Friday, February 23, 2007

Still Wondering about "Emergent"

I want to say "Thank you" for your recent comments. I really appreciate hearing what others have to say.

Stemming from a lot of different motivations, and as you can tell, I am deeply interested in what is being called the Emerging or Emergent Church. Regarding the so-called EC, I did a couple of posts last summer. They are here and here.

For now, my plan is to do a lot more reading and listening and less writing about this. However, I do want to add a follow-up to yesterday's post about the Emergent Church.

The leaders within this movement would be the first to admit that there's a real sense in which the EC has never been and will never be a church per se. My contention is that the other word "emergent" is likewise an overstatement or misnomer.

Why? First, a disclaimer. Admittedly, I am looking at the phenomenon called the EC not as a "member" (where would one go to join?) though I am sympathetic to some of its emphases and directions. Nor am I a well-read student of the EC.

I enter this discussion mainly as a student of American Christianity in the 20th and, now, 21st centuries. And here's what I see. The sociologist David Moberg has described a certain group of theologically-conservative Protestant Christians . . .

"whose stance is more of a 'spirit' than a well defined theology as they advocate an interest in human beings as whole persons (not just 'souls' to be saved) in active Christian involvement in sociopolitical affairs, including the revolutionary struggles of our day, in new forms of worship, . . . in reappraising life values, and in opposition to the idolatry of nationalism and the judging of spiritual commitment by external culturally defined appearances and participation. They thus draw close in political, social, cultural, and even theological concerns to many of the priorities of 'mainstream . . . liberalism'."

Sounds familiar, yes? Moberg's description was published in 1975. And he's summarizing the observations found in Richard Quebedeaux's book The Young Evangelicals, published in 1974 (the year, by the way, that Brian McLaren turned eighteen).

So my take is that what we're looking at in what is described as the Emergent Church is not particularly "emergent." The sort of discontinuity suggested by that term is, in my opinion, unwarranted.


James said...

Noting your reference to Moberg's assessment from 1975 about The Young Evangelicals, it should be mentioned that the "leadership" at the core of the emerging movement do not claim to be pioneers. The ideas have been bubbling up since the 70's bit by bit, but recently there has been a lot more focus on trying to make sense of it all and harness this somewhat transformational understanding of Christian community. They'd even go so far as to say they don't like being labeled "emergent" because after all, how do you do label something that is still in process. However, society doesn't like things it can't categorize and label. Also, some other authors I've gained insight from: John Burke, Rob Bell, and Sarah Cunningham.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Robert Webber wrote a book of similar title in the mid 90s and that is what introduced McClaren to most of us ... if I remember correctly.

If you have not read New Kind of Christian it would be worth your while to do so. My favorite by him is the Story We Find Ourselves In. I did not care for Generous Orthodoxy to much. I fail to see how one can be both Calvinist and Armenian at the same time unless he or she simply does not understand the concepts.

Bobby Valentine

Greg Newton said...

You can't be a Calvinist-Arminian while a modernist, that is true. But maybe that's the point . . . it's not about positions, logic, arguments, mutually exclusive ideas. Maybe the best vehicle for truth is not a propositional statement.

Maybe Calvinists and Arminians are only far apart and at odds when articulating positions, but not when they're telling stories. What if truth is best expressed in poetry? In narrative? Maybe God is best revealled in creation, in relationships, and in history - rather than in propositional statements.

Perhaps that would apply to talking about love, for example.

Arlene Kasselman said...

He (McLaren) does understand the concepts at play, it is us who do not understand the worldview that allows one to be both.
Frank, read all you can from these guys - it is energizing.
I love the postmodern waters that we swim in and the possibilities for authentic discipleship that they are producing.

Royce Ogle said...

The "Emergent Church" movement is not as new as it's name. It has become another spiritual hula hoop for Christians. Fads are as common to church folk as to the general public. I remember when you were nothing unless you had a fleet of buses. Now there are few bus ministries except among Independent Baptists.

A wise man once said "There is nothing new under the sun". It seems that many of our friends are always looking for something new and improved, a new way to "do" ministry. To date, not one has improved on the methods used in the book of acts and the gospels. One person tells another and fleshes out Chirst to those around him. It works no matter what you call it.

Grace and Peace,
Royce Ogle