Is the Emerging Church Relevant? [Liveblog]

This week I’m at AAR/SBL, and I’m liveblogging some of the sessions I’m attending. Emergent Art Car This session is sponsored by the Critical Research in Religion group, and it’s called, “Is the Emerging/-ent Church Relevant?”

Xochitl Alvizo of Boston University gave the first presentation, Is the Emerging Church Important from a Feminist Practical Theological Perspective? Her thesis is that the few hipster white men who make up the popular perception of the Emerging Church Movement [ECM] are effectively erasing the truth, that the ECM is a large group of diverse people who are questioning church practice and theology. To imagine the ECM as a deconstruction of conventional church means to move beyond the high profile names and to, in the words of John Caputo, “Make the impossible happen.” This is exactly what feminist theologians have been doing since Mary Daly in the 1960s. The ECM can be measured in its success by this same metric as feminist theology. Alvizo studied 12 congregations to see if they are what they say they are: relational, organic, and inclusive. She looked for the congregations’ ability to question their own embedded patriarchal habits. Her findings are not yet complete, and she is analyzing her results. But two of the most pressing questions so far are, 1) the structure of the ordained clergy. Traditionally, the ordained clergy have a monopoly of the teaching and the power, disempowering the laity and keeping the liturgy from being the work of the people. Alvizo has found that ECM clergy are renegotiating these roles and attempting to subvert the traditional clergy roles. [Read more...]

Am I Afraid of Atheism?

Revolution Church — which was founded by Jay Bakker and has followed him from Phoenix to Atlanta to New York City to its present home in Minneapolis — is a unique faith community. Yes, it’s small (at least in person; its online footprint, via the podcast, is much larger). But the people who attend are there for something that very few churches offer, and that’s brutal, unadulterated honesty. That’s what Jay brings each week, and that’s what those who attend are hoping for.

I cannot claim to be as honest or humble as Jay, but when he asks me to guest preach, I try to get in touch with my Inner Jay. That’s what I did last Sunday, in a talk entitled, “Should We Be Afraid of Atheism.”

Jay talks openly about his doubts. Several times, I’ve heard him admit at Revolution that he doubts daily whether God exists. At many churches, this would be disconcerting (see, for example, where the Archbishop of Canterbury admits his own doubts), but at Revolution, that’s the very thing that people come to hear.

I, too, doubt God’s existence — though less today than I used to. But that’s not what I talked about last Sunday. Instead, I talked about the doubts of others, and whether atheism is part of the legacy of the emerging church movement.

[Read more...]

Study Shows Emergent Is Not As Liberal As You Thought

Photo by Courtney Perry

Photo by Courtney Perry

Just when you thought emergent was dead, scholars are showing that it’s very much alive and kicking. I will soon write about the excellent full-length book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel. That book came out earlier this year.

Now, two political scientists — Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University and Paul Djupe of Denison University — have co-authored two academic articles about the Emerging Church. Each article shows some fascinating insights into the movement, and each upsets some of what we think we know. I’ll post about one today and the other on Monday.

[Read more...]

Doctrine DOES Change

Pope Francis arrives at the Synod on the family.

Over the last two weeks, Pope Francis made some courageous steps in dragging the Catholic Church into the 21st century. First, he called a Synod to discuss non-traditional family arrangements, including divorces, those raising children outside of wedlock, and gays and lesbians. Then he began the synod by telling the assembled bishops to speak their minds honestly, not holding anything back.

Halfway through the synod, the Vatican released a provisional report on what they were discussing, and it contained language so welcoming to gays and lesbians that it ignited a global debate. After another week, the final report was released, and it lacked much of the language that welcomed gays, lesbians, and those who choose to raise children without getting married. Andrew Sullivan called it, “Two steps forward, one step back.”

What has most surprised Sullivan and others who watch the Vatican closely is that instead of just releasing the final report, the entire report was released — including the defeated paragraphs — along with the vote tally for each paragraph. This kind of transparency from the Catholic magisterium is a revolution itself, and its possible significance should not be underestimated.

Sullivan concludes his post on the Synod, [Read more...]


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