This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Emerging Church Conference, Albuquerque. I.

We are in Albuquerque attending a conference on “the emerging church.”  The assembly hall, a hotel ballroom, is filled with people from a wide variety of Christian traditions, all of whom share an interest in what the church is becoming and can become at this pivotal point in its history.

The first speaker was Phyllis Tickle, whose book, The Great Emergence, is an examination of this pivotal point in history, especially with reference to other pivotal points in history.  Her thesis is that “every 500 years or so, the church has a giant rummage sale.”  Old and useless junk is cleaned out, some old treasures are rediscovered and brought back into prominence, and room is made for the new.  Tickle points out that the last time this happened was the Reformation.
The current era, which she refers to as The Great Emergence, is part of a much larger cultural shift which includes such things as urbanization, globalization, and computerization.  We do not yet know how to define this new paradigm, but we do know that it is post-denominational, post-Protestant, and post-Christendom.
Each of these pivotal ages had to figure out how to answer one central question: Where now is our authority?  In our time, this manifests itself in three areas: What does it mean to be human?  How can Christians live in a polity with others of different faiths?  How do we talk intelligibly about the Atonement?
In the Reformation era, the central authority shifted from the Pope to the Bible.  This meant a sharp rise in literacy; but also divisiveness, as different interpretations led to the formation of different churches. 

She did not indicate where the authority will come from in the church that is now emerging.  

Susan and I discussed this at dinner.  I have a hunch that it is going to have something to do with the word “wiki,” which, as I understand it, can refer to an “open source” model in developing computer software.  “The open source model of operation and decision making allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, and differs from the more closed, centralized models of development” (Wikipedia, “Open Source”).  Translated into ecclesiology, it means that authority in the church will be found around the circle of gathered believers, each with their own agendas, approaches, and priorities, struggling together with the Word.  
I am reminded of Ernesto Cardenal’s The Gospel at Solentiname.  That book is basically transcripts of a Bible study Cardenal held with people in the village of Solentiname, Nicaragua.  The villagers grappled with the Biblical texts in light of their own context.  I think authority in the church will be like this, as each circle of believers encounters the Word in Scripture.  The role of the minister will be to provide insight into the original context and perhaps the history of interpretation.  Another role for the leader would be to check self-serving, self-indulgent, self-righteous interpretations as they arise, compelling the group to be challenged by the text. 

Anyway, we’ll see.    

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