I had an interesting “conn-versation” with a close friend tonight. This friend was part of a confessional, PCA church up until a few years ago…when this friend went through a divorce. This friend was told that the only legitimate grounds for divorce were fornication and physical abuse. This friend’s divorce did not fall into these categories because it was based on emotional abuse, therefore this friend was viewed as someone who was sinning. The issue is a bit too complex to write about fully and I would not want to violate my friend’s trust by writing all about the issue on a public forum. But my friend’s issue began me thinking about a few things… (more…)
While enjoying my read through UnChristian I began to wish for a more mature and circumspect viewpoint on Kinnaman & Lyons research than my own. I began to wonder what would these ‘outsiders’ impressions look like in relation to Jesus, would he square with them and did he speak to them in his life, works, message(s), and mission. I emailed a friend – Scot McKnight; who is a prominent Historical Jesus scholar as well as a leading voice in the Emerging Churches conversation about mission in the Post-Christian West. I asked Scot if he would be willing to be interviewed on the book, and he graciously agreed. I first met Scot by inviting him to speak at the Emerging Churches Forum at Westminster Theological Seminary, and have appreciated his reflections and muses at his blog since that ventur. Even as a busy scholar and professor Scot McKnight has a run by run reading on the state of the Church today, and hosts some of the more lively discussions I’ve seen on the church, her mission, and her Lord.
But I didn’t just want to interview him on his views on their book because he’s preparing to launch his own review series on it. Rather, I was hoping Scot would take the findings of their work to Jesus and ask the Historical Jesus the very criticism his Western bride is recieving among the younger generations (16-29 year olds according to Kinnaman & Lyons).
UPDATE: SCOT BEGAN HIS SERIES ON IT TODAY, HERE’S PART 1:
Below are the questions I posed to Scot, his answers to these questions are soon to come…
What did Jesus think of hypocritical people?
Did Jesus have a Get Saved! mentality? If so, what did getting saved mean for him?
Was Jesus homophobic?
Was Jesus sheltered? If not, how did he encounter the world(s) of his day?
Did Jesus have a political agenda?
Was Jesus judgmental and negative?
The Starfish and the Spider, a book in the spirit of The Tipping Point and Blink, introduces a relatively straightforward observation, and demonstrates its potent explanatory power in certain otherwise puzzling or commonly misdiagnosed situations. Authors Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom are Stanford MBAs who became intrigued with the perplexing success of leaderless, decentralized organizations to not only thrive, but to redraw playing fields historically dominated by classic, top-down entities.
The working metaphor is the starfish, an animal with the power to not only regenerate a cut-off leg, but from a cut-off leg, an entirely new starfish. They contrast this with the spider, which dies if its head is removed. The point? Peer-to-peer, flat organizations which spring up around an idea that grips people, and inspires their dedication because it’s intrinsically great, cannot be stopped. Not only that, but if a traditional spider player in the same realm has long been dominant, its ongoing success is seriously threatened by the starfish. One might understand all this as the arrival of postmodernism at Wall Street, but even within that broad structure, starfishes and spiders are apt metaphors for a rapidly evolving paradigm shift in organizational design
The book is an easily accessible collection of case studies illustrating and fleshing out the basic idea. Brafman and Beckstrom launch their examples with the downfall of the recording industry and Tower Records by the sudden and overwhelming appearance of P2P players like Napster and later, eMule. In five years, the entire industry was turned upside down. They show how Wikipedia, eBay, and Skype have changed the terrain for encyclopedia publishers, retail, and phone service respectively. They move out of the for-profit realm in describing the sweeping success of Alcoholics Anonymous and its spawns as a starfish response to the ineffectiveness of the professional mental health industry’s approaches to addictions in the 1940s. And, perhaps most significantly for our historical moment, Brafman and Beckstrom provide a management model that explains the resiliency of starfish al-Qaeda against western spider attempts to eradicate it.
While there are variations on the starfish theme, including hybrid organizations which employ the best of both worlds – think eBay’s acquisition of PayPal, or IBM’s promotion of Linux – the basic starfish model has certain characteristics. These include no one in charge; no apparent headquarters; distributed knowledge and power; inability to count participants; direct communication among working groups; and strengthening under attack. Starfish organizations are characterized by the presence of a catalyst who champions a seminal idea with passion, and then gets out of the way as it takes off.
One of the authors’ examples for this is Granville Sharp, a name previously known to me only as the preface to “Rule” in connection with the application of adjectives to conjoined nouns in Koine Greek. It turns out that he was probably more significant as the catalyst in eighteenth century abolition circles behind more familiar names like William Wilberforce. He is also used as the exemplar for another marker of starfish organizations: their tendency to capitalize on a pre-existing network as a way to gain followers. In Sharp’s case, it was the decentralized Quaker meetings.
Why a long exposition on starfish for Conn-versation? Immediately, I was struck by the way in which this model explains from a management perspective the swift spread of the first century church: team decisions with no singular leader; no palatial headquarters; a priesthood of all believers; thousands added to their numbers daily; and distributed intra-church communications. Paul served as the catalyst-champion of the gospel, and planted churches throughout the Roman Empire. How did he progress? From the existing synagogue network. And the spider? The Empire itself. As persecutions grew, seemingly inexplicably, so did the church.
What about the Reformation? The Roman church was the spider, with Luther and Calvin as chief catalysts, but clearly not CEOs or popes. The churches were decentralized, grew rapidly, and from the beginning, harnessed the new printing technology of printing to spread the message of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, it is possible to look at many major church movements and see similar starfish principles at work: the spread of the Wesleyans and the Baptists are examples from American history.
In our own time, the internet has served as an extraordinary platform accelerating communications and facilitating the formation of interest group circles with astonishing power to challenge status quo spider organizations. Apart from the many examples highlighted by Brafman and Beckstrom, consider this summer’s grassroots “Nuts” campaign that persuaded CBS to reverse its decision to cancel the 2006-7 show “Jericho” after one, cliff-hung season. Today more than ever before, an appealing idea with a passionate champion has the ability to move mountains.
Within the believing Christian church, the starfish model explains the power of the emerging church, and other movements challenging the status quo. Indeed, many – some broad and some narrow – are already springing from ideas which have captured the imagination of a catalyst and interest groups. (In conservative Reformed circles, think New Perspective, Federal Vision, missionalism.) Starfish are about conversation. Take an idea, massage it, make it better, find new applications, promote it, tweak it, and watch what happens . . .
The implications for traditionally-organized denominations are significant. As the spiders in this model, they should recognize that the terrain has changed. Historic assumptions about their authority, standing and power that were clear-cut a generation ago are today subject to regular challenges from starfish players. These have what Brafman and Beckstrom call “unstoppable power,” and will not only participate in the conversation, but have the ability to define and even dominate it as their best ideas gain traction.
What then is a spider to do in this different world? The authors speak of the diseconomies of scale, the network effect, and the power of chaos – all challenges to traditional thinking. The histories of these models in conflict suggest that when knowledge is decentralized; when people want to become involved; when catalysts rule; and when the values become the organization, a head-on attack by the spider will likely be futile. Far better to look for ways to engage and join; the hybrid models are one example. For the church which sees starfish as opportunities instead of threats, the potential for turbo-charging the spread of the gospel is staggering. In fact, one could even imagine a twenty-first century parable beginning “The kingdom of heaven is like a starfish . . .”