Peter Rollins is a very interesting fellow. Born in Belfast in 1973, Rollins is a philosopher with a doctorate in Post-Structural theory. He is also the founder of the experimental collective known as Ikon. He has been described as a "postmodern barroom philosopher" and describes Ikon as "iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing." Ikon tends to defy definition, which seems to be exactly how Rollins wants it, but there can be little doubt that Rollins is a spiritual person who envisions a church that goes beyond doctrine and dogma and that goes beyond belief itself.
In his book, How (Not) to Speak of God, he writes of the relationship between the Christian religion and God: "Our religious tradition testifies to God and is inspired by God, yet our religious traditions do not make God present. Our religion is like the clearing in a forest after a great fire. It testifies to the happening of a great event and without the clearing we would not know of the event, but the clearing does not hold that event."
Rollins is not alone in his quest for what editor Phyllis Tickle calls "De-institutionalized Christianity." Often referred to as the "emerging" church, it is hard to define because part of its definition is being beyond definition. Stripped of institutional imperatives and all the trappings of what most of us understand are held in the word "church," the emerging movement is part of the growing number of people who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious."
So what is left when you strip all of that other stuff away? Conversation. Conversation seems to be the only objective of the emerging church movement, and the belief that the value of what happens is the conversation itself. There is no goal. There is no agenda. There is no purpose beyond becoming "a dwelling place in which God can reside and from which God can flow."
All of this has not gone without some degree of pushback. Look up "emerging church" on Google or YouTube and you will find any number of people giving out lists of warning signs and the serious consequences of associating with anything like the emerging church. One site I saw argued against the "major teachings" of the emerging church, which I found curious since there are no major teachings. In addition to reading a great deal about the emerging church, I am acquainted with several people who, like Peter Rollins, are serious, committed people of faith who are opening themselves to a new expression of faith.
Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 11:30 a.m., two other pastors - Leland Armbright from Mountain View Lutheran Church here in Ahwatukee Foothills and Scott Thompson from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chandler - and I will be meeting for lunch each week at The Coffee Buzz at the northeast corner of 48th Street and Chandler Boulevard. Our thanks to Dimitri and Carol Lazarescu for welcoming us. We would love to have you join us for some great food, a cup of coffee and some conversation. We have absolutely no idea what will happen; we have no plan, no agenda and no goal, and if you are similarly unburdened then let's talk. We simply want to see what, if anything will emerge.
Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.