Archive for the ‘Emergent’ Category

Peter Rollins on Gospel Speech

I’m headed over to Harvard Divinity School today to check out a lecture by a writer/thinker I’ve only recently discovered — Peter Rollins.  His first book, How (Not) To Speak of God (2007), deals with some of the philosophical and religious undergirdings of the emerging church conversation that has been taking place over the last decade or so.  In this book, which I am working through currently, Rollins (who is from Belfast, Ireland, where he started an innovative faith community) challenges the post-Enlightenment assumptions that we can wrap our minds around the unknowable God of the universe (he calls this idolatry), instead suggesting that our posture be more subdued and humble.  (without throwing religious faith out altogether and adopting a more humanistic view)  The emerging conversation about the Christian faith is as good a place as any, Rollins asserts, for Christians to ask the kinds of questions that need to be asked in a post-everything (Christendom, modernity, yada yada).

I like this passage, where Rollins deals with something we’ve talked about on this blog before: gospel “speech.” (previous post)  He takes it a tad deeper, you might say, to the theological reasons why I am not crazy about the traditional Evangelical models for “giving an answer.”  Check it out:

In contrast to the view that evangelism is that which gives an answer for those who are asking, we must have faith to believe that those who seek will find for themselves.  If this is true, then the job of the Church is not to provide an answer — for the answer is not a phrase or doctrine — but rather to help encourage the religious question to arise.  In contrast to the kind of sermon that attempts to answer thought by providing a clear explanation of a passage or area of Christian life, the emerging community is in a unique place to embrace a type of communication that opens up a thought by asking questions and celebrating complexity.

Christianity thus engages in a pragmatic discourse which intends towards the one who lies beyond all language.  As such, the language of faith is at its best when it both remembers its profound limitations and simultaneously places us in a clearing within which we can be addressed by God.  This offers a type of Copernican revolution in which the individual no longer imposes a logos upon the divine but rather is placed under the shadow of the divine logos.


Central to this approach is the idea that God stands outside our language regimes and cannot be colonized via any power discourse.  This means that the Christian faith is extrapolated via a powerless discourse which, at its most evangelical, attempts to create  space in which others can seek for themselves.

The next post will show how Rollins is merely enacting an ancient and good practice of his own people, the Celts. Oh, and if any locals are interested in today’s lecture, here are the details:

Harvard Divinity School (45 Francis Ave, Cambridge, MA) in Andover Hall, Room 103. 12:15-2:15 pm.


a couple things…

First, here’s the link to a Christian Chronicle story that profiles the simple/organic/house church movement in Churches of Christ. Chrissy and I were interviewed by the author.

Second, I had a great “emergent cohort” meeting with several new friends who are modeling kingdom life in Beverly, Mass., which is about an hour north of the city. They call themselves “Sinners and Saints,” and the community worships, plays, works, studies, prays, and — in one case — lives together. We met at a Boston establishment known for its…um…burgers to talk theology, life, whatever. I was refreshed by the rawness of these men — their propensity to ask tough, even “taboo” questions about God, their rejection of simplistic answers. It’s nice to be around guys who are unabashedly verbalizing the questions that come to mind and bringing them to the community. It was pure fun. I think I’ll do it again.

“come back to the kitchen”

I found this quote on a March 23 post from Tall Skinny Kiwi. It reminds me of what I said on this post a while back, except more concise.

The church began with a meal. The Church needs to come back to the kitchen and get itself sorted again. The Church needs to rethink the puny wafer and thimble ritual and get back to the love feast which is a MEAL that takes TIME and happens MORE than once a week and has LEFTOVERS which can given to the POOR (the justice element) and resembles a PARTY that is full of HOPE towards the FEAST that awaits us with our SAVIOR who is not drinking wine until we get there to toast with Him. Jesus said DO THIS in remembrance of me. We would do well to ask “[DO] WHAT?”

puts a new meaning on “become all things to all men”


OK, that’s good for cutting-edge, emergent-style churches. But what about for Churches of Christ? Here’s a start, maybe:

sola scriptura camisole

Hey, get that “gospel message” however people will lust after it….I mean, hear it.

(did you notice that “MADE IN THE USA” banner on the camisole? I mean, how could you not. I can see that guy somewhere in, let’s say Alabama or Georgia, surfing the Web for gifts for wife, coming across this fabulous item, and saying something like, “I don’t know what the heck this means, but at least some Chinaman didn’t make it!”)


by Fred Peatross

I’m a recovering church addict who has intentionally exchanged church activity for time with the people Jesus misses the most. I’m learning more while swimming with the fish than I ever learned while attending Sunday school.

It’s counter-intuitive for church folks to disconnect from the church way of thinking and feeling but it’s the most effective way to incarnate the post-Christian world. Missional incarnation means trading church time for time in the water with the fish? It’s about choice. Will it be missional priority or church activity?

Missional-priority was Christianity’s original state.

Think Jesus.
Jesus spent most of his time with the “fish”
Think early disciples.
History reminds us that the first disciples were centrifugal&emdash;continually moving away from their spiritual center&emdash;Jerusalem. The book of Acts chronicles their “road stories.”

Is there a church somewhere that would admit to not being missional? I can’t imagine a church anywhere saying they weren’t mission-minded, forget foreign missions–we have post-Christian America. All would affirm! “We’re missional.” But suppose a missional auditor, if there was such an occupation, made an annual visit to every church in America to assess the church’s budget and expenditures? Exposure would tell a new story.

Spiritual Formation, or Consumers and Spectators?

Swimming with the fish is a radically attractive way of living. Jesus was subversive and we were created to be a community of revolutionaries. But , for many, the sum total of American Christianity is the 11:00 AM Sunday gathering where spectators passively sit waiting for their Sunday homily. Prayers revolve around the sick, newborns and a safe return from a sunny vacation. Seldom, if ever, do prayers mention the missing.

Someone said, “True believers aren’t people who have a mission; rather, a mission has them.”

Church-Primary and Church-Secondary

  • Church-primary has become ten to twelve Christians sitting around a table at a restaurant every Sunday afternoon and Friday night
  • Church-secondary has become, at maximum, gathering with a Christian assembly 1-2 hours a week
  • I rarely give to the local church. I now give to emergent missional churches and missional-priority people who indigenously incarnate culture. Most churches overlook or cannot afford to give to missional-priority people because of the financial limitations created by staff salaries and budgetary priorities. But the greatest barrier to a clear Kingdom vision may be a misunderstanding of what a priority-missional community looks like.
  • Granted, most Christian churches have a missional aspect. But when one examines a missional-priority church more closely, one discovers a significant difference between a church that does mission and a missional- priority church. That difference begins at the theological foundation and ultimately finds expression in practices inherent to the broader Kingdom vision .
  • Missional-priority means more time with the missing than Christian friends
  • Missional-priority means stepping across the borders of the church campus to engage the “missing” on their territory.
  • Crossing borders to create safe places for the missing stands as a corrective to the prevailing mentality of the church and its uncanny addiction to centripetal ministries, which attempts to drag seekers into its gig.

Think Jesus!
Jesus wasn’t centripetal but centrifugal.

Fred Peatross is a Christian who lives and worships in Huntington, West Virginia. He has been a deacon, a missionary, a pulpit minister, and shepherd. Presently Fred is responsible for carrying out the Great Commission and directing a Nuclear Medicine department. He has been married to his wife Paula for twenty-seven years. He is currently giving his blog a rest.

This article is re-printed from Next-Wave E-Zine, which explores church and culture.

leaving, etc.

Well, we’re heading to Austin tomorrow, and then on to Boston on Saturday morning. We’ll be in Boston (with my folks and brother) through the following Saturday. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be doing further scouting of the city, a little touristy stuff, meeting with similar-minded folks, and walking in confidence that God is going to continue to unveil his plans for us even further. I hope to provide updates — if not every evening, at least three times — this coming week. Please, please, please pray that God’s will would be done in, through, and around us in Boston this next week.

Anyone with their eyes open can see that something is afoot around the world. God, like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, is “on the move.” Clearly the “missio Dei” is exploding in areas like China, India, and Africa, but let’s not forget about what God is doing in North America. Consider the following report, which I received in an e-mail from Joel News:

The ‘organic’ leadership solution

In North America there is a growing movement of simple churches, home-based small groups focused on Jesus and doing what He says. House church coach John White shared about what he calls ‘the Luke 10:2b leadership solution’ – a daily prayer for laborers in the harvest. Since he started praying this, and teaching this organic principle to other believers, God sent people on his way, one after the other, asking advice on how to plant churches, and he could simply coach them in doing that. In this way, the simple church networks in the United States are growing exponentially. While 530 simple churches were planned for 2005, they planted over 6,000. While they intended to train 530 church planters in 2005, they saw 1,000 church planters trained in the first two months of 2006 alone. With this kind exponential growth (the current growth rate is 70%) they might reach their target of 4 million simple churches in North America (in 400,000 networks, and with 40,000 network coaches, and 4,000 lead coaches) by the year 2018.



Related Update: Did anyone see this article in Time this past week about house churches in the United States?  There are even “house synagogues” (seriously…) — read about it here.  OK, we’re heading to Austin in a few hours (to hopefully eat some Kirby Lane cheese dip tonight), and then onto Boston tomorrow morning.  Pray!

can (or should) emergent be a prophetic national voice?

Underneath the Cosmetics
Before asking how church should look, let’s make sure we’re clear what the church is for.
by Brian McLaren

I’m often asked by pastors, as I was recently, “Should our church adopt a more emergent approach?” Often the assumption is that adding certain forms (candles, incense, a particular style of music) will make a church “emergent.” But I want to reply: “What would it profit to gain the cosmetics of an emerging church and lose the deeper opportunity?”

As churches seek reinvigoration, many are finding inspiration from emerging/missional approaches (the plural is important). But many focus on the forms and miss the foundational issues. The deeper opportunity is more than rethinking how church should “look” or be “done.” It’s the chance to ask what the church is for.

Most of us have our “theologically correct” answer. The church’s purpose is worship, or evangelism, or making disciples, or some combination. But deeper than our conscious answers are our unspoken, unexamined, perhaps even unconscious beliefs&emdash;four of which are especially powerful these days:

The church exists to …

Provide a civil religion for the state

Preserve and promote certain social values

Provide a living for religious professionals

Promote the satisfaction of its members.
It is on this deeper level that the emerging/missional conversation has, in my opinion, the most to offer.

The civil religion approach in America speaks much of America as a Christian nation, or at least one with “Judeo-Christian roots.” It frequently speaks of “going back” to days that were supposedly better.

But this approach fails to realize how compromised those supposedly Christian roots are&emdash;by slavery and racism, for example. What Native American would like to go back to the nineteenth century? What African American would like to go back to the 1950’s? Dr. King used to say that the church must be neither the master of the state nor its servant, but rather its conscience.

If we seek to reinvigorate our churches but fail to be a prophetic voice in our nation, we miss an important opportunity. Or, put another way, if in ten years more of our churches are thriving and growing&emdash;but racism is intact and no less entrenched, will we be satisfied?

Closely related to the civil religion approach is the “social values” approach. Nobody is against things like the health of the family, but what happens when the church lets someone else&emdash;a political party or a cultural patron&emdash;set its agenda? The emergent conversation is asking whether we can bring together the positive values held by both social and theological conservatives and liberals.

For example, conservatives have a lot to say about fighting divorce, but they’ve had less to say about caring for creation. Liberals have a lot to say about fighting poverty, but they haven’t said much about fighting the sexualization of our pre-adolescent children. A convergent conversation would stop looking for patrons on either the left or right to set the agenda, and would instead seek to combine strengths while challenging the conscience of both.

Nobody would ever say&emdash;overtly&emdash;that the purpose of the church is to provide employment for religious professionals, but we would be naïve to think that this assumption isn’t hiding within us and our institutions. Colleges and universities can subtly come to think of themselves as existing for faculty and administration, not students or the world to be served by those students. And religious professionals can certainly drift into this unintended self-absorption, especially during hard times when self-preservation is threatened.

Likewise, few would say the church exists for the benefit of its members alone. No pastor I know would claim the title “purveyor of religious goods and services to a discriminating spiritual clientele.” But pastors know what happens when they ask members to sacrifice personal tastes or preferences for the sake of mission. (Often they become ex-pastors!)

The emerging church is raising these deeper questions and proposing that the church exists to be a catalyst for the kingdom of God as a transforming force in the world. This doesn’t minimize worship, evangelism, or making disciples; it puts those elements within their grand purpose.

Not everyone is interested in this exploration. But just about everyone would agree it’s more substantial than candles and cosmetics.

Brian McLaren is founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland.