Monday, November 28, 2005

Feminist and Christian (and Emergent/Emerging)

My good friend and graduate-student-in-history colleague Lauran, who is also into musing, recently began a series on "Why I'm a Feminist." She's also done some important writing on women and the Emergent/Emerging Church/Movement.

You should visit her blog. Often.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 8

While previous posts address history, artistic expression, and worship, today’s post examines Emerging/Emergent cultural engagement. I briefly addressed “missionality” in a previous post, but will reframe the subject with today’s thoughts by offering specific, contextual examples of what it means to be missional.

Those in Emerging/Emergent communities often describe cultural engagement, what some call evangelism, as a “missional” activity. In fact, in the literature of the Emergent church one is less likely to come across references to evangelistic strategies or schemes; rather, one more often reads about missional trajectories of cultural interaction, and carefully defined statements about living within postmodern culture.

Emergent leader Spencer Burke, in Making Sense of the Church (2003), explains that “the warrior metaphor has permeated the Christian subculture, particularly our approach to evangelism.”1 According to Burke, in a culture given to obsession with violence, the warrior metaphor often defines the way evangelical Christians define relationships with those outside of the Christian fold. Burke lists organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, recalls singing military oriented songs about evangelism as a youth, and participating in Bible “sword drills” in Sunday school. There are, no doubt, images of war in the Bible, Burke avers, but offers the gardener metaphor as an alternative way to imagine evangelism. Burke writes: "While warriors press on no matter what the elements, gardeners step back on occasion. They know that working the soil incessantly leads to burnout. They understand the importance of rest – of allowing a field to lie fallow for a year in order to regenerate itself. At the same time, however, they’re also keenly aware of the mystery of spiritual growth. Spiritual gardening is not an exact science. While gardeners faithfully do their part, they experience peace knowing that God is ultimately responsible for the crop."2 Here Burke replaces an evangelistic concept that many find offensive and ineffective (though images of war and spiritual warfare dot the Bible) with another picture from the Bible that allows discussion of a kind of organic evangelism.

Another striking example of missional relations with culture comes from Christian writer Donald Miller. In Blue Like Jazz (2003), Miller relates a story from college where he and several friends (all Christians) constructed a confessional booth in a high-traffic area of campus many students milled about after wild college parties. The group affixed a sign to the front of the structure that read “Confess your sins.” Miller then recalls what a friend said about the confessional: "We are not actually going to accept confessions…[w]e are going to confess to them [the party-goers]. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."3 Miller’s story captures the ways in which Emerging/Emergent engagement with culture creates constructive spaces for dialogue and conversation and invites healing and wholeness in decidedly non-confrontational ways.

Emerging pastor Steve Taylor offers the vision of “spiritual tourism” to explain the missional possibilities of postmodern Christianity. In The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (2004), Taylor explains that some tourists are recreational in nature, those whose travels bring rest and respite, others experiential, always seeking a thrill, while others are more existentially inclined and internalize traveling experiences. “Christian formation,” Taylor writes, “involves the move from experiential and experimental seeker to existential relocation to a new place of being and understanding. It is in essence a call to tour, to journey spiritually with God. It is a move away from recreation and diversion toward an inward relocation of heart and mind.” While Taylor admits that such a description sounds like consumer spirituality, he adamantly states that within the context of creating community and attempting to bridge conversations with culture, “the church is cooperating with the way our contemporary culture accesses information and experience and reflects on them. The church allows tourists to navigate their way through the rich resources of the Christian tradition….[t]he church is a participator with the unseen wind of the Spirit of God.”4

Another Emergent writer, Mark Driscoll, suggests that the Apostle Paul modeled postmodern ways of engaging postmodern culture. Commenting on the account of Paul on Mars Hill from Acts 17, Driscoll contrasts Paul’s preaching methodology at the Jewish synagogues with his disputation with the philosophers of Athens. Paul’s listeners at synagogues were familiar with the Old Testament, and thus his sermons began with a common point of reference, categories that both preacher and audience understood. In Athens, on the other hand, Driscoll points out, Paul first referenced Greek culture to attain common ground with his listeners before moving on to “biblical” categories of thought and reason. Paul noted the spiritual posture of the Athenians, for example, quoted a number of Greek poets, and later took these concepts and brought them into a Christian framework. “In our day,” Driscoll remarks, “this would be akin to unearthing partial truths about God from a culture’s film, music, comedy, sports, literature, theater, philosophy, economics, medicine, or politics and working from those truths to the truth of Jesus as the ultimate answer to all human questions and cultural problems.”5

Previous posts attempt to locate the Emerging/Emerging church through a discussion of its relation to postmodernism, explores its understanding of Christian history, examines the ways in which Emerging/Emergent thinkers and leaders formulate preaching, frame worship services, pursue spiritual formation, and conduct cultural engagement. While the foregoing captures major trends of the movement and outlines some of its important contours, a clearer understanding can only come from participation in the life of an Emerging/Emergent community. I spent Lent 2005 with an Emergent community in Houston, Ecclesia, and forthcoming posts will narrate my experiences there.

1Spencer Burke, Making Sense of the Church, 144.

2Ibid, 145.

3Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, 117-119.

4 Steve Taylor, The Out of Bounds Church?, 81-97, quotes from 83-84, 87-88.

5 Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out, 118-122, quote from 121.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Electronic Panoply of the Emerging/Emergent Church

Andrew Jones has a fine post on a number of articles, blogs, and discussions related to the Emerging/Emergent church. Whether an insider, outsider, friendly observer, or uninformed critic, these links are well worth a look.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 7

Today’s theme: Preaching

Pastors in the Emergent/Emerging church respect and believe in the historical authenticity of the Bible and therefore aim to faithfully interpret and creatively apply biblical texts. In Emergent contexts pastors often engage in a theological and practical conversation about a biblical text or theme, and the application of the text often comes when members of a community offer their own experiences as they relate to the text. The sermon thus appears more like a discussion as opposed to a theological lecture, and on occasion takes the form of a parable, a contemporary story with biblical resonance, meaning, and application.

Emerging leader Dan Kimball (The Emerging Church [2003]) explains how preaching in an Emerging setting remains faithful to the Bible’s message while interpreting and applying that message in contemporary contexts. Kimball urges pastors to imagine themselves as storytellers, as heralds of God sent to proclaim a message of grace and forgiveness. Such storytelling speaks a religious language that both insiders and outsiders can understand. Communication is critical in Kimball’s opinion, and as such ministers should not neglect the public proclamation, in various forms, of the Bible. “The emerging church needs to elevate public reading, preaching, and teaching,” Kimball writes, “[i]n a culture devoid of truth and lacking understanding of the scriptural story, we need to proclaim, herald, and preach all the more. But the way we do this needs to change because the audience has changed.”1

According to Kimball, much like Paul’s address to the philosophers of Athens as told in Acts 17, tending to the needs of today’s listeners allows for a variety of approaches to presenting the stories of Christianity. Even with the freedom to experiment with delivery styles (discussed below), Kimball contends that preaching to today’s listeners demands that Christ remain the central focus of the message, that the Trinitarian equation animate all discussion, that the physicality of being human frame spiritual pondering (especially issues surrounding sexuality), that the scriptures remain in an authoritative position, that hell and perdition frequent conversations, and that ministers acknowledge that the Christian spiritual journey is one of highs and lows, a life of “messy spirituality” and constant striving for obedience and holiness.2

With respect to modes of communicating the message, Kimball believes that ultimately the Holy Spirit brings conviction and guides consciences to faith; it is the pastor’s role to consider “how [to] present truth to the people we hope to see transformed.” This consideration leads Kimball to posit that “experience” far outweighs the “facts” of a presentation. “We need to approach Scripture in a holistic way,” Kimball argues, “thinking through how the sermon fits within the worship experience. We need to blend our propositions of truth with experiences of truth.” On this point Kimball suggests the incorporation of more visual elements into worship experiences, from images of stained glass, to icons, to contemporary art infused with biblical texts. Kimball believes this better engages today’s listeners, highlights the importance of the biblical narrative, and encourages communal participation in services with corporate reading or private meditation, and attempts to remove the pastoral cult of personality that inhabits many Protestant churches today. Kimball also asserts that this approach to worship creates an environment that embraces dialogue and allows a genuine “struggle” with scriptures, much like the Hebrew Midrash. “To a modern mindset this might sound dangerous,” Kimball admits, “but I believe this is healthy and sharpens our thinking. It also admits that we may not have all the answers about God neatly packaged.”3

While Kimball describes the role of a preacher as storyteller, Emerging leader Spencer Burke, in Making Sense of the Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (2003), prefers to imagine preachers as facilitators because facilitators do not merely “impart information, [they] create opportunities for learning.” Burke suggests that most sermons are “thinly disguised university lecture[s],” and that many modern Christians idolize knowledge above praxis. This approach, in Burke’s estimation, often obscures a community’s focus “on the Word become flesh,” a kind of focus that creates space for more displays of Christian symbolism in the form of things like icons. Burke’s approach, from preacher as facilitator to a more thoroughgoing use of symbols and signs above all sets Christian worship in an egalitarian and in his view a more biblical mode. “For years,” Burkes writes, “we have elevated teaching to the exclusion of other gifts. Paul described the church in terms of a body. Whether we realize it or not, we’re walking around with a body that’s grossly out of proportion to our head. Our obsession with teaching has made us a caricature of what God intended.”4 Both Burke and Kimball agree that delivery styles might undergo experiment or improvisation, and invite those who communicate messages to reformulate pastoral identity.

If Kimball and Burke offer a kind of theoretical framework for preaching, teaching, and application in an Emerging setting, Doug Pagitt describes what this looks like in an Emerging church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church, Pagitt discusses the sacred spaces in which the Solomon’s Porch community worships and the ways these spaces frame discussion and dialogue. Intentionally eschewing the festive feel of megachurches, the worship experience at Solomon’s Porch aims to be more “interactive and participatory.” This means that stages and other architectural displays of power give way to meeting “in the round” where couches enclose and encapsulate the community, and all in attendance are invited to speak and share at various times during the service. This structure also translates into a worship experience where the music comes from the lips and instruments of “local” musicians, where Psalm readings (only by female members of the community) become weekly expressions of “the poetry of [the Christian] faith,” where communion exists as the weekly meal of spiritual sustenance, where communal and individual prayer becomes a collective utterance of community, and where the sermon becomes a “story” framed by a Biblical passage and interpreted to fit with a contemporary settings.5

This series continues with another look at the Emerging/Emergent churches and missionality and with forthcoming posts about my travel through Lent 2005 with the faithful at Ecclesia Houston.

1 Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 171-173.

2 Ibid., 174-183.

3 Ibid., 185-194, quoting 187, 188, 193.

4 Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 51-66, quoting 52-54, 65.

5 Doug Pagitt, Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 49-64, 113-124.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Emerging Church, circa 1970s

In recent months both Andrew Jones and Dan Kimball have noted books from the 1970s with "emerging" titles.

I'd like to add another title to the discussion: Sergio Torres and Virginia Fabella, editors, The Emergent Gospel: Theology from the Underside of History (Orbis, 1978).

This is a collection of essays from the 1976 Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians held at Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). Interestingly, the voices here present interrogate the hegemony of Western theological trends (see below); these words remain true today.

One hopes, as I did in a recent paper, that Emergent (US) voices continue to adopt global postures.

From the Final Statement of the Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians (1976):

"The theologies from Europe and North America are dominant today in our churches and represent one form of cultural domination. They must be understood to have arisen out of situations related to those countires, and therefore must not be uncritically adopted without our raising the question of their relavance in the context of our countries....We reject as irrelevant an academic type of theology that is divorced from action. We are prepared for a radical break in epistemology which makes commitment the first act of theology and engages critical reflection on praxis of the reality of the Third World" (from the Introduction, p. x).

Any thoughts?

Friends in the Blogosphere

Glad to see my friend Keelan Downton in this branch of the blogosphere. I look foward to his reflections; he has some important things to say with respect to ecumenical concerns as well as interfaith dialogue.

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 6

As previous posts indicate, notable numbers of Emerging/Emergent faithful engage postmodernism and work to translate this intellectual posture into practical settings. For many in the movement a number of trajectories (i.e., worship and artistic expression) define cultural engagement at the practical level and transmit this engagement in postmodern ways. Hence the topic of today’s post: worship.

Postmodern worship, in the words of Emerging leader Dan Kimball (The Emerging Church [2003]), while making possible the employment of creativity and improvisation must stay keen to “attribute worth to God [and] to kiss toward him in reverence and lay prostrate.” This attribution, Kimball contends, examines how scriptures describe worship and also takes a serious glance at worship in the early church. Prayer, sacraments, teaching, and community characterized the early church, and because of Christ’s Incarnation, Kimball maintains, Christians today can and should create “multisensory” worship gatherings – meetings of faith and devotion that involve all of the senses. In this view faithful devotion is not merely intellectual assent to a catalogue of doctrines or propositions; faithful devotion involves careful reflection on the aesthetics of worship, the sacred spaces and experiences to which Emerging leaders attend. Emerging gatherings, therefore, aim at holistic worship – worship that involves visual stimuli like icons (but also for religious instruction) or computer technology, physical motion like clapping or kneeling, smelling incense, “tasting” the Eucharistic meal, and “hearing” the voice of God through dialogical conversation. Ideally, holistic worship also includes the participation of all in attendance – both men and women, both old and young. Not only does Kimball advocate the creation of an environment where the postmodern generation might encounter God in various ways, he also advocates the use of silence as a way to connect to others and as a way to teach patience and devotion.1

Another aspect of worship that receives significant attention among Emergent/Emerging pastors, thinkers, and practitioners is the use of art in worship, or simply the use of art as an expression of faith. Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have historically used artistic expression in liturgies and devotions, from icons of saints to statues of the Virgin Mary, for example. Yet many in the Emerging/Emergent movement, who are conscious of what we might call the art history of Christianity, maintain spaces for more improvisational and individual expressions of faith. “Visualcy,” Andy Crouch writes, captures the essence of today’s visual culture and suggests that evangelicals must acquire a new kind of literacy for the postmodern age. Crouch is hopeful that a kind of artistic discourse of images will equip evangelicals to thoughtfully engage today’s world: “visual technologies are restoring human beings to our God-given role as communal cultural communicators.”2

Similarly, in an essay titled “Digital Media as Cultural Metaphor,” communications theorist Robert S. Fortner calls for deeper reflection on the “metaphysics of this digital age,” a time during which the growth of digital culture injects a kind of communicative democratization into electronic discourse. For Christians, according to Fortner, this new age demands careful analysis and appropriation of digital technology to the life of faith. “[T]his is the new culture now under construction,” Fortner concludes, “one that – through its metaphorical definition of reality – will reconfigure the symbolic world of humankind and the methodology for recognizing truth. Yet it is this new symbolic world that Scripture and those who believe it must address if we are to make the Word of God relevant to mankind. It is a new Babel.”3 Many in the Emergent/Emerging church recognize this reality, and seek to apply it.

In “Musings on Art and the Relationship to Worship in the 21st Century,” musician and consultant Cathy Townley eschews practical suggestions for how to feature art in worship services in order to display why art is godly and how artists can display godliness. According to Townley, art can uniquely convey the “truth,” which is not always beautiful, and in the end produce a kind of spiritual and ontological transformation. “Art brings the inside outside,” Townley writes, “[and] [a]rt makes you internalize what you perceive. Art begins conversation, and dialogue….Art is the language of the soul.” Townley suggests that visual discourse includes all of humanity in the conversation of God’s perpetual creation(s), and as such “[t]he artist in a human being is sacred space.” In this sense, Townley observes, the human quest for wholeness, healing, and community often comes through artistic mediums, and it is in this dimension of life that true spiritual healing might come. “In a sense,” Townley concludes, “the artist is not only one who has a talent, but is also a metaphor for one who endures the pain of life.”4 Thus, for Townely, the Emerging environment creates the possibility to observe humanity fleshed out, to witness visible healing displayed in the context of a worshiping community.

Moving from theoretical to practical displays of faith, what the authors call “praxis,” Jonny Baker, Doug Gay, and Jenny Brown offer a collection of options in Alternative Worship: Resources From and For the Emerging Church (2004). To enhance and transform worship the authors suggest that Emerging churches might shape services by the inclusion of historical liturgies, the application of communications theories, and displays of artistic expression. Furthermore, devotional and sacramental living might result from these transformative worship settings, whether musically enhanced or artistically ensconced. The authors also suggest that “alternative” worship settings sometimes encourage political engagement framed by theologies of liberation, whether political or gender-based. Even though the authors rightly define their worship as “alternative,” they frame their liturgically innovative suggestions around the “traditional” church calendar so that the church years open with Advent and ends with Pentecost. To demonstrate what the authors mean by “alternative worship,” I will describe enhanced liturgical suggestions from the season of Pentecost.

The authors open the chapter on Pentecost by framing contemporary celebrations of this liturgical season with the recent global explosion of Pentecostalism itself. Large numbers of global Christians practice more pentecostal or charismatic expressions of faith, the authors point out, so it follows that the Emerging church should reflect these trends. The authors also note that much of contemporary theological reflection possesses a renewed focus on pneumatology and its connection to individual spiritual and communal expressions of Spirit-led Christian unity that cross cultural and ethnic boundaries. To accomplish this, the authors offer a number of corporate reader-response prayers and confessions, and also suggest practical ways to display Pentecost. For example, a corporate prayer titled “Opening Doors” reads: “Eternal God, fling open the doors of our hearts to the weather of your Spirit. Lead us out beneath the dancing sky and wind across the stumbling ground of our reality to where the sound of worship never ceases and the view that stretches further than the human eye can see. Through Christ the faithful witness, Amen.” Here geographical and climatological terms suggest the global movement of the Spirit where physical displays of faithful devotion seem to come from liminal impulses. In a section that details ritual practices, the authors suggest that those gathered for worship might anoint one another’s foreheads with oil, bring in electric fans to demonstrate the wind of the Holy Spirit and flash images of the effects of wind on television screens, or even end the service with those gathered by lighting sparklers and playing a song called “Firestarter” to stage the fresh and energetic fire of the Spirit from Pentecost.5 For many Emerging churches, such a radical display of faith and devotion draws on unique gifts within the worshiping community while at the same time honoring long standing traditions of the Christian faith.

Moving from corporate worship to private devotion, Tony Jones’s The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (2005) offers a Protestant embrace of Christian spirituality that spans history and traverses denominational and ecclesial borders. Sacred Way describes measures of spiritual contemplation and explains physical, or “bodily,” ways Christians might express devotion. For Jones, the sacred aspects of devotion include silence, the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons, and meditation; physical exercises of faith Jones recommends include fasting, pilgrimage, spiritual labyrinth, walking the Stations of the Cross and making the sign of the Cross. Jones explains that he tired of guilt-induced Protestant devotional practices and upon consultation with an ecumenical array of spiritual and mystical practitioners he began to value the long history of (ancient) Christian devotion. “For me,” Jones writes, “there is incredible richness in the spiritual practices of ancient and modern Christian communities from around the world. Incorporating new ways of praying, meditating, reading the Bible, and so on have fueled my faith and my passion for spirituality….[S]piritual discipline is liberation, for it’s within the time set aside to be disciplined that we are changed and shaped by God.6 Jones visits the history of Christian spiritual formation in order to offer a spirituality that addresses authentically those in today’s world.

1Kimball, The Emerging Church, 114, 127-131, 158, 160.

2Andy Crouch, “Visualcy,” Christianity Today 49/6 (June 2005): 62.

3Robert S. Fortner, “Digital Media as Cultural Metaphor,” in Robert M. Fowler, Edith Blumhofer, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds., New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 21-47, quote from 45.

4Cathy Townley, “Musings on Art and the Relationship to Worship in the 21st Century,” Next-Wave (April 2000), (accessed July 2005).

5Jonny Baker, Doug Gay, and Jenny Brown, Alternative Worship: Resources From and For the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 131-146, quote from 133. This resource also comes with a CD-ROM full of songs and other creative suggestions for Christian worship.

For a social scientific analysis of many of the trends and practices recommended by Baker, Gay, and Brown, see William J.F. Keenan, “Twenty-First-Century Monasticism and the Religious Life: Just Another New Millennium,” Religion 32 (2002): 13-26; Mark W. MacWilliams, “Virtual Pilgrimages on the Internet,” Religion 32 (2002): 315-335; Patrick Maxwell, “Virtual Religion in Context,” Religion 32 (2002): 343-354; and Christopher Helland, “Surfing for Salvation,” Religion 32 (2002): 293-302.

6Tony Jones, The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 17, 198.

Teaching World Christianity

On Thursday morning I'm driving to Waco/Baylor University (a 3-hour drive) for the Pruit Symposium on Global Christianity with a good friend and fellow scholar. I'm giving a paper on teaching world Christianity Thursday afternoon and am looking forward to all of the sessions, meetings, and conversations. When it's ready I'll post my paper here.