An Emerging Theology

There’s a lot of stuff out there on the topic of emerging church theology. But, I think a lot of it can be brushed aside fairly quickly. Much of it is being produced by people who are trying to attach themselves to emerging/missional thought, rather than really writing theology that derives from emerging/missional church emphases. Not all of it is, to be sure. And what is being written, what is coming out of emerging church influences, participation and priorities, is very interesting and, I think, often very helpful.

As I’ve mentioned before, my entry into PhD studies was prompted by a paper I wrote in 2007 on the emerging church and Moltmann in conversation. The professor invited me to apply after reading that paper. I did. I started. And here I am in the middle of my second year.

I’ve added a bit more to my studies since then. A little on the emerging church side, a lot on the theology side. Still interested in seeing how an emerging church theology might develop. I’m slowly coming to terms with, if not a final product, at least some priorities and approaches.

In the last post, I linked to a paper I wrote last quarter concerning a few folks from 17th century America. It’s a fairly meaty paper, so I don’t expect too many people clicked through. And of those few, I strongly suspect the great majority didn’t read the footnotes. With this in mind, I imagine very, very few people, if any, saw my wee little comments in footnote 97.

Here it is for those of you who missed it:

Maclear, 77 writes about Anne Hutchinson, “Clearly the winter of 1637-38 had not produced uncertainty or repentance but a profounder commitment to the spiritualization of Puritan faith and doctrine. Moreover, in declaring these principles Anne forged a connecting link between the ‘radical Reformation’ of the sixteenth century and the ‘realized eschatology’ of Quakers in the next decade.” In discussing the “many” similarities between Roger Williams and George Fox, Lovejoy, 209 mentions, “their faith in the evolutionary, or progressive, character of religious truth. Orthodox institutions tended to maintain that religious truth was more or less static, even rigid, and that the faithful of the present age had not much opportunity to improve upon and expand a knowledge of God. On the contrary, radical Puritans, in fact most radical dissenters, believed in ‘further truths,’ or ‘further light.’ With the help of the bible, inspiration, and discussion, new truths could be uncovered, truths God held in reserve until his people were ready to comprehend them.” This hits on an underlying similarity but gives it rather wrong explanation. Williams could not be said to embrace some kind of “further” truth, nor were the early Quakers interested in an evolutionary or progressive truth. Both were eager to find that whole revelation of God that was true at the time of the New Testament and was no longer whole in their age. This whole truth had, for the Quakers, the revelation of the Holy Spirit at its core, the presence of God himself for any who would listen, in any age. Barclay’s use of historical theology adds support to this.

Why do I note this now? Because the same sort of interpretations are popular in our own era. There are those who see much of the emerging church looking for an “evolutionary, or progressive, character of religious truth”. This is in contrast to the orthodox positions of the wider, committed church world. They seek to point out ‘further truths,’ or ‘further lights’.

For me, and for a large part of those who are involved in the emerging/missional church, this is not the goal, not as it defined by many attaching a theology to the instincts and reactions of emerging church folks. I know my affiliation is not about that. My theological and ministerial interests aren’t about trying to reboot a progressive or post-neo-liberal theological project in the guise of popular, reactionary movement.

Rather, I’m eager to find that whole revelation of God that was true at the time of the New Testament, but has lost so much of its wholeness in the meantime. This is not an attempt to reboot some cobbled together, Frankenstein church that asserts its just like the earliest Christian communities. By no means! Rather, I see very clearly that the course of history has led through peaks and valleys. My goal is to be faithful to the work God is doing in this world, in our era, with the realizations that have been achieved over the last many centuries. God has been faithful to his church. He continues to teach and move and pull us towards a more holistic participation with his work.

And this means, in our era, we cannot simply repeat the patterns of past eras. But, in the same way, we cannot ignore the truths of those eras, the truths of the earliest eras, and the truths that men and woman of God–men and women who prayed–contributed. It’s not about a progressive theology, it’s about a better realized theology, one that addresses the key questions of our era, looks at the insights and the mistakes of past eras, contributing to a sharper awareness that brings light and hope and strength and power to this world. This is still Good News. We can find ways of exploration which our forbears did not, even as we stay within the faith they helped orient. We can explore because of the tools, the insights, the wisdom, the discernment which have been passed down.

We can explore because of the Holy Spirit who continues to draw humanity deeper and higher.

I come from a long line of men and women who have sought God with all their heart, and often served God in ways that went beyond casual observation. They were Methodists, and Plymouth Brethren, and Fundamentalists, and Baptists, and Pentecostals, and Evangelicals–whatever era pointed towards an active work of God in their generation. I am a part of that line.

And this is how I see working through an emerging church theology. This whole truth of God has the revelation of the Holy Spirit at its core, the reality of Christ at its foundation, the presence of God himself for any who will listen, in any age. And we participate in this whole truth in our era, contributing to a wider and deeper understanding of it, as we can. A task of a lifetime. It is an emerging theology. It’s going to be fun.

This entry was posted in emerging church, emerging history, emerging theology, missional, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Emerging Theology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *