Emergence Christianity ’13: Questions

By Terry Ramone Smith

I had a great weekend in Memphis. Saturday started off with the announcement of Animate Faith from SparkHouse, a video oriented small group curriculum for emerging churches. Animate features Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Hipps, Mark Scandrette, and Bruce Reyes-Chow (who has a book on race releasing next month called Words Matter.)

What is the goal of Emergence Christianity? 

Emergence Christianity asks the question: is the future of Christianity the Church? Is our question one that is theological or is it ecclesial?  Is the major rift between those who are emerging and those who are in more traditional faith communities a question of theology or is it a question of structure?

What is the goal of Emergence Christianity?  Like Phyllis (Tickle), I hope it is to make peace and to turn the power of the church back to the laity from the clergy.

Has the idea of sola scriptura (biblical inerrancy/protestant inerrancy) been outlived?

The idea of biblical inerrancy received its first social challenges during the 2nd world war when all of the men were at war.   We can thank Rosie the Riveter for those social challenges unto “biblical womanhood”.  For the first time, we had women working in factories.  We had women in Christian Evangelical homes, for the first time, whose identities were not dependent on their husbands. Then all of these men came home from the war “shell-shocked” which we call now PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and the number of divorces in America hit all-time highs.  So, now we have women with work experience in factories who are SINGLE, perhaps for the first time in their adult life.  The “Biblical place” for a woman started to change.  Biblical inerrancy was challenged.

In 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, we see the first public shift for GLBT equality.  At an inn owned by the mafia where GLBT folks were welcome, we see and hear of a police raid, because being queer was an offense worthy of arrest.  Any subversive communities (anarchists, communists, and others (including queer folks)) were considered enemies of the state and raids on gay bars were quite common in the 1960’s.  A raid on the Stonewall on June 28, 1969 led to a riot by the queer folks staying there.  GLBT folks were tired of the marginalization and refused to take it anymore.  Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians.  All of a sudden GLBT folks were people too.  Biblical inerrancy was being challenged.

What arrogance to think that God can be squeezed into my tiny brain?  If Scripture is the Story of God and the Story of Us (Tip of my hat to my friend Sean Gladding), how arrogant am I to believe that I completely understand that story?  Biblical inerrancy needs to be challenged heavily.  When I have friends who are seriously ill, clinically depressed, physically handicapped and have other maladies being told that if they just had more faith, they would be healed, something is wrong with our hermeneutic.  Something is wrong with our hermeneutic when my GLBT friends are denied a place in our church leadership.  Something is wrong with our hermeneutic and it needs to be continually challenged.

What if we looked at Scripture as true, but not factual?  For example, I love the story of Jonah, but do I literally believe that a man spent three days living within a whale and was spit back onto the shore? No.  But it’s a great story about the importance of following God.

We need to revisit Emergence. Emergence should be liberating.  We need to be reconsidering the canon and continue to reconsider the canon. Why does The Coptic Church have 87 New Testament books while we have 27?  Why are we still using a canon that was decided upon 1700 years ago?  Perhaps it’s time to revisit the canon.

What’s Next?

I think next, we need to realize and live into the fact that we are living in a world that is extra-Biblical.  Until and if our canon is revisited, it is incomplete.  I urge you, pastors of faith communities, to consider what books are worthy of the canon for your community.  What makes sense to be in your Holy Book?  Does some works by Brian McLaren deserve to be in there?  Dietrich Bonheoffer?  Phyllis Tickle?  Charles Darwin? Henri Nouwen?  I urge you to find something written in the last two hundred years and make it required reading for your faith community.  Read it together.  Discuss it, as you would the book of John.

Also, go back to the texts you have preached on a thousand times and read them again and try to read them as if for the first time.  Read new commentaries.  Seek new perspectives.  We are extra-Biblical, not Post-Biblical.  Our canon is incomplete, not obsolete.

Peace be with you.

Terry is an ambassador for our neighbors who sleep outside in the ATL Metro area, the co-pastor of Church of the Misfits (a DOC Missional Church Plant).  He is irrevocably in love with his wife, Rebecca Cranford-Smith.  You can read his personal blog, where he occasionally posts at http://notyetdivine.wordpress.com.


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