Transformationalism, or Transformational Christianity, represents a fusion of evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and ecumenicalism that started becoming prominent in the early 21st century. Unlike previous movements, it is typically embodied in regional meta-church organizations -- alliances of churches from different denominational backgrounds -- rather than particular churches, denominations, or parachurch organizations.
Transformational Christianity interprets the gospel from a unified perspective of transforming individuals, relationships, and institutions. It thus tends to align intellectually with evangelicals, emotionally with charismatics, and socially with ecumenicals - though only up to a point. The emphasis is less on being theologically or politically correct than on being effective in transforming the world around you (and yourself). It thus tends to reflect the kingdom theology of Gordon Fee's radical middle approach to Christianity, which characterizes the role of the church as manifesting God's kingdom on earth.
One defining aspect of transformationalism is its focus on what are called marketplace ministers. In this context, as in many Christian circles, the term 'marketplace' is used to represent business, education, and government -- i.e., everything outside the church and family. The heroes of most other movements are celebrated for their church-related activities (e.g., evangelists, missionaries, bishops, apostles, etc.). In contrast, the heroes of transformationalism are lionized for their work outside the church. Importantly, they are expected to deliver secular success (new business, increased profits or efficiency, improved workplace conditions) as a precondition to spiritual success (conversions, transformed lifestyles, formal acknowledgement of Christianity, etc.). They are not valued merely for making money, or even just for bringing people into the church; rather, they are seen as the primary carriers for bringing the "kingdom of God" or "presence of Jesus Christ" into the world.
In one sense, this is a return to the ideals of the Protestant reformation, with its emphasis on the "priesthood of all believers" and the value of secular work. The key difference is that transformationalism is set in the context of a post-Christian culture, where personal evangelism is both possible and (in this view) necessary. Thus, secular work is also viewed as a platform for evangelization. At the same time, transformationalists would also affirm -- and celebrate -- the intrinsic value of work, both as an aspect of worship and as a service to society.
A related innovation is the concept of city-wide pastoring. The key premise is that in addition to the concepts of one 'church universal' and many 'local congregations', which most Christians believe, there is also a third level: "the church in the city." The idea is that all the congregations in a particular region, of whatever denomination, are really aspects of a single church family, and should actively think, plan, and work together under that common framework. The doesn't mean that a single unifying structure is imposed from above, as in the old establishment idea of parishes. Rather, it involves formalizing the existing networks of relationship and trust into a coherent organizational structure, usually involving councils of recognized leaders from different communities.
This typically means the church as a whole develops a common vision, which is implemented by individual congregations with minimal explicit coordination. It also enables the Christian community to speak with one voice when dealing with local government; however, the focus is usually on finding ways to cooperate in serving the community, rather than dictating policy.
The concept of transformation was birthed out of an apparently uncoordinated series of city-wide revivals which took place around the world in the 1990s. These were documented by several individuals, notably:
- George Otis, Jr. and his popular (if controversial) Transformations film.
- Jack Dennison in his book City Reaching.
This led to an upswell of global interest in both city reaching and marketplace ministry. Argentinian evangelist Ed Silvoso popularized the latter approach in his book Anointed for Business, which introduced the term Marketplace Transformation. This combined with the concept of community transformation to develop a more general focus on transformation.
The term Transformationalism was apparently first used in conjunction with groups such as Pray the Bay in early 2004, reflecting a more general view of transformation as a key (if not defining) attribute of the Christian life. This coincided with a possibly unrelated increase in the use of the term 'transformation' by a wide range of different churches and organizations during 2004.
In mid-2004, the first conferences on Transformation were announced, for 2005 in Indonesia and 2007 in Seuol, Korea. They are focusing on five "streams":
The goal is, among other things, to develop a transformational covenant, which may provide further definition to this movement.
Transformationalism is most similar to the empowered evangelicalism of the Vineyard movement, from which it arguably drew much of its inspiration. However, by shifting the focus to large-scale transformation rather than merely individual conversions, it is adopting many of the social-involvement techniques and approaches of mainline Christianity (as opposed to the more confrontational approach of fundamentalism), which places it closer to progressive evangelicalism.
Transformational groups typically involve a cross-section of Catholic, Protestant, and non-denominational churches (though not borderline groups such as Mormons). Most still tend to have an evangelical, or even fundamentalist, statement of faith; however, they are generally more concerned with being inclusive than exclusive, and often will attempt to accommodate individuals and churches with more liberal theological views if they share a compatible vision of the goals and means of transformation. Transformational movements are often mediated by other trans-denominational initiatives such as the Alpha Course or Promise Keepers, which share a similar heritage and goals.
There is also evidence that the teaching espoused by the Latter Rain Movement, Manifest Sons of God and Kingdom Now theology have laid the groundwork for this movement. These particular teachings emphasize the importance of a Christianized society that is just and prosperous, and where laws that reflect Biblical morality and ethics are promoted and enforced.
Transformational Christianity is a very young movement; since it has few structures, creeds, or spokespeople, its future direction is still unclear. However, those same grass-roots attributes speak to the vitality of the movement, and hold forth the promise of rapid growth and development. From a Christian perspective, one could say that its future evolution is in the hands of the Holy Spirit rather than human beings, which perhaps is as it should be.
While there is as yet no consensus definition of Transformational Christianity, the following links appear to reflect usage roughly in line with at least some aspect of this article, though no doubt the groups listed would disagree with each other on many points.
Transformationalism can also refer to:
- a theory in linguistics
- an artistic movement supposedly founded by the Transformationalists of the late 19th century, which received a perhaps tongue-in-cheek revival in 1979 from START: Stoke-on-Trent's Magazine Of The Arts
Last updated: 08-29-2005 06:06:19