Is the Emerging Church Relevant? [Liveblog]

This week I’m at AAR/SBL, and I’m liveblogging some of the sessions I’m attending. 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...]

The Big Announcement

Last night was pretty epic, at least by AAR/SBL standards. We had a standing-room-only crowd for the live recording of Homebrewed Christianity with John Cobb, Catherine Keller, and Jack Caputo. IMO, the quote of the night came from Cobb: [Read more...]

What Happened to Evangelical Theology? [#ETS2014 Liveblog]

This weekend I’m attending the Evangelical Theological Society and American Academy of Religion, and I will be liveblogging some of the sessions that I’m attending.

Assessing Stanley Grenz’s Contribution to Evangelical Theology: 10 Years Later,” that’s the name of the session I’m attending at ETS. But Stan’s death isn’t the only thing that happened ten years ago at ETS. That was also the year that ETS voted against Open Theology, for all intents and purposes expelling people like Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders. Now, when you look through the program book, in addition to the annual reaffirmation of inerrancy in the image above, you will see that many sessions are dominated by Southern Baptists.

8:50am Jason Sexton just presented Edna Grenz, Stan’s widow, with a volume of 20 essays in his honor. She implored the gathered scholars to not just continue Stan’s theological rigor, but to also treat one another with humility and respect as they debate one another.

8:54am Sexton continues that many, looking back, do not think that Stan really understood postmodernism. Some also incorrectly believe that he had departed evangelicalism before his death. This would only happen, Sexton says, if we look exclusively at Stan’s academic work and ignore his spiritual and ecclesial life.

Sexton also thinks that Stan is unfairly criticized for his book on homosexuality,Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Instead than being a recalcitrant evangelical, Sexton says, Granz was “ahead of us” on sexuality, women, postmodernity, and the Trinity.

Who’s the real Stan Grenz? That’s what Sexton tried to discover in his dissertation, but he says Stan cannot be found in the secondary literature — the books and articles about Grenz. That’s because, “Maybe we’re afraid of what we might find, how the real Stan Grenz might push us beyond our own boundaries.”

9:05am Derek Tidball takes on the topic of Stan Grenz and Evangelicalism. He says that evangelicalism is virtually impossible to define doctrinally, so others define it historically. But Grenz argued that evangelicalism is a living, mutating organism. By seeing the Bible as the book of the community, Grenz was faithful to his Baptist roots, and that’s something that evangelicalism at large should heed. Stan is wrongfully called the “godfather of the emerging church.” [Read more...]

Will Preach for Hunt

I spent last weekend in Huron, South Dakota. This is the second year in a row that I’ve hunted there and preached at Grace Episcopal Church, the result of a pleading post that I put up last year. The people there are fantastic — hospitable, warm, and friendly. I attended the “High Noon” lunch at the Masonic Lodge, I hunted with the town lawyers, a guy who works for the gas company, and my host, who is a land manager. And he’s so much more.

All that, I think, will be reflected on in a book I’ve just started writing on the spirituality of hunting and the outdoors life. If you want your faith community to make the book, invite me to hunt!

This week, I’m headed to the meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, plus one day at the Evangelical Theological Society. If you’re going to be at any of those gatherings, track me down for a coffee or beer/whisky. I also hope to liveblog some of the sessions I’m attending, so theology nerds can really nerd out.

If you are going to AAR/SBL, be sure to attend the Homebrewed Christianity Live event on Friday night, where Tripp and I will be making a major announcement.

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...]

With Mark Driscoll Gone, We’ve Only Got John Piper To Show Us the Insanity of Hypercalvinism

John Piper

John Piper has done a 180 on cancer. That’s according to T.C. Moore at Theological Graffiti, who has smartly tracked Piper’s flip. Here’s the deal:

On the eve of his own surgery for prostate cancer in 2006, Piper called cancer a “gift from God.” He scolded fellow cancer-sufferers not to “waste their cancer” by ignoring God’s design of it. In other words, if you’ve got cancer, God wants you to have cancer.

But recently, Piper joined the evangelical chorus in criticizing Brittany Maynard for ending her own life before cancer killed her. In that post, Piper wrote that cancer “opposes the ultimate goodness that God designed for this creation. It is an enemy.”

So, which is it? Is cancer a gift from God that is part of God’s design, or is it an enemy that is not part of God’s design? It seems that Piper doesn’t know. That’s because his theological position is completely untenable.

[Read more...]

Theology for the People

As you may recall, I had a bit of a job transition this summer. After spending several years at sparkhouse, a division of Augsburg Fortress, and seeing the Animate series to completion, I got a month-long respite to finish my book. Then, after Labor Day, I joined Fortress Press as senior acquisitions editor.

Fortress Press has a long and distinguished history. Of late, like all publishers, the leadership of FP has had to make choices about how to move forward efficiently. The foci over the last several years has been theology, biblical studies, and reference works. These were good choices it seems, for Fortress has countered industry trends and grown significantly. For example, the number of titles released per year has doubled, to over 100, in just the past five years.

[Read more...]

What We Can Learn from the Failures of Rome

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn (the columns date from 42 BCE) in the Roman Forum. Photo by Courtney Perry.

As I expected, Christianity’s cultured despisers (many of them from within) took great offense at my daring to suggest that the Roman Empire was not unmitigated evil. Instead, I suggested that the legacy of Rome is ambivalent — good and bad. (As David Sessions brilliantly showed yesterday, hot-takes are swallowing the Christian blogosphere, on both left and right. Facebook and Twitter hot-takers gleefully troll me anytime I write a post that offends their sensibilities. This now comes with the territory of blogging.)

Nevertheless, anyone with a modicum of common sense cannot help but be impressed with the feats of the Romans, especially as you stroll through the modern city that is built upon the ruins of the empire.

And yes, they are ruins, because Rome fell, and it fell hard.

[Read more...]

In Praise of Empires

Courtney and I are in Rome this week, compliments of Focus Features and A Different Drummer, to visit the set of a movie based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. We are embargoed from writing anything about the movie (yet), but my fifteenth trip to the Eternal City has brought on some thoughts.

Among Christianity’s critics from within — especially my own tribe of progressive Protestants — it’s fashionable to disparage empire at every turn. Empire, it seems, is responsible for everything that ails our faith.

Oh, and Constantine was an asshat.

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true.

[Read more...]

The Emerging Church Is What It Says It Is

On Friday I covered the first of two articles by political scientists Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University and Paul Djupe of Denison University. In that article, they used their research to show that emergent are not universally liberal, as opponents claim, but are really rather diverse when it comes to politics and theology.

Today I turn to their second article, “Emergent Church Practices in America: Inclusion and Deliberation in American Congregations,” published in the Review of Religious Research. Here’s the abstract of the article: [Read more...]


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