Raffling off a honey-baked ham to raise support for charity is not the typical introduction one would expect to precede a seminar on the future of the church at Washington D.C.’s Calvary Baptist Church. However, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, the most intensifying figure of the “emergent church” movement, has clarified that she is not the typical public theologian. The tattoo-ladden “punk Lutheran” is the founding pastor of Denver’s House of Sinners and Saints five-year-old church plant and speaks out on behalf of the “underlings” of society who have either been hurt by church or self-ejected from “modern” organized religion.
Bolz-Weber’s pastoral style combines liturgy and community, beer and hymns, foul language and sexual innuendos. All this is coupled with a determination to transcend the bounds of both the religious right and progressive left, making her a vibrant power-house for the evangelical left.
In addition to the ham, Bolz-Weber also raffled off a $500 tattoo gift-certificate to an enthusiastic crowd before sitting down with Calvary Baptists’ pastor Amy Butler to discuss how to build up the urban church in a time when “institutional churches are in decline.”
Despite such a decline, however, Bolz-Weber’s following seems to be on the rise as the crowded audience ranged in spectrum from middle-aged lesbian women, gay young couples, straight white older couples, young and old evangelicals and the “nones,” aiding to increase her public success and influence.
Departing from the “progressive” church, Bolz-Weber does not believe in catering to a “customer-friendly” environment in order to attract young Believers. During her discussion at Calvary Baptist she stated, “I don’t feel responsible for what people in my church believe, but I feel really responsible for what they hear.” “If a community has a more ‘progressive’ ethos and is open and affirming, then they start to sort of soften the edges” and “the proclamation of the Gospel.” She quirked, “Those are the only two things going for us.” and, “We should get t-shirts that say ‘don’t turn down the Jesus.’”
In her own commentary responding to an interview question posed by Faith and Leadership, Bolz-Weber noted:
I reject the premise I often hear in progressive Christianity that in order to be down with multiculturalism or with peace and social justice you have to jettison the Bible and Jesus. I think those are the only two things we have going for us.
But do not let Bolz-Weber’s words and unconventional style fool you. For her values identify closely with the borderless disorganized emergent movement skewing orthodox Christian doctrine. Evidenced on her own church’s website, Bolz-Weber denounces the unchanging authority of the Bible, writing that, “Scripture is honored enough to be faithfully questioned and struggled with.” In her own memoir, she even cites the Bible as simply a “cradle for Christ” but not the ultimate Gospel.
Continuing her discussion at Calvary Baptist, she recalled her former practice of Wicca and worship of “the goddess” (who she calls “God’s aunt”). Bolz-Weber explained that she never turned from God during those years or had to have a recommitting session with Him. Only that God can embody various forms and symbols and may be found in many different ways and means.
Unsurprisingly, Bolz-Weber heralds the Left-leaning political issues that we have seen permeate the emergent movement: social justice, Big Government and the embrace of homosexual lifestyles. In her blog for Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog, Bolz-Weber noted her uncertainty with “how divine love or healing or redemption could possibly happen in Christian communities where there is so little concern for equality and inclusion…”
Still, listening to Bolz-Weber preach is like how many conservative Christians feel watching the Ellen DeGeneres Show. You do not condone her lifestyle, or theology in this case, but you cannot help but want to be her friend. Bolz-Weber’s spirited appeal is largely because of her refreshing transparency due to her staunch determination that, “Pastors should not pretend to be something they’re not.”
In the end, Bolz-Weber’s down-to-earth personality and genuine zeal will allow her to share the Gospel with the individuals who have been hurt in the church, and as our hope, lead them to Jesus Christ. So let it be our prayer that she abandons the hollowness of emergentism in exchange for the pursuit of absolute truth in Scripture.