I've just finished reading another book from within the Emerging Church movement (this time it is Doug Pagitt's Preaching Re-imagined). I like opening myself up to what they write. I enjoy the challenge of reflecting on things from another angle.
I find myself responding in much the same way as I have done in the past...
Firstly, I am impressed with the innovation at work. They are just so creative. For example, I love Rob Bell's nooma series, delighting in the way he sees the 'spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary' - the principle at the heart of good illustration. Then to package it into such compelling communication - great stuff! I speak like that in my dreams. Doug Pagitt's talk about 'progressional preaching' and the 'implication' that lies beyond the application fits in here as well. Dan Kimball's early books also demonstrate this innovation. I'll keep reading Emerging Church books for this innovation alone, if necessary.
But then I get frustrated with the arrogance that comes through in the books. Not an arrogance in the authors! No! I have it on good authority that they win people over with their grace and humility. I can believe it.
No, it is the arrogance in the ideas being presented. I find the proclamation of the arrival of a brand new era is just too brash. History does not develop along an 'eclipse' model, in which the 'modern' is somehow eclipsed by the 'postmodern'. Doesn't history follow more of an adding 'lanes to the highway' model? A postmodern lane - faster and busier, maybe - is being added alongside the modern lane. But the modern lane remains in place afterwards... I hear the emerging church literature suggests that it is possible, even advisable, to run from the embrace of the 'modern' into the embrace of the 'postmodern'.
Really?! How is that even possible? And how does that improve things? Either way don't we still have the 'cultural captivity of the church' that Martin Luther moaned about? Doesn't the postmodern have to be submitted to ongoing biblical critique in just the same way as the modern - thereby enabling churches always to be in the process of reformation? I suspect that the established church is not as bad as they make out, nor the emerging church as good as they make out.
Doug Pagitt does seem to advocate that preaching as we know it, 'speaching' as he calls it, is on the way out. It is not the future. Gee - that is such a big call to make! Does he really want to say that? It is just too bold. The historical, biblical, and theological justification for such a conclusion is just not there in the book. The 'sociological' seems to be running the show, as it too easily can do. But that is like expecting a boat without a rudder, or a keel, to float against the current and the tide. It is hardly the counter-cultural engagement which we need.
Well - there you have it.
Just a small taste of my emergent tension: excited about the innovation even as I am disappointed by the arrogance.
Feel free to help me out
Sit me on your cyberspatial couch and give me some therapy.