Transgressing Emergence: AAR and the Church

Last year in Baltimore the Open and Relational Theologies session took a look at the Emerging Church. IMG_3152

This session involves three conversations, with three participants in each. These conversations pertain to papers written by participants, but there will be no formal reading of the papers. The conversations explore issues in the emergent church as they relate to open and relational theologies.

Presiding:

Thomas Oord, Northwest Nazarene University
Presenting:

Jeremy Fackenthal, Vincennes University
Process Theopoetics and the Emergent Church: Inviting Collaboration and Relationality [pdf]
Callid Keefe-Perry, Boston University
Theological Epistemology in The Emergent Church: A Form of Paul Ricoeur’s Relational Attestation
Responding: Diana Butler Bass

Presenting:

Sara Rosenau, Drew University
Becoming Emergent: Theorizing A Practicing Church
Timothy Murphy, Claremont Lincoln University
The Emergent Church in its Planetary Context [PDF]
Responding: Bo Sanders, Claremont School of Theology

Benjamin Cowan, Claremont Graduate University
John R. Franke, First Presbyterian Church
The Pluralist Reformation: Open Theology and the Practice of Emergent Christianity
Responding: Philip Clayton, Claremont School of Theology

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Executing God with Sharon Putt

Sharon Putt challenges us to ‘rethink everything you’ve been taught about salvation and the cross’ in her new book Executing God. Today she talks with Callid Keefe-Perry about her book and a nonviolent understanding of atonement. SharonPutt

Sharon L. Putt (formerly Sharon L. Baker author of Razing Hell) researches and writes in the areas of non-violent atonement theory, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. She also works in the area of inter-religious dialogue, comparative theologies of religion, and Continental Philosophy.

Closing song “Into the Abyss” by We Are Augustines

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TNT: Church Planting, Empty Tomb and Biblical Scholarship

The Elder of Hops joins Bo and Tripp to chat about the empty tomb, Biblical scholarship and church planting. TNT

The book that Bo references is The Shaping Of Things To Come.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHeads UP: Advent is coming so Tripp & Bo are inviting you to a High Gravity Advent.  Register of the course and join the conversation! [Link]

Every Thursday evening (starting Nov. 28) we will talk about the Biblical passages for that week and delve into a theologian that helps us illuminate the subject in this dark time of waiting.

 

 

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BONUS Cast: Paeth on the Niebuhrs

Last week Scott Paeth rocked the podcast with the Armchair Niebuhrs! This is the rest of the conversation about what the brothers may have had to say about current political controversies.paeth1bw.1

Make sure to be at our live events coming up in November at AAR in San Diego on Friday night – in celebration of Catherine Keller with John Cobb, and Jack Caputo!

We will also be at Christianity21 this year in Phoenix (January 22-24) and at  this year’s Progressive Youth Ministery Conference !

 

Tripp and Bo are doing an Advent High Gravity course – make sure to sign up for what is sure to be an amazing gift exchange.

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PostChristian Piatt Fun!

Christian Piatt of the Homebrewed CultureCast was recently in SoCal to hang with Tripp Fuller and talk about his new book PostChristian: What’s left? Can we fix? Do we care?  CultureCast

They were joined by Bart Campolo, Peter Rollins and Benjamin Cory to talk about the implications of moving on. Imagine this as an a living room conversation in an auditorium. 

It was a ruckus affair but we wanted you to hear the first part of the evening where they all shared how they come to the conversation.

We have live events coming up in November at AAR in San Diego on Friday night – plan to join us with Catherine Keller, John Cobb, and Jack Caputo  there!

We will also be at Christianity21 this year in Phoenix (January 22-24) and at  this year’s PMYC !

This episode is going out as a cross-pollination experiment on both the CultureCast and TNT streams. TNT

 

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small prayers to a big god

When life gets rough it can have the effect of wearing you down. I’ve heard analogies of sandpaper, being sand-blasted or being caught in a sand-storm. However you phrase it, it seems like the end result (or the silver lining) has something to do with being refined or that the rough edges are smoothed off.

To me, it feels more like being cut down to size or chopped at the knees. It doesn’t always feel like a good thing.

People try to assure me in the end the difficult process will have been worth it. The pain is temporary, the product is what lasts.

This past Sunday at the Loft, I shared that I pray much smaller prayers than I used to. I used to be very focused on two things:

  1. personal holiness and piety
  2. spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms

The problem that emerged for me is that the gap between little ole’ me and the massive cosmos became too large. I was missing that connective layer between my personal goodness and the ‘principalities and powers’ in spiritual realms. ‘Personal piety’ and ‘spiritual warfare’ are probably fine on their own. For me, however, the gap between them became too wide and I fell through the cracks.

I have never stopped praying – but the way that I pray is a little bit different. I now pray small prayers to a big god.

There is a god and that god – by the very nature of being god – can handle god’s self and take care of the types of things that god would be concerned with. Prayers aren’t so much focused on my goodness or on angels and demons anymore.

Prayer allows me to make my self available to the good things that god has and to align myself with what god might be doing. Aligning myself is done in the hopes that I might be the kind of person that god could use in the world. I ask god’s spirit to examine my orientation, trajectory, and speed as I recalibrate my journey.

I jokingly call these small prayers ‘nuclear prayers’. It is a funny play on words because in a post-holocaust world where we now know that humans have the ability to commit atrocities on a massive scale and to blow up the whole planet … one needs to be a little more humble about one’s prayers and their power.

My prayer life has changed a lot in the last 10 years. I now pray small prayers to a big god.

That is a part of my story … How has your prayer life changed in the past 10 years?

smallprayerBIGgod

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More On Miracles (Q&R)

Yesterday I got a comment on blog post from 2 years ago. Since this subject comes up frequently, I thought it would be good to respond.

I hope you get some sort of update from comments posted on old posts.

Indeed I do! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in.

I’ve been trying to work through how I understand God working in the world and have felt pretty comfortable with saying that God doesn’t make things happen in this world. For me, that still allows for relational interaction with God but the one place that I am getting stumped on is miracles or even just praying for things that may be outside of personal introspection or transformation. I have never seen any miracles like the ones I’ve heard about by several very close people I know. When I say miracles I mean things like paralyzed people being healed and even people’s limbs growing back. I know it sounds crazy but I hear really sound people that I respect telling about how they have done these things. Now, I don’t want to discredit it just because I personally haven’t seen it. Then there are things like Jesus healing a blind man with mud and spit, was it psychosomatic? I don’t know how to approach these things.

The one thing I would say is that we have not taken the gospel stories about Jesus seriously enough. We look at them from a very mechanistic point of view: What was the product? What was the process? Can it be replicated? Are there measurable outcomes?
We get very focused on the byproduct or the outcome (healing) and miss the rich narrative and literary emphasis of the story itself. “Jesus healed a guy” I hear people say … “Yes but notice how and where” I want to respond.

The two things people often fail to notice is that:

  • It was almost never in the same way twice. That signals to me that healing is neither formulaic nor is it reproducible. Something was going on in those stories that is tailored to that person and that time. I love the gospel stories of Jesus’ healings … almost as much as I hate it when people try to make healing standard and ritualistic.
  • Those stories play a role in the gospels that they are found in. These accounts in John 9 and Mark 8 function in the narrative that both John and Mark give us. Synoptic studies are one of my favorite hobbies and one of the things you quickly learn is that those stories can not be lifted out of their gospel and simply cut & pasted into another gospel. The story is told a certain way and plays a unique role within the larger text.

The stories of Jesus’ healings don’t happen in a vacuum. That play a performative function with the gospel narrative and must be read within that context.

One of my first clues that this was true is that no one – even those of us who believe in healing – spit on the ground and put mud on people. Why? Because it is not a formula! Something unique was happening in that story and we all sort of secretly know that.

Just because Jesus walked on water doesn’t mean that you don’t need a boat!

The gospel stories about healing had to do with Jesus’ messianic claims and that is why the Bible is not a how-to play book or manual. The formulaic mentality around healing today is a disastrous byproduct of the Industrial Revolution … oddly the same era (thanks to Gutenberg) that allowed for mass-produced Bibles so that we can all read it for ourselves! But that is a different blog post.
The Secret Message of Jesus is the best book I have ever found for talking respectfully about the role that these healings play in their unique gospel accounts.

I have much more to say about this … but I need to get to your real question!

With this being said, if miraculous healing through prayer is possible (which I sort of hope is) my question would now be why does God only choose to heal some people and let others who are being prayed for suffer? Or why would we have to pray for certain sufferings to stop? Why isn’t it enough for a certain person to be suffering and need God’s healing? Do our prayers make God’s intervention possible in a way that he couldn’t do without? Let me know what you think and thanks for giving your time!

Let me begin by saying that you have perfectly asked the central questions of this difficult issue. This is why some people walk away from the subject all together and dismiss any accounts of modern-day healing. Even those of us who try to practice the way of Jesus and follow his example are often baffled and left either shaking our heads or shrugging our shoulders.

If God can heal and doesn’t …
If we have to be good enough …
or believe hard enough …
or pray long enough …
or pray good enough …
If this is in any way based on our merit … this seems like a problem.

On the other hand – if God can do something and doesn’t …
maybe it is for a larger purpose …
or maybe it is just ‘not yet’ …
or maybe we just look forward to our heavenly bodies on the other side …
or maybe God is really finicky.
These are all possibilities and actual things that I have heard people say.

Here is where I am on the issue: God is doing the best that God can do. I don’t believe that God is holding out or that God’s goodness will run out.

I have said before that I have become very comfortable with the possibility that the world as it exists is the best that God can do. I’m not saying that I believe that – just that I am open to that possibility.

  • What if God is doing all that God can do in the world right now?
  • What if God isn’t all-powerful but only very powerful?
  • Or that God’s power is a different kind of power?
  • What if God isn’t pretending or self-limiting?
  • What if God is giving all that God has to the moment?

Once you move on from an ‘interventionist’ notion of God the whole world looks different. The word ‘supernatural’ is one of the worst concessions that modern christians have made. I believe in miracles (outside the ordinary expected) and I remind folks that the Biblical formulation of ‘signs and wonders’ is not the same as ‘super-natural’. These phrases get all mashed together by those who have taught this way. We need to take the Gospel accounts seriously enough to slow down and reexamine our assumptions.

There is no such thing as ‘super-natural’.
God’s work is the most natural thing in the world.

I do not believe in a realm (the natural) that is without God. As a Christian, I believe that God’s work is the most natural thing in the world. I am unwilling to concede the natural-spiritual split and then leave less and less room for God as science is able to explain more and more. The church is foolish to accept the dualism (natural-supernatural) and then superintend only the spiritual part.

Thank you so much for writing in! It has been fun to revisit this concept. You may want to check out my post on Prayer and Poetry and Dealing with Demons as well.

Let me know your thoughts or any questions you have. This is a difficult topic but a very necessary conversation.

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Marx & Whitehead: Reviewing “Organic Marxism”

by Austin RobertsMarxWhitehead

If you’re like me and have ever wondered what a “process Marxism” would look like, the recently published Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe by Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr is an exciting vision of such a possibility.

It is in fact the first serious attempt to fold process philosophy, in both Whiteheadian and Chinese forms, into Marxism. The result is what the authors call “Organic Marxism”, a constructive postmodernism for our time of environmental crisis that offers theoretical and practical possibilities for a new ecological civilization.

Organic Marxism is published by Process Century Press in preparation for the 10th Whitehead International Conference in June 2015, which is called “Seeking an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization.” I plan to participate in the conference, and encourage everyone who can to do so as well. It will bring together some of the most important figures in the environmental movement, including Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva, along with many of the most significant process thinkers, including John Cobb, Catherine Keller, Joseph Bracken, Bruce Epperly, William Connoly, Monica Coleman, Roland Faber, Marjorie Suchocki, Jay McDaniel, and Philip Clayton, along with younger process thinkers like Tripp Fuller, Brianne Donaldson, and Justin Heinzekehr. And perhaps not surprisingly, after co-writing Organic Marxism, Clayton will be leading a discussion on Marx and Whitehead.

Having previously published 22 books and dozens of articles, Clayton’s important work in philosophical theology and the science and religion dialogue is by now familiar to many. He is a professor at Claremont School of Theology where Justin Heinzekehr, his former student and now co-author, is also a doctoral candidate in religion. Because their work is primarily in theology and religion, this book on ecological economics and politics might seem a bit surprising. And yet both of them work within the school of process thought, which is an amazingly diverse tradition that branches out into virtually every area of academic research. In many ways, Organic Marxism takes its lead from the work of the great process theologian John B. Cobb Jr., who writes the forward to this book. After starting his career as a Christian philosophical theologian, he shifted by the early 1970s into a focus on a variety of other topics, including economics, biology, ethics, politics and ecology. Writing one of the first book-length philosophical texts on the ecological crisis, Cobb later went on to write a massive work on ecological economics with the economist Herman Daly, which serves as the major inspiration for Clayton and Heinzekehr’s economic proposals in Organic Marxism.

At the core of the book is the conviction that “Global capitalism has created the greatest ecological and humanitarian catastrophe in the history of human civilization” (4). Throughout Organic Marxism, Clayton and Heinzekehr make a series of powerful and convincing arguments to show that this is in fact the case and that the best solution is Organic Marxism, which affirms “hybrid [economic] systems that combine profit-making activities with regulations that are designed to prevent corruption, environmental abuse, and the inordinate acquisition of wealth by a small number of citizens” (236). By reinterpreting Marx against the dominant Western conceptions of him, they argue that “socialist systems can retain an appropriate place for entrepreneurial activities…suitably constrained market forces can benefit the public good” and lay the foundation for a new ecological way of living (47).

They therefore resist a view of Marxism that would totally eliminate any place for market forces, competition, and private ownership (7). For them, the continuing relevance of Marx has less to do with his efforts to prove a strict dialectical materialism and more to do with his “work as a social theorist, a historian of economics, and a student of the class struggle” (60). They also reject the classical Marxist notion that ideas, philosophy, and religion are impotent and merely “epiphenomenal,” without any liberating power. In an organic perspective (as understood within process thought), postmodern science and philosophy challenge this kind of crass reductionism with a more open-ended, relational, pluralistic, contextual, and ecological style of Marxism.

As such, Clayton and Heinzekehr are highly sensitive to the common views of Marx as deterministic, anthropocentric, anti-religious, reductionistic, totalizing, and utopian. And yet they argue for the ongoing relevance of Marx beyond these modernist limitations and stereotypes of his thought, importantly drawing on recent interpretations of his mature thought (e.g., Jeremy Bellamy Foster) that stress Marx’s implicit environmental concerns. They also consider some recent attempts to resurrect Marxism in the work of Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, and David Harvey. Although they recognize the value of each of these important critical and deconstructive thinkers, they ultimately conclude that each of them “shy away from addressing the practical issues that policymakers face” (94).

As such, by calling organic Marxism a kind of constructive postmodernism, they affirm the need to offer concrete policy proposals that will be useful, not just for Leftist academics, but especially for “policymakers, government leaders, and lay people” (ix). This commitment leads Clayton and Heinzekehr to conclude the book with a series of practical ideas and specific policy guidelines on issues ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to banking, all with the aim of creating an ecological civilization. The perspective of Organic Marxism is ultimately a concrete commitment to the common good within an ecological framework that does not shy away from issues of class, race, or gender. It is a postmodern and critical appropriation of Marx’s revolutionary thought that is truly unique, although the authors note that it has some important connections, not only to Cobb’s work, but also to The New Materialism (Jane Bennett, Diana Coole, Clayton Crockett, Jeff Robbins, et al) and Environmental Marxism (Bellamy Foster).

Despite the intensely philosophical discussion throughout the text, Organic Marxism is a surprisingly accessible read that efficiently covers a lot of ground in economic and political theory. Readers will gain a valuable perspective on the history of capitalism, Marxism, process thought, and contemporary science. This is clearly the first book of its kind, and I’m thrilled to finally have a book that weaves together Whitehead and Marx. I believe that Clayton and Heinzekehr’s eco-socialist “manifesto of society for the common good” (ix) is a provocative, original, and exciting proposal that deserves a wide reading and deep discussion.

 

 I am very grateful to the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, CA for sending me a review copy of this book. For more information, check out Philip Clayton’s overview of the book’s argument at Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism.

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Small Batch Artisanal Church

In the TNT that comes out this evening, we get a call about the difficulties of starting new communities. We had Tim – the Elder of Hops – in the house and some really good stuff came out in the conversation.

As I drove back from Tripp’s I thought of about some other things that seemed relevant to the conversation. I took some time yesterday to type up a couple of thoughts from this past Sunday’s conversation at the Loft to share here.

In this past Sunday’s gathering we talked about the importance of being physically together as a community. This is true for both our gatherings but also our service projects. This is why we don’t call our Sunday times together ‘services’ but gatherings – because service happens when we are outside the walls together.

I was able to share some things that I find compelling about a couple of other religions. Islam’s ‘5 Pillars’ all have a physical component. Confessing, praying, giving, fasting and going on a pilgrimage are all embodied practices. The connection of religious beliefs to the body is something that intrigues me. (We also talked about physical considerations in the Jewish observance of Sabbath)

I admit that it puzzles me that Christianity – a religion whose central event in the incarnation where we believe that the Word became flesh – can so often be an intellectual and abstract religion. Christianity has come to see itself as a very universal religion … almost to the point that it is can be un-embodied.

  • We don’t have to pray out loud.
  • We don’t have to face any specific direction.
  • We are not required to travel anywhere.
  • We don’t need to fast.
  • We might give to those in need.

This seems like a problem to me. I know that throughout Christian history there have been (and continue to be) many powerful physical practices that deepen or expand our devotion, insight, perspective and experience. Some branches of the church family are far better a sustaining these practices than others. In the 21st century, it is going to become increasingly difficult to integrate those practices into a communities or traditions that are not familiar with them.

This led us to talking about ‘the worth of words’ and the power of symbols (signs) when it comes to both portraying yourself to the outside world and attracting the kind of friends/attention that you are seeking. We do this perpetually – whether intentionally or not – both as individuals and as a community.

Which brings us to the title of this blog. I have wanted to have cameras in the Loft space since the beginning. The other leaders have vetoed this idea at every turn. I thought it would help people see how innovative the gatherings were and to have some sense of what they were being invited to. This seem necessary because we have tweaked both the form and the content.

It would be one thing if we just sat on couches  in the round, drank coffee and had conversations about standard run-of-the-mill Christianity.

It would be another thing if we had a super progressive message but kept all the other things the same: sitting in rows, facing the same direction, one presenter for 30 minutes after 4 songs off the newest ‘worship’ album.

We have changed both the form and the content which has caused a case of dis-orientation for some. That is why I wanted the cameras – so that people would see it and have some idea of what they would be coming into.

In the end, we decided that it was more important to provide a safe space for those who actually attend than to produce a good show for those who watched remotely. I now think this was a good decision.

The question remained though: how do we get the attention of those who we think would love to participate if they only know about it?

My humorous suggestion was to begin referring to ourselves as ‘a small batch artisan church with farm to table spirituality’. That got a big reaction … because we all know that those words don’t exactly mean anything when used like that. BUT we all know that those are the types of words that are important to the kind of folks we are made up of. For others it might be words and phrases like organic or free-range or fresh brewed.

We laugh because we know that these are the kinds of world that are used to market consumer goods to us. We, of course, are not looking to market nor are we offering a consumer good. We are however looking for like-minded souls with whom we can have (and form) community in the midst of a very busy city. SmallBatchChurch

So until we find a better way to do so … I’m going to tell people that we are “a small batch artisanal church with farm-to-market spirituality” and see how that goes.  I even made poster to see how it looked!

This has generated some great conversations. No, those words don’t exactly convey our actual values or commitments … but at the same time they do hint at a certain vibe and ethos that is telling. It’s like ‘Homebrewed Christianity’. We don’t brew faith per se but … it is a play on words that conveys a certain sense of the attitude and atmosphere that you can expect.

 

 I would very interested in the words and phrases that appeal to you when think or talk about church community. 

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TransFORM TNT

March 2014 in San Diego TransFORM provided Homebrewed with three firsts:906834_10151969087216652_2120440021182625425_o

  • The debut of a new gameshow “En Fuego!
  • Joerg Rieger says nice things about capitalism
  • Tripp lost a preach-off (to Peter Matthews pictured right)

We had a blast catching up with old friends and meeting tons of new folks. Rebekah Berndnt and Micky Jones were great contestants for En Fuego! and Joerg Rieger was a good sport for Bo’s pro-capitalist chiding.

You will hear plugs for George Fox Seminary and Chalice Press - both sponsors at the time.

Check out Joerg Rieger’s books here and make sure to come to our upcoming live events at AAR in November, at Christianity 21 in Phoenix (January), and at Progressive Youth Ministry in Chicago (March).

Peter Matthews and Anthony Smith were there to tell you to tune into Soul Emergence Radio. Make sure to read Micky’s blogs over at Emergent Village.

TransformHBC1

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