Emerging Theology Continued
Reading Ian Mobsby’s piece on Theology for the Emerging Church (10.05) struck a chord. It made me think back over what we’ve been learning here at HARVEST new Anglican church (www.harvestnac.co.uk). We’ve been doing emerging theology without realising it. We’ve grown some. We’ve changed some more.
We’ve come from a Church Growth, Church Planting, Church Burn-out background. We started again with a network based, Cell structure, Anglican experiment in 1998. No building. No Parish. One of the first, we like to think! (See the little bit about us in “Mission Shaped Church”.) We took seriously the “values not structures” ethos of the model. And as a result we’ve been “emerging” ever since.
Ian talks about the tension along a spectrum between Conservative Evangelical and Traditional Catholic theology. (Incarnational, world-affirming versus Redemptive, world-denying etc.) For us the tension has been both broader and deeper still. We have found ourselves exploring a territory that has at least four reference points. Evangelical. Charismatic. Liberal. Catholic. It’s a diamond shape with each of those traditions at one of the four points. (Thus allowing us to engage with most of inherited Christianity.)
God speaks out of that diamond-shape. Not just from one point. It’s absolutely not about finding the mid-point between extremes. Nor is it about finding a happy compromise. It’s a new way of looking (to us at least) that uncomfortably requires living in paradox (as Ian suggests). Thinking radically about theology of church, has led unexpectedly (but pretty obviously, why didn’t we spot this before?), to thinking radically about theology of gospel, evangelism, discipleship and all the rest.
Emerging Theology will need to set some boundaries. That’s what the early Creeds were about, I think. How much more mature to allow us to discover it afresh for ourselves than require us simply to toe a line drawn back in the mist (and sands) of time. That God has spoken, and spoken definitively in Jesus, will be our foundational point of departure.
It’s actually quite refreshing to take a perspective from each of the four reference points above. Keep the other three in view, but take the risk of standing somewhere different for a change. Don’t compromise, of course, but take the best of each insight and admit that the picture is more complex than you’ve previously allowed yourself to believe. Take the Evangelical perspective and test what you’re seeing from Scripture. Be a Pentecostal and ask what the Spirit is wanting to do right now. From a Catholic stance look at how those who have gone before us handled similar challenges. Allow a Liberal vantage point to pose questions about passion for justice, service and the coming Kingdom.
Experience seems to show that the world we’re wanting to connect with, relishes diversity of perspective, and is highly suspicious of single perspective certainties. And why not? In all conscience, we haven’t ourselves always been able to make sense of the teaching we were given. No. I don’t think this is simply swapping an Evangelical/Charismatic heritage for a Liberal one. It’s more about genuinely moving around the spectrum and taking stock. Being prepared to learn and change ourselves is part of our integrity. (See my Grove Book, Evangelism Series No40 “Doing things differently – changing the heart of the church” 1997)
There is no “one culture” out there for us to learn from. The world is diverse. God is diverse. Emerging Theology requires us to change perspective and look from many different vantage points. It will demand of us a new level of integrity in our own relationship with God. Without that, why should anyone listen, we’re just another voice in the wind.
In our context, (Broadstairs, Thanet, Kent) this approach has proved particularly liberating for the “de-churched”. Many have initially been able to identify the perspective that was once home. And then to say “So, that’s why it felt vaguely unsatisfying. There’s so much more!”
Emerging Church will avoid the hard logic which says “This is right, so that must be wrong”. We will be developing a softer approach, which says “Tell me what it looks like from over there” and lets do some changing together. I suspect that God is somewhere in that kind of process.