Church in the Present Tense: Theology

Sorry these posts have been so sporadic. It may have been a bad idea for such an A.D.D. reader as myself to commit to blogging through an entire book. But I’m having fun engaging the different chapters so here goes with the second section: theology

In the second section of Church in the Present Tense, Jason Clark and Kevin Corcoran deal with the theological issues of emerging Christianities. Clark deals with consumer liturgies in chapter 3 whereas Corcoran deals with an emerging eschatology in chapter 4.

Consumer Liturgies

I think Jason’s chapter on consumerism as a detrimentally developing tradition is a really provocative thought. He writes that consumerism attempts to answer those really deep questions of our existence. What is a good life? Well, a good life is having nice things, of course. The feedback loop that consumerism gives us places our salvation in having the next best thing. Having all of the nice things and experiences that a consumer-centered economy has to offer, in a way, saves us from the worst fate imaginable: boredom. With echoes of Neil Postman, Clark explores how we amuse ourselves to the point of numbness to real and valid engagement with the world around us.

While I was reading Jason’s chapter, I couldn’t help but think of echoes of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church. In this short work, Ward says that in our modern society, the most the church can hope to be for people is either a place of heritage or a place of refuge. Church is important because it either a) connects us with our past or b) shelters us from all of the big, bad, “secular” wolves out there. Otherwise, for many people, church is largely irrelevant as a third space for people, which gets back to what Jason explores throughout the rest of his chapter. He comes out by saying that people are yearning for a third space in their lives. A space that isn’t work, and isn’t home, but a place that offers fulfillment of relationship. People aren’t looking for heritage or refuge, so these third spaces are almost never church.

Jason then heads into an ideation of church that leads us into the exchange of stories that seeks to downplay the self-creation that is endlessly promoted in consumer culture, as a way of leading into a search for the true story of life centered around Jesus with and for others. He juxtaposes consumer culture with true community and fellowship found in Christ. The liturgies of consumerism aren’t going to be thwarted by people from the outside coming in. It starts with the people already in the church putting aside the perverted liturgy of consumerism and offering a way forward in mission with the broader community to make the community a better place.

Farewell, Kevin Corcoran

I only title his chapter with a farewell to be a bit facetious about Kevin’s chapter on eschatology. He espouses similar ideas to that of Rob Bell’s new book as ideas that are appealing to the emerging communities. At one point he even explicitly states the essentials of Bell’s thesis that, in the end, love will win and all of humanity will be reconciled to God.

He takes Christ’s announcement of “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to explore the already/not yet dichotomy of the coming Kingdom. It’s here and now. Unfolding right before our very eyes. In no way is the fully consummated or revealed at this point. But we participate in this coming with every action we do. When we act with good intentions to help our neighbor, we help bring about the kingdom. When we participate in destructive activities, we actively prohibit the kingdom coming to fruition. But either way… we’re the participants.

For Corcoran, the coming kingdom is characterized by compassion and justice. There needs to be simultaneously both present in order for the kingdom to be realized. One without the other produces hollow sentiments that, at the least, are not productive. In God’s kingdom, both are abundantly present. In the earthly kingdom, that balance is a little bit harder to come by. The Christians who tend to be attracted by emerging sensibilities are attracted to the tension held by justice and compassion. Scores of people want to help participate in the coming kingdom (even though most certainly would not use that language). Creation yearns for the time when justice and peace meet. But it’s only in the full actualization of God’s  kingdom that it happens. It’s a good thing when people wish to come together and defend the oppressed and work to re-gain what has been lost.

As Kevin notes, there are scores of people who still yearn to participate in this work of justice and peace. And as he, rightly, concludes: “That is a good thing. A very good thing.”

Cheers,
Eric

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