This is how I assess interviews (whether they’re for a job or for some media outlet or for a book proposal or, well, basically anything): if in the course of the interview I find myself talking passionately about the things I care most about, it was a good interview.
And, if this happens, it’s usually because the person or people I’m speaking with are a natural “fit” with my work.
Though it wasn’t an interview, my conversation with the Charlotte Emerging Church Discussion Group was one of those moments. We had great conversation because there was a common well of experience. And this is what I’ve found, often, when I’ve been in emerging church conversations:
Often, the thing that holds us together is that we have all experienced that traditional church, traditional structure, traditional authority, do not work. We have all experienced that these traditions are upheld by traditional ways of handling the Bible and of handling people. And most of us are somewhere on the spectrum of putting things back together.
That spectrum is quite broad: from “I guess I still want to believe in some sort of God” to “I’m at a different kind of church now, and following Jesus, but at every step of the way trying to figure out how to put the pieces back in place.”
For those folks, the claim I’ve been developing over the past couple years resonated deeply:
As a people whose story is largely understood by reading a Book, how we read that book, how we understand our identity, and how we believe we are supposed to act are inseparable.
In other words, identity, hermeneutics, and ethics will be mutually reinforcing.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation that I continue to mull:
Embracing the Bible as narrative makes the Bible a much less controllable entity. People tell, read, and embrace stories differently from one another. And, the stories we have in the Bible are not all told the same way. Matthew had something to say, and he changed Mark to make his point.
I’m not a fan of hierarchy, but I do believe that leadership is important. Something I’ve mulled quite a bit is what the impact of the biblical call to cruciformity means for church leadership. I don’t think that you can institutionalize cruciformity. But anyone in a position of leadership should see such self-giving service as their primary vocation.
I don’t have a great answer to the question of sexuality in the Kingdom of God. Steve Knight probed this question a bit in our conversation. The easy answer is that Jesus indicates in Mark 12 that in the coming Kingdom humans will be asexual (neither marrying nor given in marriage).
But what would it mean to claim this while we also say, “The Kingdom has come near?” What would it mean to make such a confession when we are, generally speaking, called to take hold of our eschatological future and bring it to bear on the present?
Finally, I was reminded how much of my theologizing happens from the luxurious place of privilege. It’s a luxury to talk about “surprise” in the Bible–a luxury that the African American church doesn’t have, because life may hold a grim “surprise” any time you walk out the door. The church has become a counter-cultural place by becoming a place of certainty. Upsetting that applecart has significant consequences that it might not have in a white church.
Even the issues we care about highlight our privilege. Why does the Twitter feed and Facebook timeline overflow with cries about the injustice and/or necessity of forbidding same-sex marriage, while it is entirely silent about the African American high school graduation rate that sits below 50%?
It’s a perpetual challenge for even the postmodern church to embrace multiple perspectives that transcend our own ethnic, racial, and class distinctions.
Finally, it was pointed out that normal church people are not only capable of having robust theological conversations, but that the church’s attempt to “protect” people from difficult questions has, itself, led to theological anemia and dying congregations.
That’s, perhaps, the shared perspective that lay behind everything and enabled the fruitful dialogue:
Implicit in the critiques of where many had come from was simply this: stop trying to handle your congregations with kid gloves; stop trying to hide difficult issues; you are killing us with your “kindness.”