Reflection

Open Source Theology

Over the last few years we have seen a lot of emerging church rise to the surface in various parts of world – like bits of buoyant debris from a sinking ship. We have seen church become fragmented, decentralized, experimental, liquid, alternative, subversive, wired, hip, post-evangelical, pre-reformational, and above all self-consciously postmodern. But with all this change going on, what is happening to our theology, our belief-system? Are we sure it will float? Or is there a danger that it will go down with the ship?

I started Open Source Theology (www.opensourcetheology.net) out of the conviction that if there is such a thing as emerging church (I think there is but I’m less sure what it is) and if it is, deep down, a work of God (I think it is), then it urgently needs an emerging theology. It seems to me that we are wasting our time if we rethink church without at the same time rethinking the story that gives church a reason for existing at all.

The term ‘open source’ is properly applied to a process of developing and distributing computer software that is public, collaborative and free. It contrasts with the normal commercial process by which software is produced by private companies and sold for profit. In the narrative world of the emerging culture, open source developers are the good guys – quirky, generous, iconoclastic heroes – and the commercial producers are the bad guys, with Microsoft dominating the axis of evil.

The premise behind Open Source Theology is that the church, emerging from its modernist prison and blinking in the light, is faced with a similar choice: How is it going to rebuild its credibility? What sort of theology does it need to make sense of its existence in this strange, dazzling postmodern world.

Traditionally, theology has been generated by experts, marketed and retailed by pastors and teachers, and passively consumed by church-goers. That sort of approach, for all its strengths, sits uncomfortably with the ethos of the emerging church. The ‘open source’ paradigm offers an alternative method. An open source theology is the product of a public conversation between all those who have a serious interest in the subject; it is responsive to the user-environment; it is exploratory, open-ended, incomplete, less concerned to establish fixed points and boundaries than to nurture a thoughtful and constructive dialogue between text and context.

The Open Source Theology website is also being used to develop discussion in the lead up to the Future of the People of God conference with the theologian and bishop of Durham Tom Wright in July this year. We want to find out whether his reworking of the core Christian narrative can provide a fresh and compelling theological framework around which to construct a new ship of faith for the postmodern world. Have a look at the information on the website. You might want to be there.