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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O is for Open & Relational

One of the most vibrant developments in Christian theology has happened in the past 50 years. The conversation is diverse and includes everyone from Process friendly Mainliners to Vatican II Catholics, from Emergent types to progressive Evangelicals – and plenty of others.O-OpenRelational

These diverse perspectives come under a canopy called “Open and Relational Theologies”. The name itself is instructive and helpful in this case. Here is the easiest way to think about the name:

  • Open addresses the nature of the future.
  • Relational addresses the nature of power.

The Open crew often hale from more evangelical camps who question the common held belief (in their circles) that the future is determined. Questions of human free will, God’s intervention and nature of certainty when interpreting things like biblical prophecy, salvation, and world history.
The Relational crew is more concerned with assumptions of God’s character and power and thus question common held beliefs about things like omnipotence and intervention. This camp looks at world history and says, ‘We know how God’s activity has been framed and thought of in the past but is that really how the world works?’ Challenges to the other famous ‘O’ words are seriously undertaken: omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence.

Both groups have many positive assertions even though they often grow out of a negative critique of established or institutional assumption regarding God’s character and work in the world.

There is much overlap between the two schools and thus they often work together and can be grouped at partners.
There are, however, three significant differences:

  1. Open thinkers often come from an evangelical background and thus are heavily Bible focused. They question the nature of the future and of God’s power but are unwilling to come all the way over to Process thoughts or to convert to a different metaphysic.
  2. Relational folks may be more likely to engage liberal brands of biblical scholarship and to shed antiquated our outdated notions by integrating scientific discoveries and new models (and better explanations) of reality.
  3. Open thinkers also hold that God could be coercive and interventionist, but willing holds back (or relinquished this) in love and for human free-will. Relational thinkers may be more willing to go all the way and say ‘no – this is just not the nature of God or God’s character. It is not that God could if God wanted to … it is simply not the way that things work.’

I came to O&R through Emergence thought. Emergent explanations of science and society make far more sense than former top-down and authoritarian (coercive) models of God and the world.
Emergence thought focus on the inter-related nature of existence and how higher forms of organization emerged from simpler and smaller  elements (or entities) within the organization or eco-system.

Many of the models we have inherited from church history are either based in hierarchy (like King-Caesar thought) or are mechanical (from the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment on). Those mechanistic explanations of God’s power and God’s work become problematic and seem entirely outdated (and unprovable) in a world come of age.

Open & Relational schools of thought provide a much better model of reality (nature) and human experience than antiquated explanations based in the 3-tiered Universe and ancient metaphysics.

Here is a bullet point list of themes from a previous post by Tripp Fuller:

  • God’s primary characteristic is love.
  • Theology involves humble speculation about who God truly is and what God really does.
  • Creatures – at least humans – are genuinely free to make choices pertaining to their salvation.
  • God experiences others in some way analogous to how creatures experience others.
  • Both creatures and God are relational beings, which means that both God and creatures are affected by others in give-and-take relationships.
  • God’s experience changes, yet God’s nature or essence is unchanging.
  • God created all nondivine things.
  • God takes calculated risks, because God is not all-controlling.
  • Creatures are called to act in loving ways that please God and make the world a better place.
  • The future is open; it is not predetermined or fully known by God.
  • God’s expectations about the future are often partly dependent upon creaturely actions.
  • Although everlasting, God experiences time in a way analogous to how creatures experience time.

You can listen to HBC episode 107 with Thomas J. Oord for more.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri 

 

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TNT: Letters Edition

A cast of two halves! In the first half Bo and Tripp respond to 3 letters from listeners.

Then we get a call with Micky Jones about choosing a seminary (43rd minute) – and when we come back for the 4th and final letter things get a little rowdy.  It turns out the resurrection is a topic that brings some important distinctions between the nerds.

Here are some resources that are mentioned on this episode.  tntpcsubad

How to read the Bible by Kugel

Chalice BIble Commentary series

How to take the Bible seriously but not literally by Borg

The Everyone series by N.T. Wright

Exodus by Fretheim

a mother’s lament

Evangelical defense of same sex

Elizabeth Johnson Barrel Aged

Triune Atonement by Sung-Park

Saved from Sacrifice by Heim

The Non-violent Atonement by Weaver

Contemporary Christologies by Schweitzer

Cross & Covenant by Larry shelton

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Apple Updates and the Church

I have been thinking about the church and technology a lot lately. Part of it comes from planning to update a sanctuary constructed in 1951. Some of it has to do with recruiting a team to handle all the tech stuff at ‘church plant’. A bit of it came from the odd analogy that was used repeatedly about the ‘glitches’ related to the initial launch of the Affordable Health Care Act website and all of the sigh-up problems. People, including the President, said “yeah but even Apple has glitches when it first launches a product”.

An inexact comparison to be sure.

One of the questions that we are asking at the Loft LA, as we enter into our second year, is:

“What does it mean to use the Ancient-Future model of church in West LA?”17-85-BE3-134-08.0006-John Wesley

We come out of a United Methodist Church – which is a classic and beautiful expression of the Mainline tradition of Protestant Christianity.  The Loft is attempting to reclaim and hold onto the best of that inherited tradition … while at the same time engaging the culture around us in way that is contemporary and appropriate.
I’ll confess. It is a tricky section of water to navigate.

To use my favorite bowling analogy, there are gutters on each side that you want to avoid.
On the one side, you have a temptation to cater to the culture and concede so much of the Christian tradition that you have basically assimilated to the surrounding culture that you are nearly indistinguishable from it! This can happen in patterns of consumption, political views, sexuality, financial matters, or any other number of areas.

On the other side, you have the assumption that the inherited tradition, the given forms, are inherently relevant and effective in every place and in ever time since they were divinely delivered and historically proven. What this impulse to conserve leads to is reification of some previous era or expression of church that was culturally appropriate by which has since expired in its effectiveness in doing so. For a group whose gospel is, at its core, about incarnation … this is unacceptable.

This is why we think that the ‘Ancient-Future model’ of church is the best way forward for a young community.
Here is a short video about my recent experience with an old Apple TV that was given to me and why it triggered some thoughts about christian community for me.

Apple Updates and the Church from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

In technology, when you fall enough behind on your updates, you can actually trap yourself with the inability to update. This is the definition of irrelevant. The christian spirituality that is employed in much of the North American church may be in this kind of danger. I am nervous that we are looking to get resources (updates) from sources (servers) that don’t exist anymore.

We are looking for solutions in things that don’t exist anymore.

The danger, for a religion that is at its core incarnation, is that the inability to be conversant with the surrounding culture in the epitome of irrelevance.

__________

Ancient-Future is a model that was popularized by Robert Webber before he changed his emphasis, focus and tone at the end of his life. His books on Faith, Worship, Evangelism and Time are supremely helpful and informative. 

My quoting him does not imply a wholesale endorsement of all of his works or thoughts. 

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Process Is Poised For A Comeback

Three things have been rattling around in by cranium while I was away this Spring.

1. The cicada’s came back. Every 17 years the Periodical Cicada Brood II emerges to rollick in the Eastern half of the U.S. for a brief but frenzied round of sex and gluttony. We will not see them again for 17 years. It is a phenomenon that always garners it’s fair share of bewilderment and awe.

cicadas

It is appropriate that this baffles most of us. We are set to think in perennial terms and oddities like this don’t fit that narrative. Underneath the soil right now is a massive swarm that we will not hear a peep from until 2030.

2. I was listening to an episode of Smiley and West’s weekly radio show while I was fixing up my parent’s house. The guests were Maceo Parker and Bill Ayers (interesting mix eh?). It was pointed out that sometimes, things just take time. Ayers’ example: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955. It was not until 1963 that the march in Birmingham took place.

Ayers points out that not everything happens in quick succession. He said this in reference to the Occupy flare-up last year and why it appears that not much has come out of them.

3. Tony Jones had the response to Jack Caputo’s address at the Subverting the Norm conference. Point 2 of Tony’s 13 points was :

Process theology had its chance. If process theology couldn’t get traction in the American church under the auspices of John Cobb in the 1970s, I doubt that it will gain traction with his acolytes. Outside of Claremont (and Homebrewed Christianity), I hear little about process theology. I am not saying that popular theology = good theology; that would make Joel Osteen a theological genius. What I’m saying is that process theology did not capture the imagination of a critical mass of clergy and laypeople in its heyday, so I doubt that it will today. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cobb was ahead of his time, and the church is only now ready for process.

 

I know that Process thought will always be on the periphery. It will never be mainstream… and I am o.k. with that. Some things just work better as ‘catchers’ on the outside of the whirlwind.

Here is the thing: many Mainline, progressive or emergent church expressions don’t make that many converts. Some may even think that evangelism is wrong/trite/passé/ or coercive.

You know who does make a lot of converts? The evangelical-charismatic branch of the family. They do.

But not all of their kids or converts find the theological answer persuasive or satisfying after a while. So there is always a large supply of folks cycling out of the evangelical spin-cycle looking for better frameworks and answers … and it just so happens that Process thought can provide that.

 

Process thought interacts with both Biblical Scholarship and Science with flying colors.

Process even has a built-in interface for engaging other religions. It’s perfect for the pluralism that our world and time are calling for.

Yes – you have to learn some new words and it is admittedly clumsy to transition into from a classical approach. We all acknowledge that. But … and I can not overstate this … if your unhappy with the frameworks that you inherited, what have you got to lose?   Your faith?

If the alternatives are to either:

A) close your eyes and choke-down the medicine

or

B) walk away from the faith altogether

Then what is the harm is picking up some new vocabulary and concepts that allows you to navigate the tricky waters of the 21st century?

I mean, what else are you going to do for the next 17 years while we wait for the cicada’s return?

 

___

I have been enjoying 2 big books while I was away:

Modern Christian Thought (the twentieth century) and Essentials of Christian Theology – both have significant sections of Process influence.

 

Cicada Picture: H. Scott Hoffman/News & Record, via Associated Press

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Privilege is not Racism, Sexism or Oppression: a proposal

If you have been following the blog-o-sphere or twitter-verse this past 2 weeks, then you will know that race, gender, sexuality and social location have been quite contentious issues. Boy at Cockflight_3

It just so happens that I have been far out of the loop as I have been on hiatus while renovating my parents house – so I have watched all of this from a safe distance. 

I was asked last week to write something regarding the issue. After reading every possible link, blog and tweet that I could, I have decided to forego commenting on the events themselves – for reasons contained in this post – and instead put forward a constructive proposal for going forward. 

 

In order to accomplish the desired conversation, I first need to clarify a couple of things:

  1. Next year I will attempt write a dissertation within the discipline of practical theology which addresses the issue of White privilege.
  2. This post is only reporting a distinction that I will employ in my work.
  3. I am not telling anyone else what to do, what words to use – nor am I attempting to limit others or re-define the terms or ground rules for engagement.

 

Two Fatal Flaws: 

The conversation around issues of Race-Gender-Class and Identity Politics usually breaks down and becomes unfruitful due to two fatal flaws in how the conversation is framed.

  • The first flaw is the use of either-or binaries and dualism that are too limiting and not nearly complex enough to accurately reflect the reality of the issue that attempting to address.
  • The second flaw is the sloppy mixing of words and categories without clear distinction.

 

Here is an example of each:

I am a person of privilege in almost every category. That privilege allows me to benefit from systems that oppress, hurt, and marginalize people. Does that mean that I am an oppressor? In the current binary configuration, I am not oppressed so I must be an oppressor.  We have seen all too well how this line of reasoning goes. 

As a white person, I am located in a place of racial privilege. Does that make me a racist? While I benefit from systemic racism, I am not consciously attempting to participate in or reinforce the prevailing racist structures… in fact, I may even be attempting to undermine them and confront them.

 

A Change: 

I would like to see us move away from either-or options based on limited binaries and make a move toward multiplicity that more accurately reflects the complexity of the situation. This would be done by first adding a third category – then and here is the big one – by distinguishing within each of those at least 2 postures: active and passive.

We would then have
A) Privilege
B) Racism/Sexism
C) Oppression/Marginalization

AND each of those would be clarified by a passive or active posture/participation.

 

You could then have someone who is in a place of racial privilege who is passively (and possibly ignorantly) benefiting from the privilege without 1) being very aware of it 2) actively contributing to the marginalization or oppression of another group – and certainly not being overtly racist.

In this configuration we could distinguish between those who are active and those who are passive in their privilege – active and passive in the racist/sexist structures – and active passive in the marginalization/ oppression that results.

These seem to be important distinctions that prevent the oppressed-oppressor either-or binary that is so prevalent in Identity Politics but which is so alienating and confusing to those who have yet to confront/consider issues of Race-Gender-Class in this way.

 

Definitions: 

I am utilizing concepts from ‘Race, Class, and Gender in the United States’ by Paula S. Rothenberg. The two major distinctions that I am interacting with come from Peggy McIntosh and Beverly Daniels Tatum respectively.

Peggy McIntosh on White privilege:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

This privilege, as Brekke El (@WrdsandFlsh on twitter) points out, “Privilege in America is BUILT on institutions of racism, sexism & oppression”.

Beverly Daniels Tatum distinguishes between active and passive racism:

… All White people, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism. (A Klan member or the name calling Archie Bunker are) images (that) represent what might be called active racism, blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination. Passive racism is more subtle and can be seen in the collusion of laughing when a racist joke is told, of letting exclusionary hiring practices go unchallenged, of accepting as appropriate the omissions of people of color from the curriculum, and of avoiding difficult race-related issues.
Because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of America institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it is business as usual.

 

Here is why I am taking this approach: 

These issues are far too important to resign ourselves to the round-and-round in-house binaries of generations past that have not delivered the desired results and have not initiated those in places of power/privilege into constructive examinations of the systems and structures that benefit them.

These issues would seem to be matters that people of faith would be more interested in than the culture as a whole (due to the nature of the material) but which seem to have largely the opposite reaction in a sizable portion of that population.

We need to alter the way in which the conversation is framed if we want to both affect different outcomes than have already been achieved OR if we want to involve ever-increasing amounts of people in expanding rings of influence.

 

Again, I am not trying to tell anyone else what to do – I am in no place to do so. I am only attempting to share a distinction that I will be utilizing in my future project in the hopes that others might find it equally useful. 

 

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Emergent Preaching?

A good question can stimulate the brain to put together things that one had not previously connected. Stuart Harrell asked my a question about what a course on emergent “preaching” would look like. Here are some of my thought – I would love to hear yours.

GtMeadow

My cleaned up tweets are posted as bullet-points with a clarifying thought following. 

  • You would want to immediately address message and medium. It’s not just a repacking of the same old material.

What we are experiencing in a genuinely different expression of the good news. I watch lots of video clips of hip – fashionable – edgy young preachers who are still on an elevated stage using the exact same forms as the past 100 years … only they have added video clips and hair gel.

That is not what we are talking about. That is just lipstick on pig :)  not that I really believe that old-school preaching is a pig, I just love that phrase.

  •  #EmergentPreaching would involve scripture, culture, media, dialogue, experience & impartation to start.

The ‘problem’ with emergent thought is that it is neither reductive nor is it reproducible. It is environment specific (contextual) and organic. It interacts with its surroundings and emerges from its participants. It is a different animal from day 1.

  • I have given a LOT of thought to Emergent Preaching since my dad is a homiletics Prof. & I helped start The Loft LA recently.

One of our biggest glitches is that our ‘gatherings’ don’t translate to podcasts or video very well. We planned on being media savvy but the ‘sermon’ is broken up into conversation starters, dialogue, small groups, feedback and presentation. It’s kind of messy and we are still trying to figure out how to ‘capture’ it authentically. I think that we are going to start just throwing it out there unedited for members who missed that week in case they want to catch up.

  • the task of Emergent Preaching would deal with issues of power, voice, dialogue, participation, action, justice & cultural stuff.

This is where the medium must be addressed along with the message. HOW we do something is as important as WHAT we do.

Proclamation is a vital part of the Christian tradition. We don’t want to lose that! We address the form as well.

Why is there one person talking anyway? How is that person chosen? With what authority do they speak? These are essential questions to ask.

  • Assumptions of culture, the gospel, power, structures, and orthopraxy are vital to address in thinking about.

We are always attempting to do at least two things (this is true for every area of life). Side note: this is why saying that sex is only for procreation is ludicrous.  So it is incumbent upon us to concern ourself with present cultural realities as well as desired outcomes – because we preach an incarnational gospel that must be in-bodied (embodied) to survive.

  • One would have to pull back the curtain & examine the scaffolding (assumptions) that hold the entire project up.

This is the tough job of deconstructing a constructive theology. There is no easy way around it.

  • It would be part Liberation, Feminism, Walter Wink, masters of suspicion, biblical scholarship & philosophy.

There is just no sense in even attempting to do proclamation in the 21st century under the auspices of emergence without this. Emergent Preaching would need to be well-informed and undeniably self-aware at some level. This seems unavoidable.

  • But it would also have to be rooted in history, hermeneutics, scripture and praxis. Those are my thoughts on Emergence Preaching. 

In the end, we preach the christian gospel and not some form of god-ness or spirit-uality. We are the church after all. Accounting for history, hermeneutics, scripture and praxis is tall order. But what is the other option?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on my little list and see if you had any additions. 

You can also tweet me & and Stuart Harrell - use the hash-tag #EmergentPreaching

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Greg Boyd Is Not Emergent

I love Twitter. It is the best (and fastest) way to catch a sense of what is going on and get updated on trending topics. It is truly amazing to see what some can do with 140 characters.

The other day I ‘eavesdropped’  on a really interesting exchange that was telling – in just 3 tweets.

Rob Davis ?@iamstillrob asks:

 no offense, just an honest question: how has @greg_boyd been lumped into the “emergent” stream by so many people?

Jason Coker ?@Jason_A_Coker helpfully explains:

 Only among those for whom “Emergent” = “Dangerous Theology” : )

Greg Boyd, the man in question, jumps in to answer for himself:

@Jason_A_Coker @iamstillrob I’m a critical realist & soft foundationalist & I find the extreme Epistemological relativists to be incoherent.

This is fantastic stuff. 3 things jump out at me:Boyd

1) While many emergent folks look to Boyd as a conversation partner, that is not the same as him being in the emergent camp. Boyd’s books The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church and Myth of a Christian Religion are wonderful (and you can give them to people as gifts). He is an Open Theist and has recently transitioned to Anabaptist identification. He is an interesting character no doubt … but he is not emergent.

He preaches like an old-time revivalist and will often go for 40 minutes. He stands on a stage in front of a packed auditorium and monologues in an elevated volume as if he forgot he was wearing a microphone. This guy is old school.

Which leads to my second point.

2) If Coker is right and emergent is used by some as a synonym for ‘dangerous’ it would explain why so many of the concerns/critiques of emergent-ish stuff fails to land with any meaningful connection. They don’t know what emergent is. That is so obvious that I may have missed it. Just last week I wrote:

I get challenged in nearly every place that I go about this term ‘emergent’. Now, to be fair, most people have never looked into the scientific theory of emergence - to them it is a brand like Baptist, or Catholic or Pentecostal. It could be called “Shock-zone Psycha-jazz” Church and mean just about as much to them.

All the same, the challenge often sounds like this:

“I hear 10 different definitions of the emergent church. It seems to mean on thing to this group and a different thing in this area.”

That is a fair question. But a better way to approach the topic might be to cut “emergent church” out of the sentence and paste “farming” in it’s place. How would you answer this question:

“I hear 10 different definitions of ‘farming’. It seems to mean on thing to this group and a different thing in this area.”

Not that hard right? Different soil, different climate, different water sources, different seeds mean that farming in one region can look entirely different from it does in another.

3) Boyd comes in with a “soft foundationalist vs. extreme Epistemological relativists” contrast. (Coker challenged this but got no reply). This is so telling! I wanted to say ,”oh… I see: one is ‘soft’ and other is ‘extreme’!”

That is the funny part about people trying to put Boyd in the emergent camp. Look, I really really like Greg Boyd. I think he is a fascinating person with tons of integrity and I respect him the world. But he is not emergent – by his own admission.

This is a guy who takes the time to explain that Angels needed training in the early centuries of the cosmos. Here is part of his defense of Ralph Winter’s gap theory of history to explain why there is no geological or paleontological evidence of a worldwide flood:

… God commissioned angelic beings to oversee aspects of nature and the production of life, similar to the way God later commissioned humans to have a domain of authority over nature and animals. These angels, he speculates, were “in training,” which in part perhaps explains why life evolved so slowly (from our human perspective). (Read Ps. 82 if you think angels are exempt from needing training).

 

I thank Rob Davis for asking such good questions and I really appreciate Boyd’s personal reply.
I just keep shaking my head at both the idea of cramming Boyd into the emergent mold and Boyd’s presumptuous response.
I thought it might be interesting to talk about here. 

 

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TNT: Same Sex Marriage, Rob Bell and His Detractors

Happy Birthday!  HomeBrewed is celebrating its 5th and BoDaddy is celebrating his 40th!

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

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On this episode of the Theology Nerd Throw-down,  Tripp and Bo talk about same-sex marriage, Rob Bell and his detractors.

This all started when Tripp posted about big platforms coming out in support.

Then Bo posted about Rob and his detractors.

It came to a head when Bo responded to an odd post about how this paints Jesus in a weird light.

You will have to listen to the hour long conversation to put all the pieces together.

 

At the end – we talk about this Summer’s book series called “High Gravity” with Peter Rollins.

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Contextual Emergence (think farming): Day 21

Tony is talking about contextual theology in chapter 21 of his book Neighbors and Wisemen. He doesn’t use the word contextual, but in several places he says really inspiring and helpful things that any contextual theologian would love to interact with. Neighbors & Wisemen

“These questions supply the “what” of spiritual formation, but it is in the answers that we find life. Let me explain what I mean.

Every animal on earth must answer the same questions … adapted to their physical life, in order to thrive:

  • Where do I find food?
  • What is the source of water?
  • What makes a suitable home?
  • What symbiotic relationships support life?
  • How do I pro-create?
  • What is my place in the ecosystem?
  • All these questions define life for any creature.

However, the bird will answer these questions very differently than the fish. The questions are identical, but the geography defines the answers. Answers in the rain forest look nothing like the answers in the desert. Answers inside the river look very different from the answers in the Arctic or in Central Park.”

 

I get challenged in nearly every place that I go about this term ‘emergent’. Now, to be fair, most people have never looked into the scientific theory of emergence - to them it is a brand like Baptist, or Catholic or Pentecostal. It could be called “Shock-zone Psycha-jazz” Church and mean just about as much to them.

All the same, the challenge often sounds like this:

“I hear 10 different definitions of the emergent church. It seems to mean on thing to this group and a different thing in this area.”

That is a fair question. But a better way to approach the topic might be to cut “emergent church” out of the sentence and paste “farming” in it’s place. How would you answer this question:

“I hear 10 different definitions of ‘farming’. It seems to mean on thing to this group and a different thing in this area.”

Not that hard right? Different soil, different climate, different water sources, different seeds mean that farming in one region can look entirely different from it does in another.

Why can’t we do that for churches? The answer is found in a complex historical conception called a ‘classicist’ approach to theology – which we don’t have time for here – but which continues to plague us with the confusion between unity and conformity. Unity is a good thing. Unity, however, comes from diversity and difference.

God is active in each and every neighborhood. God is telling a story in every place at every time. There is no place in the world where God is not working. 

The art and challenge for us a Jesus’ people is find, join, and tell God’s story in that place.

Tony challenges us:

Two thousand years ago, Jesus wrote parables from his interactions with his neighbors. Today, as we walk with him, Jesus continues his habit of parable writing. Only now it’s not Nazareth, this neighborhood is different. He is writing new parables through our spiritually forming neighbors all around.

I love this idea. I would love if this were true. I try to live my life as if this were the truest thing on earth.

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