This is the second of two excerpts from a book that I happily endorsed: Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God by Kyle Roberts. Kyle is a professor at Bethel Seminary and a fellow Patheos blogger.
The emergent movement comprises communities of Christ-followers who desire to recover a sense of authenticity, passion, vulnerability, and intimacy in their lives together. They organize their communities in an intentionally organic way, such that these ideals become (at least conceptually) more attainable that they have appeared to be in institutional forms of church.
The caveat here, from a Kierkegaardian point of view, is that when the alteration of the organization becomes the means whereby these aims can be attained, too much freight is given to change in “circumstance” as the hope for renewal, authenticity, and the recovery of the essentially Christian. Nonetheless, it does seem that at some point action must be taken; this is very Kierkegaardian, too.
Emergent Christianity’s attempt to creatively rethink the nature of the church in this changing world will serve the larger (established) church well—to the extent they take notice. Even if the transiency of emergent communities and the lack of institutional structure make propagation a serious challenge, the burst of creativity and critical reflection within emergent Christianity offers—at the very least—an important renewal resource for more empathetic traditional churches.
In any case, the question recurs and the refrain continues: How can we attain an existentially authentic faith, both individually and communally? In the context of our ecclesiology discussion, the answer may well lie in a theological deconstruction (and subsequent attempted reconstruction) of institutional forms of church life which often seem to inhibit authenticity, intimacy, vulnerability, and genuine community. Emergent Christians are working hard to find a better way for this journey. For others, the least they can do is empathize with their quest.
Consistent with the trajectory set forth in Practice in Christianity, albeit intensified in his final years, Kierkegaard pointed the way to the disestablishment of the church in favor of the emergence of Christ’s kingdom. The church exists in service of in-breaking of the kingdom of God into temporality. The confrontation with the world occasioned by the action of the historical Christ in his abased life (suffering) and crucifixion opened the way for a new mode of being in the world—one characterized by deep subjectivity and authentic community.
This community exists in the eschatological space between the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and the finite, the bound and the free. Kierkegaard’s Christology of paradox suggests that the church, as an institution—or establishment—must be provisional and temporary, and must give way to the priority of the redemptive presence, or Kingdom of God, brought about disruptively in the world through the reign of Christ as the paradoxical one. This means that the church cannot serve itself and ought not understand its mission to be self-preservation.
So Jürgen Moltmann says: “It is not the Church that ‘has’ a mission, but the reverse; Christ’s mission creates itself a Church. The mission should not be understood from the perspective of the Church, but the other way round.” The church must regularly check its own accumulated habits, its acculturations, commitments, and partnerships with the “powers” and economies of society. It cannot offer itself as an end or become preoccupied with its own self-preservation. Christianity, as an established, institutional, cultural phenomenon, is non-essential. The church defers, bends, and even disappears; like John the Baptist, it must decrease while Christ must increase.
When the church becomes its own self-perpetuating institution, when its mission begins to displace the pure, prophetic, and disruptive presence of Christ, it must be disestablished—deconstructed, even—while Christ and his Kingdom reappears and re-emerges.
OK, who’s ready to start disestablishing churches?