Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Great Rummage Sale

Early in her book The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle refers to Bishop Mark Dyer's comment that every 500 years the Church has a rummage sale, cleaning out structures and theological ideas that no longer serve the Church's sharing in God's mission. The book group here at Ascension is reading Tickle's book, after having read Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith in the spring. I expect there to be lively discussions in the book group of what ought to be in the rummage sale and what should be essential in the emerging Church. Before the first meeting of the group, I have several ideas about what might be emerging as the rummage sale goes on.

I see theology moving from talking about God using the language of the creeds to relational language. While it may have been helpful in the 5th century CE to talk about the Son as being of one substance with the Father, that language doesn't work so well in the 21st century. When the Gospel according to John tells us that Jesus said, "The Father and I are one" (10:30), we don't need to understand that as being of one substance. We can talk about that unity in relational terms, focusing on the love which bound Jesus to the Father.

I see the medieval understanding of the Atonement having fewer adherents as other understandings become more widely accepted. I am a particular fan of James Alison's work in this area and of Douglas John Hall's, but there are others who have proposed other alternatives to the substitutionary theory that has dominated theology since the 11th century. The singulars focus on sin of the substitutionary theory is being replaced by a broader and more relational way of understanding Jesus' death. Hall sees Jesus as God's representative to us and our representative to God, which I find much more helpful than the language of substitute.

I see Church structures becoming much less hierarchical, with networks of relationships becoming more the norm. Oddly, we in the Anglican Communion are already seeing the growth of networks that have become more important than the Communion's formal structures. The downside of this is that these networks may turn into conservative and liberal enclaves with relationships across the diversity of the Church withering. The upside is that these networks can bridge geographical boundaries in ways that formal structures generally don't.

I see the Church having a great openness to and appreciation for other faith traditions and for non-religious movements that share the Church's commitments to peace and justice. In a wedding sermon last week I spoke of the couple's awareness that we are one people and their commitment to work for the good off all the world's people.

Finally, I see the Church embracing its identity as a participant in God's mission of reconciliation and transformation. Not the only participant, to be sure, but perhaps the only one that is conscious that it is God's mission in which it shares. Without the triumphalism that has marred its witness in the past, the Church can proclaim what it discerns God to be doing in the world. Even though some saw it differently, I saw the embrace of the Millennium Development Goals by the Episcopal Church as just such a proclamation that God is at work achieving those goals.