Thursday, June 04, 2009

am I emerging/ent and why Rock Harbour is right and wrong?

Just been listening to some church (called Rock Harbour) reflect on the question of why they are, or are not emerging/ent? (hat tip Andrew Jones). There’s a position paper, plus a long video (I watched the first 70 minutes) here. I have not met these folk. But since I often get pinged by the question – are you, Steve Taylor, emerging/ent, it was fascinating to watch someone else search for a response. What resources do they use? Does their reasoning make sense?

Here are some thoughts as I listened:
1. I like the way they set up a framework, which they suggested gave them freedom to quote from people they disagree with. They pointed to how Paul and Jude quoted their opponents, and thus, by abstraction, we can quote from people without agreeing with all of their theology. This makes sense and I liked the way that Rock Harbour then used that to encourage people to think and test for themselves.

2. They show little awareness of the processes of interpretation. They make a strong point of talking about “the Bible” and how they were Biblical. But they showed no awareness of the fact that everyone person reads “the Bible” from within culture and through their existing frameworks. There is no such thing as “pure Bible reading.” I would suggest Rock Harbour need to work harder on making the process of interpretation clearer. It is not Bible <---> individual believer, because interpretation also includes the Spirit (who is sent to point to truth) and the community, to whom the Bible was given.

3. They make a big deal of the four gospels being different, which they then use as examples of contextualisation. By implication this frees them to contextualise. Well yes. But they then make the statement that the Gospel writers, while contextualising, are committed to an unchanging core. At this point my logic detector goes off. Where, I want to know, is this unchanging core? If this is not in the four gospels, where is it? If it is a synthesis of the gospel eg into propositions or a doctrinal statement, then who has done this synthesising, because surely this is a human interpretation of the core? And at that point the Rock Harbour approach to contextualisation becomes wobbly IMHO, simply because they are trying to present an undefined, inner, “core” as somehow divinely ordained.

4. They make a big deal of Acts being about contextualisation (which it is), but duck – majorly – the power and weight of Acts 15. Acts 15 is crucial, because Acts 15 suggests that contextualisation, correctly practised is NOT about doctrinal purity (the unchanging core), but about the praxis of caring of the poor and the ethics of food sacrifice. In other words, don’t use Acts to defend your doctrinal purity, but to consider how faith is lived.

5. They spend a long time on why they will keep spiritual formation. (It needed a good edit.) Surely it would have been simpler to apply their notion in (1) – that they are simply taking the best bits from the Christian tradition.

6. Their notion that “It is finished” is a salvific statement surprised me. I interpret “It is finished” as Jesus dying. If “It is finished” it is salvific, then what is place of resurrection and the Spirit in their theology? In other words, salvation is not just the death of Jesus, it’s also the life, death and resurrection.

So, after having been reflective on another group, how would I answer the question? are you, Steve Taylor, emerging/ent?

My answer is this
1. In Acts 2, the Spirit comes and one of the signs of the Spirit is that people heard in their own language.
2. That work continues today, as the Spirit continues to desire that people hear God in their own language. That for me, is how I see the term emerging/ent church.
3. Yes, this work of Spirit will require discernment, the ability to recognise what is working toward God and what is working away from God. We’re not the first people to face such questions and for that we have the Scriptures and the community of God and the knowledge gained throughout history.
4. This conversation between Spirit, church, Bible, with the knowledge gained through history, must generate debate. That debate is part of the reason there’s a lot written about emerging/ent church. Like all debates, there’s both heat and light, so books and websites need to approached with brains on. All that is heat is not light and vice versa.
5. God wants to make Godself known and this is an essential part of the work of God’s Spirit. This Spirit is one of love, not of fear, and so as we talk together, we need to seek relationships that give and receive love, (modelled in the way and walk of Jesus).

Posted by steve at 04:02 PM


  1. My first visit to your website. Just looking for info/start time of this evening’s event at Opawa Baptist (why not on their website?) Anyway I enjoyed reading the other stuff while I was here and will visit in future.

    The thing that jumped out at me was point 6. ‘It is finished’ as a salvation statement. I can see your point that it is a very incomplete view of salvation and I agree with you. However I was not ‘surprised’, simply because those words were my entry point to salvation in my own journey, many years ago, half a world away. You have to start somewhere and hearing those words in a fresh way at the time jolted me from a church background to being open to what people were tying to explain to me about salvation. Funny that.

    Comment by Janet Chambers — June 6, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  2. A thoughtful comment Janet. As I read your comment, I wondered if there was a difference between our experience of how God finds us, and then the theological understanding we build around that. God finds people in amazing ways, but that is different from the statement Rock Harbour were making, which was endeavouring to be a reflective overview. As such, I certainly thought it would have included reflection on the place of resurrection in the work of salvation. It was something they seem to have been working on for quite some time. It might be simply an omision, but it might also point to something they could think about further.

    Hopefully we’ll see you tonight and the info on this website was helpful enough for you,


    Comment by steve — June 6, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

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