Original Research - Special Collection: Festschrift for Prof Stephan Joubert

From semiotic exegesis to contextual ecclesiology: The hermeneutics of missional faith in the COVIDian era

Leonard Sweet
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6939 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6939 | © 2021 Leonard Sweet | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 June 2021 | Published: 30 September 2021

About the author(s)

Leonard Sweet, Drew Theological School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey; Portland Seminary, George Fox University, Portland, Oregon; Evangelical Seminary, Myerstown, Pennsylvania, United States

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This essay uses the global impact of the Coronavirus as a heuristic semiotic for exploring the future of the church. Unlike the pandemic of 1918, which left few dents on the world’s economic, social, and cultural systems, almost all the nations of the world have passed laws and implemented procedures that are only comparable to world wars in their impact on entire populations. Nations are acting in unison, but not in unity. This post-COVID, post-Corona world is the ‘time that is given’ to the church. But it will not be a post-pandemic world. We may become COVID-proof, but we will never be pandemic-proof. There is no pre-COVID reset. There is only risk assessment from natural extinction risks to existential dangers of our own creation that are catching up to us (climate change, GRAIN [genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence {AI}, info-tech, nanotechnology]). Disruption is the new status that is never quo; stability is the new abnormality; global cataclysm is the ever-present peril. The only way to prepare for a future of constant ‘the end of the world as we know it?’ moments is by developing a high Contextual Quotient (CQ), and deepening our Contextual Intelligence (CI) so we can choose ‘the next right thing’ in a world of volcanic volatility.

Contribution: This essay frames the semiotics of a missional ecclesiology in the COVIDian wake from the hermeneutics of blessings not curses. What virtues might we expect to come out of a virus that is fast-forwarding the future, virtues that will shape the contours of Christianity. What if the pandemic is a shock treatment that is putting the world, and the church, back in a new and better equilibrium? What if there are goldmines on the other side of the landmines and minefields?


COVIDian era; post-pandemic; semiotics; new monasticism; iconomic


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1. Preliminary thoughts on the interplay between face, masking and self-presentation in a liturgical-ecclesiological praxeology in a pandemic time
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doi: 10.4102/hts.v78i1.7541