by Timothy K. Snyder

A Term Paper Presented to Professor Alan Padgett Luther Seminary

As A Requirement in Systematic eology 4597: e eology of Jürgen Moltmann

St. Paul, Minnesota 2009

dedicated to the community at e Netzer Co-Op... who know well the di culties of being a ‘pilgrim people’ in a new world and dared nd their way as if there were no other choice.

Introduction Unsurpassed in his intuition for creative theological thinking and his passionate contributions to theology as dialog, Jürgen Moltmann is one of the most important theologians of the 20th century. His work in re-collaborating eschatology not as a subtopic of the traditional theological disciplines but rather as a lens through which all theology must be constructed, has been an important and lasting development. A er both eology of Hope and Cruci ed God, Moltmann embarked on a lengthy and eology of Hope Moltmann

timely contribution to ecclesiology — the doctrine of church. If in

reframed eschatology as God’s hopeful future in-breaking and if in Cruci ed God he provided a meaningful corrective for dispensationalist optimism, then in e Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit

we nd that the church is theologically (and quite literally) placed between the dialectic of eschatological hope in God’s future and present solidarity in the su erings of the world. however, is extraordinarily challenging. is enough of a witness to that dynamic. at placement,

e sheer number of denominations, controversies and schisms e doctrine of the church is, in a sense, the church’s self-image.

How the church understands itself is a vital part of the way it will both participate in God’s future and the way it will re ect theologically. In recent years, there has been a growing conversation around these two notions of identity and participation of the church. Over the past decade there has been a convergence of theory and practice in what has come to be called “the emerging church movement.” purpose of this essay will be to put this ecclesiastical movement in conversation with Moltmann’s ecclesiology. In doing so we will how the theology of Jürgen Moltmann could help the emerging church movement develop a more critically robust method for doing theological re ection. en, we will see e

how the emerging church movement’s both compliments Moltmann’s ecclesiology and yet also falls well short as a full expression of a postmodern church. In the rst part of this essay we will dive deep into Moltmann’s ecclesiology as developed in both eology of Hope and e Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Both of these works o er important

contributions to contemporary ecclesiology. At the end of this section we will explore how his

constructive theology might be understood within the postmodern context. In the second part of this essay we will brie y consider the development of the emerging church movement as a distinct response — both sociologically and theologically — to our current cultural context. In the nal section we will place the emerging church movement in conversation with Moltmann to see how the two might inform each other. is section will include re ections from the Emergent eological Conversation held in

Chicago, IL in September of 2009 which hosted the most recent visit of Jürgen Moltmann to the United States. A er letting the two compliment each other, we will let Moltmann’s theological method critique the movement and consider a way forward in response. Having introduced the topic and having outlined the presentation that is to follow, I must now acknowledge my own positioning and biases in this conversation. I explore these issues not from the positioning of a casual observer but rather as a committed practitioner with in the emerging church movement who is engaged in a full-time season of theological study. In the interest of full disclosure, I bring to this conversation deep suspicions of my own in response to years of leadership service to a mainline Protestant denomination at local, regional and national levels. My own experience within the emerging church movement, however, has brought a fresh understanding of the church, vocation, community and my own identity as a follower of God in the Way of Jesus. is is all to say that the

correspondence between Moltmann and the emerging church movement presented here are in some ways re ective of my own biases formulated from my own experiences desperately attempting to be church in a particular place, at a particular time and with a particular community desperately seeking be the change they wished to see not only to save their own faith, but in deep hope that another way was possible.

PART ONE: e Ecclesiology of Jürgen Moltmann e eology of Hope & “ e Exodus Church”

e question: how does ‘the Church’ participate in modern society?1 is an ever-permeating question for the people who consider themselves followers of God in the way of Jesus Christ. In true Moltmann fashion, we are reminded in itself as an exodus church.2 eology of Hope that the church can only rightfully understand

at is to say that the church must understand itself as a “pilgrim people”

who decide whether “Christians can become an accommodating group, or whether their existence with the horizon of eschatological hope makes them resist accommodation and their presence has something peculiar to say to the world.”3 Since the time of Constantine the church and its dominant host society have been blissfully wed. But here Moltmann argues that the church must nd its home somewhere else:
is certainly means that the Christian religion is dismissed from the integrating centre of modern society and relieved of its duty of having to represent the highest goal of society, but that is not by any means the end of it. On the contrary, society can assign to it other roles in which it is expected to be e ective. While it is true that in these roles it has nothing more to do with the nis principalis of modern society, yet it can exercise dialectical functions of disburdening for the men who have to live in this society.4

In contrast to that dismissal, Moltmann understands three roles in which the modern society expects religion to represent. e rst of these is as representative of the cult of the new subjectivity. is

role is a “cult of the absolute” and it expects “that the materialist industrial system must be supplied from ‘somewhere or other’ with a human foundation — a personal, individual and private humanity — which is a match for this world.”5 Secondly is the role of cult of co-humanity, or in other words the ideal
1 Here the term “modern” might better be described as “contemporary.” Later on we will consider how modern has come to describe a particular era centered

around epistemological certainty, scienti c advancement and industrialization. In contrast we will consider then a “post”-modern situation as a cultural response to modernity. For this reason when I use the contemporary cultural situation I am not entirely speaking of the same situation in which Moltmann speaks of per “modern society.”
2 Jürgen Moltmann, 3 Ibid., 305. 4 Ibid., 311. 5 Ibid.

eology of Hope: On the Ground and

e Implications of a Christian Eschatology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 304.

of community. In modern society, however, this lacks the revolutionary bite as it did when expressed by the gospel because in our day it has been integrated into the industrial system. And so while this ideal certainly puts us in a relationship of some sort but “he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone.”6 Lastly, religion is expected to be the cult of the institution in which “a ‘bene cial unquestioningness’ spreads over life. is kind of institutionalizing of o cial, social life, certainly springs from the permanent need

of security on the part of man, who experiences himself of history as a ‘creature at risk’ and therefore also endeavors to resolve the historic character of his history into a cosmos of institutions.”7 Yet, because of this dismissal of religion from the center of modern society, Christianity is freed to be a resistance movement that re ects the eschatological horizon which is both its constituting hope. “ us Christianity is to be understood as the community of those who on the ground of the

resurrection of Christ wait for the kingdom of God and whose life is determined by this expectation.”8 In this new freedom, the church is charged with the task of be a community of callings, a community of the priesthood of all believers that is called “into the world in our earthly calling in services, commissions, and charismata towards the earth and human society.”9 e Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit In setting up the present discussion of the doctrine of the church, Jürgen Moltmann calls for a dual self-criticism of the church today. is self-criticism is grounded both inwardly — that is to say

theologically — and also outwardly — that is to say sociologically. While Moltmann calls for this deep self-critique, it is in the inward exploration that his own thesis becomes most agitating for the church

6 Ibid., 319. 7 322. 8 326. 9 331.

which calls itself the ‘church in the power of the Holy Spirit’. For Moltmann the doctrine of the church requires, today, an inner renewal caused by none other than Christ himself. e entry point, then, of Moltmann’s ecclesiology is important to note. He does not start with the creedal ‘marks’ and the traditional Protestant duality of visible and invisible are noticeably absent. Just as true of previous contributions, Moltmann begins with the dynamic socio-cultural situation and expresses the church today in terms of (1) the church of Jesus Christ, (2) e missionary church (3) the

ecumenical church AND (4) the political church. In these four untraditional marks one can immediately see that he is not concerned with old theories constructed for church leaders and theologians but rather the very starting point is intimately concerned foremost with the those who are on “the receiving end of the action.”10 In the church of Jesus Christ, Moltmann invites us to let the old question of what is the church? sink into the background as we focus on a more pressing and urgent question: where is the church? Here the subject is Jesus Christ — this is a christological ecclesiology. e church is where Jesus says he will

be. In the missionary church, Moltmann re ects on the develops within theology of mission to show that only a missionary church is prepared for a self-understanding of the world-wide church. In the ecumenical church one sees that barriers crumble and otherness is taken seriously in light of eschatological hope and promise of the recent (in 1975) ecumenical dialogues. Finally, the church is always a political reality. And so in the political church reframes (both in discourse and in modeling) power towards the values of the kingdom of — towards liberation, justice, social equality, and freedom.

How, then, are the identity and relationality of the ‘missionary church’ unpacked within Moltmann’s ecclesiology? Identity is found in mission, in the church’s christocentric orientation, e

weight of such a christological ecclesiology is found in what Moltmann calls the “messianic mission.” It
10 Jürgen Moltmann,

e Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 4.

is only in Christ that we nd our vocation.

e church is called to proclaim the gospel, to heal the sick, is call is a conversion to the future, a world

to liberate the captives, feed the hungry, care for the poor.

mission and an exodus event. To be converted to the future means that both our relations and the conditions of our lives radically change. To be a world mission is to embrace a prophetic mission of con ict with all the powers of this world. To be an exodus church is to self-understand that it is a call from exile into freedom. e church begins at the moment of total rejection and abandonment

experience by Jesus on the cross. Consequently the church is a community of the cross and it is “as the community of the cruci ed Jesus the church is drawn into his self-surrender, into his solidarity with the lost, and into his public su ering. His su ering is in this respect not exclusive but inclusive and leads to compassion.”11 In conclusion, our identity, as the church, is found in a vocation of open anticipation, con ict, su ering and yet freedom. experienced in community. It is this idea of identity which makes relationality essential. Moltmann suggests that all doctrine of the church must be relational ecclesiology. It is not enough, however, to say that we must be “in relationship.” Rather, the gospel of Christ demand a particular kind of relationship. e best framework is identity can only be found only through the I-thou relation

for understanding the relationship between the cruci ed Christ and the church today is ultimate through the quality of friendship. Friendship is personal and is only possible when based on openness, loyalty, and yet freedom. Jesus can be seen as a “friend” in this sense time again. He is called a “sinner of tax collectors,” he calls his own disciplines not servants but friends, and in his insistence towards this framework for relationships he o ers the very friendship of God. is divine friendship is not a closed

group of intimate con dants, but rather an expansive, open set of relationships. Finally, in this identity and relationality of the church, it is important to consider then how the church organizes itself. For Moltmann, this is no mere sociological endeavor because the particular structures that make up the church constitutes the presence of the church as a statement of the faith of
11 Ibid., 92.

the community. He says, “

e church’s institutions are its traditional congregational forms can become a

stumbling block for many people, even if — especially if — they do not thereby make the things of Christianity itself a stumbling block. People demand ‘the witness of existence’ — and rightly so.”12 As such, Moltmann encourages (1) the recovery of leadership as charismata (gi s of the spirit) and an ordering that is re ective of distinct but not divided community of the spirit (2) a simple ordering re ective of the gathered community around word, sacrament, and caring for the oppressed and marginalized, (3) that those things which are central must be carried out by all (4) the befriending of the entire fellowship and (5) a re-orientation of importance on the “grass-roots” expressions of the church — the local congregation/fellowship.

A Messianic Ecclesiology in a Postmodern Context us far the discussion has drawn out keep theological frameworks central to what Moltmann terms a messianic ecclesiology — an ecclesiology that is relational, christocentric, and trinitarian in its orientation towards the future. All theology must always contextualize for the sake of serving the people of God. e cultural developments between the time of Moltmann’s initial publication and today

demand a review and revision of his discussion of messianic ecclesiology for our own postmodern condition. e shi s of recent decades from the modern mind to a postmodern mind have been well discussed elsewhere.13 For the sake of our current discussion, however, we will simply outline this important transition as an interlude between parts two and three of this essay which will further unpack how this postmodern condition has been a key catalyst to the emerging church movement. For this discussion we will focus on the work of Stanley Grenz’s A Primer on Postmodernism not because it is the

12 Ibid., 290. 13 See

e Post-Modern Reader, ed. Charles Jencks (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992).

only, or even the best, introduction to this phenomenon, but because it is the de nitive introduction among key voices and leaders of the emerging church movement. Gretz characterizes holism, communitarianism, and relativistic pluralism as central to the postmodern consciousness.14 Each of these central characteristics are a rejection of what Jürgen Habermas describes as the “Enlightenment Project.” Habermas argues that,
e project of modernity, formulated in the eighteenth century by the Enlightenment philosophes, consists of a relentless development of the objectivating sciences, the universalistic bases of morality and law, and autonomous art in accordance with their internal logic but at the same time a release of the cognitive potentials thus accumulated from their esoteric high forms and their utilisation in praxis; that is, in the rational organisation of living conditions and social relations. Proponents of the Enlightenment...still held the extravagant expectation that the arts and sciences would further not only the control of the forces of nature but also the understanding of self and world, moral progress, justice in social institutions, and even human happiness.15

In other words the Enlightenment values of specialization (for the sake of human progress), individualism (for the sake of moral progress and personal happiness) universal rationalism (for the sake of a de nitive foundation to the entire project) are each rejected by the their polar opposites. ough

the diversity of perspectives concerning what is postmodernism? is a valuable discussion, what must be said here is that “what uni es the otherwise diverse strands of postmodernism is the questioning of the central assumptions of the Enlightenment epistemology.”16 And so as a working de nition throughout this presentation we will speak of postmodernism as, “the intellectual and cultural expressions that are becoming increasingly dominant in contemporary society.”17 To unpack this de nition we will unpack Gretz’s characterization of postmodernism. Pessimism. e postmodern consciousness has grown weary and pessimistic concerning the e emerging generation, says Gretz, does not share the

Enlightenment belief in inevitable progress.

14 Stanley J. Gretz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 15. 15 As quoted in Gretz, Postmoderism, 3. 16 Ibid., 7. 17 Ibid., 13.

common conviction among their parents and grandparents that the world is becoming a better place. Any random ve minutes in front of the evening news or any skim of the newspaper (or iPhone news organization application) con rms their intuitive conviction that “human ingenuity will not solve [the global problems of violence, environmental degradation, or political polarization] or that their living standard will be higher than that of their parents.”18 Holism. Because the postmodern consciousness sought to move beyond the rational dimensions of truth, a strong assertion has developed for the individual not as a “dispassionate, autonomous, rational individual” but as “‘whole’ persons.”19 is value leads to the integration of mind, body and soul

in ways which the Enlightenment project saw no need for. Communitarianism. Once the “autonomous” individual was rejected in favor the the “whole” self, a greater awareness for the surrounding social environment and the community’s role in formation and even existence became a natural development. Furthermore, “the conviction that each person is embedded in a particular human community leads to a corporate understanding of truth... [postmoderns] believe that truth consists in the ground rules that facilitate personal well-being in community and a radical being of the community as a whole.”20 e purpose of this interlude into sketching out an understanding of the postmodern consciousness is to understand the epistemological origins of questions concerning the shape of the gospel through the lens of the postmodern consciousness. George Marsden rightly argues that Evangelicalism is a “child of early modernity.”21 Remembering this fact will be important to

ough I would essentially a rm Gretz’s characterization here, the recent emergence of Obama-politics certainly provides an interesting counterpoint or testimony to this development. e millions of rst time voters could certainly be observed as voting for the symbol of Barack Obama who espoused values of both modernity and postmodernity: hope, progress, community, relationality, diversity.
18 19 Ibid. 14. 20 Ibid. 21 As quoted in Gretz, Postmodernism, 12.

understanding the early development of the emerging church movement. Before that discussion, however, we will explore Gretz’s critique of postmodernism. For Gretz it is necessary to understand the postmodern phenomenon as Jean Francois Lyotard does as a “postmodern condition.” at is to say it is not merely a philosophical theory of which there is e

a standing invitation to subscribe to, but rather it is a condition much like an illness or a disease. postmodern “condition” is a place we nd ourselves more than anything else. And so for Gretz the

question is a matter of the appropriate gospel-response. What parts of the postmodern consciousness is a helpful addition to the understanding of the gospel and the life of faith? Which parts are not? ough in

itself a very modern approach, it is a helpful rst step. Gretz lays out places in which, in his opinion, Christianity must stand their ground and places in which it can nd common ground. For Gretz, postmodernity has gone too far in its wholesale rejection of the concept of objective truth. He argues that it “undermines Christian claims that our doctrinal formulations that state objective truth.” Without universal truth to judge the validity of our interpretations, Gretz argues, we are stuck in a perpetual battle of competing interpretations. e postmodern rejection of metanarrative, as it is classically

understood as the unifying narrative through which all meaning can be interpreted, is problematic because the Christian faith has claimed that the story of Jesus Christ is the metanarrative. On the other hand, Gretz is convinced that Christians have too o en accepted with certainty and without question the Enlightenment understanding of knowledge. To this end he nds common ground with the postmodern consciousness and its hermeneutic of suspicion and critical re ection especially concerning the certainty, objectivity and goodness of knowledge. Additionally, Gretz describes four contours of a postmodern gospel. e rst is a exploration of

a post-individualistic gospel. Speci cally he suggests, “with its focus on community, the postmodern world encourages us to recognize the importance of the community of faith in our evangelistic e orts. Members of the next generation are o en unimpressed by our verbal presentations of the gospel. What

they want to see is people who live out the gospel in wholesome, authentic, and healing relationships.”22 Secondly, is the notion of a post-rationalistic gospel. In this way, Christianity is invited to embrace a faith beyond propositions to be a rmed but rather as a way of life. Furthermore, this leads to a post-dualistic gospel. is move is to reject the divisions of “mind” and “matter.” Sacred/secular, soul/mind, faith/

reason are more helpful when viewed as an integrated whole than as competing categories. Lastly is a post-noeticentric gospel, or that is to say a gospel not built on a foundation of only knowledge. Here Gretz advocates for a faith of both “activism and quietism.”23 e goal of knowledge is not the end but rather

guides us into a more faithful engagement with the world. It is this engagement with the world that we now turn to as we explore what implications this postmodern consciousness might have for our view of the doctrine of church — if the gospel itself must wrestle with this new postmodern consciousness, so must the church. When Gretz introduces postmodernism there is very little discussion of “the church”. So, I will expound on what Gretz has begun by using his characterization of the postmodern consciousness and his contours of the gospel in postmodern context to speak of a church in the postmodern context. It will be obvious that much of what follows is in uenced by Moltmann’s ecclesiology. e church in the postmodern world will embrace pessimism as a faithful witness to the kingdom. If pessimism trumps certainty in human progress in the postmodern world, I want to suggest that this an improved situation for Christianity and especially the church. Healthy skepticism of the dominant scripts and ideologies of the societies in which Christianity must makes itself incarnate, is a step forward. One might suggest this is even more important in our post-colonialism era of mission in the 21st century. On the one hand, it seems to me that there is theoretical danger in a pessimism that reduces Christianity only to what it is against and it is this form of Christianity that most o en removes

22 Ibid., 169. 23 Ibid., 173.

itself from the world out of some aesthetic commitment, this is certainly not Constantinian Christianity. It seems that what has been more problematic is the tendency to overemphasis the dominant world view when the church has bene ted so much from its privileged place as the religion of society — that is the religion of empire. It is for this reason that in a postmodern world, our call to be an exodus church is not only a call to reject the roles of the cult absolutism, subjectivity and institutionalization, but it is also a call to adopt its prophetic call. e exodus church must align itself is will inevitably require

with its prophetic beginning and call the dominant narratives what they are.

the church to raise up theologians of the cross who will “call the thing what it is,” to quote Luther. When the church takes this vocation seriously, it will naturally develop a hope beyond optimism. Its pessimism will be directed towards any organization, program, project or philosophical ideal which puts its hope in anything other than Jesus Christ who through the Holy Spirit is making all things new. e pessimism

of the postmodern church is not a default dogma, but it is a radical faith in the kingdom of God. e church in the postmodern world will embrace holism as a strategy for proclamation and amework for a faith that is primarily practiced. Moltmann rightly criticizes the church’s practice of proclamation. Moltmann speaks of proclamation not in the narrow sense of its central performance by a singular voice of the preacher (who is ordained or “set apart” by another order), but rather says that proclamation is “all expressions of the church and of Christians made through language which have as their content the history of Christ and the freedom of man for the kingdom which that history opens up.”24 For the church in the postmodern world which creates a plurality of language including, but not limited too, language as visual arts, music, poetry, spoken word, spiritual writings, drama, non-verbal communication and intuitive communication, proclamation must become multi-lingual. Proclamation through holistic “language” then invites the integration of the body, mind and soul into practices that will be lived out both inside and outside the primary gathering of the community of faith. Such a holistic sense of faith as practice will re-integrate the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.
24 Moltmann,

e Church, 206.

When proclamation means all the expressions of the church and Christians through holistic language, members of the community will no longer have to culturally transport back and forth from their lives as citizens of the world and participants in the faith community. Proclamation will no longer be reserved for the section of the liturgy titled “Word,” but rather the “world will become esh” again. e church in postmodern world will embrace a communitarianism that calls into question our contemporary understand of “congregation” and will create communities in postmodern cultures. Today’s primary communal expression of the church is the modern congregation. Moltmann is right when he demands a “witness of existence”25 and we should expect nothing else from the already suspicious postmodern church. e modern congregation is a social organization birthed straight out of modern

industrialization with its organizing values of e ciency, professional specialization, and perpetual maximization of market shares. e “parish” model shi ed long ago and their primarily concerns are no

longer aligned with the local host neighborhood. But, the church in the postmodern world will call of this into question. e postmodern church will create communities which are small and manageable

with minimalism in mind, rooted deeply in friendships, and contextualized locally and yet globally aware and connected. Such communities will have no interest in the hierarchies of clericalism and so I suspect that they will look similar to the characteristics of base communities as described by Moltmann.26 To sum it up, the church within a postmodern consciousness will take up the timeless task of contextualization — creating a witness of existence which takes seriously what it means to be the church in this time, in this place and to these postmodern cultures. Such a serious contextualization a rms Moltmann’s messianic ecclesiology. e church in the postmodern consciousness will construct

ecclesiologies that are relational, christocentric and trinitarian in their orientation towards the future.
25 Ibid., 290. 26 Ibid., 329. We will explore this idea in depth when we take a look at the research of Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger in Emerging Churches: Creating

Community in Postmodern Cultures. Kingdom.

is research is the de nitive study on communities in postmodern contexts in both the United States and the United

PART TWO: e Emerging Church Movement A Brief History of the Emergent Church Movement (1) As is o en true with the history of movements, the origin of what has been called the “emerging church movement” is di cult to pin down. Dates of course are a matter of convenience, but it is important sketch a few important beginnings. In a sense the movement was already appearing in the United Kingdom in the 1980’s alternative worship scene. ese gatherings, as many as y or more, had

a strong self-awareness of their own postmodern consciousness and engaged heavily with pop culture. Already at this point the Greenbelt Festival was underway providing an important convergence of experimental ideas and new approaches to worship including highly participatory settings, decentralized leadership (few paid), nonlinear liturgies and a keen sense of using visual arts as proclamation.27 In a certain sense, the movement in the United States has its earliest days in the Gen-X church growth movements and the new paradigms developed in the early 1990’s.28 en, in the late 1990’s, the

“conversation”29 took on a more focused form as evangelical leaders gathered under the banner of the Young Leader’s Network (a division of Leadership Network) and began to discuss the implications of postmodernity and an apparent philosophical disconnect with contemporary culture.30 Soon the group of leaders gathered together by Young Leader’s Network would become the Terra Nova Project and nally Emergent.31 In these formative days, the movement was primarily an Evangelical response to
27 See www.small for the most comprehensive online community of Alt. Worship collaborations. documented there by Steve Collins of the UK.

e Greenbelt Festival is particularly well

28 See Donald E. Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997). 29 Many who self-identify as “emergent” see what is developing as more of a conversation than a movement.

e rhetorical e ect is well noted and important especially for the early days. Over a decade later however, it is clear that sociology’s understandings of social movements and resistance movements can be applied more accurately. For an examples of this see Josh Packard, Organizational Structure, Religious Belief and Resistance: e Emerging Church (Nashville: PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 2008) or Dan Anderson, Church Emerging: A Missional View of Emerging Ministries In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Minneapolis, PhD research project, Luther Seminary, 2009).
30 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 32. 31 Ibid.


postmodernity. Later on mainline Protestant denominations would gain an equally important voice within the broader movement. At the turn of the millennium, a broad network was formed called Emergent (both US and UK early on) which was the main organizing force behind the movement and eventually organizers in the US would establish Emergent Village. By the early 2000’s it was clear that that something truly new was happening across the Western world from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US. e conversation concerning the implications

of postmodernity was no longer just a conversation among academics. In addition to the philosophical questions being raised, the renewed focus on a theology of mission for North America and the UK was evident in the academy and in practice. Perhaps this was best made evident by the e orts of the Gospel in Our Culture Network (US) and the Church Mission Society (UK). Meanwhile, in the US, books were being published, conferences were organized and many in both evangelical and denominational traditions began experimenting. rough out all this movement, there were always those who were

hesitant to adopt any label whatsoever (what’s more postmodern than that?) and yet there were also those who felt like a broad characterization could be conceived of to describe the newness of what was happening. is is always the point when movements begin to take on diverging streams and the same is

true of the emerging church movement. Many of the evangelicals in the conversation insisted the changes they sought were not theological but systemic, organizations and primarily concerned with their method to engaging culture. And yet for others it was clear that when practice and theory where integrated into the context of postmodern cultures, the convergence o en meant signi cant departure from their own traditions. For the sake of this presentation, I will consider the research of Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger of y emerging churches in both the US and the UK a de ning moment for the eological Seminary) and its

movement. With the publication of Bolger’s doctoral dissertation (Fuller

re-worked version co-authored by Gibbs in Emerging Churches: Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures (2005) the movement not only had credible research as its subject, but also a working

de nition, a written history and also a robust set of theological implications. Gibbs and Bolger ultimate de ne emerging churches as practice-de ned communities of faith in postmodern culture in which three core practices give way to six others. “ e three core practices...are (1) identifying with the life of

Jesus, (2) transforming secular space and (3) living as community” which give way to six others, “(4) welcome the stranger (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.”32 In conclusion, the church in postmodern cultures may or may not be contained by the de nition of Gibbs and Bolger. Also the postmodern church certainly will not be limited by the boundaries of the emerging church movement at all. What is clear, however, is that the shi from modernity to postmodernity will necessitate profound changes in both theology and in the practices of Christianity. us, the emerging church movement provides a helpful case study as to how the church

will engage the contemporary culture of postmodernity. In what follows we will explore both the practices of emerging churches, as identi ed by the research of Gibbs/Bolger, and we will also explore an emergent contribution for thinking theologically in today’s context.

Creating Community in Postmodern Cultures As mentioned, Gibbs/Bolger identify nine practices of emerging churches. Not all of the communities researched had all nine, but collectively these nine practices give the most robust set of intentional community practices. Here we will summarize the research ndings around these practices and we will focus of the words of movement leaders themselves to gain a picture of the signi cance of this grass roots movement. Identifying With e Life of Jesus. By this Gibbs/Bolger mean that “in a time of immense cultural

change and disconnect with the church, emerging churches retrieved the Jesus of the Gospels, but not

32 Ibid., 43-44.

necessarily the Christ of history.”33 Gibbs/Bolger focus here on how this core practice manifests itself in an intentional focus on a kingdom-way of life which re ects the way Jesus lived. Karen Ward, Church of the Apostles (Seattle), says “ e cultural view ‘gets’ that Jesus was for the marginalized and the ey took a poll in my

oppressed. It is only the church that needs to be trained to look at Jesus again.

area of Seattle and found that 95 percent of the nonchurched have a favorable opinion of Jesus, so Jesus is not the problem. It is the church they dislike, because they do not see the church living out his teachings.”34 is practice o en manifests itself in actions which make it perfectly clear that their end

goal is not the formation of an organization, but the very kingdom in which Jesus spoke of. Transforming Sacred Space. As a particular response to the postmodern consciousness, “sacralization in emerging churches is about one thing: the deconstruction of the sacred/secular split of modernity...the idea of secular space, that is, of a realm without God...For emerging churches, there is no longer any bad places, bad people, or bad times. All can be made holy. All can be given to God in worship. All modern dualisms can be overcome.”35 Brad Cecil, Axxess (Arlington, Texas) says of his community, “It has been a long journey for everyone. It is hard to repent from foundationalism...because certainty is such a warm blanket in which to wrap yourself.”36 is practice o en manifests itself by

gatherings in non-tradition venues or through the intentional engagement with common community spaces within their neighborhoods. Living As Community. While seemingly ambiguous, this practice means that, “Because emerging churches function as a community, the church service itself, if the community has one, may just be a small window into their entire life together.”37 Kester Brewin, Vaux (London), says that “When Christ said ‘wherever two or more gather,’ we believe that he meant that church was happening in those

33 Ibid., 48. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 66. 36 Ibid., 69. 37 Ibid., 102.

moments.”38 For this reason, it is o en di cult in the community’s rhythm of life to tell if any particular gathering is central. Indeed, many have no central worship service. Welcoming the Stranger. Another profound response to modernity can be found in the way emerging churches practice hospitality. us plurality is understood not as a threat to one’s orthodoxy, e most important is that

but rather as a matter of hospitality. Sue Wallace, Visions (York, UK) says “ we provide a ‘safe space.’

e worship space has to be safe for the vulnerable and not a place where

people are ostracized for their gender, race, doubts, disabilities, depression, or orientation.”39 Not only is space important, but o en times this means active participation not in evangelism but in being evangelized by “the other.”40 Serving with Generosity. Nothing remains more presently oppressive to both the advantaged and disadvantaged in late modernity/early postmodernity than an economic system of consumerism. Gibbs/ Bolger suggest, “Consumer churches promote self-interested exchange and thus violate an inherent part of the gospel, that of the gi .”41 Brad Cecil is clear about this when he states,
It is our conviction that one of the reasons Christianity is so consumeristic is that we have prioritized the individual and have commodi ed God. e church must share some responsibility for this monster we have created. We have made Jesus out to be the ultimate consumer commodity. He is packaged in a convenient needs-driven format of the one-hour God experience that happens every Sunday morning. We are trying to ip this and prioritize the community and work to make the culture a place in which the King reigns. Social service and activism are how we do this.42

Participating as Producers. “

e gospel makes possible full participation with God in the

redemption of the world,” says Gibbs/Bolgers, “We bring our world, our conext, our material reality to

39 Ibid., 121. 40 For example Ikon (Belfast, Ireland) has a “reverse evangelism” project and rather than an Alpha course to user others into Christianity they host a

gathering called Omega, a twelve week process for those interested in leaving the Christianity they grew up with.
41 Ibid., 139. 42 Ibid.

God as an o ering.”43 For many communities this means making signi cant changes to leadership expectations and what becomes part of the community’s liturgy (literally as “work of the people”). In emerging churches it is o en hard to tell then who is “in-charge,” small groups rotate in their responsibility for the larger gathering and o en times throughout the month the gatherings facilitate a di erent kind of participation. Creating as Created Beings. Creativity as a value is intimately connected to full participation by the whole of the community. Creativity is not relegated to those who are “artistic.” “ e urge to be

creative is not ego driven but rather arises out of a theology of personhood and community identity,” says Gibbs/Bolger.44 An example of how this practice manifests itself can be found in that many emerging churches write their own music, o en together as a communal practice. Leading as a Body. As already mentioned, emerging churches takes seriously how the postmodern consciousness has real implications for leadership. Gibbs/Bolger argue that leadership sh ts in these communities away from the pastor-as-CEO and into the role of a facilitator or curator.45 Along these lines, many emerging churches have no paid or ordained leadership. Many of them have explored “leadershipless” forms of community and focus less on administration towards some organizational goal (ex. “ nancial sustainability”) and more on creating spaces for their communal experiences. ough

perhaps one of the bigger risks these communities are taking, the goal is clear. Church leadership is a vital element of our witness of existence. Merging Ancient and Contemporary Spiritualities. In their attempts to nd a truly participative faith, in their rejection of the sacred/secular divide, and nally in their hospitality towards plurality, emerging churches are reaching both back and forward for their spirituality. Gibbs/Bolger argue that emerging churches re ect the cultures desire for an eclectic spirituality and yet they provide an

43 Ibid., 155. 44 Ibid., 175. 45 Ibid., 192.

important corrective in rooting these practices in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. are also o en rooted deeply within a particular tradition and corporately exercised.46

eir practices


eologically: An Emergent Contribution

Alongside these communities of practice, the movement fostered a robust theological conversation. e emerging church movement has always been keenly self-aware that its praxis had deep e movement in the US developed much of its theological thinking in the

theological implications.

organic conversations of Emergent Gatherings held annually in New Mexico, its Emergent Convention held alongside the National Pastors Convention, more recently with its Emergent Conversation and publishing partnerships. e Emergent eological

eological Conversation as an event has

quickly developed as an important medium for putting practicing ministers and noted theologians in conversation. Recent conversations have hosted noted scholars Walter Brueggemann, Miroslav Volf, Jack Caputo, and Jürgen Moltmann. What has come from this sort of intentional praxis is a particular way of thinking theologically. An emergent contribution towards thinking theologically places a distinct emphasis on deconstruction, friendship-based dialog and localized contextualization. It is true as Stanley Grenz suggests that much of Evangelicalism is the child of modernity.47 reality has played a signi cant contributing factor to the way emergent theological thinking has put its emphasis on deconstruction. It is accurate then to say that emergent theological thinking has incorporated well the philosophical deconstruction of modernity in its most pressing questions. And so at the center of this thinking we nd Stanley Grenz and John Franke’s articulation of a postfoundationalism theological method in which,
e rules, however have changed...[and] the current fragmentation of theological discourse, which has emerged even within traditionally liberal and conservative circles, is in part the fallout from this change in the rules for theological discourse. Given the long-standing entrenchment of modernist
46 Ibid., 222-223. 47 Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, 10.


assumptions, we should not be surprised to nd that the postmodern challenge engenders suspicion and hostility among persons on both sides of the older theological divide.48

Here they have argued that both liberal and conservation theology are rooted deeply in foundationalism and theology beyond such a method is precisely what emergent theological thinking advocates. Indeed Tony Jones, former national coordinator for Emergent Village, draws on this rich dynamic when he argues that there are three common responses to the Enlightenment project of modernity: secularization, fundamentalism and a postmodern posture.49 is postmodern posture is rst and

foremost a deconstructive response to the foundationalism of both conservative and liberal theology of modernity. Miroslav Volf is describes how the social and political world operates through a process of dividing the world into friend and enemies. We use force to hold enemies in check and we reward our friends. However, the Christian faith has an alternative politic because as a Christian you want to befriend your enemies precisely because God comes down to the world when the world is still God’s enemy.50 In the process of seeking to think theologically in a post-foundationalism context, many emergent thinkers who once found themselves rmly in a particular theological camp, now nd themselves befriending “the other” in deeply meaningful way. In the US the movement has o en selfdescribed itself as a “generative friendship.” By this it is clear that friendship is the basic relationship that informs their task of doing theology, which always must happen in the context of community. When theological dialog takes place in the context of friendship, especially surprising friendships with others from very di erent theological backgrounds, theology moves from propositional rhetoric to a communal hermeneutic. e emerging church movement has done better at creating spaces for these

friendships to form than any denomination, academic society or professional association.

48 Stanley Grenz and John Franke. Beyond Foundationalism: 49 Tony Jones.

eology in a Postmodern Context (Westminster: John Knox Press, 2001), 17.

e New Christians: Dispatches om the Emergent Frontier (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2008), 39.

50 Miroslav Volf. “Religion and Violence,” Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet (Washington: American Public Media, August 4, 2005).

e emerging church movement has no particular confession or a set theological convictions which might be used to de ne its boundaries — much to the frustration of traditional Evangelicals. is in part due to its insistence on deconstruction over constructive theology and in part due to its commitment to friendship based not on common belief but commitment to the relationships itself. But perhaps more importantly is an orientation towards thinking theologically in local contexts. Emergent theological thinking tends to missionally orient itself towards neighborhoods and cities for its theological source traditionally labeled “experience.” For the emerging church movement, their primarily source of experience comes in their commitment to a local place, its local people, culture, arts, and traditions. Such a geographic theological commitment is a based on lens of narrative theology in which the setting plays as central of a role as do the characters, plot and form. In conclusion, though the emerging church movement certainly has a contribution to make towards thinking theologically, it ultimately falls far short of a meaningful, constructive contribution to theology. It is not enough to simply deconstruct and distribute the task of theology to local settings. world today is far to interconnected to not go the next step. e contributions of the emerging church e is

movement here are surface-level at best and it would do them well to encounter one the best theologians of the 20th century.

PART THREE: Moltmann’s Ecclesiology & e Emerging Church in Conversation Re ections on the 2009 Emergent eological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann

On September 9-11, 2009 at First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville, Illinois friends of Emergent Village hosted Jürgen Moltmann for three days of conversation with roughly one hundred and y pastors. e format of the time together is important to note. ere was no keynote address

and no paper for Moltmann to present. Instead, there were several conversation facilitators and several chairs on a stage. e conversation was a staged one in that sense, but yet the audience looked on as the

facilitators had an organic conversation with him. Questions were posed more o en out of life experiences than theological objection. Mike Stavlund, a pastor from the Washington, DC area, asked him about a quote from Cruci ed God a er sharing the story of losing his infant son in the middle of the night. Moltmann responded with an a rming nod, an a rmation that Stavlund rightly understood the deep apathy of God which he writes of in his theology of the cross and then he shared his re ection on the loss of his young infant brother. It was then that Moltmann said, “all the best theologians are pastors.”51 is was the atmosphere of the conversations: pastors in conversation with one of the most

preeminent theologians of our day, except from vibe in the room you would never know that’s what was going on. seminar. e above describes the mood in the room throughout the three days, and yet here I will describe three other signi cant instances in the conversations that capture both the breadth and depth of the event as it relates to the topic at hand. In a session titled “Justice and the Kingdom of God,” Moltmann was asked about the connections between anticipation of the kingdom and resistance as a concrete rhythm towards justice. Moltmann replied, “the church has two tasks: diakonia — serving the least of these — and the prophetic — transforming the environment in which we do diakonia.”52 e e 2009 Emergent eological Conversation was no American Academy of Religion

panelist who posed the question was Eliacín Rosario-Cruz, a Puerto Rican born community organizer who lives and works out of a neo-monastic community house in Seattle. e two then embarked on a

conversation about the connections between the base communities Moltmann experienced in Nicaragua and the new monastic communities Rosario-Cruz networks among here in the US. is

conversation embodied the relentless common thread between Moltmann and many of the emerging church movement to insist on a rejection of individuality and a radical embrace of community. Moltmann reminded the audience that “ in community we are rich and only in individuality is poverty
51 Jürgen Moltmann. “ 52 Ibid.

e 2009 Emergent

eological Conversation,” (Chicago, IL: September 9-11, 2009).

dangerous.”53 Rosario-Cruz and Moltmann’s conversation represented a stream of the emerging church movement in which monasticism and its values of a rule of life, a commitment to communal living and vocation are being embraced in creative and new ways in cities throughout the US. Moltmann wrapped up the conversation by saying “let’s pray for prophets and when it gets violent for peacemakers.” I suspect in Rosario-Cruz we have at least one.54 Later on in our time together Tony Jones asked Moltmann quite matter of frankly, “What is the church?” Moltmann drew on themes of “where is the church?” and also spoke of the important of dialog with both Israel and other world religions in ways he speaks deeply about in e Church in the Power of

the Spirit. But it was a follow up question concerning the shape of congregations in a digital and internet cultural that sparked quite a buzz around the room. Moltmann passionately suggested that digital means were of no help in building community. He argued that while digital forms are good for communication, it is not su cient for building community. “It’s missing the taste and the smell, the feeling...this e ects our communities.”55 Furthermore, according to Moltmann we need local, face-toface communities to sit with each other and practice the Eucharist. Considering the wide spread use of technology among the emerging church movement it was a surprising moment in which several genuinely took the remarks as an invitation to take inventory of what is lost versus its advantages of e ciency and speed. Finally, it was one of those moments in which the room got a bit uneasy. Moltmann is well known for intuitive and yet o en over the top judgments. When asked to make several one-line statements about signi cant thinkers for today, Derrida was mentioned. Moltmann’s response was that “post-modernity was another form of modernity.” If one listened closely they might hear snarky doctoral

53 Ibid.

ning Holy,” Sojourner’s Magazine (Web Only Content), accessed via action=magazine.article&issue=soj0806&article=080601
54 See “Rede 55 Moltmann, “Emergent

eological Conversation.”

students in the back rejecting this analysis. Since these were one-line responses, the conversation moved along until later that night of course at the pub. It was there that this criticism got unpacked and mulled over. Some commented that Moltmann’s view was short-sighted and that his idea of contemporary critic was Hegel and so he had no context for a positive/constructive postmodernity. Perhaps this is the case. While such a statement seems to ultimately fall short, it did have a serious e ect of many of the participants who took this as a admonition to remember that at best we live in late modernity and that postmodernity in its fullest sense is still coming to the surface. ese re ections were on a quite literal conversation between Moltmann and the emerging church movement. From these re ections one can notice the beginnings of where some truly fruitful dialog might take place. Moving forward we shall see how Moltmann’s theological method and how he applies that method might o er a way for the emerging church movement to develop a more robust theological re ection and contribution.


eological Method & Ecclesiology: A Moltmannian Critique

Moltmann himself denies that he is a good systematic theologian. Indeed he has no three volume set and no work entitled “systematic.” Altogether his method early on was to look at the “whole of theology through a single focus.”56 Later on his method developed as a contribution to the whole of theology. is approach was even deeper a rmed a er his experiences in Latin America in which he re-

committed himself to the long-term theological problems which are always only provisionally dealt with. What emerged from this process was two deeply held centerpieces of Moltmann’s theological method — a commitment to praxis and doxology and an openness to dialog. Both of these centerpieces o er a meaningful critique to the emerging church movement. ere is no doubt that the emerging church movement understands praxis. In fact it is the very convergence of action (especially experimentation) and deep re ection that makes the emerging church
56 Moltmann,

e Church, xiii (Preface to the Paperback Edition).

movement a worth while case study. But Moltmann takes this orientation of praxis and goes further until he has found doxology. In Moltmann’s eschatological reorientation of all theology, we are reminded that from beginning to end, God’s saving action in the world is inseparable from doxology. Praxis without doxology, argues Moltmann, is mere activism. is is a serious critique for the emerging

church movement which has as of yet been able to be constructive. It is hard to make any sort of doxological claim when the movement has self-limited itself to deconstruction. e only way Moltmann

sees that this is possible is when action is pair with contemplation. It is only in contemplation that one nds the deep joy needed to make any further progress towards the kingdom. Additionally is also true that the emerging church movement understands dialog. e

movement has continually identi ed itself as a conversation and has been open to conversations perhaps to a fault.57 Yet this still falls far short of being theological and it is hardly the open friendship which Moltmann calls for. For Moltmann this openness to dialog must not contain itself to the comfort of the pubs over a lovely pint or relegated to the comfortable couches of the living room and cafes. But rather this kind of openness is a call to hospitality and relationship with the poor and marginalized. is

openness to dialog must be with the oppressed, it must lead to relationship and those relationships must lead to liberation. It is not enough for Christians to critique the church. e church must go further,

pick up its prophetic call to critique society and get to the hard work of transforming society for the sake of the kingdom of God coming into the world. e emerging church movement has — whether

intentionally or unintentionally is irrelevant — done little to align itself as a resistance movement. It may not be accommodating of the “established church” of Evangelicalism and modern denominationalism but it certainly has not primarily seen itself in opposition to the dominant societal values. e movement has not been a strong enough voice for the oppressive society of late modernity

and it has yet to read the Bible with the poor. For Moltmann, this openness to dialog has consequences.

57 Bob Carlton, my friend and long time advocate of the emerging church movement, o

one is talking about but no one is doing it.

en says “the emerging church is like junior high kids and sex. Every ose who are, they’re messy and fertile as can be.”

Furthermore, when we take a serious look at the way Moltmann’s theological method addresses the doctrine of the church there are at least three dynamics worth raising as additional critiques of the emerging church movement. First, Moltmann’s messianic ecclesiology is rooted deeply in a trinitarian orientation of the future. is dynamic understands that the mission of the church is created in the

presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is a pneumatological mission. While the non-Western churches are focusing on a new wave of theologies of the Spirit, the emerging churches of the West have placed little signi cance on the role of the Spirit in either conversation or action. It is the creative work of the Spirit which Moltmann understands to bridge the tension between faith in the church and experience in the church.58 If the emerging church movement expects to make any progress towards a “Christianity worth believing,”59 then it will embrace a pneumatic christology. is leads us to the second dynamic —

a christocentric understanding. Moltmann is deeply aware of the way the church has avoided the cross as a de ning moment for the creation of the church. If the Evangelical church as a daughter of modernity overly focused on the post-resurrection Christ, then the emerging church movement has overly focused on the life of Jesus to develop its understand of Christianity as a “following of God in the Way of Jesus.”60 e result of both is the same — an avoidance of the cross. But it is precisely in the abandoned

and cruci ed Christ that Moltmann understands the church to be of Jesus Christ. With the exception of a few within the new monastic stream of the emerging church movement there is still no alignment with the su ering of the world. Without such an alignment there is no full expression of the church. Lastly, Moltmann describes the contemporary church as the church of Jesus Christ, the missionary church, the ecumenical church and the political church. We have already discussed what Moltmann means by the former. Both his understanding of the missionary church and the political church o er helpful critiques of the emerging church movement. As the emerging church movement seeks to further develop its selfunderstanding it would do well to consider how Moltmann understand the missionary church.
58 Moltmann,


e Church, 35-37.

59 to quote the newest catch phrase of Doug Padgit, a leading voice in the emerging church movement. 60 see

church rooted in the missio dei leans on its “endowment with the spirit of liberty and the powers of liberation [which] knows distinctions, but not divisions. e all-embracing messianic mission of the

whole church corresponds to Christ’s messianic mission and to the charismatic sending of the Spirit ‘which shall be poured our on all esh’.”61 is is to say that the movement must move beyond de ning

itself against other expression of the church and understand its identity nally “beyond the church, nding its goal in the consummation of all creation in God.”62 In the political church Moltmann reminds us that the church always exists in the social processes of reality including the political. e

responsibility of the Christian church is towards the “critical ending of these unholy alliances made by the church.” In its commitment to the contemporary cultural situation, the emerging church movement has no sense of its political responsibilities. is is an area all but ignored by the movement. Until it does

it will remain a movement of post-Evangelical, post-denominational suburbanites.

A Way Forward: Returning to a

eology of Hope

To disclose to [the world] the horizon of the future of the cruci ed Christ is the task of the Christian Church.63

To conclude this essay we return again to Moltmann’s beginning. Moltmann began with hope in God’s future for all of creation. is hope “must bring about a new understanding of the world.”64

Despite the signi cant critique that has been made of the emerging church movement’s theological contributions, it is clear that its hope is in God’s future and its goal in this new understanding of the world. roughout this essay I have chosen to use the designation “emerging” — as participle form —

because it best illustrates the movement of the church forward towards God’s future. “Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’, because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It

61 Moltmann, 62 Ibid. 63 Moltmann, 64 Ibid.

e Church, 11.

eology of Hope, 338.

does not take things as they happen to stand or lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change.”65 Whether or not the emerging church movement gets its own theology or practice “right” is a matter of relative insigni cance because as Moltmann says, all theology and reality is provisional. But nally what can be hoped for is a church that is emerging into the kingdom of God here now and yet to come for all of creation. Finally, moving forward to the future of the church is to put our deepest faith in a hope beyond optimism, in the promise of the triune God who will make all things new. May it be so.

TIMOTHY K. SNYDER Christmas Eve, 2009 Washington, DC

65 Ibid., 25.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful