the weblog of Alan Knox

A definition of mutuality

Posted by on Jan 28, 2010 in community | 6 comments

I’m continuing my study of “mutuality” for a presentation in Atlanta in March. I ran across a very interesting paper relating mutuality and missions. However, I think many of the concepts will carry over into relationships among believers not in a missions context.

Here are some of the interesting passages:

[M]utuality is the sharing of “power-with” by and among all parties in a relationship in a way that recognizes the wholeness and particular experience of each participant toward the end of optimum flourishing of all. (Dawn M. Nothwehr, “Mutuality and Mission: A No ‘Other’ Way,” Mission Studies 21.2 (2004), 254)

[T]here are four forms of “mutuality”: cosmic, gender, generative, and social. These forms of mutuality are retrieved from classical Christian theology, and define the maximum flourishing of humanity in relation to four areas: the cosmos, gender relationships, divine-human co-generativity, and human sociality. (Ibid., 256)

By the way, my research is in the fourth area: mutuality in the area of human relationships, which she calls “Social Mutuality”:

The fourth and final form of mutuality is social mutuality. This form of mutuality is exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus and is the moral goal for the Christian life…. Living as Jesus lived, with a commitment to mutuality, enables us to bear God into the world. Fidelity to mutuality frequently requires making sacrifices for the cause of radical love, creating and sustaining relationships, or righting wrong relationships, and it is exemplified by countless persons, both named and nameless, who have suffered for the sake of mutuality…. The Holy Spirit animates and empowers people enabling them to choose to share in a common power with those less powerful or oppressed. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, people become friends with God and seek the good for one another. It is fidelity to this power of mutuality that motivates people to make sacrifices for the sake of the Reign of God, in freedom and with full integrity. Jesus demonstrated this fidelity through his kenosis of patriarchy, proving that “power-with” is of greater value than “power-over” in bringing about the Reign of God in history (Ibid., 258-60)

I think this a good start for my study of mutuality. What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-28-2010


    Very interesting!!! Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. I am very interested in “mutuality” as it applies to mission. So I’ll be looking for this!

  2. 1-28-2010

    I am curious what she is talking about when she says : “Jesus demonstrated this fidelity through his kenosis of patriarchy, proving that “power-with” is of greater value than “power-over” in bringing about the Reign of God in history”

    What exactly is kenosis of patriarchy? I have a rudimentary understanding of kenosis as it relates to Jesus and His divinity, but I don’t see that applying to “patriarchy”.

  3. 1-28-2010


    Unfortunately, the author primarily talks about relationships among institutions. But, much of what she says is useful.


    She takes the phrase “kenosis of patriarchy” from another author, and introduces the phrase in the section on gender mutuality. As far as I can tell, she’s talking about Jesus reaching across boundaries created by his culture.


  4. 1-28-2010

    How much of mutuality is based on the lack of power-over-ness among the saints? We are to “esteem one another better” (a qualitative judgement) and we are to “submit to one another.” But I’m not sure these can make two of the “five steps to mutuality” concoctions–I think these are more descriptive of how we are to be together, not the essence of it. I think some portion of mutuality has to do with genuinely loving another selflessly. Like with family. My son is 30. I don’t feel competitive with him. I rejoice to see where he is smarter, wiser, better than me. He is, in fact, the man I most admire. That sort of love.

    Are you familiar with French and Ravens Power Taxonomy? In it, they simply create a jargon to talk about the differences between sources of power–positional vs relational etc. It might provide additional useful terms to describe mutuality (the power-over vs power-with sort of thing). (see Leadership by Yukl)

    I think the focus/purpose/outcome of mutuality is experiential progress in the faith (doing and being and enduring) rather than rote learning about the faith (knowing, categorizing, listing).

  5. 1-31-2010

    “I’m continuing my study of “mutuality” for a presentation in Atlanta in March.”

    Where? When? And is it open to the public?

  6. 1-31-2010


    I’ll be presenting a paper at SECSOR 2010 which is March 5-7.