Richard Rohr on the emerging church
There are some good clips of Richard Rohr talking about the emerging church that have been provided by the Center for Action and Contemplation. I came across them via a post on the Emergent Village Weblog. In this one Rohr lists what he regards as the four main characteristics of a movement that is creating a remarkable new consensus about the gospel that transcends denominations:
1. 'an honest, broad and ecumenical Jesus scholarship';
2. 'the emergence in human consciousness of a contemplative mind, a different kind of I that is perceiving that scholarship';
3. the realization that 'many of the major concerns of Jesus are at major variance with what most of our churches have emphasized';
4. a search for the new structures and 'new community mechanisms that can make this possible' without collapsing back into the old divisive, antagonistic denominationalism.
I think Rohr makes the case very well, even in this very brief format - he is an engaging and precise speaker. I'm a bit surprised that he has nothing to say in this overview about 'mission' - about the engagement of the emerging church in all sorts of ways with its host culture. His interest is in the emerging church primarily as an ecumenical reform movement, though it may well be that he discusses mission somewhere else in these talks.
I am also concerned by the theological preoccupation with Jesus - a concern that I have with Frost and Hirsch's highly stimulating but theologically blinkered ReJesus. I can understand that a reforming and missional movement such as the emerging church will want to go back to Jesus for inspiration. But the danger is that it will simply produce a different kind of short-sightedness or reductionism if in our reconstruction of Jesus we ignore the larger biblical story that went before Jesus, came after Jesus, and which must be allowed to frame and make sense of Jesus. There is some point in saying that Jesus is the hermeneutical key by which we interpret the whole of scripture; but I would argue that it is no less necessary for the reader to allow the whole of scripture to interpret the Jesus of the Gospels.
So for Richard Rohr what it means to rediscover Jesus is to hear a counter-cultural and counter-imperial opinion about war, non-violence, power, stem-cell research, love of enemies, concern for the poor, and inclusion (see the clip 'What Did Jesus Really Teach' or view it directly on YouTube). Jesus is held up as the proponent an ethical ideal with no sense of how that idealism worked within the eschatological narrative of the Gospels - and indeed of the whole New Testament. Arguably, of course, Rohr is simply taking a short-cut - and maybe this clip is not representative of the talk as a whole. But the impression is certainly given that within this emerging consensus it is still much too easy to bend Jesus to fit a modern agenda, whether the practical programme of a missional church or some moral agenda derived from contemporary American political discourse.