As I've thought about the event last week, and started reading of some of the thinkers whose names came up who I had not read, it seems to me that there are two related but different phenomena happening in the worlds of theology and philosophy. I probably would have realized this sooner, but I've been a bit outside of the philosophy world since I graduated from seminary, and didn't know much about most of the contemporary philosophers who were discussed. It seems there has been a movement amongst these thinkers toward a conversation that is neither theistic nor atheistic, and certainly is not dealing with either category in an apologetic way, but rather is moving beyond those categories into this new a/theism territory.
At the same time that philosophers were working through the inadequacy of strictly defined theism/atheism, parts of Christianity were beginning to realize that the faith and practice we inherited are lacking in their ability to address our present world. Some Christians reacted to that lack by moving in directions we now think of as the emerging church, embracing variations on traditional doctrines and worship styles that enabled them to engage more fully with both their faith and the realities of the world around them.
A side note: I can hear the protests now, that Christian doctrine is and must be timeless and changeless. Sorry, I don't buy it. Few of my more "orthodox" brothers and sisters would argue that the church should have remained the same during the Reformation. Contrary to the typical line that it was just the corruption that changed, a number of doctrines that had before that point been thought of as crucial to the true faith were changed, first by the reformers, and later by the Roman Catholics themselves. Corruption in the church may have lit the match, but the tinder was already laid on that funeral pyre. Medieval doctrine and practice were no longer sufficient for the church at that time. Similarly, I believe that we face a time in which many of the traditional doctrines and practices we have been taught will no longer be sufficient.
The more I thought about what was said last week, and especially what Pete was saying, the more a nagging sense grew in me that I was somehow not quite getting it. I was missing something significant. Today I think it might have hit me (although something else may well come to me later; I'm sure I'm missing many things about what most of the people there were saying). I wasn't getting it because I was framing everything he said from my perspective, which is a particularly church-centric perspective. An emerging church perspective, but still church, which I've noticed that he and ikon resolutely do not call themselves. They use some Christian imagery and language, and so the emerging church has sort of adopted them as one of their own in their search for new and creative forms of Christian community.
But this is not the church.
Or maybe it is, in some paradoxical way, but they're not claiming that.
So I've been trying to wrap my head around the great collection of things that other people said and I thought last week, and there was a LOT said and thought. But one thing I realized today is that I have been approaching radical theology all wrong by expecting it to play nicely with church, at least with the emerging church. Not that they can't be in conversation, of course. But part of me wanted to be able to use radical theology to insert some more honesty and more experiential practices into the existing structures, and not actually confront how different it might be. I wanted these ideas to fit neatly into the existing church.
Because I am deeply invested in the existing church.
I'm a theist, a Christian, a questioning Christian, but a Christian nonetheless, and a minister besides, whose education and livelihood and identity are tied up in the church, whose years have been spent learning the church and caring about things like the Book of Church Order, who poured a ridiculous amount of energy into getting my denomination to FINALLY officially say that ordained women are equal to men. And I think these things matter. Some days I think they matter a lot. But I feel the lack in what the church has become, and failed to become while the world changed around us. I'm intrigued by how closely intertwined faith and doubt really are. I long for (and fear) greater honesty, vulnerability, and responsibility for our own beliefs and practices.
I guess what I'm really asking is, how much will I let myself be challenged? And if I do open myself up to that, will there come a time when a major part of my life doesn't make sense anymore? What then?