The Emergent Church

Johann Baptist Metz, Crossroad, 1981

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        ‘Emergent church/ has become a major theme in contemporary religious analysis.  One of the earliest people to develop the concept was the Catholic theologian, Johann Metz.  He uses the categories of messianism vs. bourgeois religion, and then sees the implication for culture and for the Lord’s supper (the eucharist).

        It’s a far ranging book that challenges the church to move beyond its middle class comfort zone, that challenges the church to move beyond its preoccupation of pacifying and consoling.  Metz points out that a bourgeois theology has removed all apocalyptic tensions:  o danger, no contradiction.  Love in bourgeois religion also avoids messianic perspectives.  Love, in messianic religion, takes sides. The universality of this love does not consist in a refusal to take sides but rather in the way it takes sides, that is, without hatred or hostility toward people’ (p 40).

        The perspective of messianic Christianity also affects our stewardship.  ‘The problem of the church’s large-scale aid organizations is not that they exist but that in the minds of Christians they remove this necessary help from its all-embracing messianic content (which includes factors like solidarity, political education and to the will to practical change, and reduce it to a process of the mere giving of money’ (p 8). ‘The worldwide church challenges us in the relation of the rich churches to the poor churches, or, in general, the churches of central Europe to those of the Latin American subcontinent (p 20).

Other essays talk of Jewish-Christian ecumenical relations, bread and the Lord’s Supper (what kind of bread are we eating?)  Wonderful probing of the emerging church and mission.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.