There are a lot of places I could start; there is so much I want to discuss and question and debate regarding how to reach out to people in a postmodern culture who don’t follow Jesus. I mean, I hope we can get into principle, models, meanings, forms, traits, practical examples–anything and everything that might equip us to better love and to better share the good message. But I’ll start here, because Pete and I were chatting about this today.

I find it interesting that one of the latest manifestations of Christianity is being identified as Emergent or emerging (for the sake of ease, I will use Emergent though I am aware there is now a nuance between the two depending on who you talk to). Now, typically speaking, we think of Emergent as being that which is coming forth or coming to existence; these new forms of the Christian faith are emerging into the Western world from the roots of past forms. What is interesting, however, is that the word Emergent is so closely related to the word emergency. This begs the question: Is the Emergent church an answer to or a cause of a state of emergency?

Depending on who is answering the question, I think two views quickly rise to the top. One is that mainline, Western Christianity is in a state of crisis and decline–a simultaneous decline in status, power, and numbers. Christendom has fallen, and we can no longer assume (could we really ever?) that most Western people have a Judeo-Christian worldview or background. Many, many mainline churches are dying, and it appears that the Christian faith is as well. The second is that Emergent Christians are the cause of a crisis, often radically changing Christian forms and meanings for the sake of re-engaging the West with the gospel. These changes are too radical and attest a divorce from the historical, orthodox faith. They jeopardize the faith not through attrition but through a watering down that already or will eventually lose the core of what it means to be a Christian.

Of course, wrapped up in all of this as well is the whole issue of Modern versus Postmodern culture and ideals. I won’t go too far into that here.

But I do want to assert something very important to me. Some mainline churches aren’t dying. Some haven’t fallen into irrelevancy. Indeed, some are engaging the West in powerful ways. Likewise, some Emergent Christians haven’t gone off the deep end. Some haven’t watered down the faith. Some aren’t becoming a mere syncretistic expression of popular culture. In fact, each branch includes such a vast spectrum of people, beliefs, and practices even within each individual church that it is nearly useless to generalize. For example, Emergent seems to mean anything from a very conservative, orthodox church planter who employs radically incarnational, contextual forms of ministry all the way to a very liberal Christian leader who employs radical questioning, abandons traditional theology, and completely rethinks the Christian faith in form and meaning; these are very, very different types of people to fit under a single word. The same can be said of mainline Protestantism.

Either way, both expressions of the faith have an incredible opportunity to learn from the other. We cannot forget that the mainline churches of modernity carried the faith to us today, whether we like it or not. Modernity has a lot to offer about the importance and limitations of foundations and truth. Emergents have a lot to offer about the importance and limitations of incarnational ministry and dialogue.

I think it’s important that we work together where we can and especially that those of us with hearts for people in a postmodern culture don’t coldly, carelessly cast away the “old” church and recklessly, ignorantly embrace the “new”. How do we walk a balance?

So that brings up a few questions for interaction. What are some things from Modernity and mainlines that we shouldn’t throw out with the bathwater? And what are some pitfalls of Modernity and mainlines that we should learn from before we fall into them ourselves? Likewise, what are some things from Emergent expressions of Christianity that we should embrace? And what are some pitfalls of Emergent expressions that we should avoid like the plague?

And finally, how much does this all matter when we’re actually interacting with someone in our day-to-day lives?

 
So, let’s get some discussion going…

 

 


 

 
And for those who have too much time on your hands, here’s the gmail chat that inspired this post:
me: which reminds me, did you read the blog page on the authors?
Pete: yeah…
horrible
me: you can change that if it wasnt sweet enough
Pete: i can’t believe you didn’t put more up on yourself
making me look so sweet
me: well, I thought it would help me to come across as more humble
Pete: that does make sense
i need an emergent picture taken of me, to match
i don’t know if I can pull that off though
me: oh, I think you can
Pete: i am personally not cool enough to be emergent
physically that is
me: whatever, perhaps neither of us are very good at emergent
the nice thing is that it seems you can make emergent mean whatever you want
Pete: that is nice
me: for example, I recently (in the last year) noticed emergent used as an adjective form of emergency
which I think kind of turns the word over on its head
Pete: emergency in regards to the church?
me: I think it was being used in a medical sense when I saw it
but it made me think in terms of the church, that it is a sort of emergency
Pete: do you think it is a form of emergency?
me: yeah, it is…same root
Pete: i think it makes sense
is the emergency you see being that most “main-line” denominations are dying?
me: dictionary emergency: a sudden, urgent, usually unexpected occurrence or occasion requiring immediate action.
emergent: Coming into view, existence, or notice
well, it could be two emergencies in my mind
the emergency of mainline death
and the emergency of too-radical change under Emergent leaders
Pete: nice point on the second one
me: are Emergent leaders curing or causing a crisis
Pete: right
do you think then it should be a cooperation between “emergent” and “mainline”?
me: I think so, at least there should be some attempts
one shouldn’t quickly abandon the other
Pete: yeah, i agree
me: shouldn’t necessarily be tied down by the other either
Pete: it is that balance thing again
lowering the mountains and raising the plains
like you poetically put
me: yep
well, thanks, but Isaiah did it first
Pete: yeah, but he is long-gone
me: good point, and he didn’t make sure to copyright his work
Pete: good point as well
let’s rip him off then
me: Well someone should blog about this…
ha
Pete: not it

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