Friday, January 23, 2009

seeking a balance between context and tradtion

My path for trying to understand this emmergent movement has led me to examine the de-centering of liturgical authority in different communities.  I am used to pastors and tradition dictating the structure and content of a worship setting.  From the little I have read about this movement there seems to be a different process for the creation of a worship experience.  In Peter Rollins' community, ikon, the people spend a great deal of effort and time crafting very artistic and contextual worship experiences.  The differences between the hour or so they spend together and the hour or so I am at church are wildly different.  The ikon community sounds deeply committed to an active and robust relationship with God.  The services themselves address present issues and worries of the community through vivid parables and revisions of scripture passages from both testaments.  To prep for class I read a book from the business world (Do You Matter?) about making designers a centerpin of the entire business model.  The idea is that everything from concept to execution to shipment should be thought of as designers would think of them - people who focus on the users' experience of your product.  It's a crass comparision perhaps, but designers and artists don't seem that much different context to context, and ikon services seem artistic; focused upon the revelation of the worship experience.

The services litsted in How (not) to Speak to God are beautiful, but sometimes I have disagreements with the theology being articulated by a service.  I'm not saying this to critique the value of ikon's work.  What they are doing is amazing.  However, I cannot just wholesale strip the cloth from the bed they spent so much effort making.  I have other commitments to honor, beyond social context.  Whatever else I am also, I am a Lutheran, and have every hope of bringing Lutheran sensitivities to such services.

My next focus will be upon Nadia Bolz-Webber's church in Denver.  I've been reading her book and it's hilarious - also a little weird because some of my college friends are in the book (what have I done with my life?) - but for there isn't much to be said about her church and what she is doing with her community.  I am doubly excited about the prospect of learning from Nadia becuase she and I share a similar commitment to mainline Lutheranism so our commitment is not only contextual but theological as well.   

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Theology

In the book Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches, five voices of the emerging church engage in a debate over many theological topics in an attempt to boil down this movement into two hundred pages. This is obviously a difficult task. Mark Driscoll, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt and Karen Ward are the five participants in this conversation. The editor of the book, Robert Webber, attempts to guide them in a discussion about salvation, the trinity, and atonement. This kind of strict topical focus is lost quite quickly. Throughout the book, Driscoll, Burke and, at times, Kimball offer nothing more than a refocusing of Evangelical theology in a modern culture. Pagitt and Ward seek to have the church be informed by the culture in which it exists, while Driscoll, Burke and Kimball want church to inform the culture in which it exists. Each of these viewpoints are reflected in the various theological arguments made in the book.

In John Burke’s chapter about the emerging church and incarnational theology, he writes, “Theology must seek to answer the questions of the culture without conforming to the culture. We must let our culture’s questions help us better conform to truth and God’s revelation.” I can’t help but shake my head in a bit of discomfort over this statement. Pagitt also expresses some discomfort with this statement, but instead offers a different way. Pagitt argues that we are full participants in our culture in everything we do and our theology should act accordingly. He says theology should operate as a cultural reference point in which we engage our faith in relation to other cultures. He uses very relational language in his assessment of theology and the culture in which it represents.

To that end, Karen Ward also brings the point that one of the needs for the emerging church is the current church failing to answer the questions of modern society. She says, “The modern method of contextualizing theology doesn’t connect with this new world; it does no good to answer questions that are no longer asked; Theology… is not meant to be professional. Instead, systems of theology must be temporary; the outcome of theology must impact a hurting world.” Amidst the attack of the semi-colon is a great point. She dislikes the idea of institutional theology of the church because it is not temporary enough for the ever-changing world. Ward keeps bringing up this idea that the church is behind in responding to the culture. This book is functioning as one of her means of helping it catch up.

All in all, this book is a decent book to get a pulse on the personalities that are participating in this movement, but it is not good for getting to the core of the theology. Basically their theology can boil down to relational and temporary. My favorite part about the prospect of reading this book was hearing the responses to chapters by the other participants; however they all pretty much just told stories about each other with offers to grab a pint of Guinness summing up their arguments. That does not exactly qualify as theological discourse. While there are no overarching agreements on theology of the emerging church, the foundation of ideas are there. Pagitt and Ward are definitely worth reading, however Driscoll, Burke, and Kimball left a bad taste in my mouth. I should go grab a Guinness. Who’s with me?

The Eucharist

Here are some brief thoughts on the Eucharist that perhaps will help guide your own reflection, and our conversations in the future. Perhaps a starting place is to ask, "What does the Eucharist mean to you? What does it do for you? AND What does it mean to a community? What does it do for that community?" I recognize we may all answer this differently, so let me off my thoughts on these questions.

Let me start with an underlying assumption. I believe that our lives are both beautiful and broken, and God in Christ is somehow intimately woven into all of that. Now since I believe that to be true, the ONLY way (at least these days) I have figured out how to justify it is through the Eucharist. I also believe our faith is incarnational - that is to say - that Christ's life, death, and resurrection isn't necessarily a one time deal. This is something that happens at the remembrance of our baptism, in the Eucharist, and we can probably make the argument when we gather in community to hear the Word.

It is fine for churches, emergent or otherwise, to talk about how life is tough and its glorious at the same time. Its fine for these churches to wrestle with the paradoxes of our faith and life. BUT, without a sacramental theology, a recognition that Christ's presence is TRULY there, what comfort do people have? Well, let me give an example:

A campus ministry at a large university in Ohio, an emergent ministry by all definitions, has no public statement on communion. On their website the closest to a statement on Jesus and His real presence is this: "Sometimes following Jesus can be very uncomfortable, and that's cool." Where's the comfort? Is it comforting to know that it's "cool?" This is an extreme, I realize that, but it is the point I am making. In order for a church to proclaim the paradoxes of life, and then to have a leg to stand on when trying to explain the presence of Christ, an understanding of the Eucharist is needed.

Well, some thoughts. I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Christianity Worth Believing

I'm going to post these one at at time because I don't feel like writing it all right now. Here's the first book I read for this class.

A Christianity Worth Believing: A hope-filled, open-armed, alive-and-well faith for the left out, left behind, and let down in us all. By Doug Pagitt, Jossey-Bass, 2008.

First of all, I really enjoyed this book. It is in the format of an account of his faith journey, which made me a bit apprehensive at first, but I think he does an excellent job of explaining various points in his life and how they relate to his current theology. This is especially effective for me because it makes it clear that his theology is really his own. That format also helps communicate the theological concepts because they are directly related to his real experiences.

I think his central theology is what he calls "the theology of holism". At its heart this is a theology of incarnation, but I think he takes it further than many theologians have. Reading his perspective actually reminded me of the Buddhist idea of "Interbeing" the notion of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. Having said that, it is still clear that his theology is Christian. It's about being a part of the work that God is doing in the world. "Embedded in the understanding of holism is the notion that we are not alone. We aren't just individuals plopped onto the planet to bide our time for seventy-odd years until the real action starts in heaven. We are part of a process. We are part of what others are doing and have been doing. And we are part of what God is doing and has been doing."

He also expresses this as a theology where God isn't "up and out" ruling over us from heaven, but is "down and in" in our midst, etc. My simple Lutheran mind would call this "A theology of the Cross" but maybe I'm missing something. That's actually my main complaint with this book. He seems to have come to a very genuine and powerful faith, I find myself agreeing with practically every doctrinal "innovation" and theological discovery he mentions, not because he's changing my mind, but because they seem so Lutheran. I don't think this is his fault, I think it shows what a bad job we Lutherans have been doing of expressing our beliefs. I also think its a good sign for the Emergent movement within the Lutheran church because most of the difference seems to be style and not theology.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What I'm Thinking About What I'm Reading

Here are the three books I've been reading and thinking about in preparation for our class.

1. Robert Wuthnow's After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somthings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, Princeton Univ. Press, 2007.

I have been appreciative of this sociologist's previous work. He really knows the contemporary religious ethos in America and has engaged in research that has integrity and depth to bolster his analyses. He begins by noting that "there is, however, once point on which theologians and social scientists agree; from wahtever source theological inspiration originates, it manifests itself in the concrete realities of human life. In theological language, this truth is expressed in the doctrine of the incarnation: the word made flesh. In social science, the same idea is captured from the ground up, so to speak, in arguments about the social constructuion of knowledge and belief. The individual person of faith is influenced by the social contexts in which he or she lives. Faith is thus not only a conviction about the unseen but also an expression of the opportunites a person has experienced." From this point of agreement, Wuthnow continues by identifying the generation of young adults (20s &30s) who are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, marrying and starting families later, which he translates into an estimated 6 million fewer adults attending church than in previous generations in America.

So what? Wuthnow is not interesting in either wringing his hands or celebrating this finding. Rather he just wants to document that evangelicalism's growth is tapering off [Rick Warren has admitted this in his most recent book as well]. At the same time, however, Wuthnow notes the growing interest in more individualized approaches to spiritual connectedness and authenticity that are attracting those no longer interested in "traditional" institutional Christianity. Hence the appearance of the emergent church movement.

Well worth reading and pondering, I think. I think he does a good job in setting the context of many 20s/30s in our country. I'm especially interested to know if Wuthnow's interviewees represent this generation fairly -- will the 20 and 30 somethings I know find themselves described in these pages?

2. Carol Howard Merritt, Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation, Alban Institute, 2007.

I haven't finished this yet -- but its style of writing is much more informal than Wuthnow (no value judgment here on my part) and has as its central goal challenging the perception that folks who are coming of age today are somehow less capable of theological depth, not "into" discipleship, slackers with poor attention spans, etc. Instead, Merritt wants to argue that the current generation is every bit as theologically curious and committed to relationships fostering peace and justice as any generation preceeding them. What I've read so far, however, differs from the sociological study in that it is more didactic (no value judgment here either -- didactic is good too) and narrative -- the author speaks about her own experiences as a pastor and seminary professor to to this generation. This book seems a good introduction to who this generation "is" from the perspective of a pastor/professor who serves them.

3. Nathan C.P. Frambach, Emerging Ministry: Being Church Today, Augsburg Fortress, 2007.

Part of the Lutheran Voices series, this small book gives the broad outline both of how emergent churches that Frambach is acquainted with understand their theology and practice. It is the changing face of the mission field that motivates Frambach's work and also our engagement with emergent cultures if we wish to remain faithful to our "historical legacy as Lutherans in this country." Frambach identifies emergent communities as those who "learn to do theology in unaccustomed ways," "relate to a context genuinely," "practice new forms of communication and deep listening," and "ask honest, hard questions about the purpose of the church." OK, but what I don't like about this book is the "tone" that implies that by and large the churches today have lost their way here and that it is this renewal movement that is the cure for mainline malaise. I wish the book didn't draw such a sharp distinction between and reinforce the idea of an immense chasm between the institutional church which has very little good and alot of static inertia and the emergent ministries that are basically the church's only hope.

In fairness, I suppose it is difficult to do justice to the nuances in such a short text. At best, this could be a good book for adult study in congregations to get people talking about how to be missional in an increasingly diversified American Christian landscape.

OK those are my initial thoughts. What are others thinking about what they are reading?


Monday, January 12, 2009

Conference and books

It turns out that there is going to be an Emergen(t/ing) conference at PSR at the end of the month. Karen Ward, my pastor from Seattle, is one of the presenters. It should be pretty good and it looks like it's free to GTU students.

My Brother, my Dad, and the Music Director from my Dad's church will all be coming down from Washington for it.

Here is the link:

Also, I've picked my books.

I don't know if it counts as Emergent, but I just finished reading SexGod by Rob Bell. (I accidentally stole Eric's copy when I moved)

I'll also be reading "Finding our way again" by Brian McLaren, "A Christianity worth believing" by Doug Pagitt, and "Ancient-Future worship" by Robert E. Webber.

Has anybody else picked their books yet?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some more books

I was looking around at for some other things and I stumbled across a few books that we might add to our possible reading list.

The first one is called "Finding our way again: the return to Ancient Practices" by Brian McLaren
I've never read his books, but I've heard his name bandied about in Emergent settings. It looks like this book is sort of a practical guide to some ancient church practices that are getting picked up by folks today.

The other one is "
Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative" by Robert E. Webber. Although he doesn't seem to use the term "Emergent" I think this book might be a good one to check out. We used that term "Ancient-Future" at Church of the Apostles (well the pastor did anyway) so I'd like to see what this guy's take is on that.