Exploring the Emerging Church: Theology, Culture, Ritual, and Meaning


I'm just preparing for todays symposium, and taking a look at the questions I've been asked to respond to, along with Kevin Corcoran and Pete Rollins.

1. What personal encounters with the emerging church have been most meaningful to you and most shape your reflections? 2. What are the key questions you are asking about the emerging church? 3. In exploring and answering the questions you've posed, what are the key insights, resources, and practices for us to attend to? 4. Questions from the audience 5. What are the greatest opportunities, and the greatest dangers, in worship renewal as embodied in the emergent church?

We'll be using the responses to these questions, along with a panel of responders who will ask further questions, for the morning and afternoon.

So in advance here are some of my thoughts in response to these questions...(please excuse typos, I'm writing this and running to the seminar)

1. Personal Encounters: Theology: The freedom and company to think theologically, to find integration of my faith into a postmodern world. That church planting is no longer predicated upon getting people to pray a prayer to go to heaven when they die. The Gospel is much bigger and than that myopic premise. Finding the face of God in thinking theologically, honestly and openly, does not make you a heretic or backslider.

Experiment: Freedom to do church differently, to experiment, and do lots that is the same, both extremes are true and needed.

Connection: to people all around the world, from many countries and many church tribes/streams not just my own denomination, a shared context we are facing.

Generous Ecclesiology: realize that there is no postmodern way of doing churches, there are many ways, and we need many more, some like they currently are and some radically different, many valid and connecting in different context.

Leadership: That I don’t have to be a benevolent dictator, and I don’t have to be the slave of the church board, in between is the place of real team, serving, living and leading together, being accountable. The exploration of leadership, in our emerging culture, relationship, biblical metaphors to inhabit etc.

Rediscover/Retrieve/Renew: being free to rediscover the things my churchmanship had thrown away, liturgy, confession, litany, image, icons, church calendar, the ancient in our faith, and to know that it’s still being used for real by many traditions…

Tradition: Reclaiming some traditions, holding on the traditions from my current denomination, and forming new ones.

Missional: a church that serves each other and our community, the two intertwined and inseparable. Intimacy withy God necessitates involvement with each other. Ministry to the poor and social justice are not optional for churches, they are part of mission/gospel.

Marathon: this is going to take a very very long time, more than my life time. Investing my life in growing a community that is able to grow other church communities, full of new christians, following christ, engaged in mission….a life’s work not a couple of years gathering christians.

Smoke what we sell: my church is my family not my job, the people I do life with, share pain with, and accountably with, bring out the best and worst in me with. Being able to walk the talk, to have fears, doubts, questions, troubles and be real.

Relevant & Critical: to be free to use the mediums and places of our culture to communicate, without seeing them as godless, and yet critical of how our culture forms identity.

Human: where doing church and being a christian is humanizing, connecting to the world and each other.

Love of church: I love church more than ever, doing church, being church, doing life together in all it’s mess and mistakes, and it's transforming beauty in comparison to the isolating formation of consumerism.

2. Key questions I am asking about the Emerging Church? Can it really live up to it's aspirations, and become missional, seeing existing Christians grow, rather than de-convert and leave church, and see others come to faith. Can it get beyond it's pathological axiomatics and diagnosis of what is wrong with church, and create ecclesiologies that give birth to new life and the transformation of society.

Is it going to just lead to : 1) Private god spaces 2) Aesthetic art & therapy spaces for depressed Christians who hate church 3) Social Justice with christological heart failure, or missional communities? Of course there are some, but after 10 years not many?

Counter reformation taking place like monastic movements. The Emerging Church is a revolution, and provocation, that the church responds to, and adapts to along with new forms of church.

Can we reclaim and re-imagine evangelism. Beyond conversations, relationship, the confidence in a secular consumer culture to invite people into relationship with Jesus, to share our stories with friends, and families and escape the privatization of faith by consumer religion.

Can the E/C be formed around a canonical-linguistic imagination, and cruciform identity, rather than a cultural-linguistic social metaphor of self created identities?

Can the E/C institutionalize, being critical of institutions, but knowing good practice is not possible without them.

3. Insights/resources from my area of interest?: Consumerism as Religion Can we understand our situation as not of agnostic non religious people, but people deeply imbedded in a religious system, around which they are formed and are being formed into identities other than Christian ones? That consumerism and secularism function as analogous to religious systems, and that Christianity involves conversion from those religions in some ways into alternative realities, beliefs and practices.

For example, the separation of belief from practice, within commodification, such that 'we eat food from nowhere and wear clothes made by no-one (Karl Marx)'. We don't practice what we believe. We live in a world where believers hold beliefs, not beliefs that hold believers.

The plausibility structure, the social relationships that produce beliefs, and traditions are pillaged for consumption, their internal logic and proscriptions for practice ignored as exclusive and outdated, and as long as we pay cash for them, we can do what we want with them.

So better doctrine even anthropologies, doesn't lead to better practice? How are we going to be able to respond to this, with ways of doing church centred around better beliefs?

Perverted Liturgies William Cavanagh shows how torture isolates and fragments bodies, groups, communities into isolation, disappearing them from public life. Consumerism functions, I suggest as a perverted liturgy, isolation bodies, atomizing people from each other into monads, handing our bodies over to the market.

Look at the lengths of self discipline and ascesis that we will practice liturgically with our bodies within the consumer religion, plastic surgery, shopping, allocation of our time and life to consumer events.

Battle over agency And church becomes a voluntary society, to pick and mix, choose the flavor I want, style, convenience, there is no giveness to church, no ontological priority. We form private ecclesiologies, or ecclesiolgies that re-inforce the dispensing of religious goods and services.

There is no giveness to anything, outside and preceding myself. There is no possessive plural pronoun, just yours and mine. Can we rediscover the ontological priority of church, or have ecclesiology continue to be about the furnishing of our self creating agency. Church is what I make of it, not what it makes of me, in identity with others.

Diagnosis Augustine offers a diagnosis, of the human condition, that gives rise to consumer religion. Misplaced desire. The misplacing of our desire for God onto things and experiences, the desire for transformation, justice, and transcendence are collapsed into consuming experiences.

The more resources we have for 'bricolage', the shallower we are in our constructions of life.

Responses & Opportunities Liturgical Stabilization & Schools of the Heart To explore ecclesiology as the training in deepening of agency, and bricolage. Also an unveiling, the witholding, through liturgy, catechism as something we can't buy, but must train for.

Cruciform Identities It is not enough to form emerging ecclesiologies that people can experience and understand, or from which they can construct their own sense and experience of God. That would be to reduce the church to the facilitation of individual worship aesthetics and therapies.

Neither is it enough for the story of Jesus and his Kingdom to be a story that is experienced as one that makes sense of the story of the individual, a story to locate mine within.

The mission of the church is to go one step further to the realisation and grounding of identity and reality in the pluri-form identity and humanity of Jesus, where His story is the story I live.

We must ask: what kind of ecclesiology would facilitate this kind of agency exchange and transformation?

4. Greatest Dangers for E/C in Worship renewal?: That we produce private god space that continue to foster consumer agency and meaning making, and do not lead to agency exchange, and cruciform identities.

Worship that does not form us politically, for public life, at home, work, and families, and private that is missional, but rather that is therapy for making sense of my life in private.