Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever June 17, 2020
What do you think is the most relevant symbol in Christianity? Is it the cross? A dove? A cup and chalice. Fire? There are many to choose from. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, uses a couple of symbols. The first one is the crown-cross-orb symbol that means Christ is sovereign over the world.
This is not the most politically correct symbol around, so years later we added the “comma” symbol, which suggests “God is still speaking.” Never place a period where God has placed a comma. I love the comma symbol. Unfortunately, this past Sunday while taping my sermon I wore a stole on the wrong side, so the commas were backwards. Not my finest moment.
Think about your denominational or church symbol. I’m sure it has an interesting history and meaning as well.
If I were to choose a symbol for my own personal Christian journey, I have to say I think I would use a pair of scissors. That sounds silly, right? What it means to me is that Christianity is, or should be, a “cutting edge” religion. I truly believe that, or I wouldn’t be part of it.
To say that something is “cutting edge” is to say that it is “advanced, innovative, and pioneering.” I’m not the most cutting-edge person in the world, and yet it is part of my psychology to want to be. I justify this by thinking that Jesus himself must have been cutting edge for his place and time or else he wouldn’t have made such a big splash. After all, he became the main character in the most widely published book of all time.
Speaking of cutting edge, today I continue my discussion of “Emergent Christianity,” which is a cutting-edge conversation within Christianity, along with another conversation called “convergent,” which I will discuss with you at a later date.
One might say that Emergent Christianity is sort of “edgy.” Specifically, for today and a few more Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever I am using Tony Jones’ 2008 book titled The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.
A “dispatch” is an official report, typically on state or military affairs. In this case, Tony is giving us an official report on “Christian affairs.” The cover of his book depicts someone dressed like they are on a reconnaissance mission, looking with binoculars at something far off. It’s like Tony Jones is traveling to the “cutting edge” of Christianity and reporting back to us what he has found.
Last week I covered the first three of the twenty of his so-called “dispatches” in his book. Today I am going to briefly discuss the next three. So, dispatch #4:
The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990s when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.
Emergent Christianity is a response to postmodernism. Now, I know some of you are sitting at home expecting me to define postmodernism. I suggest you google it, spend about ten minutes reading its Wikipedia page, and then with complete exasperation say, “What the . . .?”
Side note: Once upon a time in my educational journey I took a class on postmodern theology. I remember two things about it. First, the last book we read for the class ended in the middle of a sentence, which is a perfect metaphor for postmodernism. Second, at the end of the last class that semester, I asked the professor, Dr. Harvey, “What was this class about?” and he answered, “Exactly.”
So, there you go. My favorite, go-to answer about the meaning of postmodernism is this: “The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know diddly-squat.”
Obviously, postmodernism is a cutting-edge phenomenon. Think of the name itself. It means “after modernism” or modernity. It’s basically a realization that the modern world has failed us and now we have to figure out where to go from here.
Well, that’s what emergent Christianity is, an attempt to figure out where to go after a “modern” approach to Christianity has failed us. If you have ever thought to yourself, “You know, what we are doing in church just isn’t working any longer,” then you are having postmodern thoughts. You are ready for the scissors to cut some things out and cut and paste from other sources to enhance your faith.
This is a great segue into Dispatch #5:
The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.
We Americans tend to think that Christianity is an American thing, or it’s the only lens we use to describe it. But it’s not. Christianity is global, and what Tony Jones reports in his book is that there have been interesting conversations, movements, new ideas, new practices, new theologies, etc. emerging in many other places as well.
Christianity is a dynamic organism, and we are just one part of it. It might be beneficial for us to look at other places and other traditions to see how the Spirit is moving. We should not be so provincial to think that the Spirit is only moving here.
This is a nice segue into Dispatch # 6:
Emergents see God’s activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.
This is a heavy theological assertion, hard to grasp, and hard to absorb. We tend to see God or the Spirit’s activity only within the bounds of the institutional church, but emergent Christians perceive the Spirit moving in everything. For example, God is active in the health crisis and social unrest that we are experiencing today even when the church has nothing to do with it.
By the way, once again we Americans often act like the pandemic is just an American problem to solve, and we tend to think that the social unrest due to racial injustices is an American problem with only an American response. In truth, the pandemic is a true pandemic—it is worldwide—and the social unrest is felt all over the world. Protesters have been hitting the streets in dozens of other countries as well.
My larger point, however, is that God isn’t active just in “church things” or within the bounds of religious activities. God is active in all things, in all aspects of human (and beyond human) activities. Things are not sacred or secular. Everything is sacred—even the secular.
After I finish my talk, I want you to think about what this might imply or what it might look like to erase the line between sacred and secular. It might mean something like “We don’t go to church. We are the church.” It might mean something like “Every meal is a sacred meal, a sacrament of communion.” It might mean something like “Chatting with your neighbors is ‘fellowship’ as much as the coffee hour after worship on a Sunday morning.”
Admittedly, my comments seem to have jumped around a bit this morning, but that’s because I’m a cutting edge pastor. Snip, snip. So, your homework is to google Christian symbols, emergent Christianity, postmodernism, and the sacred-secular divide. Have fun cutting and pasting.