Church in the Present Tense: Philosophy

What the hell is post-modernism anyway? And how can the church exist in a meaningful way once we decide exactly what our current situation is? These are some of the issues being dealt with in the first two essays in Church in the Present Tense.

Kevin Corcoran has a great essay to open that seeks to get a finger on the pulse of what the new and emerging forms of Christianity are searching for. In it, he discusses the importance of epistemic humility and its place in the church. He writes, “A robust recognition that I am a finite creature, frail and given to self-deception, and that my knowledge of God and the world is thus always partial, fragmentary and incomplete does not lead me to religious skepticism. It leads me to epistemic humility.”

By using this term, he means, essentially, being willing to admit that we don’t have all of the answers, yet are comfortable in moving forward in conversation. Epistemic humility is one of the main things he sees in the emerging sensibilities. So often, we worry that one little slip of disagreeing doctrine is all it takes to thrust us into unbelief. However, this sentiment makes room for us to create an open and honest commitment toward belief without having to risk running headlong into rigid legalism. This moves right into the work that Peter Rollins does in the second essay of the book about discovering a worldly theology that is brought about by these new, emerging forms of Christianity.

He opens with a compelling point on a familiar Galatians passage. When Paul talks about how in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”, it’s tempting to interpret “neither/nor” as “both/and”, as in “everyone’s equal”. But that’s not what’s happening at all. If we truly live into the new community created by Christ, these distinctions of cultural categories no longer apply. It’s an invitation to an entirely new reality, a completely different space of being. For Rollins, emerging forms of Christianity affirm the incarnation event as an invitation to become fully human with and for one another.

Both of these points are significant for coming up with an emerging theology for youth ministry as well. Corcoran’s epistemic humility is something that needs to transcend all ministries, not just the “emerging” ones. These points come up when we realize that we are pieces of a whole, but cannot possibly know the whole ourselves… Or, at least, know it definitively. Because must have this sense of humility before we lead into the task that Rollins lays before us: the invitation.

The invitation into suspended space breaks down all categories. In this suspended space the perpetual categories and social structures that are entirely lived in and conceived within the hallways of the high schools are torn down and a new mode of being is introduced. When we participate in the alleviation of those in this world who are suffering, we help bring this world about. This is the “rubber-hits-the-road” challenge of the opening chapter.

This is the philosophy of the church in the present tense. Tomorrow, I’ll get into the theological chapters by Jason Clark on consumer liturgies and Kevin Corcoran on what an emerging eschatology looks like. More tomorrow.


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