As I stated a few blogs back, one of my heroes has been a seminary professor mine, Dr. Ray Anderson. He, more than almost anyone has had the most theological impact on my life, and he has given me a passion for many of the thinkers and theologians that have truly transformed my life such as Barth and Bonhoeffer. This August he has a new book coming out in which I was fortunate enough to read one of the manuscripts.
The book is titled An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches and it will be a highly sought after read. This is the book that I have been waiting for and I think it is the book many of you have been waiting for. Ray Anderson is the voice not only needed in “emergent” circles these days, but in all theological circles.
So welcome as Dr. Ray Anderson, asks the question:
What has Antioch to do with Jerusalem?
Guest blogger: Ray S. Anderson
The modern attempt to integrate the secular academy with a religious worldview took the form of the question–What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Tertullian (160-225 A.D) was the first one to use the formula, in a negative way, and it has been replicated in a hundred different ways in our modern quest for assimilation, if not integration, of faith and reason. In my recent book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, I argue that, for the apostle Paul, the seminal issue was not the debate at Athens but the debacle with the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. The geographical distance between Jerusalem and Antioch could be measured in miles; the theological distance was, as Kierkegaard once put it, and a point that Barth later adopted, the ‘infinite, qualitative distinction between God and man.’ The church at Jerusalem was held captive by the religion of Moses (Ishmael); the church at Antioch under Paul’s leadership was inspired by the creative and eschatological vision of Abraham (Isaac). Thus, for Paul, the question became–What has Antioch to do with Jerusalem?
In arguing my thesis I do not intend to disparage the Christian community at Jerusalem. It was the source of an incredible spiritual force that resisted attempts to suppress and even destroy it. When those who were dispersed due to persecution fled to other cities, including Antioch, they carried with them the gift and power of the Spirit along with the message of a crucified and risen Messiah. When I contrast Antioch and Jerusalem it is for the purpose of sharpening the focus on the content and direction of the emergent theology uniquely envisioned and proclaimed by the apostle Paul. In reading the growing body of literature coming out of the emerging church movement, I worry that a postmodern philosophy has too easily become a hermeneutical criterion in which attempts to make the message if the gospel culturally relevant is in danger of presenting ‘another gospel.’ I argue, instead, that the contemporaneity of Christ is not established by attempts to make the historical Jesus relevant to our culture, but is the result of the eschatological ‘moment’ (chairos) of the resurrected Christ occurring through the Holy Spirit in our time as a proleptic manifestation of the Kingdom of God. While Barth held that the Word of God becomes contemporary through the preaching event, Bonhoeffer argued that it is Christ himself who is contemporary through the church–‘Christ exists as community.’ I take this to be more in line with Paul’s view of the emerging church at Antioch and through the mission out of Antioch, that Christ, not merely the message about Christ, is the essential content of the gospel and the formative character of the church.
This is why I argue that we must recover an emergent theology, not merely explore the edges of an emerging church in its attempt to make the message culturally relevant. Here is my case: An emergent theology is messianic. That is, it is a theology that is anointed and Spirit-led to point the way forward. An emergent theology is like the finger of John the Baptist, pointing into the world and saying, “Here is the lamb of God” (John 1:29). Emerging churches are missional. That is, these are churches that only exist as the continuing mission of Christ (the Messiah) in the world. Emerging churches are like Jesus arising out of the water of baptism, anointed by the Spirit, and moving into the streets and market place to heal, promote justice and seek peace. An emergent theology is revelational. It is a theology of the Word; it is the bread come down from heaven; it speaks truth and opens minds and hearts. Emerging churches are reformational. They seek to put new wine into new wineskins; they want to renew the church that already exists and translate the older formulas of the faith into new paradigms of contemporary communication. An emergent theology is Kingdom coming. It is a theology that proclaims a new order of God’s reign already present as a transforming spiritual, social and economic power of liberation and rehabilitation of humankind. Emerging churches stress Kingdom living. They seek to be the gathering of all who seek the blessing of being ‘grace-filled’ believers and the empowering community that sends them forth as Spirit-filled disciples. An emergent theology is eschatological. It has the mind of the risen and coming Christ as well as the heart and soul of the historical Jesus. It is a theology that keeps hope alive by preparing the way of the future into the present while, at the same time, keeping faith alive by “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Emerging churches are incarnational. Their language is that of the people; their message is communicated through culture; their presence in the world is ordinary so as to get within arms length to embrace others with extraordinary love.