Mar 262010
 

My recent musings on Emerging Church have also been getting me thinking about some of the theological underpinnings of EC and, to a degree, traditional church. At the moment I’m still trying to get them straight in my head and one mechanism for me to do that is to do a bit of a brain-dump on here. That’s really just to serve as a warning that this particular blog post is probably going to be even more incoherent than usual and will almost certainly present a point of view which is far from fixed and will need considerable refinement.

It has also been prompted by a couple of questions from Scott, and in particular his most recent question about some of the underlying assumptions we make when ‘doing mission’. So, in no particular order, some thoughts on theology (and more to follow in subsequent posts).

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Mar 112010
 

I was a conference yesterday about Emerging Church within the context of the Church of Scotland. It was both inspirational and frustrating. Some of the projects are doing fantastic work and really growing as ‘church’ – and not just in the outreach work sense that I’ve been having a go at in recent posts. We’re seeing embryonic communities which are growing into worshipping communities and then hitting brick walls. Many of these projects are reaching unchurched people and making Christian faith relevant and meaningful. And yet there is a sense of ‘so far and no further’.

And, unfortunately, it’s the Church of Scotland’s law and structures that are often the problem. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t people who are trying, often creatively, to provide solutions, but there was still an underlying sense of not taking Emerging Church seriously. If I may parody it somewhat, it seemed that there was a willingness to set up a working party to look at the questions that would need to be addressed by a committee who could produce a report to create a task force who would consult widely to produce a report that could go to a council and be presented to GA for consideration by presbyteries to ascertain whether there was support for changes to develop a new style of ministry.

Meanwhile community projects are being slapped on the wrist for overstepping parish boundaries or are unable to share the sacraments because their eminently qualified leader doesn’t have the ‘right sort’ of theology degree and isn’t ordained. There was much talk about training and the need for a new focus on missional skills for ordained ministries. But I can’t help but feel that a more open approach to development of lay leaders or the already qualified members needs a better look at. Why do we allow someone to ‘preach and teach’ at a youth club yet become very cagey when they might do it from the pulpit, as it were? There was also talk of a more modular approach to training, building on existing skills. So how about an approved ‘sacramental theology’ bolt-on to make sure it’s all done above board and with theological rigour and that makes sure the appropriate box is ticked for church law? And maybe it’s time to get over the suspicion and angst about it that has persisted for several hundred years since the Reformation.

So, what’s the solution? A presbyterian church with flexible structures, “boundary blindness” (thanks to Peter Neilson for that one) when it comes to parishes and a real commitment to training its people to become the body of Christ in the community. And maybe a church that relaxes its ecclesiology and grasps more of the kingdom instead. Shouldn’t be too tall an order. Maybe a report to GA is called for.

Mar 092010
 

I’ve been working my way through Emerging Churches, a very useful book giving a survey of what Emerging Church is all about. I came across a reflection from Doug Pagitt who sees three ‘types’ of EC and one of them really struck a chord with me. He doesn’t see the church as “necessarily the center (sic) of God’s attentions” and that God is already at work in the world; the church “has the option to join God or not”.

As I read it I was reminded of an observation from Barth which I think I’ve previously mentioned – that the church has always been a minority. The implication is that it always will be, and that that’s no bad thing. In the light of Pagitt’s comments it even makes sense (to me anyway). It opens up the whole question of the purpose of the church. In a sense it only ever needs to be a minority if it sees its purpose as finding where God is at work and joining in. ‘Church’ then becomes the place where church members are spiritually renewed and sustained and sent out to mission again. Their mission purpose is to make disciples of all nations. But does that need to mean growing a church congregation? OK, so it raises issues of ‘Christian imperialism’ when we count those who are working for ‘the good’ to be disciples, but then the issue is about the kingdom, and not the church. It also ‘meets the requirement’ for the church to be ‘in the world, but not of it’. And it has a somewhat liberal, vaguely universalist, soteriology. But that’s just theology and a few proof texts will soon take care of that. 😉

But it also throws into question the whole issue of the EC movement. Is it actually necessary to establish churches to do mission work? The answer must be, “no,” but what then is EC for? It seems to me that EC is, in a sense, a by-product of missional work. Or, at least, it can be. It can also be a project in and of itself. Context is the key, I suppose.

It also raises some interesting questions for the Church of Scotland, particularly at this cash-strapped time and as it considers its ability to meet its Third Article and be a presence in every part of Scotland. Maybe by trying to be ‘church’ everywhere it will never succeed; but as the missional bringer of the kingdom, that may be a different story. A lot of joined-up thinking required I think.

Mar 032010
 

No surprise there then.

Having spent some of this afternoon discussing Emerging Church, I got the names of a few projects to follow up on as possible research subjects for my dissertation. I’ve just spent some time looking at their websites and I’m left with the feeling that either I’ve completely missed the point of Emerging Church or someone else has (or I’m missing something very obvious).

The projects I’ve looked at are what I would refer to as ‘detached youth work’. Or, in one case, ‘semi-detached youth work’. One project doesn’t restrict its outreach to any particular age-group, but its focus seems mainly to be pastoral care, in the very broadest sense. None of this means that the projects aren’t worthwhile. In fact, they are all doing a great work in their community and all praise to them for it.

But I’m left wondering what makes this ‘Emerging Church’. Yes, I understand that EC is characterised by its very missional outlook, but missional outlook alone does make a project EC. It must go hand-in-hand with a number of other factors, otherwise, surely, it is ‘just’ mission?

Or maybe these are simply the first tentative steps towards finding an expression of EC for their particular communities. Get alongside people first, earn their trust and respect, then begin to think about spiritual guidance. But isn’t this just ‘church’ and the sensible (only?) way of outreach into a community – itself an imperative of the gospel?

But that still leaves me confused because it doesn’t, in my mind, adequately deal with what EC is. In fact, these projects, arguably, are not ‘church’ – merely the work of the church.

Or am I simply too impatient? Is it unrealistic to expect to see ‘church’ in these projects at these early stages? But is anything else not being a bit ‘dishonest’? Shouldn’t an EC project be characterised by aiming to be ‘church’ – that is, a worshipping community’ – as part of its project work?

Ah well, plenty of food for thought there for an essay or two and a dissertation.

Mar 012010
 

I had a very useful discussion last week with my academic supervisor. Very shortly I will have two research essays due and a presentation to do for what my dissertation will be about. All well and good if I knew where I was going, which is where the discussion ended up being very useful.

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Feb 192010
 

I was having a chat the other day with Nikki about life, the universe and blogging. I had, in the back of my mind, Scott’s challenge to define my theology and I was throwing around the idea that I am a bit of a ‘bungee-theologian’. That doesn’t mean I keep changing my mind and bounce uncontrollably from one idea to another. Rather, it describes the constant theological tension I seem to have to live with. Just when I think I have something fairly sorted, I am reminded that its polar opposite can also be justified, so I have to attempt to accommodate that point of view as well.

However, even someone tied to bungee cords will find a point of equilibrium and that doesn’t seem to be true for me. Nikki threw a phrase into the pot which seemed to be a pretty accurate ‘label’ – Restless Theology. I rather liked that, so with due credit to Nikki for coming up with the name, I lay claim to it as a label for describing my own theology. I will post some restless thoughts in due course.

Jan 272010
 

Last week I was in 121 at a seminar/conference thing organised by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. The topic was “Moral Maze on Virtualisation and Society” and was, ostensibly, a initial discussion into the morals and ethics of such phenomena as social networking and online role-play/immersion activities. The discussion topics were billed as follows:

  • How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
  • How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
  • How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
  • How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
  • Is a regulatory framework desirable?
  • What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?

This is all good stuff and very relevant in our technology-oriented world.

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Jan 182010
 

I was at the evening service in my home church last night and, I must confess, didn’t particularly engage with the theme of the sermon. It struck me as bordering on eisegesis rather than exegesis. To be fair, what it was doing was asking questions of the text that weren’t (I would have said) inherent in the text – the questions didn’t arise from the text; they were being imposed upon it (in my opinion). But, as I said, it did kick off a train of thought that I’m still wondering about.

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Jan 042010
 

Apologies up front – this is very much a ‘thinking out loud’ blog entry and may well descend into a bit of a rant. You have been warned! Even so, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

On Sunday I was leading the whole service and the choice of hymns, reading, sermon, etc was entirely mine. Over Advent we have spent a bit of time in Luke’s gospel and finished off towards the end of Luke chapter 2. I decided to pick up from that point and deal with a passage that isn’t (in my experience) covered very often – the incident of Jesus, as a boy, doing a bunk from the family group and being found in the Temple. I felt it fitted well with a Ne Year start as I believe the passage does a number of things, including giving a glimpse of Jesus’ future life, ministry and purpose but also leaving us with a challenge also very appropriate for the beginning of a new year and a new session – where would we expect to find Jesus if we went looking for Him?

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Nov 252009
 

The last ‘proper’ Barth class was today and, whilst the readings have often been heavy going, their challenge to faith and theology is very clear. There have been many quotable parts, but my particular favourite came with the readings for today. From Church Dogmatics IV/3, the context is Barth challenging how the church (or more accurately, the faith community) sees itself in the world. He has already challenged the notion that the faith community must hold itself apart from the world. Rather is must be utterly ‘for’ the world whilst holding on to its distinctiveness (holiness). Anyway, on the back of that comes an enormously challenging section on what being ‘for’ the world, and having solidarity with the world, means. He says:

Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with the unrighteous as friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion.

Barth CD IV/3, p774