Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"are you emergent?"

If your shelves are lined with books with names on their spines like Burke, Pagitt, Ward, Chalke, and Tomlinson... If the links on your laptop suggest you connect readily to Miller, Bell, McLaren, Rollins and McManus...

Then you owe it to yourself - and to those you influence- to read Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be) (Moody, 2008). But be at peace as you do so because one of the authors does affirm "I don't consider myself a Carson fan or admirer." (I know how just saying the letters "D" and "A" gets emerging people a bit twitchy). Interestingly, DA Carson does still endorse the book!


May I make three comments about the book?

(a) For me the most searching critique is the way this movement runs the risk of falling victim to the errors of the very modernism (not to mention the old liberalism) from which it so strenuously distances itself. Very perceptive... Ohh - let me squeak in one other critique - n30 on p86 - referring to a comment from DA Carson: "emerging church leaders, unlike the Reformers, are calling for change because the culture has moved. The Reformers, by contrast, were calling for change because the church had moved - away from the Bible."

(b) In the Epilogue lies one of the most positive suggestions I have heard yet. If you are a pastor why not do a preaching series through The Seven Churches of Revelation (Rev 2 & 3) as a framework in which to handle the issues which the emerging movement raises? Be faithful to the issues in the text - but with an eye on this context. A brilliant suggestion...

(c) One single quotation that is one sentence long will do - but it is a very, very long sentence. Are you ready? It carries something of the cheeky, chirpy tone of the book. Here goes...

Are you Emergent?
You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; ... if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism, or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren't sure it can be found; if you've ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word 'story' in all your propositions about postmodernism - if all or most of this tortously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian..." (20-22)

... and you need to read this book carefully!!



nice chatting

Paul

19 comments:

Rhett said...

I'm part of a "moderately" emerging-style church (though it seems missional might be a better label, see here:http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2008/09/rip_emerging_ch.html#more).

And I love reading D.A. Carson! :-)

I listen to U2, but I don't like beer. I'm conservative theologically but I'm passionate about being culturally relevant. I don't like McLaren, I somewhat like Bell, I really like Miller. I like "church" better than "community". I believe that the gospel is about atonement for sin. I believe the church has social responsibilities. I listen to indie music. But it doesn't bug me at all when people talk about going to heaven.

...and this very long sentence shows me that this whole issue is anything but clear cut; because I know a ton of people like me (and different).

I think that the Emerging/Missional/Whatever church is about as broad at this point as the Evangelical one.

But I'd also recommend Carson's book "Becoming Conversent with the Emerging Church" to just about anyone who had read anything by Bell, Mclaren, etc, etc. I found it incredibly helpful.

I'd love to read this book too.

christplaysnz said...

There has been a concerted effort in some corners of the blogosphere to get folks to use "Emergent" to refer to Tony Jones' Emergent Village and to use "Emerging" to refer to the conversation at large, so as to avoid tarring the latter with the brush used on the former...

I'd love to know what you think of "The Gagging of God" this far on. I read the book the first time like a call to arms. Then, at uni, I read the philosophers he was (mis)quoting and (ab)using. Then I read the book like unfortunately wrong headed rant by a genuine guy.

On bad days he reads like deliberately skewed propaganda, written in the knowledge that his condemnation of his source material will ensure no one checks his work.

Then I read "Miller, Bell, McLaren, Rollins and McManus" and then I read "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church".

Alas, for, D.A. reading his sources seems to be the elixir that bars one from holding his opinions. Ignorance made the Don seem wiser. Knowledge, not so much. For me, Reading Stanley Fish destroyed "The Gagging of God", reading Calvin, Rob, Brian, Pete and Erwin did the same for his later book.

I find it interesting that McLaren studied English, that is, that he studied post-modern theory as a literary theory, before he engaged it as a cultural one. I hear many echoes of C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald in the emerging church too. Perhaps the avenue of entry - people who began studying words before studying the Word, like I did - Has something to do with the eventual trajectory of the conversation? Maybe?

There is an old saying that says - hire a doctor and you get surgery, hire a lawyer you get litigation, hire a English professor.. get emerging theology? Perhaps?

Sean said...

Hey Paul, if you read McManus' An Unstoppable Force" you'll see why he himself distances himself from "emergent" categories.

PS: An Unstoppable Force is one of the best books I've ever read on the Church.

Paul said...

Thought-full stuff indeed...

[rhett] it is with people like you in mind (and I know quite a few!) that I take the time to read and interact with books like this. While I am unlikely ever to identify with the 'emerging' I can see its appeal. I've read a bit of postmodern theory and I can see the connection between the postmodern and the emerging - and so the latter is something to evaluate and not simply embrace. There is good and bad in the mix ... and books like this one help the evaluation and so need to be read.

Each comment here carries a bit of the undertone that pervades the emerging literature - the way it is so slippery with boundaries and labels and categories. No one wants to be part of the movement and yet - from a distance - they all so obviously are! There are steep downsides to being slippery and this book unpacks them a bit. For example, when the emerging people are engaged 'being uncertain' can sound a lot like 'being humble'. Really?! Or what about the way that because God cannot be known fully, does that mean he cannot be known truly and personally and certainly and securely (the classic Carson critique where he speaks helpfully of the asymptote).

On DA Carson ... remember these guys are at pains to say they are NOT "fans or admirers" (p93) and so this is an evaluation coming from another angle ...

[christplaysnz] In terms of The Gagging of God, one of the things Carson taught me is that it is critical not just to look/evaluate the Christian/biblical worldview through the lens of what might be assumed to be true in the (English etc) Departments of a university - but also to examine what is being taught in those departments through the lens of the Christian/biblical worldview. Carson helps us so much with the latter which tends to be done ever so poorly. I confess that I am going through a phase(?) where I am disaffected by the way the search for knowledge/truth occurs at the university. I am far more concerned about the 'abusing and misquoting' of Christianity than the allegation of how Carson might be doing the same to the postmodern theorists. I am not convinced he is (but I suspect you have read more of them than I have) nor do I have the sense that his perspective has been 'destroyed' by the emerging people. WOW?! That is a big word to use - and a big claim to make. You almost sound like Carson himself :)

In his Conversant book I would critique him at the level of his tone and the breadth of the sample which he uses (mind you he was writing very early on) but not on his content. This book by DeYoung and Kluck is a helpful corrective to those concerns.

[sean] it is a while since I dabbled in McManus' book. I don't remember thinking your thoughts about it - but since I respect you a lot, I'll pull it off the shelf and have another read (maybe even on my return flights to London over the next seven days!)


enuf - in fact, far too much (sorry!)

christplaysnz said...

Paul.

Fair Enough: "Destroyed" was probably too harsh a word. And probably not useful. The experience I was trying to describe would be like seeing a man locked in combat with giants, rushing onto the fields to help him only to discover that the giants are made of cardboard.
Can I coin a term?

Reading Stanley Fish was like that... Not that there aren't valid points to be made against him, nor that every point Carson makes is without merit; But that Carson draws cardboard monsters and then dispatches them.

His writings on the emerging church feel the same. I have my own reservations about the emerging church (to me, it feels like the long and necessary prolegomena to a work of theology proper that is yet to be written - its hiding in there somewhere, I think: part Barth, part (NT)Wright, part Rollins. And I look forward to it.)

For the record, I own, love and still listen to a series of tapes by D.A. Carson speaking (at Carey, I believe) on the "turning points in the biblical story".

Also, Stanley Fish's "Is there a text in the Class" is in the Carey library, where I read it. So Carey, for better and worse, is both the source of my enduring respect for and my enduring disillusionment with DA.

And can I add my endorsement of "an unstoppable force" - great book, lent it so many times I lost it - bought it again - love to hear your take on that.

Rhett said...

I bought Unstoppable Force but never got more than 40 pages into it... might have to pick it up again.

Paul your absolutely right about the "slippery-ness". It is a frustration of mine. What first drew me to the emerging church was the desire to reach people in the culture who had perhaps been unreached (or maybe "not-so-much" reached) in the past. What dissenfranchised me with it was the lack of clarity.

When I say I am part of an "Emerging-STYLE" church I say it cus we sometimes light candles, sit around tables and try to be relevant. But out beliefs are clear and very orthodox. The Wesleyan church broke away from the Methodist church because of the Methodist swing towards liberalism so there aren't any worries for me on that front.

For me, emerging method (or whatever you want to call it) is fine. The emerging theology (sometimes lack of) of guys like Doug Paggit, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren flat out worries me.

I was glad to read that some of the people I consider more moderate, orthodox voice (McManus, Dan Kimball, Scott McKnight) are starting a new group, much like "Emergent Village", but this time based on the Lausanne Covenant (http://www.lausanne.org/lausanne-1974/lausanne-covenant.html) from the outset. Hopefully this will mean orthodoxy, clarity, and less chance of theological hijacking.

Rhett said...

I bought Unstoppable Force but never got more than 40 pages into it... might have to pick it up again.

Paul your absolutely right about the "slippery-ness". It is a frustration of mine. What first drew me to the emerging church was the desire to reach people in the culture who had perhaps been unreached (or maybe "not-so-much" reached) in the past. What dissenfranchised me with it was the lack of clarity.

When I say I am part of an "Emerging-STYLE" church I say it cus we sometimes light candles, sit around tables and try to be relevant. But out beliefs are clear and very orthodox. The Wesleyan church broke away from the Methodist church because of the Methodist swing towards liberalism so there aren't any worries for me on that front.

For me, emerging method (or whatever you want to call it) is fine. The emerging theology (sometimes lack of) of guys like Doug Paggit, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren flat out worries me.

I was glad to read that some of the people I consider more moderate, orthodox voice (McManus, Dan Kimball, Scott McKnight) are starting a new group, much like "Emergent Village", but this time based on the Lausanne Covenant (http://www.lausanne.org/lausanne-1974/lausanne-covenant.html) from the outset. Hopefully this will mean orthodoxy, clarity, and less chance of theological hijacking.

christplaysnz said...

I just think, to steal Terry Eagletons phrase, we have an "obligation to confront [the] case at its most persuasive".

Is asked if I could coin a term, I need one that means this:

The refutation of an deliberately (and often deceptively) inferior version of an opponents hypothesis, spoken only to people who already believe your opponent in error.

"Binding the straw man" perhaps..

Paul said...

McManus is off the shelf and half way to the bag - along with The Shack!

Paul said...

christplaysnz ... that is a great quote from Terry Eagleton. I take it he is the same one who wrote The Illusions of Postmodernism? O have often passed on similar sentiments to others - Paint those who you oppose (or those who oppose you) in their very best possible light and then engage with that ...

Do you have a reference for the quote - I'd like to keep it for my own records.

Thanks again

Richard said...

Isnt the emerging church just part of a wider movement within evangelicalism towards a kind of Christian identity politics? It seems to me that its bunch of people who desperately want to find some sort of self descriptive title or tradition that decribes "who they really are". The politics of identity (race, gender, tradition etc.) has become so significant for those younger the Gen Xers anyway, plus combined with a low evangelical heritage (most emerging churches i've seen here tend to be Baptist or Bretheren, or have low evangelical anglican routes) which prides itself on the autonomy of the local church yet is desperately starved of an authoritative tradition and you have much of what defines the emerging church as a movement.

Interestingly enough, i'd argue that the same obsession with idenity, image and distinction is present in the growth in popularity of Puritanesque Calvinism that John Piper and friends represent and advocate. Its providing a route out for low church evangelicals who don't feel they "fit in" and providing another club/label to for people to identify with. Just look at the proliferation of new organisations/fronts/lables those reformies have started using (together for the gospel, the gospel coalition, 9 marks, the council for biblical manhood and womanhood). Its the same identity
game as the emerging church in many ways with a very different focus and theology. The reformies want to find their idenitity in their doctrinal distinctives and puritanical heritage, or their anti-feminism...the emerging church want to find it in other areas.

The problem is, i don't think idenitity politics is a good way of trying to think about ecclesiology or the mission of the church. We spend far too much time saying "why we are not emergent" or "why we are emergent" than we do actually working out biblically what Christians should be doing in the world and why we part of something called "church" in the first place.

Paul said...

ut Richard, are these things merely about 'Christian identity politics'? Not sure if I understand you fully but that sounds like 'you pick this identity' and 'I'll pick that one' but let's make sure we get on and be what we are meant to be.
I am not convinced that is the issue. What we have here is people with quite different understandings of truth and of gospel and of mission... - don't we?!



By the way, I have tried to reflect more fully on things-emergent in an earlier post which may be of interest. It is two years ago but...
http://www.carey.ac.nz/pauls_blog/archive/2006_07_01_pauls_archive.html

Andrew said...

Can I add one other reference that I think is a must read for those interested (positively or negatively) with the emerging church. The article is by Kees De Groot "The Church in Liquid Modernity: A Sociological and Theological Exploration of Liquid Church." International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6, no. 1 (2006): 91-103. It comes within an edition of the journal dedicated to the emerging church with articles by many leading emerging church authors. De Groot's article is a devastating critique of Pete Ward's "Liquid Church" and clearly outlines how Zygmunt Bauman (who is the sociologist who wrote "Liquid Modernity" and whose insights many emerging church authors draw upon) would not want a liquid church. I was doing some post grad research on the emerging church and this article forced me to buy many of Zygmunt Bauman's books and read what he says for myself. I concluded that instead of being a proponent for the emerging church, Bauman's work stands in opposition of much of what I see in the emerging church. De Groot's article is a must read!

christplaysnz said...

That Terry Eagleton quote was from here. It's in his (very interesting) response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. And yes, the same Terry Eagleton that wrote The Illusions of Postmodernism(1996).

He is a marxist theorist, and currently John Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature at the University of Manchester.

Richard said...

What i mean by identity politics is the search by people to find a distinctive idenitity or label that accurately describes who they are, what they represent and their politics in a way that distinguishes themselves from others or groups that they feel marginalise them. Its all about the search for distinction and that dreaded and increasingly meaningless word "authenticity".

This doesn't create merely create an situation of "i'll pick this identity, you'll pick yours", i'd argue that it makes arguments between different Christian groups (and other social groups in wider society!) far more tribal and argumentitive, because rather than placing our identity in Gospel and the in the trully universal people of God that is formed by it ( i'm thinking of Ephesians 1-3 here, not some sort of weak ecumenicism) we try to place it in some sort of particular expression of Church that is meant to sum up what it means "for me" to be a christian. This is why i think you find guys like Brian Mclaren fiercely defending his own expression of church against a strawman homogenous evangelicalism that "just doesn't get it or understand us", and why conservative evangelicals rally back against them for their weak doctrine or liberal politics. It seems to me this is the culture wars come to visit the church.

Of course there are some real questions of truth and differing understandings of the gospel (people obviously have differing understandings of scripture and tradition), but i think sadly often those questions are often secondary for many people to questions of power and identity.

Christina said...

Hi Paul and Friends,

I think I need to start by acknowledging that I feel quite defensive here, and maybe that’s some of the problem between the emerging church and the mainstream. Whenever we approach each other for dialogue we feel much too defensive to engage properly, and we don’t listen to each other even though we may have useful critique to offer one another.
However I would like to point out that any critique of the emerging church here should be grounded in the NZ reality rather than what you read in critical books written by Americans in answer to American situations. In NZ we are much more post-modern that the US, and much more secular any cultural or philosophical comment must take this into account. I also believe that the missional or emerging church in NZ is leading the way Internationally in innovation and vision in a way that the missional church in the US is not. It seems from my experience (in ecclesiology class last week) that there are a lot of negative stereotypes about the emerging church that come from reading about it rather than engaging with it.
I would like to argue that there is a very real distinction between the emerging church (and yes christsplaynz it is very important to distinguish between the emerging church and emergent village) in NZ and particularly in the US. For one many of the emerging leaders I have met here in NZ are very focused on scripture being the centre of what they do. I do think its very hard to use emerging as a term and there is more diversity within that than there is within traditional evangelicalism. I see two distinct streams in the NZ emerging church on the one hand we have churches that take a somewhat liberal approach to scripture, are about an alt. Worship experience and tend to attract people who have fled the mainstream church in a hurt and destructed state. That is a good thing that there are churches that can take on some of these individuals and restore them to a God centred community (and I’m sorry but I don’t see mainstream evangelicalism having the compassion and sensitivity to do that well). On the other hand we have churches/communities who are bible-centric and want to form genuine community (real relationships) not just with each other but also reaching in significant ways the non-churched. These churches seem particularly to want to carefully consider how Christianity can be relevant and exciting for those of us who (within and without Christianity) are thoroughly post-modern. This is also a good thing that there are people who are reacting practically to the cultural shift that we have undergone – and for the most part this is not theologizing or philosophizing but looking for practical approaches. One of the things that really annoys me however is that these two quite different streams of change are often just seen as one ‘movement’ and branded emerging without consideration of the differences between them.

Paul you state that “the way it is so slippery with boundaries and labels and categories. No one wants to be part of the movement …” I find I feel quite defensive again about a word with such negative connotations as ’slippery’. One of the reasons that the emerging church seems slippery is that it is important to it (and to me which is why I’m sensitive about it) that it is organic and ground up rather than having structures that may not be suitable and relevant imposed on it from outside. This desire to create something within, from and for the people that we have a heart to reach makes us resent being labeled and described in certain ways.

Thanks if you have made it through this long post!
oh and by the way:
I listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash (sometimes in church), but I don’t have sermons (like most in the emerging church I prefer discussion)I drink soy lattes in the afternoon but enjoy a good Merlot in the evenings, but I use a PC, ... My idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu; I don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism, or Left Behind Christianity; My political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and not so much abortion and gay marriage; I am into goth; I don’t talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; I lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; I love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; I search for truth but aren't sure it can be found; I have been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count); I loathe words likelinear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, anddance; I didn’t grow up in a very conservative Christian home, but I worked for a Christian organisation that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; I support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like my theology narrative instead of systematic; I disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; I want to be the church and not just go to church; I long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; I believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; I don’t believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway; I believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; I believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; it really bugs me when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; I disdain monological, didactic preaching; I use the word 'story' in all your propositions about postmodernism” So I think I must be emerging.
Christina

BJ said...

The development Rhett references is discussed here by Scot McKnight:

http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=4358

Paul said...

I must make a quick comment - from Singapore airport with a few minutes to spare. I can't let Christina feel she is left exposed a bit...

While I understand that you feel defensive as these things are important to you. But I don't think you need to be. Here is a book to engage and read and absorb into the mix of your thinking. It can only be helpful. They are not trying to be offensive so you don't need to be defensive!!

Must go

Paul said...

Just as a final word (because I do not want such a constructive idea to be lost!) - please do take the idea in the Epilogue of this book seriously - "Listening to the Churches of Revelation" (pp239-253).
This section of the Bible does provide a template into which to place the discussions about emerging/emergent and established churches. If you are a pastor, please do preach through this part of the Bible soon. As you faithfully explain the text, apply it with an eye on this context.

PS - I spent my time reading The Shack and di not get to McManus again on this recent trip ... but I haven't forgotten.