The Many and the One
May 10, 2021
by Kenny Wallace, Kairos Affiliate Professor
In Romans 11, Paul uses an analogy that is striking when placed in context of the diversity of denominations, and sects of denominations, and subsets of sects. He talks of an olive tree with many branches. Some of the branches are natural, and others are grafted onto the root. Either way, they grow side by side and should produce good fruit. Now, Paul is referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s story, but there is a salient point that applies to the Church and to our context, Kairos. “Do not be arrogant toward the [other] branches.” See, the whole point of grafting in other branches was so that there would be a more plentiful harvest. The whole tree is better off when there is diversity and multiplicity among the branches. However, when we view that multiplicity with skepticism or fear, what was intended as a blessing becomes, at best a place of suspicion, and at worse a curse.
The Kairos Project is like a bough off the root that is Christ. This bough itself has many branches, such as all the legacy and collaborating partners that work together within Kairos. As a global community, we function as one organization – one community – with one mission and a collaborative, kingdom-minded way of being. For example, as one organization we utilize one educational philosophy (i.e., CBTE) and one way of operating (i.e., a platform). It is this commonality that strengthens our bond as one. Just as our commitment to Christ and the way of Jesus strengthens our bond as a community of Christ followers. At the same time, we are a global movement composed of unique, local communities of faith that were often birthed by particular denominational faith traditions or particular needs within a context. In this way we are both one and many. One organization and one community but also many organizations and many communities. We are branches that come together to be grafted into the root that is Christ. The intention of this multiplicity is that students are able to engage in theological education that is specific to their context while experiencing the blessing of multiple contexts. The harvest from this bough has the potential to be prolific because the branches bring together people from all stripes of life: Canadians and Colombians, Lutherans and Baptists, pastors and pilots, chaplains and chairpersons. While each of the contexts are unique and specifically designed by the Great Creator, when they come together in the Kairos Project they benefit each other and a new, greater thing is produced.
But why diversity? Why even bother with grafting? Most Christians have committed to memory the Lord’s Prayer in some form. However, when something becomes rote, we often take for granted what we say. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray, regularly, for God’s heavenly intention to be manifested in the here and now. Throughout God’s story we can see a thread of the inclusion of “the other” as part of the covenant people, and in Revelation, before the throne we see in splendid detail the variegated and multifaceted throng of people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and dare I say seminary, worshiping God together. It was God’s intention to have the eternal worship service include a multiplicity in unity. Every act in the divine drama, from day one of creation to the diffusion of the gospel throughout the earth, led to that scene in the heavenly city.
Applying that expansive vision to Kairos, then it is God’s design to have African-American students from Texas being shaped and formed into the servants God would have them to be alongside Canadian students from central and rural swaths of Ontario. God delights to have students learning from female theologians like Dr. Susan Reese and from mentors in the global south like Dr. Guillermo MacKenzie. It was the Lord’s intention to allow students to take a traditional course on ethnohermeneutics or to adapt an assignment to sit with a Tribal band council and reflect on how the study of anthropology leads to the church’s involvement in community action. The Kairos Project is many branches but one bough connected to Christ because the eschatological vision, enacted in the here and now, drives us to strive for the most plentiful harvest of well-developed, competent, followers of Jesus who will flourish in their vocations as they proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
One could ask, how practical is it to try to be “the many” in one institution? Does it work? When Jesus called together the disciples, I am sure people were asking the same question about his choices. Really, Jesus? A zealot and a tax collector? Fishermen and a doctor? Nevertheless, that group of diverse followers went on to establish churches from which we continue to benefit today. It was not without its struggles and sacrifices, but the benefits far outweighed their differences. So too do the partnerships that form the collective known as Kairos. As a single school that arose through a common commitment to affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful theological education, we have been intentional about how we work together. This includes rebuilding the board of trustees, hosting frequent vision and operational sessions that create space for open dialogue between people across the community, and reimagining how programs are developed and supported across the organization. In our experience, the blessing Kairos can be for the students, mentors, and partners far outstrips the laborious work of melding various institutions into one way of being. Kairos is an institution that engages in competency-based theological education; we know that competency comes as a journey. Likewise, the process of the many becoming one takes time; time well worth it to achieve competency. As a community we are engaging in the very development process that students and mentors are invited to use while walking through their journeys of discipleship.
Kairos, well grafted to the root of Christ, is seeing God produce amazing fruit around the globe. The branches connected to Kairos are flourishing as they create “one out of the many.” We heed the warning not to be arrogant toward the other branches, whether they be legacy, integrated, collaborating, or operational; indeed, we welcome each other as we journey together.