Thursday, October 06, 2011

emerging Baptists and the other that is contemporary culture

In 2009, I presented an academic paper at the International Conference on Baptist studies in Melbourne. In late July I received notification that my paper had been accepted in a volume of publications (Interfaces: Baptists and Others) arising from the conference. My chapter is (currently) titled – Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study.

In the chapter, I outline a Baptist understanding of theology and church identity. (Note: For mainline church readers who might not know much about Baptist ecclesiology –

Martin Sutherland (“Gathering, Sacrament and Baptist Theological Method,” The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research 3, 2 (October, 2007)) argues for a distinct Baptist way of doing theology, based on the dynamics of church as becoming. He argues that for Baptists, “the gathering is the sacrament, the moment of Christ’s presence, the telos at once for the church and the world.” (53) Baptist theology thus becomes “the dynamic interplay of two stories – the contemporary, local, ‘gathered’ one, and the Christ story as revealed in scripture … The story itself calls us forward and outwards rather than backwards … Theology’s task is to facilitate this harmonization, to bring us into consonance with Christ.” (54-5) For Sutherland, Baptist theology is to be found not in dialogue with philosophy, but embodied in local life, in things such as the church members meeting or in the formation of church structures.

I then employ this Baptist method to first, analyse an act of worship of a particular “emerging” Baptist Church. I argue that a creative and engaged approach to contemporary culture provided huge resources for this congregation. Second, I engage this “Baptist theology” with current discussion on the relationship between gospel and culture, including Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice; Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling; Kathryn Tanner Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology and some articles by Miroslav Volf. I sketch a “sampling” approach to gospel and culture, and the implications for place, imagination and how tradition is understood.

The volume, edited by David Bebbington (Stirling University) and Martin Sutherland (Laidlaw College), part of the Studies in Baptist Thought and History, is due to be published with Paternoster Press, in September 2012.

A collection of essays which includes relations with other Christians, other faiths and other movements such as the Enlightenment. What has been the Baptist experience of engaging with different groups and developments? The theme will be explored by means of case studies, some of which will be very specific in time and place while others will cover long periods, and more than one country.

With 400 years of history, and over 150,000 churches and 37 million members spanning 6 continents, and with conference speakers from England, US, Australian, New Zealand, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, Aboriginal, Nigeria, India, Burma, the volume should be a rich deposit of history and Christian practice.

Posted by steve at 07:56 PM

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