Until recently I have been confused, even enamored, by the phenomenon formally known and often referred to as the Emergent Church. Seems everyone is… actually… and why not? I mean the student in me always tries to listen and learn – it’s what students do. First, let me be clear that there is much within the Emergent Conversation (a title they prefer) that I identify with. They are touching on some viable issues that Evangelical Christianity had better grapple with… or face extinction. I love some of their emphasis on historic church practices and thinking. This reverse forward thinking is what draws many of the post-moderns that are so frustrated with over-programmed church. We want it real. We want it raw. The Emergent Church has succeeded in stripping away some of the negatives that may be attached to the conventions of the contemporary church.
So I am not questioning the importance or even the success of their movement. I have always believed that when there is a question about someone (particularly when someone’s character is at stake) that it is best to go to the source. Ask questions. Get answers. I try to avoid unintelligent water cooler stuff. I do have serious reservations about the conclusions to some of the important questions Emergents are asking and answering. Leading Emergents seem to be for an open-ended Christianity. However, it seems to me, that this offer does not extend to those whose thoughts are more conservative than their own. Because of my curiosities I went with my wife to the Emergent Conference in San Diego. We were in for quite an education.
The main trouble that I have with the Emergent Conversation stems from their very moniker. I am not sure what they are emerging from… nor to.
In reverse order (dealing with the Conversation)… I’m pretty sure that they could not articulate (no one has yet to my satisfaction) the Conversation part. I have extensively read Emergent authors such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt and even pre-Emergent writers like Stanley Grenz and Leslie Newbigin. It seems that they are in favor of a non-descript, amalgamated faith that has few if any borders to it.
And while I have found great challenge and conviction in their writings, I have also found a recurring theme that I cannot ignore. Though they are asking some good questions like, “What will it take to reach a post-modern… post-Christian generation?”… I fear that their answers fall short for one main reason and it has everything to do with what they seem to be “emerging from”. They have consistently been willing to abandon the Solo Scriptura position.
Wikipedia gives this simple (accurate) definition which explains my exuberance as well… Sola scriptura (Latin by Scripture alone) is one of five important slogans of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. It meant that Scripture is the only infallible rule for deciding issues of faith and practices that involve doctrines. The intention of the Reformation was to “correct” the Catholic Church by appeal to the uniqueness of the Bible’s authority, and to reject Christian tradition as a source of original authority alongside the Bible or in addition to the Bible. This is in contrast to Prima scriptura, which holds that the Bible is the primary source of doctrine, but that understanding can be improved by reference to other sources.
There are certainly elements of following Christ that we have eliminated from the church for cultural or personal preference reasons that can have benefit in our worship experience for today, but all of those same things must pass through the verification of Scripture to test their validity.
2 thoughts on “Not So Fluent In the Emergent Conversation”
Can you point me to some books or articles that some of these guys give open ended faith. I’ve not personally come across it from them. My former sr pastor would always say McLearn was too loosie goosie for him. I think that was mostly polically driven, because of social justice issue. to him you have to be a dried up liberal-communist hippie to believe in socal justice. this is a part that i’ve struggled with the “conversation” too because people in the midst of if don’t like being emergent either. so her I am, some sort of modern/postmodern faith hybread that doesn’t know how to relate to either on ministry level. On a personl level yes. Oh, I guess I just answered my question. Here comes another: if I’m pomo, and I want my ministry to reach pomo’s how do i form my ministry that way in a modern organization? And can they co exist? hmmmm. hmm? this is the whole reason that I set up a blog. to convo, but that seems to have slowed. let’s you and I to hammer out some of these things.
Post-who? Emerging what? Here’s my two cents…
I’d love to share some of my thoughts about the whole postmodern buzz. I am still interested in it, but I’ve found my pursuit to grasp it has left me dumbfounded, which is exactly where the devil wants me. I don’t know everything but I do have some thoughts that I like to throw out there.
Allow me to rant for a minute or five.
For starters, I’m convinced that the “emerging” and “relevant” ideas have big-time potential dangers. I’ve become aware of this since my wife and I began planting a church a year ago.
Why, you ask? My thoughts (not gospel, just my thoughts)…
When did the church start “emerging”? How long will it take to “emerge”? What will the “emerged” church look like? I tend to think it’s a dog chasing its tail, in a way. The church emerged with the great commission and in the time recorded at the beginning of Acts. Since then it has continued to emerge and will continue to do so until the end of time. If we’re talking about doing some things “different” and use the word “emerging” to describe it, I’m okay with that. However, I often wonder if we see a huge attempt to do something different simply for the sake of being different, rather than to make a difference. I’m still working through this.
What about the whole “relevant” buzz?
I have recently discovered that Jesus wasn’t relevant. He modeled irrelevance and this is what motivated him to love the unlovable. I think about Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ). His ministry was failing until he and his wife got down on their knees and confessed their vanity, which came through in his ambition to be recognized through his accomplishments and successes. Once he decided to stop being “relevant,” Jesus used him in powerful ways (I was fortunate enough to hear one of Bill Bright’s last teachings before he died).
I tend to agree with Henri Nouwen who said, “…the problem with the world is that it’s in a constant pursuit to be relevant.” Nouwen goes on to explain that, according to the secular world, the problem isn’t a lack of faith. It’s a lack of competency. I wonder if this is also a problem in the Christian world at times.
Think about this for a second. A dominant view of many in the world says, “We can take care of ourselves. We do not need God, the Church, or a priest/minister/pastor. We are in control. And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control.” For example, if your sick, you look for a competent doctor; if there is war, we need competent negotiators; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; if there are technical problems, you need competent engineers. In the midst of it all we have witnessed God, the Church and the priest/pastor/minister be used to fill in the gaps of incompetence.
However, in a “postmodern” age we see the gaps being filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions. In an attempt to grab the attention of people in the world, the church has resorted to attempting to answer the practical questions by putting confidence in other methods, outside of the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result, I think a lot of churches are providing answers to questions that aren’t being asked, which, in my opinion, is why we see the number of believers in our country declining. The message has been lost in the attempts to make Christianity cool and relevant.
Christianity is not cool. It’s awkward, confusing, and messy. It’s a mystery, which is what intrigues me about God. When it doesn’t seem to work, many pastors leave the ministry to develop new competencies only to join their contemporaries in the attempts to make “relevant” contributions in pursuit of a “better world.”
This is all fine and dandy, but consider the following…
Beneath all of it, something much bigger is happening. Under all the accomplishment and success oriented people of our time there is a deep current of despair. Lonliness, isolation, brokenness, depression, and uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our world.
I tend to think that we, in our attempts to be “relevant,” often lose sight of these people. We spend large amounts of time talking about change, but do little to actually change. It’s sort of like the high priests sitting around discussing the validity of Jesus’ ministry. While they thought, argued, debated, contemplated, and whined, Jesus did something extraordinary. Or, to look at another biblical example, when Jesus was in the desert before his ministry began he was tempted by the devil. The devil said, “…all this can be yours…turn this stone into bread…etc, etc.” Essentially, the devil was tempting Jesus to “be relevant” by enticing him to do something visible. Jesus, in what I believe was a radical proclamation, said, “Man does not live on bread alone…worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”
By responding to the enemy this way, Jesus essentially proclaimed his irrelevance. The devil wanted Jesus to do something tangible, something relevant, something that would produce results that people could see. I think Jesus denied the temptation because he knew the constant pursuit and infatuation with being relevant had the potential to lead to vanity, selfishness, and hunger for more power (I’m thinking about Annikan Skywalker’s hunger for power which brought us Darth Vader – I’m a nerd).
With all that said, I think discussion is good. Exploration is good, but not at the expense of what matters and what is worth doing, which is to love God and serve Him by serving others, to proclaim the good news of Jesus through our relentless love (and where necessary to use words). The proof for this is what happened through Jesus’ ministry after he left the desert. He didn’t care about being relevant. The thing that drove him was an unspeakable love for people and a desire for them to have life. This made many people uncomfortable. Still, he didn’t succumb to any temptations to be relevant, to make people feel comfortable, to be liked.
As a wise man once said, “God is a God of the present and reveals, to those who are willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live, the steps they are to take toward the future.” I think this is true, especially considering what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 – “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself…” I’m challenging myself to recognize where I’m at today and move forward asking the question, “What decisions have I been making lately and how are they a reflection of the way I sense the future?” Somehow I have to trust that God is at work in me and that the way I am being moved to new inner and outer places is part of a larger movement of which I am only a very small (or irrelevant) part.
I suppose I’m trying to let go of my “relevant” self – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and trying to reclaim the unadorned self in whom I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.
Again, to quote Henri Nouwen, “The Christian Leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love.” I only pray I can be this kind of leader.