It is not sufficient to describe Acts 29 as “a diverse, global family of church-planting churches”. It is accurate and accessible, and it helpfully answers the ‘What?’ question. But what it doesn’t do is answer the ‘Why?’ question: Why Acts 29 as opposed to other solid networks?
The fuller explanation does precisely that: a diverse, global family of church-planting churches characterised by theological clarity, cultural engagement and missional innovation.
These three characteristics provide us with something distinctive and attractive, and when held in tension in a dynamic interplay or trialogue, they give Acts 29 a distinctive texture.
Most networks are not theologically tight. Even evangelical networks take a broad tent approach. This is perfectly acceptable and is not an issue of gospel fidelity. But our identification of defined, closed-hand issues as expressed in our 5 theological convictions helps generate a distinctive culture. At a basic level, it means we can have trust in one another. Our distinctives express a particular understanding of the gospel, and this clarity gives boundaries and so allows freedom. It also enables us to be generous towards those outside the family who don’t share these clearly articulated convictions.
Our theological clarity not only gives us permission to engage with culture, it actually requires us to do so. But even more than that, it is itself an act of cultural engagement.
One of our distinctives is complementarianism. I know of no one within Acts 29 who regards this as a ‘first order issue’, in the sense that you cannot be a Christian unless you hold to this conviction. Which means that the fact of its inclusion is itself an act of cultural engagement. In previous generations, or in other contexts, it would not have been necessary to have planted a flag on this particular hill. But in this cultural context, it is an increasingly vital statement to make and a critical position to maintain.
There are some for whom cultural engagement is an end in itself. For others, it has proved to be a ‘Trojan horse’, leading to functional syncretism. Believing what we believe about God-in-Christ and his church-on-mission impels us into our diverse cultural contexts to engage them well for the fame of Jesus. This is sometimes known as contextualisation, which is always nothing more nor less than demonstrating the pertinence of the gospel to our context. The fact is that everyone contextualises in some way or another. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it gives us the confidence and the tools to do it well and to do it missionally.
Yet, this is not one way traffic. Engaging our culture well, forces us to re-visit our theological convictions. Fresh challenges have to be faced and new ways of asking fundamental questions need answering. This doesn’t change our theology, but it does shape the articulation of it for the sake of making the gospel known.
Without the theological moorings, we are cast adrift on the turbulent sea of cultural fads and fancies. History shows conclusively that the church can all too easily become so ‘adaptable’ that it has nothing distinctive to say; it simply parrots what everyone else is saying, but with much less verve or conviction. But when the mutual exchange between context and robust theology occurs, new and legitimate ways of connecting with our worlds emerge. Because of our theological convictions which shape and require cultural engagement, Acts 29 is perfectly poised to be able to present new insights and new ways in which the gospel interacts and impacts. We will remain a global family of gospel practitioners, so that we are engaging on the front line where mission, theology and culture all interface.
It is our conviction that this dynamic interplay between the three distinctives of theological clarity, cultural engagement and missional innovation produces something that is rare and fruitful.