04 May 2011

church in the present tense 2/4

Scot McKnight, Peter Rollins, Kevin J. Corcoran, Jason Clark.Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What's Emerging. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011.

This review is divided into four parts, one for each major section of the book. Here we discuss Part Two: Theology.

Chapter Three is "Consumer Liturgies and Their Corrosive Effects on Christian Identity" by Jason Clark. It is an outstanding essay on the current status of the church and the responses being given by the emergent community. Identifying cultural shifts which no longer have Christianity at the center of the community he explains that his own emergent experience was around a new set of questions, "Our question became not, how do we do church better so that people do not leave? but, how do we recover church for our context?" (39).

Cutting to the heart of the matter, and indeed many frustrations shared by those currently immersed in the church traditions, Clark writes, "Indeed, church has become nothing more than a meaningless expression of private religious association or a private club. But what if church were not just one choice among many but an ultimate and final choice?" (43). Clark's is a summons to move beyond consumerism in the life of the church in an effort to discover the life-changing renewal which is found in conformity with Christ.

Along this line of thinking Clark also ponders what a church that is more conformed to Christ would begin to be: "What if there is a 'givenness' to ecclesiology and church, a givenness in which we find our identity in contrast to the endless self-creation of identity of the modern consumer agent?" (45). These are lofty ideals indeed, but ones that seem to be embedded in the hearts of emergent Christians. Yet before the reader can fall into an ethereal conceptualization of the *perfect church* the author gives this important perspective, "I just want to be part of a 'real church,' we might cry out of exasperation. Perhaps we have been part of real churches already but have simply failed to notice" (48).

Having greatly appreciated the words in this essay, especially with the doses of imperfect realities throughout, I think Clark has contributed well to the conversation. I might echo Roger Olson's critique that perhaps some more concrete answers could have been included. This is but a minor quibble, though.

Chapter Four is "Thy Kingdom Come (on Earth): An Emerging Eschatology" by Kevin Corcoran. At the beginning of his thought he identifies this trend: "Emerging folks are, it seems, an eschatological lot, people who seek to make God's future a present reality, as best they can" (59). This, however, is not the eschatology of rapture and pre-post-a-Left Behind-millenialism that has been a part of the previous generation of the church. Rather, this is a future-made-present understanding of the kingdom of God, being the impetus of missional work.

This sort of approach makes it rather obvious why Tom Wright has become the unofficial patron saint of emergent Christianity. Corcoran writes, "Heaven is here, now, embodied in earth and mud. Granted, this kingdom has not yet been consummated or fully actualized. Still, it is here and it is now. It is a kingdom come and still coming" (65). This type of reality - one that makes the Lordship of Christ and the experience of his people presently meaningful - has given a renewed vigor to the emerging generation of Christians, as well as a breath of fresh air into our congregations.

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