Sunday, February 1, 2009

Second “mark” of an Emerging Church: Experimental theology and worship

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
• Predestination
• 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
• Incarnation
• Resurrection
• And more…

I would love to hear what others would add (or remove) to either of these lists.


  1. Well, for example, let's look at "homosexuality as sin." The primary sources for this belief are the two mistranslated verses from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13.

    If you go back to the source material, in Ancient Hebrew, you’ll find that the verb used for “mankind” is shakab, and the one used for “womankind” is mishkab. And shakab, in its sexual sense, is used when you are talking about forcible sex (such as, say, rape), or any sex against the will of the victim.

    For example, shakab is also the word used in Genesis 34:2, when Shechem defiles Hamor the Hivite; and in 2 Samuel 13:14 - “…but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.” And in Isaiah 13:16 - “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” It’s even used in Exodus 22:19, “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.”

    There are references to consensual sex in the Bible, but none of them, if you look at the source material (before the translation errors crept in) use the word shakab. So the correct translation of the passages from Leviticus is an exhortation against homosexual rape: “Thou shalt not force sexual congress on a man, as (or instead of) with a woman.”

    Personally, I prefer the Word of God over the Mistranslation of God. Simply because you happen to disapprove of homosexuality, you shouldn't push your own prejudices as the teachings of the Lord.

    “But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matthew 15:9).

  2. Curious then how the passages of Romans 1:26-27
    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 should read. The pattern of marriage seems to be supported by Jesus when he quotes Genesis in Matthew and Mark:

    Matthew 19:4-6
    4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[a] 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[b]? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."


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