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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
1. "Technological Singularity," Wikipedia,
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?"
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.