Good Samaritans? A Theological Analysis of Christian ‘Neighbourship’ in the Light of Growing Problems of Social Division

With regard to the social structure of the Netherlands, significant shifts are taking place. A transformation is taking place from a welfare state towards a ‘participation society’. Although heavily contested by some, a new emphasis is put on the role and responsibility of citizens, their networks and localities like the neighbourhood. This emphasis resonates with a growing grass-roots interest in ‘the local’ in some (elitist?!) segments of society: A renewed interest in locally produced food and all kinds of local (and digital!) community sharing initiatives. At the same time these developments are overshadowed by growing concerns of division/segmentation in society, along ethnic, economic, educational, and religious lines. Religion has traditionally played an important role in Dutch society, in areas of care, wellbeing and social cohesion. The latter part of the 20th century has shown a decreasing role of religion, as its institutions lost many adherers and the secularity discourse became dominant. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is clear that religion has not disappeared, but has transformed and changed remarkably. Influenced by the upcoming network society and processes of individualization, religious authorities have shifted, modes of belonging to religious communities have altered and the construction of religious identities has changed. Current research in religion seeks to understand these changes in faith dynamics. One of these dynamics is the renewed (missional) interest in neighbourhoods, resulting in all different kinds of fresh expressions and new initiatives.

This practical theological research will focus on this renewed missional interest in the neighbourhood by churches and individual Christians over against the signalled problems of social division in society. More precisely, the research will try to capture the lived and perceived praxis of ‘neighbourship’ of individual Christians in relation to their faith communities as a theological praxis. ‘Neighbourship’ can be understood as a field of practices, concerned with caring, paying attention, including/excluding, praying, relating, conversing, etc. These everyday practices will for many of the participants of the research have religious dimensions. The research will be related to contemporary missional and ecclesiological debates on the role of the church in Dutch urban contexts. It will also discuss this praxis of neighbourship in the light of the growing problems of segmentation in society, and critically discuss whether and to what extent religion has a positive, constructive role to play. As people of faith, Christians share an ethical commitment of love for their ‘neighbours’ and a search for the kingdom of God. At the same time, they are socially, ethnically and economically inculturated. With the growing need for bridge-builders in our present, postsecular, pluralistic society, what shape does Christian faith take in ordinary faith communities and believers in an ordinary neighbourhood?

Hans Riphagen (1983) woont in Utrecht en is lid van Baptistengemeente de Rank in Utrecht. Hij werkt binnen de Unie voor zending en diaconaat en is deel van het team Missionaire Gemeente Ontwikkeling. Vanuit de Unie zit hij in het bestuur van de European Baptist Mission International (EBMI). Als gastdocent geeft hij het vak ‘liturgiek’ aan het seminarium. Hans promoveert op een onderzoek naar nabuurschap van christenen en kerken in de wijk waar hij woont.

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