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some thoughts on emergent

Many of you know that I have been involved in the emergent conversation for a couple of years. I'd love to be part of an emergent cohort, but Albuquerque lacks one currently. I read just about anything I can get my hands on from the emergent folk, participate in discussions about it, and read ridiculous amounts of blogs regarding emergent. Today I was asked by a friend how to respond to a discussion that labels emergent as something that could really hurt Christianity and feel that my thoughts are worthy of a blog post. I promise I'll give a life update sometime this week, but for now you get my email response to a backlash against emergent.

There are some huge misconceptions of the "emerging church" (I hate calling it that because what I think is emerging is conversation). In that same vain I'd say there are some churches that sometimes dive into less accepted views of Christianity. Now personally, if you asked me beliefs on some things, I know that many people at counterculture would consider me heretical... but that's a different point entirely.

There is no one view held by emergent about how things should go. It varies from fully embracing evangelical thinking with a twist to full out postmodern liberal thinking where salvation tends to not be a big deal. But those are extremes... I think most people are more in the middle of those things and it is outliers that change the conception of what emergent really is.

I guess I ask myself this... there was strong opposition to Luther and his theses and a backlash that caused the death of thousands over the Protestant/ Catholic split but overall many view that as a good thing. I don't see this emerging community as causing that much of a stir, but one has to consider the history of reformation before making sweeping judgement calls. Throughout history, our theology has been reflected by the culture, so why is it that right now there is so much fear in emergent because it chooses to not completely ignore the culture surrounding it? I mean take for example the gospels, each written for a different community in different times. The various cultures shaped each gospel, gave each one different meaning to different audiences. Romans wouldn't have understood Matthew just as Jews wouldn't really get Luke. Culture played a huge part in the formation of the canon and continues to shape our views of theology whether it be liberation theology, systematic theology, etc.

In my humble opinion, the modern era has done some serious damage to our understanding of theology. Suddenly we think that we know everything about God and claim infallibility for ourselves. The fight among most evangelicals and emergent is over power. For 40 years, the modern day right wing conservative evangelical has ruled the religion scene, especially in America. Mainline protestant denominations have dwindled, and overall church attendance has plummeted. Emergent is offering an alternative and the backlash has been rough. Of course there is going to be criticism as it may be true that the tide is shifting as far as how people relate to God and how religion is perceived.

I guess this email turned into a rant about how people judge emergent as a whole when there are really good things happening because of the conversation. I find that people criticizing either side of the issues tend to be completely belligerent (sometimes myself included, but I'm working on it) about what they believe and look for things to be wrong on the other side. What I love about counterculture is that for the most part I feel free to be in conversation. Yes, I'm well aware that my views stray from the norm there, but it is safe for me, and I see it as a place where I can learn some about being humble and where I can open the eyes of others to some things.

The label of an "emergent" church makes me cringe honestly. If being an "emergent" church means we follow a set form of worship, only believe in certain things and are just having a harsh reaction to the religion of the 20th century... I want no part in it. If emergent means that we're willing to discuss tough issues and may not have all of the answers but discuss for the sake of discussion, I think its a great thing. It is a great tool for us as Christians to stop living in our Christian ghetto with our Christian friends, owning our Christian merchandise, listening to Christian music... Jesus wasn't afraid to talk about difficult things. It has been a long time since we as a Christian community have been able to tackle those tough issues, and I think we're shooting ourselves in the foot by not doing so. Why is our age group not part of a Christian community as a whole? Mainly because opinions are not welcome, and if they get beyond that they are not valued.

So I guess I'd say to this guy, be wary of the label of emergent. It doesn't mean the same thing to all people, and it certainly isn't meant to draw people away from Christ. Sure, there may be some far fetched ideas about things (and yeah I hold a lot of those), but on the whole, I think there is some healthy renewal going on in these emergent communities. I've personally spoken with a lot of the leadership of emergent and I would never discount their passion for Christ and what the renewal in the church means to them. To do so would be to discount the infinite possibilities that God has to work through people.
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Your blog sure did elicit some interesting thoughts in my mind today. I am so proud that you and many of your generation are getting to the heart of what is going on with mainstream and non-mainstream christianity. You are probing, and not satisfied with the "status quo."

I believe we need as a faith community, to realize our heritage is to be cherished, respected, and honored. At the same time we are obligated because of that heritage, to approach theological questions with the enlightment that only such experience and heritage brings. it is a springboard. It is a base. If we do not grow as individuals or as a society in the long term, we will fail to exist. If mainstream does not grow, it will be supplant with "Emergent" type movements.

In my opinion the emergent movement must likewise not get stuck in the time/place wharp from which it arises, to be sucessful. Otherwise, we will see emergent upon emergent, with no long-term societal benefit.

I believe you are getting at the heart of why fundamentalists are growing in stature today. They in effect reflect change and growth that occurs in the "honeymoon" phase of new ideas. That is not good or bad, ...... but it does perform a valuable service as it causes those of us in "mainstream" denominations to take stock of where we are at.

Mainstream denominations can likewise grow, but only if they embrace new ideas while respecting, honoring, and preserving the best of that which has come before.

John W.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:49 PM  

So very ironic . . . Hey wait isn't that another song on that album? Anywho, kiddo glad things are okay.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:39 PM  

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