Kierkegaard Wants a New Church
Part 2 of 2
by Tony Jones
July 6, 2013
*res = re slater
This is the second of two excerpts from a book that I happily endorsed: Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God by Kyle Roberts. Kyle is a professor at Bethel Seminary and a fellow Patheos blogger.
Kierkegaard was a prophet who critiqued "Christendom," the perversion of authentic, New Testament Christianity into the institutionalized, materialistic, triumphalist, and flabby religion of modernism. Emergent Christianity is attempting to carve out a more authentic way of being Christian and doing church within--and beyond--the ineffectual, institutionalized church of modernity.
In many ways, Kierkegaard's critiques, concerns, and goals overlap with emergent Christianity and the emerging church. For the first time, this book brings Kierkegaard into a dialogue with various postmodern forms of Christianity, on topics like revelation and the Bible, the atonement and moralism, and the church as an "apologetic of witness." In conversation with postmodern philosophers, contemporary theologians, and emergent leaders, Kierkegaard is offered as a prophetic voice for those who are carving out an alternative expression of the New Testament today and attempting to follow Christ through works of love.
- Kyle Roberts, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
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The emergent movement comprises communities of Christ-followers who desire to recover a sense of authenticity, passion, vulnerability, and intimacy in their lives together. They organize their communities in an intentionally organic way, such that these ideals become (at least conceptually) more attainable that they have appeared to be in institutional forms of church.
The caveat here, from a Kierkegaardian point of view, is that when the alteration of the organization becomes the means whereby these aims can be attained, too much freight is given to change in “circumstance” as the hope for renewal, authenticity, and the recovery of the essentially Christian. Nonetheless, it does seem that at some point action must be taken; this is very Kierkegaardian, too.
Emergent Christianity’s attempt to creatively rethink the nature of the church in this changing world will serve the larger (established) church well—to the extent they take notice. Even if the transiency of emergent communities and the lack of institutional structure make propagation a serious challenge, the burst of creativity and critical reflection within emergent Christianity offers—at the very least—an important renewal resource for more empathetic traditional churches.
In any case, the question recurs and the refrain continues: How can we attain an existentially authentic faith, both individually and communally? In the context of our ecclesiology discussion, the answer may well lie in a theological de-construction (and subsequent attempted re-construction) of institutional forms of church life which often seem to inhibit authenticity, intimacy, vulnerability, and genuine community. Emergent Christians are working hard to find a better way for this journey. For others, the least they can do is empathize with their quest.
Consistent with the trajectory set forth in Practice in Christianity, albeit intensified in his final years, Kierkegaard pointed the way to the dis-establishment of the church in favor of the emergence of Christ’s kingdom. The church exists in service of in-breaking of the kingdom of God into temporality [sic, God's rule becomes present now. - res]. The confrontation with the world occasioned by the action of the historical Christ in his abased life (suffering) and crucifixion opened the way for a new mode of being in the world—one characterized by deep subjectivity and authentic community.
This community exists in the eschatological space between the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and the finite, the bound and the free. Kierkegaard’s Christology of paradox suggests that the church, as an institution—or establishment—must be provisional and temporary, and must give way to the priority of the redemptive presence, or Kingdom of God, brought about disruptively in the world through the reign of Christ as the paradoxical one. This means that the church cannot serve itself and ought not understand its mission to be self-preservation.
So Jürgen Moltmann says: “It is not the Church that ‘has’ a mission, but the reverse; Christ’s mission creates itself a Church. The mission should not be understood from the perspective of the Church, but the other way round.” The church must regularly check its own accumulated habits, its acculturations, commitments, and partnerships with the “powers” and economies of society. It cannot offer itself as an end or become preoccupied with its own self-preservation. Christianity, as an established, institutional, cultural phenomenon, is non-essential. The church defers, bends, and even disappears; like John the Baptist, it must decrease while Christ must increase.
When the church becomes its own self-perpetuating institution, when its mission begins to displace the pure, prophetic, and disruptive presence of Christ, it must be disestablished - deconstructed, even - while Christ and his Kingdom re-appears and re-emerges.
OK, who’s ready to start disestablishing churches?
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Part 1 of 2
by Tony Jones
July 5, 2013
Doubt is the other side of faith…This ethos may be one of the defining features of emergent Christianity—the willingness to countenance doubt. These doubts can arise from questioning the sincerity of religious faith (i.e. Freud’s “great apologetic challenge” to Christianity), the truthfulness of the Bible, the exclusivity of Christianity, or engaging in philosophical challenges to core Christian doctrines (such as those posed by the “problem of evil and suffering”). The acceptance of a positive role for doubt in the Christian life is consistent with the emergent ethos.
Because emergent Christianity is not terribly anxious about epistemological certainty, such questions are encouraged—or at the very least accepted and engaged. Furthermore, there is no rush to answer the questions in a final, authoritarian way. This openness to the reality of doubt in the Christian journey need not imply a glorification of doubt nor a complete disregard for objectivity (properly placed) in Christian theology….
An epistemologically humble approach to theology and faith allows for deeper authenticity and for the de-construction of the idols of certainty, dogmatism and closure. Experimental psychologist, Richard Beck, asks, “What would religious faith look like, experientially and theologically, if it were not engaged in existential repression or consolation?” Presumably, that kind of faith might be open about the reality of doubt and would courageously struggle with existential questions regarding the attainment of “truth.”
That kind of faith would not try to rely on or use religion instrumentally to assuage existential anxiety, but would attempt to be existentially authentic in the face of the lack of epistemological “objective” certainty; it would be open and honest about the pain and distress involved in the human experience and would not try to suppress the anxieties that arise from the fragmentation, brokenness, and brevity of human life.
Collectively, in terms of the experience of Christian community:
- it might have the character and courage to deal with pain, sorrow, and longing head-on, even in (or especially in) the context of church liturgy,
- it would engage the Bible with seriousness and honesty; neither avoiding its prophetic strangeness nor minimizing its difficulties, from the perspective of the modern world,
- it would utilize both celebration and lament as representations of the full nature of the human experience,
- ultimately, it would find both discomfort and solace in the central figure of Christian faith: the paradoxical God-man, who makes comfortable faith impossible but who alone can make authentic faith possible.