Sunday, December 04, 2005

the emerging church and the Bible

John Hammet emailed and asked a very good question: What I think many would like to hear is a statement about how you teach your converts to regard the truthfulness of Scripture. Is it a message that is true for them and the world? I am not talking about crude Cartesian foundationalism or modernist rationalism. I am not talking about evangelistic strategy; it is entirely appropriate to start with people where they are and answer their questions. I am talking about the church and its teaching and discipling ministry.

bookkells.jpgIt’s a great question. I am teaching a course on this at Fuller Seminary July 17-21 2006 and am working on a book about this very topic; how the emerging church use the Bible. Publisher negotations mean I have to be a bit coy about what I say and how much I can post.

I can’t speak for the emerging church, but perhaps what we did tonite at Digestion, our interactive more youth orientated service, is some answer (to the general question of the place of the Bible in the inner life of the emerging church).

The Bible text for today was Luke 1:39-42. Tonight I told it as a story; taking about 15 minutes and creatively using various symbols to enhance people’s imagination. (OK, if you are really desperate, here’s the script I wrote. Be understanding, I only had about 2 hours so it’s on the fly). I told it slowly, reverently, because this is our central, sacred text. The storytelling approach enabled me to honour the essential narrative nature of the genre and to bring in a whole lot of extra historical information; how far was it from Mary’s house to Elizabeth’s house; how old was Mary and Elizabeth; the social stigma of bethroned pregnancy and infertility.

I then invited those gathered to “wonder”; to ask questions about the story, the characters, ourselves. For over 20 minutes the congregation “wondered” aloud, probing the story (I wonder why Mary left; I wonder how Joseph felt; I wonder if her parents drove her away; I wonder if there were other Mary’s.) Gradually the wonderings got more personal; (I wonder if we gossip and drive people away from our church; I wonder if we are Mary and what God might be saying to us.)

I affirmed all the community wonderings as honouring the text and honouring the way the text speaks to our lives. I then read the Biblical text.

I then offered a range of responses; I gave out little dolls (you had to be there OK) and invited people to consider what was happening in their work, home, health, finances etc and how they were responding to God speaking to them; and space for people to be blessed by some “older” Elizabeth’s as Elizabeth blessed Mary. Music track played in the background and people had space to continue to process the Bible. I finished by praying; thanking God for the faith and example of Mary and Elizabeth. All told, about 35 minutes.

What does this say about the way I (as only one voice in the emerging church) use the Bible?

1. I affirm the importance of the Bible speaking for itself through storytelling. In doing so I reject as arrogant and longwinded the preacher who tries to explain the Bible by privileging their mind and rationality over the Scriptures.

2. I affirm that God speaks through the wonderings of God’s community. In doing so I reject as individualistic and cultural captive to modernity the privileging of one preaching voice in the community.

3. I affirm that our imagination and all our senses are needed to fully engage Scripture. In doing so I reject as cultural captive to the rationalism of modernity any approach to preaching which uses only words.

4. I affirm that the Scripture calls for a response by offering a variety of ways to respond to the Scriptures. In doing so I reject a one-size fits all or solely intellectual approach to the Bible.

I as an emerging/postmodern/alt.worship (whatever other label you as reader of this post want to stick on me to neatly stereotype me) am seeking a whole bodied, multi-sensory, community engagement with the Bible, honouring it, enflamed by the Spirit, as a living, active, sacred text that reads us and shapes our community.

There is a lot more I could say about subversive readings, global perspectives, micropoetics of everyday life but as I said, this is a book in process.

Posted by steve at 09:10 PM

1 Comment

  1. hi steve,

    i like this post because you are speaking about a topic i find myself in. and i want to say, that i like the way you are looking on bible and community life.

    as i read through out of bounds church and since i am following your blog i realized that there are some similarities between the way you see things and live them to the way i am doing it.
    and for sure i love the way the service you are writing about is based on a biblical story, and it’s the way i like doing – but i have to mention that there are a lot of alt.worship services that are based on themes more than biblical stories. and even there are some in which biblical stories are almost not present.

    i am looking forward to your book about this subject and would like to stay in conversation about a healthy way to combine bible and community life.


    Comment by [depone] — December 5, 2005 @ 10:41 pm

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