For a church to be an Emerging Church in my mind in needs to be at least exploring new ways of communicating with, and about, God.
By new ways of communicating with God, I am referring primarily to things that might happen on a Sunday (or whenever the community gathers together for “worship”). This includes all the things you might normally think of when you think of an Emerging Church: stations, labyrinths, body prayer, discussion based sermons, etc.
Probably the best known and most interesting examples of this are Grace church in the UK with Johnny Baker and Icon in Dublin with Pete Rollins. But other churches are doing more humble things that I think are just as invigorating (e.g. The Common Table in Vienna VA, and my own community, CPCP in College Park, MD).
Ultimately, however, I think that experimental ways of communicating with God are hollow if they don’t allow for and encourage new ways of talking about God. This is one of the reasons why I think starting an “Emerging Service” within an established congregation can be so difficult – they often don’t have the stomach for new thoughts about God.
So let me just list some of the ideas about God (and broader theological issues) that I see being put on the table and rethunk in various Emerging Churches:
• Foundationalist understanding of truth
• Biblical inerrancy
• Original sin
• Eternal damnation
• Penal substitutionary atonement
• Homosexuality as sin
• God’s nature as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent
• And more…
Now, of course, I’m not saying that to be an Emerging Church a community must tackle all of these, and I certainly don’t think that to be an Emerging Church you have to come to the same conclusion on all (or any) of these. In fact a community might consider one of these things and decide that they still think the way they have always thunk is right, hopefully coming to a deeper and more nuanced opinion on the matter in the process. All I am saying is that I think for a church to be truly an “Emerging Church” it needs to be able to have an open conversation about things like the issues represented here, and if questioning any of these undermines your faith in the living God, well then I wouldn’t suggest seeking out an Emerging Church to worship in.
On the other, I don’t believe, as some might argue, that everything is up in the air in Emerging Churches. There are traditional theological ideas that I don’t see being questioned, but actually embraced whole heartedly as the real “stuff” of Christianity, and the way forward. Examples would include:
• The Trinity
• And more…
I would love to hear what others would add (or remove) to either of these lists.