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THE NEXT BUZZWORD?

A new buzzword may be the coming "cool" thing among cutting edge churches.

Our first buzzword fling began with the confusion of a "postmodern" church. More recently, we have preferred an "emerging" church. Now—in a giant step forward—we may be ready for the "Singularity" Church.

The term finds its origin in the gravitational singularity of a "black hole"—a boundary in space beyond which no "light" can reach the observer, or a moment in time from which nothing can return. More bluntly, this singularity "event" represented the end of modern physics as we know it and the birth of something new.

Soon, scientists started predicting a similar "singularity" among the amazing trends in technology. We’ve always believed, for example, that changes in technology were common sense, step-by-step changes. More recently, however, we’ve realized these changes are accelerating beyond our ability to understand or predict.

Sooner or later—the year 2030 is commonly predicted—social and scientific changes will have happened so fast and so fundamentally that we will reach an Essential Strangeness beyond which this era will end.1

Obviously, there’s a spiritual parallel to this dangerous journey, and we may well call it a "Spiritual Singularity." In another article on this subject, we admit that history is overthrowing old church paradigms so quickly, exponentially, and unpredictably that, soon, the church—as we know it—cannot possibly continue. This phenomenon is bigger than anything we are doing and bigger than anything we are expecting.

It’s a spiritual transformation—a creative mutation driven by God.

A summary of that article, "Whatever Happened to Humility," includes these examples:

"Spiritual" leaders are welcoming a Sovereign Spirit in their "spirit-filled" spirits. What was once a subculture has now become mainstream.

The future no longer belongs entirely to cold and calculating brains—the guys who know only "sequence," "literalness," and "analysis." It belongs, increasingly, to creativity, artistry, and empathy—metaphor, meaning, and emotion—pattern, synthesis, and the big picture.

We see this change in the "magic" of technology and the "miracles" of modern physics. Science and the supernatural, it seems, are increasingly in cahoots.

Though "The Word" remains "The Word," the "proofs" of old dogmas are fading. The apologetics of old "experts" are failing. The arguments of old beliefs are falling.

We are no longer "thinking"—in the old sense of the word—we are projecting a new world.

Making the Turn

Now, as we project that world, we’re also projecting a new church. Yet, this perception is not a mere paradigm shift. It’s not a mere "difference" in the way we "do" church. And it’s not a mere "improvement" over what we’ve already "improved."

Instead, it is a profound metamorphosis of our very vision of Christianity. It’s not a new "benchmark," in other words. It’s a whole new bench!

And those sitting on this bench have changed as well. In fact, our whole value system has changed. Like it or not, we’ve said goodbye to the last "normal" family—the last squeaky-clean family—the last intact family. For everything is broken. And everyone is broken.

We’re rapidly approaching a demonic demography.

This journey is like going to bed each night in a strange city and waking up the next morning unable to remember where we are. Only, in this case, we never get to go home!

It’s an embarrassing amnesia, for we don’t know how we got here in the first place. Few know who decided the form and shape of today’s "church." And the ones who should know don’t know. As a result, we’re not even who we think we are.

As example, Christians of all persuasions misuse Scripture to prop up their own "system." Their systems are usually sincere, but seldom sacred. "What Christians commonly experience as church and theology and leadership is far removed from what Jesus and Paul intended."2 The early church fathers fought the "official" religion of their day and would certainly have fought the "official" religion of today.

Now, we’re paying a dear price for our dear assumptions.

Yes, more visionary leaders risk teasing out the new "move of God." Yet, few see the bigger picture. All the recent polls, for example, fail to show what’s happening. Neither sociological studies, institutional entities, nor empirical indicators comes even close to "measuring" a truly spiritual event.

We’re like ants crawling on a huge wall painting. Each sees only a little piece of its moment in history. And, though momentary flashes of light reveal larger images, these images make no sense in the light of past understandings.

Meanwhile, the emerging church—the emerging theology—and the emerging leader are morphing into forms totally unthinkable and unacceptable by today’s standards. We’re being impelled at breathless speed toward we know not what, and we’re moving with ever increasing acceleration.

Unless we see farther down the road, today’s church will be an "18-wheeler" unable to make the turn.

A Deeper Call

And the biggest turn is turning "inward." We’re seeing the dead end of religiosity and a quickened detour toward "spirituality." This sudden shift represents the fastest growing "preference" among all believers.

It’s a widespread movement that taps a more personal belief—a more private sense of self—and a more direct communion. It exposes a growing passion that touches a deeper call—a more immediate significance—yet a less mediated relationship.

It represents a space-age mysticism that explores the edges of normalcy. It risks a spirit-led yearning for the miraculous in the midst of the mundane. And it admits an open-eyed longing for the Other World in the midst of this world.

Powerful inspirations—out-of-the-blue creativities—and transformational events are the order of the day. The only "sacraments" are those that convey only inward meanings—and the only spiritual "authorities" are those who use only spiritual means.

This new spirituality is a bubbling cauldron of visceral feelings, heartfelt emotions, and ecstatic passions. Both pristine and spontaneous, this "felt knowing" comes suddenly and intuitively. And, in return, it unleashes a powerful participation, both fluid and free.

Like any improvisation, it demands a new kind of knowing where revelation is discovered rather than mediated—received rather than instructed—interpreted rather than taught. It begins with "pattern" thinking—"reflective" thinking—"meditative" thinking. It is, after all, the language of art.

And what validates this "knowing"? The experience itself!

Yet. . . . We’re corruptible. So experience is best validated by a spiritual community. But, then, spiritual communities are corruptible as well. So, again, their opinions and traditions are best validated by a continuing dialogue with Scripture. . . .

. . . or more preferably, by the Spirit speaking through Scripture.

It follows, then, that today’s "spirituality"—the experience by itself—is not, necessarily, "religious." Often, it is a New Age or "eclectic" spirituality. In fact, many believers have no religious affiliation. In other words, they have no "anchors"—no accountability. As a result, we could easily call this moment the reemergence of a pagan world.

Yet, the Lord of History has jumped out of our little box before. So take care! He’s out now.

"A Bullet-Pointed Bureaucratese"

This shift toward "spirituality" promises the end of "salvation by information." It questions "institutional faith," "public faith," "external faith." It refuses religion "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

It has no interest in the belief systems of abstract orthodoxy or tunnel-vision theology with their endless principles, boundaries, formulas, and guidelines. It’s not impressed with the illusions of non-negotiable, schismatic dogmas. And it’s not beguiled by the dry, cold absolutes of a code language turned stagnant.

The "idea" of God has lost its warmth. The orderly arrangement of seminary knowledge has lost its power. The mental assent of a "thinking man’s" religion has lost its credibility. All these things have reduced a subtle and complex Beauty into "a bullet-pointed bureaucratese."3

In 1966, the world announced that "God is Dead." Now we know what’s really dead.

Is there a place for firm footing? Is there a reason for reason? Are there grounds for sound theology and scholarly theologians? Yes, as long as our understanding doesn’t remain frozen in time. For we cannot hear as deeply as God speaks—cannot move a quickly as God moves—and cannot repent as rapidly as God requires.

So we must return over and over to a pristine spirituality and an eternally new understanding of the Voice that speaks through that spirituality.

Religion is not identical with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization.4

A "Parallel Integrity"

The new spirituality generation is "trying-on" the "unthinkable" while we’re still trying to make it "thinkable."

Why not? We know how to have integrity of the mind. We easily honor, for example, rational and scientific proofs. And we rarely forget the disciplines of good scholarship. Our logic, after all, is "sacred."

But we don’t know how to have integrity of the Spirit. None of us! In the world of Spirit, we don’t know what we "don’t do," and we don’t know what we "do."

For example, we don’t know how to test the validity of our feelings. We don’t know how to confirm the truth of our emotions. Usually, we can’t tell whether they are our power or God’s power—flesh or faith—overpowering or empowering.

Worse still, seraph and snake abide side by side in the spiritual realm, and we seldom tell them apart. We seldom see their hidden warnings and cunning deceits. Among our feelings, for example, we often can’t distinguish friends from fiends. And, among our emotions, we often can’t tell whether we’re victors or victims.

Though we usually feel comfortable with logical knowing, we feel out of place with spiritual "knowing." We know how to talk, for example, but not how to listen. We know how to "do," but not how to "be."

We’re proud of our rhetoric, but embarrassed with our revelations. We feel at home with literal metaphor, but draw a blank with prophetic metaphor. We trust our many "words," but suffer loss with the loss of words.

We know how to invent, but not to create. We know how to kick-start things, but not to respond when hidden things "kick-start" us. We know how to design strategies, tactics, and goals, but not to listen, learn, and be led by a more encompassing purpose.

We know how to "make things happen," but not to "let things happen." We know how to organize events, but not to let "events" organize events. We know how to "manhandle" history, but not to "move with" history.

We’re needing a new "parallel integrity."

The Singularity Church

So what should we do? Should we simply dig in our heels and fight back—preserve the past at any cost? Should we join all these weird people and become even more weird? Or should we come up with a "credible" plan that will keep control of things, regardless of which way they go?

None of the above! Missing, mimicking, and manipulating the Spirit have never worked.

Even without these mistakes, we’re moving into lands where our best maps no longer apply. For this journey is the end of something and the beginning of something. As we’ve said, "It’s a creative mutation driven by God." In other words, this mutation no longer encourages "business as usual." Recent history, for example, proves we dare not try to "control" the emerging church.

For the "emerging" church should be a "singularity" church. The changes are happening too fast and too fundamentally to control. This moment, after all, is bigger than anything anybody is doing. We can’t simply "think" our way through it.

So we must walk with a new "integrity of the Spirit"—something more than an abstract idea—more than a plaything of Pentecostalists—more than a commercial product. . . . In other words, we must be more like artists—bold yet humble, fanciful yet firm, open yet honest, prophetic yet prudent.

Yes, it’s dangerous. But the courageous will stake out this new frontier.

All things . . . are [fitting into a plan] . . . for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.5

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. "Technological Singularity," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_Singularity

2. Modern scholarship makes this clear. Examples include: Mark Strom, Reframing Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) and Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996). The quote here is from Mark Strom.

3. Ruth Marcus, "PowerPoint: Killer App?" Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/29/AR2005082901444_pf.html

4. William Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981) p. 103.

5. Romans 8:28, AMP.




Future Church Administrator