18 May 2011

church in the present tense 3/4

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 Three: Worship.

Jason Clark once again provides a chapter, this time on "The Renewal of Liturgy in the Emerging Church." Chapter Five comes as a critique of current evangelicalism and the place that liturgy has within our modern worship. There is much to be said regarding the state of worship today, with a great amount of shallowing in individual faith because of a collapse of corporate tradition.

Clark writes, "Without a recovery and understanding of liturgy we are in danger of a collapse of ecclesiology and church into solipsistic worship aesthetics and private spaces" (75). Perhaps you are intimidated by that sentence. Let me paraphrase: We as churchgoers either enter into the larger narrative of our faith or we turn this into an elaborate enterprise of worshipping our own desires. Clark continues later, "We are whatever we want to be. We make ourselves in an image of our own manufacture. Often the selves we create are shallow and superficial, as they are based on issues of taste, personal preference, or whatever makes us happy" (80).

This is the sad and stark reality that our worship resembles, and I think that Jason Clark has made observations which are quite accurate. But his essay is not intended to simply decry the failures of the current practices of the church. Instead, his critique is intended to move forward to a more comprehensive and complete form of worship. He states, "Liturgy and ritual open up the possibility of reconnecting beliefs to their origins and to the people who held and practiced them generations ago. They connect us to the past, to the story, and shape us for life together in an alien world" . . . "We live in a world that does not know what to do with the ordinary"(81).

Following this discussion Clark introduces Flow: A Short-Term Catechism which came out of his own emergent church community. The notion is compared to a short-term missions experience, but through which the experience is replicated to one's own life and work on a daily basis. It is a forty day commitment to take one's faith into a secular world. It is built on three key elements: doing, knowing, being. It is worth taking a closer look, for certain, and contains the seeds of missional living for all believers.

Chapter Six is written by Peter Rollins, "Transformance Art: Reconfiguring the Social Self." Admittedly, there were some philosophical comments early on in this chapter that were a small challenge to distill . . . (especially when one begins to quote the writings of Karl Marx). However, I think that Rollins is on an interesting path with the early comment, "The ironic stance can be described as a way of distancing oneself from a certain social activity while simultaneously engaging in it" (90). Further, he says it this way, "The ironic stance can be maintained through engaging in what we may call perverse transgression. A perverse transgression is any act that appears to undermine a particular system but that actually affirms the very system it purports to attack" (92).

Rollins' point here is that Christian belief is often contradictory in what testimony comes from our mouths in comparison to what testimony flows from our lives. And the emerging generations of believers are unwilling to perpetuate such a system. It is simply unacceptable that we should talk about injustice and then participate in activities which make injustice more prevalent in the world. To this, Rollins asks, "To what extent can our prayer meetings and weekly commitment to the poor actually be the very activities that enable us to engage in careers that help to perpetuate what we are praying against?" (94).

Is it more important to defend our own culture and socio-traditions or follow the radical demands of the kingdom of God? If it is the latter, then the former must be removed . . . a complete transformation of the self over a 'better version' of the self. In one of the most quotable passages in the book thus far, "Christianity promises not intellectual satisfaction but rather substantive transformation, that is, a qualitative change in our being that reconfigures our way of being in the world" (97).

Although I don't readily understand or jump on board with the notions of what Rollins calls Transformance Art, I think that I ultimately grab hold of his underlying notion. Where I agree is that the individual (and community) who is transformed by the Spirit of God ought to also identify a renewal of the world around them, at least the potential renewal of it through the ongoing work of the Spirit from within. It is heaven that has come into the person and now seeks to move outward in a transformation of all creation.

The section on Worship should not be taken lightly, for it is a dimension of our lives that we worship. Whether it is a healthy worship of our Creator or a destructive worship of ourselves and our stuff, we must examine the context within which our devotion occurs.

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