Emerging / Emergent / postmodern — all these words have become so loaded in our views of church and individual faith. I have the opportunity to take a class this fall, “Emerging Models of Church Life” that explains some of the new trends taught by Steve Hayner, who was once president of InterVarsity, but now is on faculty at Columbia Theological Seminary.
I got his permission to live-blog today’s lecture (3 hours!) regarding the Emergent movement. I found it informative and balanced. Hope you find it helpful…
An introduction to Emergent Church –
once you sort of get whatever it is in your sights, it’s not there anymore. if something is emerging, we are always in the journey and it is hard to nail it down. it is hard for us, modernists, to put it under the microscope. i get a kick out of watching these various movements and moreso watching others outside the movements. The Christian Century has an article about Jacob’s Well, an emergent church in Kansas City. the author goes to figure out what this thing is and how it is different than and similar to…it’s an interesting article. that’s kind of what we’re about here.
if we really want to understand all this, we’re going to have to hold it all very lightly. today, we’re going to focus in on some of the characteristics of the emergent church. all of what i say is going to require more nuance than I’m willing to give it, but it’s the best we can do…
one of the things to understand, it was probably in the early 90’s, that we began to see appearing various articles related to the effect of postmodernism on the church and churchgoers, particularly on youth. it was not so long ago after that, when we had new experiments. these weren’t the first experiments, but some of what we began to see in the early and mid 90’s a rather wholesale new look at the idea of church.
most of the people who wrote about this movement, wrote about worship styles, things that we were easier to see. and the questions that people were asking were about ‘why does this work’ and ‘why does that work?’ we know it in our presbyterian services as a “contemporary worship services’. not a very helpful description, by the way.
even those styles or worship were not particularly new, even stuff goes back to the 60’s, even Vatican II led to folk music. the thing that was new was this notion of contemporary, and it wasn’t just about forms, and it recognized a shift in culture, not just an accommodation of culture.
church has always been captivated by culture. the word is captivated is the problematic one. one author writes, that the church began in Jerusalem as a movement, it went to Rome and became an institution, and to Europe to become a culture, and finally it went to America and became a business. obviously, there is a cynicism in that statement, but there is something that’s true in that statement.
beyond that, there is this kind of seam…when we talk about emergent, we are doing it against the cultural seam, there is the old, which is in one sense, passing. and there is this new thing arising. we talk about post-Christendom, meaning that the church is no longer the propagater of culture around which social life revolves, but rather the church has been pushed to the edges and maybe something else has been moved to the center, or nothing else is in the center.
we are also becoming postmodern, whatever that comes to mean. certainly it affects the questions we ask and how we know.
a third thing is that we have become postcolonial. there was a sense of cultural superiority that grew out of the church itself, but also out of Western culture. in that sense of cultural superiority, was the sense of manifest destiny. from the 15th century on, the west began to colonize the world, and when we colonized the world, the assumption was that our way was the better way wherever we went. therefore, our expressions of faith were better expressions of faith. our ways were more advanced, more humane. there was a deep sense was that the world was getting better and better and the West was the vanguard of that. the west was the new Jerusalem. beyond the actual fact of the colonization of the world. there is such a thing as cultural advances and those who are more advanced culturally, need to pull up others into their sphere of influence.
in mission, is whether the church came after conquest or before conquest, but what happened, was that those places that were colonized began to look remarkably like other places colonized. Kenya has a British education system and now it’s built into the very fabric of how education is done. one the great questions in the postmodern era is to ask, is this the only way education can be done.
go to Korea for example, there are more Presbyterians than in the united states. churches there look like churches here. they sing basically the hymn tunes to the same instrumentation, same liturgy, same style of preaching — all part of western colonial influences.
now, that’s not all bad. but we are now in a postcolonial world. we are very suspicious of those things now. we have a sense now where we believe that almost everything needs to be indigenous in some kind of way. and the great conflicts are now between colonial styles of worship and those which are postcolonial and therefore have the opportunity to think about and do something different.
emergent churches are churches whose philosophy is essential postcolonial. the tendency is to identify tradition with colonialism. therefore tradition is probably bad and in this postcolonial world, we need to reinvent things. that may not be a helpful equation, but that’s still how it is tended to be viewed.
most of the so-called churches are essentially churches, where they feel like we are starting from scratch. they may end up reinventing the wheel.
they are also post-programmatic. they are reigniting our sense of creativity and that people are the most important center of the community and worship life of the church and therefore, the focus oght to be on the community, the people, and not on the production of more and more programs. we’ve had a tendency in more traditional churches, since the 19th century, to do a lot of research of what works. when you do research about what works, you focus on efficiency and you become highly programmatic. most churches spend a lot of time and energy building and maintaining programs of the church.
in the emergent world, there is a suspicion of programs. they still have them, but there is suspicion about them.
theologians of interest: many of the leaders are seminary trained, many however, are not. so they are reading what they are reading. certain names keep popping up.
- Miroslav Volf – interesting person, because he is Croatian, he comes out of a very pluralistic culture himself. he’s ended up in the west with something extraordinarily interesting to say in the west because we eschew suffering
- Stanley Hauerwas – currently at duke. hauerwas has focused on the issue of the kingdom and reignited the kingdom from philosophical and theological perspective.
- Nancy Murphy – teaches at fuller and is somebody who tends to think outside the box and is constantly in trouble with her evangelical cohorts
- Dallas willard – USC, remarkable job at asking new questions
- walter brueggemann – always surprised that he has become guru of this bunch.
- n.t. wright – bishop in Anglican church. extraordinary new testament scholar whose praxis has been helpful. very interesting controversy because no one can pin him down – they don’t know if he’s a liberal or conservative.
you’ve got ethicists, philosophers, an interesting mix of people. these people and others are bing listened to these days.
theological distinctives after reading “an emergent manifesto of hope”:
they spend a lot of time talking about paradox: things that are mutually exclusive. elliptical thinking essentially means that a circle is defined by its center. an ellipse is defined by two centers. all these tremendous mysteries are held in tension, and they are happy to live in that tension between two answers. as opposed to traditional systematic theology that everything “fits” and nothing is left “hanging out”.
postcolonial thinking means that there is a resistance to setting camp anywhere. it may be the thing that ends up biting these folks. you’ve got to end up landing someplace. plus, most people can’t keep up with you. everything keeps changing all the time. there are certain people who are early adopters who like the constant change and flux. but others…
many of them are harkening back to a pre-Christendom kind of time in history. before the formation of this structured ecclesiology and when the society was more pluralistic. they feel that we are trying live in a Christendom world, without Christendom. this applies to their attitudes about sacraments…
by and large, those churches that call themselves emergent would call themselves missional, but missional churches will not necessarily call themselves emergent.
a response that many people have when reading this stuff…it doesn’t sound ‘new’, which in some sense is true. but it is this ability to try and take our orthodoxy and create some sort of alignment with orthopraxy that it is missing. we talk about what is important…well, the really important thing is that people have a relationship with God. but in fact, when we get into this, we spend lots and lots of time on membership. when i spend time with churches, and when i said to them, most evangelism committees is membership management committee. that’s not evangelism. it’s not what Barth says evangelism is, or Calvin says evangelism is. certainly not that. they’re asking the question of what would it look like if we actually lived it? a lot of these things are actually pretty simple.
one of the interesting pieces is reorienting of our understanding of salvation, for example in a holistic way. again, Presbyterians read it and think we’ve been working on this thing for a long time.
in the broader theological world, one of the things that has been reclaimed in the catholic church is a high view trinitarian theology. in the last 20 years, everything has become profoundly trinitarian. the emergent church relies, pretty heavily on a Christological view, and particularly a low view of Christology. we’ll see that particularly with atonement.