenticity to consumerism to the salvation-centric gospel to Bible idolhood to fear.

    Will you clarify?

  5. Van S on September 27th, 2006 5:52 pm


    Thanks for the questions. I’ve arbitrarily decided upon the number because there are indeed so many possibilities. Having 8 chapters will force me to select 8 “powers” that are particularly problematic and that I can best address from my own research and insights.

    “Powers” are systemic problems that are multifaceted and require a systemic counter-response. They are usually interwoven into the fabric of society. This is why the Church (rather than the activity of individuals) is the best response–since we can embody a counter-culture, a counter-system to the powers. A good way to think of a power is as an “ism” that directly challenges the Life Jesus calls us into.

    Does that help?

  6. Gregg on September 28th, 2006 12:59 am

    Mark, just a reminder that Doherty’s ground-up, action research, citizen-democracy model of engaging community might lend some perspective as you write about anabaptist resistance. Lots of similarities, I think. Bill’s model (which is aimed at family interests specifically but is generalizable) is based on the “Public Work Model of Harry Boyte, Nancy Kari and their colleagues at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship (” (Doherty, 2003, p.1). You might want to read Boyte’s interview with Doherty at:

    And I have to say that the key ingredient in this democratized approach to any ‘movement’ is the idea that citizens lead it with the experts or leaders on ‘tap, not on top.’ What is transformative about it is that those who care about the issues (in your approach, issues of resistance) are the ones who organize how the engagement will take place, what practices / rituals will become part of the community, how the movement will be talked about (i.e. language) and how the community will be permeable so that it doesn’t become a rigidly bordered group that never welcomes new members in. This is both transformative to the community that comes together around the identified mission, as well as the community at large. It really seems to represent the best of democratic processes.

    I am presenting this model to our church as a potential method for bringing families with young children together to create a family-based subcommunity within the church that pursues faith formation with their children. This ground-up approach would be led by parents with faith-formation issues in mind (how to have rituals that promote faith without succumbing to a programtic top-down Sunday School program / curriculum). Anyway, it has the potential to impact the church, as well as the community. A church in Eden Prairie, Pax Christi, is using this model currently. Anyway, it’s fresh in my mind right now and your post about resistance reminded me to reintroduce it.

    party on. gregg

  7. graham on September 28th, 2006 6:54 am

    Very interesting idea, Mark.

    Powers that I’d love to read your thoughts on include: Greed, Poverty and Debt. They should perhaps be included under one Power (Mammon?), but it strikes me that Poverty is as much of a Power - rather than just a consequence - as Greed.

    Also, Violence, Militarism, Consumerism, and Religion.

    (Though they are obvious choices, things like sexism and racism seem like they are actually out-workings of something else.)

    Do you know of Shane Claiborne at The Simple Way?

  8. Van S on September 28th, 2006 11:38 am

    Party on, Gregg. I’ll take a look. It would be good to chat about my thoughts and research sometime and get your perspective in light of action-research and systems thinking.

    Graham, I’ve got to write a chapter on consumerism–seeing as how that is my pet “power” to rail against. The difficultly I’m feeling in this conceptual stage of the book is that so many of these “powers” are so pervasive and overlap so much with other powers that it is hard to isolate them enough categorically to treat them with a seperate chapter–like “consumerism” and “greed” and “debt” etc. Violence and Militarism are very much different, but overlap a great deal as well. Maybe isolating one “power” per chapter isn’t the best approach. I’m open to suggestions.

    I do indeed know of Shane Claiborne. His community may be one that I talk to as an embodiment of resistance.

  9. Steve Hayes on September 30th, 2006 11:59 pm

    It sounds like an interesting project, though not one that I can make many suggestions about, because I don’t live in North America, and have only spent two weeks visiting. But I can make a few comments that may or may not be helpful.

    About three years ago there was a South African Christian Leadership Assembly (Sacla) that engaged in a cimilar project. A Google search on “sacla giants” should turn up some relevant references.

    These “giants” may not be identical with the “powers” that you face in north America, but some are probably similar, mutatis mutandis.

    Seen from the outside, one of the ways in which the god of this world seems to have blinded Americans is the “they hate us because they are jealous” syndrome. A lot of people that I otherwise regard as sane and sensible seem to fall for that, including a recent commentator in my blog.

    Third (and last, for now): on my visit to the USA 11 years ago I attended a mission conference. One of the speakers was Franky Schaeffer (Sham pearls for real swine, Dancing alone).

    His paper was a sustained attack on American culture, and he took a shotgun approach, lumping all kinds of disparate things together, and then attacking them because they were associated with each other. He called for “an Orthodoxy with teeth”.

    A Russian bishop, Bishop Ioann of Kursk, who is the mission fundi of the Russian Orthodox Church, got up at the end and said, through an interpreter:

    “You call for an Orthodoxy with teeth, but you should be careful that those you want to bite do not grow bigger teeth and bite you back. We have people like you in Russia. They were members of the KGB before, and now they try to bring people into the church using KGB methods. We call them Orthodox Bolsheviks”.

    I’m all for resistance and being countercultural. At one time my favourite verse was Romans 12:2. But I, like Bishop Ioann, found Franky Schaeffer’s confrontational style deeply disturbing, and there is something in his approach that seems characteristically American. Lots of Americans at the conference found it a bit offputting too, though it was non-Americans who were most vocal in their criticism. It is a style that seems to characterise that part of American Protestantism called, perhaps sometimes rather unfairly, “the religious right”. Franky Schaeffer came from that background, but though he rejected some of its substance, he has retained a lot of the style. And perhaps that style is itself one of the powers.

  10. Kyle on October 1st, 2006 11:13 pm

    Patriotism. Plain and simple. When we believe that the nation-state can and should safeguard our bodies and the church will safeguard our souls, than our private thoughts will be shaped by the gospel, but our bodily practices by the State. When we expect the state to give us abundant life and assume that the Christian has a responsibility to help it do that well, we write the nation-state a blank check, in moral terms.

    Stan Hauerwas and Wm. Cavanaugh are my heroes. :0)

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