One of the biggest surprises I had in reading Doug Pagitt’s Reimagining Spiritual Formation was the emphasis at Solomon’s Porch on Scripture and on Spirit, even if for some there may be some blurry edges for those who come at things looking for specific doctrines to be expressed. (I’m not sure why I was surprised, but I must admit that I was.)
Here is a statement that is one of those edgy Emergent statements which, because it is intended both to be provocative as well as fresh and new, got my attention: “Rather, we intend that the Bible function as a full member of our community; on every subject of which it speaks, we listen” (p. 86). One might want to hear “authority” or something like that, but what Pagitt means is this: Scripture’s voice cannot be lost; when they gather together it is to hear Scripture and let Scripture speak; and to let Scripture speak as a person in the community (at one point he says Scripture is a “sort of best friend to whom one givs the benefit of the doubt” ). What sounds at first like a weaker sense of Scripture can become, if done rightly, be a real strength. Sometimes for Evangelicals Scripture is only heard in the form of a sermon or in the form of a set of doctrines. That they treat Scripture as a community member is a little edgy for me, but this emerges (and I’m partly guessing here) from the view that Christianity is a personal relationship to God and to others and that the Bible is God, who is Person, speaking to his people — so they want to emphasize the Person behind Scripture.
At Solomon’s Porch, Scripture is read in huge chunks, aloud, and this revives an old tradition in the Church where the lectionary was used so that Christians could hear Scripture because most didn’t have Scriptures to read at home (and most couldn’t read anyway). I happen to think this is the highest form of Scriptural authority that the Church can possibly possess: reading Scripture aloud in the community. I like this commitment to reading Scripture aloud.
And here’s another part of their use of Scripture: “We focus our efforts on trying to figure out if our lives could be relevant to the story of God, not if the Bible can be relevant to our lives” (123). Again, another provocative but sensible statement. Instead of making Scripture relevant to an existing worldly reality (our lives), which happens to be the very essence of seeker-oriented services, Solomon’s Porch asks for its community to become relevant to the Scriptural story that God tells. On this one, again, I find great comfort and a serious challenge. This community wants to live out the story of God as known through Scripture.
If there ever was a postmodern understanding of Scripture it can be found in this statement, which turns Scripture’s authority into an article of faith in the necessity of believing it for it to be truthful: “We believe the Bible because our hopes, ideas, experiences, and community of faith allow and require us to believe” (123). This is faith seeking understanding, which is about as solid as it gets. This is a stance that Scripture cannot be understood properly if it is not received, that is, a word from a God who needs to be loved and listened to in order to be understood. This is a hermeneutic of love and trust in a world saturated with a hermeneutic of suspicion. This is not to say that the community does not honestly challenge what Scripture says, for it does.
Another angle on Scripture is that the community gathers during the week to hear the Scripture for the Sunday gathering and to share what they are hearing, and then the sermon is rooted in this community’s hearing of Scripture. I can’t see anything but good in such a thing, as long as attentive study of the text by duly gifted teachers/preachers accompanies this communal reading of Scripture. But, as an old man who used to barge into our home in Nottingham — his name was Mr. Baxter — used to say, “Two heads are better than one, even if they’re sheepsheads.”
There is also a solid commitment to the Holy Spirit: John 14:25-26 is reflected on weekly (and this means they believe that the Spirit continues to guide). They also believe this attentiveness to the Spirit will keep them in the way of the gospel and prevent them from falling into heresy. When someone offers thoughts that are thought to be out of touch with orthodoxy, and here they are still thinking in terms of pneumatology — and this is what the orthodoxy movement ultimately believes in, they will gently guide the conversation back to what is “consistent with orthodoxy” (90). Dialogue is important both for hearing one another and for learning from one another.
God’s Spirit takes precedence over all structures and systems — which is where we all ought to begin, and most of do think we begin there, but it nice having someone say so up front and center.
Next blog: Particular and Local