Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Emerging?: Pomo to Emergent

When last we left our saga of the American church, we saw the appearance of the GenX movement, which morphed (did you know "morph" is a Biblical word? - morpheo = "transform") into the "pomo" church movement.

Moe: Welcome to “m,” hah? Heh, heh. So, what do you think of the new joint?

Lenny: Wow, this place looks like it’s from the not-too-distant future.

Moe: Yeah. You like it, Homer?

Homer: [looking at live rabbits wiggling in harnesses suspended from the ceiling] Um, the rabbits are cute.

Lenny: Eh, that one ain’t moving. [points to a still rabbit]

Moe: [snaps, summoning an aide] Uh, change number 7.

Carl: I don’t get all this eyeball stuff. Uh, what are they supposed to represent? Uh, eyeballs?

Moe: It’s po-mo! [blank stares from all] Post-modern! [more staring] Yeah, all right — weird for the sake of weird.

Guys: Oooh!

The Simpsons

That's probably not the most nuanced way to try & sum up a lot of what went down right around Y2K in the postmodern church movement - but it's not a bad place to start. Remember, this is all from my Southern Baptist/church planter/evangelical raised in SoCal/43 year old perspective...

What I saw happen in some corners of the movement reminded me a lot of the church I attended for a couple of years when I was in college. It had been THE church in Waco in the late '60's/early '70's - next to the Baylor campus, Biblically solid, very socially active. Over time, it had become less effective as it began to lean more towards the Social Gospel end of the spectrum... and by the time I got there in the mid-80's was a shadow of it's former self. It was a great place to ask questions about spirituality & truth & applying the Gospel to life - the classes I attended were excellent places for discussion & thought. We had a lot of freedom to examine what we believed & why we believed - which was really important in my spiritual pilgrimage, as I was questioning whether the traditions I'd grown up in were a proper vessel for capital "T" Truth.

The problem was when I began to find my way out the other side of my doubts - when I began to feel like, thanks to C.S. Lewis & other great Christian thinkers/writers, that there were Biblical answers to many of my questions - my answers weren't nearly as welcome as my questions had been. Over time, the church had enshrined the process of questioning... and lost the purpose behind the questions: to find Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us back to what I see/saw (yes, it's a bad pun - so what?!) in some parts of the postmodern church movement - which morphed into what we call "the emerging church" today. It's a tendency towards a theology that is difficult to pin down - that refuses to take specific stands on cultural & spiritual issues in the name of "continuing the conversation" and/or "acknowledging the postmodern problem of being able to claim an exclusive version of the truth." Getting some of these folks (Brian McLaren, for example) to take a position is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. Other guys who've been accused of this include Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones & Rob Bell.

While the term "emerging church" dates back quite a ways, the common & current usage of the term really begins with the publication of one of my favorite books on the whole subject, Dan Kimball's The Emerging Church. Dan is the pastor of Vintage Faith (which I mentioned in the earlier post) and one of the most successful of the leaders of the movement at blending radical cultural relevance & unapologetic Biblical theology. (Another great book by Dan: They Like Jesus But Not the Church.) Dan also serves another function in the emerging church movement - he (along with Andrew Jones) serves as "middle ground" as he maintains friendships with a number of the more far-out practitioners yet also stays connected with the more conservative leaders as well.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention Emergent Village... which is what eventually came out of those Leadership Network meetings in the late '90's. I'll let them explain themselves in their own words, which may help you understand why I choose not to use the word "emergent" to describe what we're doing at NewLife.

...we would like to clarify, contrary to statements and inferences made by some, that yes, we truly believe there is such a thing as truth and truth matters – if we did not believe this, we would have no good reason to write or speak; no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus; no, we do not pit reason against experience but seek to use all our God-given faculties to love and serve God and our neighbors; no, we do not endorse false dichotomies – and we regret any false dichotomies unintentionally made by or about us (even in this paragraph!); and yes, we affirm that we love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures, because our greatest desire is to be followers and servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We regret that we have either been unclear or misinterpreted in these and other areas.

But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about the items noted in the previous paragraph. Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue – rather than chilling criticism and censorship – offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.

It's the both/and thing - the "let's talk about it some more" rather than reach a conclusion - that drives me nutso.

Some other folks get lumped into the "emerging church movement" who, for the most part, aren't interested in being there:

  • Ed Stetzer is a researcher, author & pastor who is probably the best person working on the idea of the missional church - his books are good but he's an even better conference speaker & blogger.
  • Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle & an author as well - Mark's two books, Radical Reformission & Confessions of a Reformission Rev point towards a different (read: culturally relevant, theologically Reformed/Charismatic) way of reaching postmoderns. His view: "In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake."
  • Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles & one of my heroes in ministry... he said at The Origins Experience last year that even a L.A. Times reporter could figure out they weren't "emerging" - she said they weren't angry enough.

To close out this post, one last (but not least) link: Scot McKnight (theologian & author of The Jesus Creed) wrote a really great article for Christianity Today entitled Five Streams of the Emerging Church which is pretty much required reading if you're interested in this subject. He graciously critiques & praises the movement.

7 comments:

R. Radewicz said...

Who really cares?
The institutional "church" is a dinosaur. Christians are hungry for relationship with Jesus Christ and with each other. They are not finding it within the confines of the institutional church with its emphasis on the Sunday Morning Show, with the latest high-tech bells and whistles.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

The institutional "church" is a dinosaur.

Hmmm... interesting. So the fact that I learned & have lived out a relationship with Jesus Christ in community inside a "dinosaur" indicates:

a. it's a miracle I wasn't digested

b. it's dark in a dinosaur's stomach but it's a good thing I remembered to bring a flashlight

c. what you really meant to say/imply is that churches that have become hide-bound old-wineskin institutions don't lead people to a real relationship with Jesus Christ

The problem (and I'll be writing more on this in the next couple of posts) is NOT high-tech... the use of a video screen or a plugged-in guitar is a cultural expression, not a bastardization of the N.T. church. The problem is when the primary function of a church is "putting on a show to attract more bodies & dollar bills."

The solution is not to burn down church buildings & programs and roast marshmallows over the ashes while we pat ourselves on the back for how blowing all this stuff up will bring back the book of Acts. The solution is to individually & corporately live in relationship to Jesus, inside & outside the church, so that we can be God's conduit of love & grace.

r. radewicz - interesting to me that you link to a website of a well-known author rather than stand behind your comment as an individual

Anonymous said...

"interesting to me that you link to a website of a well-known author rather than stand behind your comment as an individual."

Why is that so interesting?
Authors use pen-names all the time. Some of the greatest pamphleteers and revolutionaries in history remained anonymous. It is the message that is important, not the messenger necessarily. If God can use an ass to speak truth, why attack the ass?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Why is that so interesting?

It's interesting because the history of pamphleteers & revolutionaries that you reference commented on issues of great import, some under the threat of their lives if they published their opinions under their own names.

You're commenting on the blog of a not-so-well-known SBC pastor who has an obsession about board games - keeping your name hidden seems to be more of an affectation and/or an excuse to take potshots at things you don't like under the cover of darkness.

It is the message that is important, not the messenger necessarily. If God can use an ass to speak truth, why attack the ass?

No argument - a message filled with power & truth & grace is more important than the messenger.

But when the message is an exercise in anonymous name-calling & broad strokes caricatures, who said it does matter.

And just because you make a joke out of the story of Balaam & the KJV translation doesn't mean you get a free pass.

JaaJoe said...

Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck just released a great book on the growing Emergent Christian movement and what a load it truly is. Why We're Not Emergent. It is a must read.

aka pastor guy said...

I'd like to read the book - but I'm not sure the authors would appreciate your characterization of their thoughtful critique as "the emergent church is a load of _______." (Yes, I realize you didn't say that - you simply implied it.)

Look, I'm not sure you're reading my post correctly - I think, like all movements in the church, there is good & bad in the emerging church movement. The push toward missional church life, the desire for real & meaningful cultural relevance (an echo of Jesus' relevance to His culture), the willingness to experiment & try new AND old things in order to live out/teach the gospel... all good. The tendency in some parts of the movement towards open theism & a squishy way of dealing with doctrine... all bad.

aka pastor guy said...

BTW, just curious - is r. radewicz related to jaajoe in any way?

If not, you guys ought to hang out together.