Monday, March 9, 2009

Transforming Theology: "Emergent Christianity"

Emergent Church. Emergent Christianity. Emergent Science.

The word "emergent" is a new buzz word. Sometimes it's tempting to want to ignore things that become overly popular. Nobody wants to look like one in a mass of people who have just jumped on the latest bandwagon. But some things are worth the risk of looking like we've succumb to peer pressure. Like the band U2, the term "emergent" is cool even though it's popular. In fact, I'd suggest that it's an important word for two major reasons.

First, the word "emergent" acknowledges that Christianity has been emerging for 2,000 years. Transformation is the norm. We have to continually respond to the changing times and contexts, just as the early Christians had to do. We must always carefully and prayerfully explore how we can make our core traditions relevant and effective in whatever environment we find ourselves. The key is not to ask: What would Jesus do? The key is to ask: What would Jesus have me do, here and now? And that answer has always been - and will always be - different for each person, place, time, and context. Changes are part of being faithful to the living God who is continually doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 43:19). Thus, Christianity is continually evolutionary. But it is also occasionally revolutionary. Charles Darwin's new science, Vatican II's new liturgical vision, Postmodernity's new philosophical challenge, etc. have brought revolutionary change to the Church. Shift happens! It always happens. "Emergent Christianity" can be the label for the kind of Christianity that adapts to changes in ways that are relevant to the world and faithful to the Gospel.

Second, the term "emergent" is important because it acknowledges the evolving structure of the universe. Quantum physics, Systems biology, Chaos theory, Posthumanism, and Emergent science are showing that we live in an evolving world of increasing complexity. Bruce Sanguin wrote an article, “Evolutionary Christian Spirituality,” where he suggests that God is an active aspect of our evolving universe where "more complex and nuanced forms and processes emerge in response to changing life conditions." He says, "it is God’s intention for us to grow and evolve." God is the one who beckons all things toward greater complexity and emergence. God is the part of existence that slowly-yet-continually works to bring about the emergence studied by Emergent science. Whereas old Newtonian science didn't make room for God, new Emergent science suggests that the existence of God is very viable. Thus, "Emergent Christianity" can be a phrase used to describe people who affirm God's continual activity in the evolving universe. Emergent Christianity has come to expression in theologies such as Open Theism and Process Theology. These forms of theology have the greatest potential to help Emergent Christianity to emerge.

In sum, "Emergent" is a helpful term that describes Christians who affirm (1) the continual, God-inspired reformation of Christianity as well as (2) the continual, God-inspired evolution of the universe. It's one buzz word that's worth the buzz.

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