Q & R: Doctoral research …

Here’s the question:

Back in 2003, I wrote my Senior Project at ??? University on the Emerging Church in the United States. Interestingly, I used Cedar Ridge, in part, as a case study to highlight ecclesial shifts happening among evangelical churches even then.
Now six years later, I am exploring thoughts on a doctoral project at ??? Theological Seminary in ???. My question for you, to use a tennis analogy, is more like a “lob shot.” My question is: Currently, what do you think most needs to be explored and examined in the Emergent Church conversation that could most benefit the Church? Put another way, if you were thinking of writing a 35 page journal article about some aspect of the Emergent Church, what would your focus be?
Thanks for any time and response you can offer to this general question.
I am grateful for the vital ministry you are carrying out in these days. As you probably well know by now, you are a strength to many of us young clergy who are living in this liminal time in Christian history.

What a great question! Response after the jump …

Five areas of research come to mind – leading to a sixth:
1. Gospel and Empire. This subject is revolutionizing first Gospel and then New Testament and then Biblical studies as a whole. To what degree are emerging churches “getting” the gospel as a counter-imperial vision? To what degree are they creating a slicker and hipper version of the same old imperial versions of Christianity?
2. New Trinitarianism/Christology. In recent decades, there has been a surge of interest in the social model (as opposed to the hierarchical/monarchical) of the trinity. This model suggests that there is otherness inherent in God – otherness with unity. It also suggests that God is dynamic, not static … that God has a life, which includes a social life, even apart from God’s social interactions with creation. What will this mean for Christology? Christ as an expression of a social God is very different from Christ as an expression of a more imperial, top-down, chain-of-command God. How does all this manifest in the emerging sectors of the church?
3. Atonement theology. Mark Baker, Joel Green, Steve Chalke, Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard, and growing numbers of the new generation of theologians are seeking to either complement, decentralize, or displace penal atonement theory with other models of the atonement. Which models are most promising for emerging leaders, and how are they preached and sung in emerging churches?
4. Gospel as Kingdom of God: How does new thinking in the emerging community about the gospel of the kingdom relate to the previous three issues?
5. Eschatology: There is a revolution beginning in eschatology, as more and more people realize that Jesus was right: the apocalyptic moment he expected in “this generation” actually occurred, and it wasn’t the end of the space-time universe, but the end of an age centered in temple, priesthood, sacrifice, and holy city. How is this alternate understanding being received in emerging churches?
Any of these could be made more practical like this:
6. Practice: How are emerging churches using music, liturgy, preaching, architecture, interior/landscape design, mission endeavors, leadership structure, interreligious conversation, and other creative expressions to embody any of the previous theological breakthroughs?
… but 35 pages could only scratch the surface. I should know, since my recent books and my upcoming book devote hundreds of pages to these questions. What an exciting time to be alive – and to be studying, thinking, learning, questioning, growing!