Emerging Denialism

“It’s true that the ’emerging church’ term is fading….”

Tall Skinny Kiwi

It’s fascinating to read TSK and his fellow “Emerging/Emergent” deniers. What’s fascinating, especially in TSK’s case, is that for a term he keeps saying is dead or “fading,” he can’t seem to stop writing about it. TSK has posted thirteen posts on “emerging” topics since March 26th. More than half his posts on his front page are “emerging” related. It’s like he’s sitting in a house being consumed by a raging fire and continually repeating, “I think it’s just about out now, right?” TSK, if you’re not using the term anymore then you could have fooled me. 😉

Seems like they’re still not taking my advice. Sigh….

To Those Who Want to Ignore “Emerging” Terminology

There seems to be a lot of chatter around town about the end the term “Emerging”/”Emergent” Church. Folks are claiming these categories are no longer relevant to what’s happening today in American Christianity. To be honest, I’ve always had a hard time with calling myself “emergent” but I’ve always felt compelled to be friendly with all the participants. Over the course of the last 8 years or so I’ve been lucky enough to meet or befriend a lot of folks in and around emerging Christianity. These folks come from a substantially diverse spectrum and getting to know them and to hear their perspective has enriched my faith greatly.

In a way, I can truly relate to those who are find the descriptor “emerging” to be troublesome. In Jimmy Eat World, we’ve always struggled with the word “emo.” While we’ve never once called ourselves “emo” and have always loathed the term, we have continually been linked to the term by journalists and well-meaning fans. As a band, we just chose to ignore it. Our hope is that the term is sort of like a young puppy that continually jumps up your leg. If you pretend the puppy doesn’t exist, it will realize it’s efforts to get your attention is a pointless exercise. If you freak out and yell “No!!” each time the puppy jumps up, it’s learned how to get your attention.

The problem with the term “emo” is that it tends to mean everything and nothing at the same time. To a significant degree, the terms “emerging” and “emergent” have suffered a similar fate. The value of those descriptors are found in the eye of the beholder. The spectrum of differences found among the cast of characters in emerging Christianity is broad and it was only an inevitable development that a need for distinctions would arise.

The big problem with making these distinctions is that they are being made by folks that have previously embraced and benefited from the “emerging”/”emergent” terminology, some of them even being the key players who’ve planted the seeds of the categories they now want to uproot. The problem is once you attach yourself to a descriptor like “emerging” or “emergent,” there’s no going back. This reminds me of when “ska” music was huge in the late 90s and all of the sudden, ska bands were popping up everywhere, trying to capitalize on the wave of popularity. But then as the fad subsided, so did all the newly formed ska bands. Because they associated themselves with the genre, they were anchored it’s inevitable demise. It becomes extremely tricky to navigate a way out of that problem.

My sense is that many of the folks trying to marginalize all things “emerging” are doing so because the term has gotten in the way of their task at hand. It’s understandably much easier to detach oneself from whatever “emerging” or “emergent” has come to mean for folks than it is to explain what YOU mean by the word “emerging” and how that’s different from what THEY mean. From a church leader or pastoral perspective, you must guard and protect from creating confusion and misunderstanding among your church community and if for you that means hitting the eject button on “emerging christianity” then that is understandable. If you are a missionary seeking support for your ministry, these descriptors can also be problematic. You have potential supporters who see you writing about “emerging church” and wonder, “Are they talking about good kind of emerging or the heretical kind?” It might be a smart move to distance yourself from the terminology and call yourself something a bit more vague like “missional.” Or you might be a college professor who is beholden to certain articles of faith your institution holds dear and all of the sudden, the “emerging church” you’ve been writing about is doing a bit of exploring outside the bounds of what your institution deems appropriate. At that point, you might want to distance yourself as to not cause confusion among the faculty and students.

What’s interesting is that these folks aren’t just dropping the term. Instead, they insert a qualifier that they are not using the term every time they use the term. The issue isn’t so much they’ve stopped using the term because they can’t seem to avoid using it. It’s just that when they do use it, they say they aren’t GOING to use it anymore. The main reason for this is that the terms they seek to avoid are turning out to be unavoidable. In the marketplace of ideas in American Christianity, emergence Christianity is getting a great deal of attention and sparking much debate.

In many ways, I really do understand the desire to define more clearly what guides you and what kind of movements you’re participating in. Maybe this is just a failure of language. But if you want to these terms to stop bothering you, then simply ignore them like the over excited puppy. If you keep saying, “No emergent!! Down emergent!!!” then the puppy will keep following you around, nipping at your heals.

Giving Up On Emergent?

There’s been a little dust up recently regarding the status of the Emerging/Emergent Church. Nick from the Nick and Josh Podcast voiced his disappointment here. Josh chimed in here. Tony Jones has a response here.

I don’t begrudge Nick or Josh’s frustration but I think the frustrations are misguided. Nick writes:

My friends and I believed that there was a massive tide of change coming. We believed that everything was going to change. We found more and more people reading books by McLaren or others and we thought the interactions with these books would change the world. We knew that there would be this new kind of Christian. We believed that Christianity was on the cusp of evolution.

I can only speak for my group, but we left the church. We didn’t want to be in the reform game and we decided we would let the change come to the church as we gathered outside, if this wave hit the church, we would rush back in and embrace it, but we couldn’t deal with Christianity in it’s present state and these Emergent Conversations were our only way to hold on to Jesus at all.

We didn’t want Emergent to become the new club, but we wanted it to organize so that through gatherings, cohorts, and online social networks it could create it’s own grouping and lovingly force some voices out into the open. That happened a little. But it seems that recently we have lost hope in the Emergent movement. It took it’s hits from the conservatives and instead of coming out stronger for it, it sort of fizzled.

So with that out of the way, Nick and I had a little video chat about it all and here it is:

I really appreciate Nick’s willingness to chat about it and I’m really glad we were able to do this rather than just me writing about it.

“High View of Scripture”

I’ve been fascinated by a new network that is developing between some very well respected Christian pastors/authors/bloggers. It’s called the Origins Project and from where I sit, it seems like an attempt from those involved to differentiate themselves from the “emerging/emergent” category in order to carve out, for lack of a better term, a more traditional territory. I think this is a positive development and I’m curious what come of it all. I don’t begrudge them from wanting to more specifically define their group. However, in checking out their website and listening to some of the conversation surrounding this effort, their often repeated statement that they share a “high view of scripture” is problematic. Here’s an example found on their website:

– Leaders, entrepreneurs, pastors, misfits, and artists who share a high view of Scripture and a radical commitment to evangelism while being faithfully committed to what is expressed in the Lausanne Covenant.

Whether they want to admit it or not, it is a dig at the more liberal elements of Christianity they are setting out to distance themselves from. If they share a “high view of scripture,” I’d like to know who they believe shares a low view. I’m curious if there has ever been a group of Christians that have professed to have a less than high view of scripture.

Maybe Dan Kimball or anyone else in the group can honestly clarify for me the purpose of this distinction. I’m all ears.

“Right Belief” vs. “Believing the Right Way”

“To love is to know God precisely because God is love. The emerging community, at its best, can teach us again that love must be the first word on our lips and also the last, and that we must seek to incarnate that sacred word in the world. I recently heard a well-known speaker say that if faith does not cost us something, then it is nothing. Only much later could I respond: if faith does not cost us everything, it is nothing. Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed, it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the “truth” with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing in the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us…..that will cost us everything. For to live by that sword, as we all know, is to die by it.”

— Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God

The distinction that Rollins makes here between right belief and believing in the right way might seem like a small one but it is truly profound difference when taking a closer look.

In order to work through the various differences found in the global Christian community, we must trust that regardless of our perspectives or world-views, that we all want to make the world around us a better place. If that trust doesn’t exist, then there can be no unity in the midst of our smaller conflicts.

As I interact with various people in my life who happen to be conservative, I can understand why they believe what they believe. While I find myself in disagreement with the conservative view in both politics and religion, I can also admit that what generally drives one towards conservatism is valid. As Andrew Sullivan so eloquently wrote in his most recent book, “If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve, which is the essence of any conservatism. Our lives, a series of unconnected moments of experience, would simply move effortlessly on, leave the past behind with barely a look back. But being human, being self-conscious, having memory, forces us to confront what has gone and what might have been. And in those moments of confrontation with time, we are all conservatives.”

I can understand why they believe what they believe, but I’m ultimately repelled by how they believe what they believe. In my experiences, the people you most want to be around don’t necessarily agree with you on everything, but they are the ones who hold their convictions with an open hand, not to shoo you away with their absolutely certain evangelism. To hold these sacred convictions we posses in humility, in open hands instead of a clenched fist, is a paradox that is often all too rare.

And in fairness, progressives can also rule with their iron fists, not willing to concede that the other side is to be trusted and befriended. I must constantly allow Rollins critique here to shed light on my own “right belief.” All of us, conservatives and progressives, are called to this posture, both allowing our convictions to shape us in profound ways, yet holding those convictions with humility and trust for our fellow brothers and sisters.

I highly recommend this book.

hangin’ on tour

i’ve been on tour in the midwest for the past week or so. it’s been a great trip….awesome shows, good weather (for the most part) and some great hang out sessions.

first was tony jones in minneapolis. we hung out for a bit before the show. he gave me a tour of solomon’s porch church which was really great. we also got some food/beers and had some great conversation. he blogged about it here in more detail so check it out.

in chicago i met up with rob and kristen bell along with some friends of theirs. it’s always great catching up with friends on the road. we also had some great conversation and I ended up stumping both Rob and his colleague Kent Dobson with a question about Genesis. My question is who was Cain so afraid of being harmed by after he had killed Abel? Was he afraid of his own parents? He would have to be because as far as the story goes, after Abel was killed, there’s no one else there. Who are all these people that Cain was worried about and where did they come from?

if you have a theory, hit me with it.

A commenter’s concern……

Matthew, a commenter, shared his concern for the emergent church in the comments of my previous post. He also expressed some concern for my personal beliefs and I thought I’d post some of his key points and respond as best I can.

“While I highly laud and personally embrace some of the emphases of the emergent church (the desire to interact culturally and the concern for social justice), the more I have been privy to the “conversation,” the more I am appaled by what I hear and feel. First of all, the general attitude and ethos, to stick with that term, seems to be overwhelmingly reactionary and cynical.”

I would like to point out that it’s interesting you cite the “reactionary and cynical” nature of those who resonate with the emergent ethos. I may be wrong but it seems you tend to use the weapon of cynicism with some regularity in your own comments. I will readily admit I’m not innocent of expressing cynicism and I appreciate your concern. I do hope it leads to me to mute my cynicism and sarcasm in future posts. But I hope you can see that your first concern about the emergent conversation is also prevalent on the conservative (for lack of a better term) side as well. I agree, cynicism is not constructive or helpful, but I hope you can agree that this problem is a two-way street and not just a problem on the emergent side

“The issue is more ex-evangelicals who are disenfranchised because of their personal experience and who will do whatever it takes to push the evangelical buttons, than people who know what they stand for. The intense vitriol towards other Christians who are conservative, right-wing, and modern is striking and saddening. The book of 1 John has reminded me lately, Zach, that hatred for the brotherhood is a sign that one does not have eternal life (or, to use synoptic gospel terms, has not entered the kingdom of God).”

Are you implying that I’ve expressed hatred for conservative Christians? Also, are you implying that you question my “salvation” because I’ve voiced frustration with the religious-right? This is a severely generalized statement. Some specific examples would be helpful.

“Further, I am troubled by the “Sola-Cultura” approach to Scripture. Though the emergent leaders claim to be aware of understanding the baggage one brings to the text (if I’m not mistaken, a-la NT Wright’s “critical realism” cf. Wright, The NT and the People of God, pp 31-46, among others (maybe Derrida and other deconstructionists)), they themselves actually approach the text with culture as the supreme authority.”

I’d love for you to provide some specific examples of those who are considered to be major influences in the emergent church who adhere to a “Sola-Cultura” approach to scripture. I’ve never heard that. Culture does have an influence, but I’ve never heard anyone emergent or not suggest that our cultural influence have inherent supremacy over the Biblical text.

“A case in point is your willingness to accept, without in-depth study, a stance that says homosexuality is acceptable, or at least a stance that says “I don’t know.” I know, at that point, you will say “I have studied.” I’m sorry, Zach, but as an even somewhat new student of the New Testament (I hate to pull this card), your reasoning and approach to the text is not sound. It becomes clear that the priority in your exegesis is maintaining a preconceived notion of what the Bible can or cannot be saying. This notion is based on 1.) acceptable cultural norms, and 2.) the so-called “hermeneutic of love,” which sounds unobjectionable but actually overemphasizes one of God’s attributes (love) as if he had no others (wrath, justice, etc).”

First, how do you have any idea how in-depth my study has been? Are you suggesting that if only I study the scripture more, I’ll agree with you? What arrogance and condescension you show here. Your asking me to be less cynical here but you’re not helping me with comments like this. If this will be your posture when trying to save the body of Christ from the emergent church, I’m not sure you’re going to have very much success.

“Please prayerfully and genuinely consult the Scriptures and allow them to speak their message clearly. Thanks again for allowing me to give input, but this will be my last interaction. I sincerely hope that you will turn from hard-heartedness and cynicism and especially from your approach to Scripture that superimposes what is culturally acceptable upon it.”

Your suggestion here assumes that I don’t already “prayerfully and genuinely consult the Scriptures”. Again, your tone here is so off-putting and condescending. Is it at all possible, Matthew, that people who believe differently than you about the Bible also prayerfully and honestly seek God’s direction? Reading this comment of yours, I’m not sure you share that assumption. I’d love to hear you elaborate on this.