Miscellaneous comments to posts about the emerging church

7:21 pm | Uncategorized | Emergent Church

Without too much introduction, here are three comments I made recently in response to some blog posts.

Aaron Flores on critiques critics of the emerging church in his post, “Scared and Anxious over the Emerging Church.” I posted this comment:

Although I think you have some good points here, I think there is much here that is just old-school reactionary based on a limited understanding of criticisms. Of these, I want to respond more directly to two of these:

First, emerging folks generally lack adequate discernment in understanding holistic spirituality. As a person who struggled through practices of Kabballah and continues to minister to pagans and occultists, I know a little something about how these spiritualities work ;) As spiritual practices are repackaged for the west, commercialized, and commodified, it shouldn’t be any surprise that we are seeing esoteric spiritual practices being borrowed and incorporated into Christianity. Emerging folks need to develop a stronger understanding of these cultural phenomena, and develop a more robust view of Christian spirituality that is not so weak that it has to borrow spiritual practices of world religions to bring a sense of meaning to Christianity. This has nothing to do with playing the “New Age” card and everything to do with loving God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.

Second, the issue of Christian response to LGBT is not a failing of merely Evangelicals. Remember that it was McLaren that wanted a five-year moritorium on these issues. I have a significant collection of resources on my website devoted to helping Christians think through these issues, and I cannot recommend highly enough Chad Thompson’s book “Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would”. However, one of my frustrations with the emerging church is the sense that they would rather debate the merits of these kinds of approaches rather than integrate them into a missional ministry model.

On his blog, Dan Horwedel explains “Why I Am No Longer Emergent“, and then attempts to clarify this in several follow up posts.

In particular, this statement by Dan resonated with me: “whenever I am at gatherings of church leaders, I always feel left out. Actually, it’s more like, ‘Oh no, here he comes. Let’s find someplace else to go talk.’

Dan, I very much identify with what you’ve said here. I have felt that my viewpoints were dismissed and excluded when I would talk with other Christians (usually church leaders or seminary students planning on going into ministry) and that as time went on, I simply was not invited to participate. Although it hadn’t been said in so many terms, I was definately considered ‘outside’ the conversation. It didn’t seem to matter that I was directly involved with ministry to post-moderns in area colleges and Universities, and it didn’t matter that I was reasonably well read in philosophy and church history either.

For the past year, I have considered myself postemergent. This isn’t the same as anti-emergent, but honestly my first concern as a believer in Christ was not to join in the infighting and squabbles of the emerging church, but to find real ways that we as Christians could better be the body of Christ, and live incarnationally and missionally within the culture around us. Of course, a few years ago we weren’t using those words, heck, we didn’t even know what we were doing, but we had a genuine body with genuine spiritual fellowship and a genuine heart for reaching out to others.

Somewhere along the line, everything we were doing became labeled as ‘postmodern’. Then it got labeled the ‘postmodern church’. Then it got labeled as ‘emergent’, and thrust in with all these crazy notions that truth is irrelevant, apologetics is just fighting, doctrine should be flexible beyond reasonable bounds of orthodoxy, playing on the Theological fringes is fun and exciting, and Brian McLaren and Don Miller were the coolest and biggest things to come along in Christianity since Jesus Himself walked the streets of Nazareth. Now ‘emerging’ is used mostly to put distance between folks and McLaren, but most of the damage had been done. What was good and blessed by God self-destructed with infighting, both in what I saw in the ministries I was involved with and with the emerging church as a whole.

My goal is to move beyond where the emerging church is now by putting a corrective on much of what has happened, to take insights not just from church history but from out contemporaries throughout Evangelicalism, and treat the body of Christ - the whole body of Christ - as the body of Christ, with agape love. And I want us to take the missional mandate more seriously - to understand culture as subcultures that each have their own missional needs, to integrate existing apologetic methodologies into our practice of Christianity that listen and respect people in culture, to be more intentional about how we live for Christ in all spheres of life, escaping the sacred/secular split imposed on us by the surrounding culture.

Frankly, I don’t have all the answers about how to do this, but I do know that bickering and infighting in the body of Christ is killing us, both individually and corporately. Part of the reason I started my blog at EvangelicalResources.Org is to explore some of these issues and start sharing and including people, trying to build toward something rather than leaving everything so vague and open that it remains permanently empty and meaningless, basically to make discussions constructive rather than whine fests, and put our talk into action. I think that the only way for that to happen is to move beyond the current conversation in the emerging church, and move on to a mature understanding of life that is in Christ.

benedson has a post on “Institutional Racism” with respect to the emerging church. I think accusing the emerging church of instutional anything (other than institutionalized anti-institutionalism) is the wrong way to think about the emerging church. My comments:

First, institutional racism is a loaded term that is emotion laden, unclear, and more often a rhetorical buzzword than anything. It’d be better to unpack the meanings and discuss them individually.

With that said, is the emerging church too racially and culturally homogeneous? Well, in some ways we could say that the emerging church is trying to define its own culture, so any culture that is brought in will be redefined or reinterpreted. Racially speaking, I think that there are a lot of white males and not much racial diversity, but in some ways this is more cultural than racial. A subculture tends to attract culturally similar people, so it should surprise us that the emerging church looks a lot like the old culture in many respects.

In the United States in particular, racial history is complicated by institutional forms of racism - namely the institution of racial slavery, segregation, and laws that permitted if not actually enforced racial stereotypes and injustice toward a particular race of people. We should note that this caused a particular subculture to develop that refused to be part of the American melting-pot. African Americans have defined themselves by the struggle against the culture imposed on them from the dominant culture that was actively imposing its own identity on the sub-culture. In effect, African Americans are their own culture, with significant differences from the otherwise dominant culture.

While the emerging church is just now responding to post-modernism, the African American community is almost the enthymatic case of post-modernism in culture, given the kinds of changes that the community has experienced since the 1970s. They won their freedom from institutionalized racism, and began looking for their roots and heritage, changed their clothing styles, learned African dialects, instituted new holidays and festivals, and even changed their religion in an attempt to identify more closely with their African heritage. The side effect, of this, is that visitors from Africa to the United States shake their heads when they see what amounts to mangled attempts to reinstitute and borrow haphazardly aspects of African culture while remaining, in the African sense, a totally American culture divorced from African concerns.

In effect, the so called black/white divide is not so much a racial division, as a cultural division. There are white people who have crossed over successfully into the African American community and identify with their culture. However, there are many black people who have left the African American community and define themselves by the dominant culture, and these people are often seen by the African American community as traitors to their culture, race, heritage, and identity, since all these concepts are conflated as a single understanding. As a result, there is not as much room within the African American community for counter-cultural thinking, as thinking counter-culturally is consider subversive of the values of the community, diluting the identity of the community, and even capitulation to what is still seen as the dominant white culture that is imposed upon them.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that the emerging church in the United States, in reflecting its own culture, is not attractive to African Americans whose self-identity is tied in with their own culture rather than the larger U.S. culture.

All of this is a bit interesting to me, since I’ve never particularly identified with the culture of the United States, and have always felt the need to stand a step apart from it rather than with both feet immersed in it. Emerging folks have criticized me because I am not willing to embrace culture wholeheartedly - to jump in with both feet. However, the same could be said with the African American community, in that I have not jumped into their community with both feet either. My concern with emerging folks is that they don’t seem to understand the African American community as a particular sub-culture, and in the more general sense tend to see all post-modern culture as a unified amalgum rather than as a large number fragmented and fractured sub-cultures each with their own particular missional needs. Missional approaches that work for a predominantly white post-modern sub-culture in a particular city in particular districts are great, but may not work when applied to other sub-cultures, such as the African American community, or on a University campus several states away. Too often I have seen people borrow ideas from one particularly successful post-modern ministry, apply them in the local setting without adequate contextualization, and then scratch their heads and give up on post-modern ministry when it “doesn’t work”. Meanwhile, trying to pin “institutional racism” on the emerging church seems absurd if for no other reason than that the emerging church is so adverse to institutionalism that it is basically impossible to make such an accusation stick.

I’m hoping to post more on my blog at some point on the African American sub-culture and how Evangelicals can more effectively engage in cross-cultural ministry there. Andre Delay also has much to say on this subject from a slightly different cultural perspective.




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