Barry Taylor writes about “fluid theology” in a recent Out of Ur blog, an excerpt from the new book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. His point is difficult to make out, but, as far as I can tell, he is calling Christians to accept the potential dissolution of the institutional church in favor of a “new way of living and being in the world” in our postmodern world. He concludes,
All of these thoughts can be summarized as a commitment to weakness rather than strength. â€œMuscular Christianityâ€ and â€œrobust faithâ€ are views that worked well in modernityâ€™s concrete world, but the viability of Christian faith in the twenty-first century is not guaranteed by claims to power and declarations of strengths and doctrinal postures. This is not a slide into relativism but a commitment to nondogmatic specificity. We can tell the gospel story without resorting to competition, exclusivism, or elitism.
Well, Christians have been calling us to abandon “competition, exclusivism, and elitism” for 2,000 years . Nothing new about that. I think I understand what Taylor is trying to get at, but he phrases it very poorly. He rejects “certainty,” but shouldn’t all Christians be certain in Christ, in God’s love for us, in God’s love for the world?
I understand the rejection of institutional religion that is dead and lifeless. Taylor favorably cites Bonhoeffer as the great example of trading “religion” for real Christianity. Absolutely, and when Bonhoeffer chose to promote “religionless Christianity” he, um, founded a church and a seminary. Hmm. Sounds pretty institutional to me.
The fact is, human beings need institutions. We need organizations. That’s why they seem to spring up everywhere human beings exist. When you combine relationships, a common commitment to some value or cause, and one or more leaders, you naturally get an organization, whether it’s a nuclear family, a clan, an army, a nonprofit, a business, a local church, or an informal formality like the Emergent Village. The question should be, What kind of institution will it be?