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This is a second part of my response to Bill Easum’s blogologue with Tony Jones on Emergent Village.  The first part of this response can be found here.  Bill’s original post can be found here.

Bill asked a series of questions for the Emergents.  And I thought I would respond to these questions.  But before I begin I would like to respond to what I mean by Emergent and what this word means to me.  I take it very seriously and have suffered the consequences for the baggage that it holds, most of which I find to be myth. And let me be clear that this is my definition.

Emergent, to me, is a creative attempt to find a wholistic understanding and practice in what it means to follow Jesus into God’s mission. It is an an attempt to get at the heart of what it means to be a broken human in a broken world that is dying for restoration.  This attempt begins with generative conversation, or the willingness to lay aside what we think is right so we can first address the reality that something is just not quite right with this body called the church.  The evidence is now (even as Easum admitted) overwhelming.  The conversation is organic, chaotic, unrestricted, and based in a deep grace and willingness to love.  It is taking a deep look into the existing frameworks we operate in and deconstruct as led by the Holy Spirit.  Some of this deconstruction is occurring in our orthodoxy, some in our orthopraxy, and mostly in our own hearts, or as Peter Rollins says, “believing in the right way.”

Our hope is not to destroy the church, but much like an architect take a deep at the foundations we often take for granted.   Our hope is to remove the dross that leaves us all exhausted and wondering if there is more to the cross.  The risk we take is to trust that no matter how much we get it wrong that truth will win out in the end.  We are attempting to be God’s creativity lived out.  We hold lightly to everything for the sake of abandoning quickly what should never be held.  But we also know that the more we seek, the more we will find, the more we knock, the more the door will open, and the more we ask, the more we will receive.  We step carefully in the footsteps of Jesus with the understanding that the Holy Spirit will reveal His kingdom and restore our soul.

With that being said, Bill asked the following question(s).  My responses are in italics.

Bill: So here’s my question for the Emergents: In a world where so many people are searching for spiritual guidance from so many venues, can you offer to take the position that Christians have to become like them in order to offer the direction they are seeking?

We already are like them.  We’re first human beings created in the image of God.  And we are first called to love them.  And this means sitting with them regardless of their circumstances as human beings created in them.  This willingness to love is God’s distinct aroma.  This love is perfect theology.  It is the outpouring of the Gospel into their lives.  It is to step into the spaces that are broken not for the sake of being heard but to be the space God shows up in the world and changes lives.  We don’t change people.  We simply get to participate in that change as the Holy Spirit moves.

Isn’t the Gospel always counter to the culture?

The original problem in the Garden was death of relationships.  And the world will always choose self-preservation at the expense of relationships over time.  This is our brokenness.  Jesus came to offer the third way, which is to love, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Our offering to the world is then the willingness to be this love, to speak the value of God’s creation and the willingness to give ourselves for that humanity, even in deep sacrifice.

Do you really believe broken people are going to be satisfied with never being eternally certain about anything?

The promise of the Gospel was not certainty but restoration through faith.  What unfortunately has happened is that we have replaced faith with intellectual certainty, which usually led to arrogance.  The Emergent movement is attempting to find that space of humility again that resides in faith.  And faith is not the end.  Faith led to hope and eventually the realization of love.  And the greatest of these was love.

Do you really think people can have a personal relationship with Jesus when they know all that relationship consists of is the construct of their communal language?

I am always reminded of John 1:1-2 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

We begin with the Gospel. But as cognitive human beings we live in language as a way of communicating.  This means in order for us to communicate we have to use words.  And both parties often have different uses for those words. The hard part of this is we often have to deconstruct a lot of lies and destructive baggage that comes with every conversation.  No one is an blank slate. So the only way we can truly communicate is to listen first and then seek to understand as Paul did.  This is generative conversation.  Sometimes is means asking, “What I hear you saying is…”  But in every instance it means holding onto love so we get through the chaos of relationship.

This is why there has been so much confusion about Emergent.  Most people begin with what they think is Emergent, or from what they heard is Emergent, which is usually from sources outside of those who would place themselves in the Emerging conversation.  It is also why this conversation in the blogologue is so important.

Do you really believe that people will believe that words brought Jesus back from the dead?

I don’t know anyone who is saying this, although I could be wrong.  Perhaps I’m missing something.  Although I word also say that God is breath and Word.  So maybe this is how He did it.

Do you really believe you can reach the bulk of the population when you take the conversation as deep as you do?

Some of the best conversations I have ever had have occurred in this deep space.  It is this willingness to go deep where we share intimacy, relationship and trust.  It is the willingness to go deep where love is proved out. Deep is one of the distinct elements of generative conversation because it requires sitting with something without trying to change them.  And this requires releasing change into the hands of the Holy Spirit, where it really belongs.

Or are you really only concerned with appealing to philosophers?

Not really.

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Bill Easum and Tony Jones are participating in a blogologue about the emerging church this month over at Emergent Village. I think this will likely be one of the more important dialogs for people to listen to regarding the Emerging Church movement.  Much love to Bill for engaging that dialog with Tony.

The purpose of the blogologue can be found, in the words of Steve Knight,

“So we contacted Bill and asked him if he’d be willing to participated in a little “blogologue” (short for “blog dialogue”) with Tony Jones, discussing the questions/issues Bill has raised with Emergent. He quickly responded, Yes, and so here we are.

Easum’s first post can be found here.  It is interesting to read a clear and concise perspective from someone who sees himself outside of an Emergent perspective and looking in.  He makes a a surprising observation that I found fascinating and a few assumptions about Emergent that I didn’t agree with.

Easum’s New Metaphor: Easum offered a new metaphor for understanding the transition that I thought was brilliant.  He essentially calls the modern world the National Park and the postmodern world a Jungle.  I think this metaphor is one of the best I’ve seen.  One suggests control while the other is wild and free.  The first thing that came to mind when I read this is that as much as we want a National Park to live in, in doing so we inevitably tame God and lock Him up in a cage for people to gawk at.  He becomes something we study, dissect, make assumptions about but inevitably think we control.  The jungle metaphor appealed to me because God was likely around the next tree waiting to pounce on me like Aslan.  He isn’t safe but He is good.

But this loss of control means letting go of some of our historical assumptions about the way we operate and engage mission.  We’ve been a National Park for way too looooooooooong.  But to simply live in a jungle after operating that way for centuries is very hard to do.  Easum’s metaphor hopefully will make that transition easier.

Easum’s View Of Emergent’s Message: Easum offers an interesting view of what he thinks Emergents think. He says,

“Emergents will speak with passion and urgency but never with certainty. To them there is no certainty, only what one believes today, at this moment, in this locale.”

I think a better way to describe this is that Emergents are aware of our own limitations as human beings.  Our own brokenness affects the very information we receive and perceive.  We recognize that we live in language, are cognitive beings and that what we think today is based on limited information.  This awareness leads to faith, which is holding onto the idea that God is really in control (a jungle) and to step away from trying to control the message (the National Park).  The problem isn’t that truth exists but that certainty closes us down to learning and humility.

Easum also asks an important question.

“Is the message of the Gospel actual reality and eternally true, or is it nothing more than a construct of our own language within the community of faith at this particular time in history in this particular place with this particular community?”

Answering this question, I would hold, is central to understanding a postmodern, even an Emergent faith.  That there is “no truth” is one of the great myths about the Emerging church movement.  The answer is, “Yes, there is a truth.”

But the problem is that own humanity significantly taints that truth because we are cognitive and perceptual human beings.  We were never meant to “judge” on our own.  We were always designed to be in relationship with our Creator, as in the Garden State.  The Tree of Knowledge was a judgment process.  Humans became, “like one of us.”  This wasn’t a good thing because humanity trusted in its own capacity to judge effectively.  And we sucked at it.

The problem isn’t when we get it right, as in the disciples following Jesus.  The problem is when we get it wrong, as in the Pharisees, the very one’s who were certain, who couldn’t see God standing in front of them.  The Emergent movement and the postmodern world is coming to terms with that reality.  We’re humans who filter truth.

History has been an unkind teacher in some ways.  She has unfortunately revealed us when, where, and how we got it wrong. The Internet has allowed us to speed up that conversation, connect with like minds and discuss these issues.  Blogs have allowed us to process new ideas, alternatives and possible new scenarios in lighting speed.  What took ages before now takes minutes.  And for some this shift seems disconcerting because they are not used to such a seismic shift.  The truth is that we don’t live in an Intel 386 world anymore.

What is ironic about this whole point is that Emergents are the ones who are leading the conversation about coming to terms with our own humanity.  This process of admitting our own limitations is essentially repentance and it is central to our own restoration as followers of Jesus.

Relativism: Bill comes very close, but to his credit doesn’t cross, the common excuse of pulling the relativism card.  The temptation within this dialog is to simply excuse those in the Emergents as relativists, a cheap move from my perspective.  It dismisses any further dialog because it excuses the other party from having to continue.  But I would offer Bill that what is relative is not the truth but our perception of the truth.  The evidence of this is obvious in science and in history, but apparently not in the church.

The evidence of this can be found in the points Bill is making.  His judgments of the Emerging movement don’t resonate with me.  Are they true?  Yes, in that they are his judgments.  Yet, they are not true for me because I don’t share his conclusions.  Does that make us relative?  No.  It makes us human.

Easum on Methods: Bill does share a concern for how we move forward.  He says,

“I agree with the authors that we can’t come on to postmoderns like gangbusters with an elitist attitude as if we have THE truth. I agree with them that the four spiritual laws no longer work. I agree with them that if we lead from the big story we are dead in the water. I agree with them (and with Frank Viola) that the distinction between clergy and laity is not biblical and shouldn’t exist. I agree with them that the new world sees everything in shades of gray.”

But he also says,

“But I do not agree that Christians must feel they have to be two steps removed from the reality of the Gospel in order to reach this new world. In fact, I think it is just the opposite. The clearer a leader is about the reality of Gospel and the direction of their calling, the more likely that person is to lead a growing and thriving community of faith.”

And this is where I see Easum perpetuating the myth that we are removed from the Gospel or that we don’t hold a Gospel.  In fact, my wife and I have come to the conclusion that much of the dialog within the Emerging church movement is simply asking for a more wholistic approach to following Jesus and being the church…because we’re tired of this thing we grew up with called, “doing church”.  We’re tried of simply being passive observers in the Christendom food chain.

To say that there hasn’t been problems in the past is to ignore the reality of the issues we face today.  We are in this space because the church has ignored the road it went down.  When more than 12 million people have left the church but not God the problem simply can’t be ignored.

Easum on New Organization: Bill states one thing that I found very sad because when I read it, it seems like a shout from the cheap seats.  If he wants to be honest in the dialog, I would suggest he lose this conception.  He says,

“They don’t even believe in planting churches in order to reach more people, nor do they believe in doing things to get people to come to their church. They plant churches only to save themselves, whatever that means.”

Again this is a myth.  I personally know people who are taking very serious looks at what it means to be the church and organize around following Jesus into mission.  The experimentation phase is just beginning.  And many of these ideas are still in the birth, or even the infant stage.  To say they don’t produce fruit yet is natural, but to say they don’t exist is to perpetuate a lie.  And these ideas likely won’t look what we have right now and thus the myth will continue to be perpetuated. This leaves us in the Emerging church movement the task of coming up with clear, creative alternatives and seeing them to maturity.  Nice.

Easum ends this section with a surprisingly honest assessment of where the church is at.  He says,

“The Emergent movement is providing a marvelous conversation for all of us. They have revealed the naked truth—the emperor has no clothes. The established Christian church is basically dead and in need of A Second Resurrection.”

This is from a man who has spent his life studying the church.  Right on Bill.

Bill does ask a series of question for the Emergents, which I will answer in the next post.

Much love to Bill for beginning a great dialog and I can’t wait to hear Tony’s response.

PS: Both Bill and Steve Knight responded in regard to my comments regarding what is essentially Tony’s quote from his book.  I have responded in the comments that I got the context for this quote wrong, but I don’t like to edit original posts even when I get it wrong.

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If you live in Sacramento and want to meet the guys who helped really fuel the Emergent conversation, put June 18th on your calendar. You don’t want to miss this. Unfortunately I will. I was supposed to be there but the guys pick a day I am on vacation.

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My cohort is hosting . Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Mark Scandrette will be bringing an old time Gospel Revival Roadshow to our town. Consider yourself officially invited and yes, this is an open event so feel free to invite others to join you.

  • Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2008
  • Time: 6:30pm – 9:00pm (with possible meet-n-greet at Streets of London Pub afterwards)
  • Location: Lakehills Covenant Church
  • Street: 7000 Rossmore Lane
  • City/Town: El Dorado Hills, CA
  • $10 door charge (volunteer helpers free).
  • We are needing 5-10 volunteers to help with set-up/tear-down, book tables, and greeting. Email Jeromy at jeromyj@sbcglobal.net if interested (dinner will be included for volunteers).
  • Please see the Facebook Sacramento Roadshow Event. You can also RSVP there as well.

Visit the Roadshow Site.

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In the spirit of the new book, Why We’re Not Emergent, the accompanying website, and this post, I thought I’d present the Top 50 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Emergent.

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50. They’re all a bunch of false prophets. Really, that’s what they told me

49. My mother will disown me.

48. I just don’t like Doug Pagitt. He scares me.

47. I heard from a famous pastor that Emergent is from the debil.

46. I don’t like Rob Bell’s hair.

45. The word Emergent is not in the Bible.

44. It’s just not allowed in the Vanderhoeven family.

43. I heard Calvin would simply not approve

42. Mark Driscoll told me I couldn’t.

41. I’m just not “certain” yet it’s the right way to go.

40. I heard from this guy who knew this lady who had a brother who was Emergent and he went blind doing it.

39. I enjoy being a skeptic.

38. I didn’t learn about Emergent in seminary so I’m not going to start now.

37. I like being on the bigger team.

36. I heard you had to take yoga.

35. I’ve heard from a famous prison ministry guy they don’t believe in the Bible.

34. Where would I be without absolute truth.

33. Tony Jones went to Princeton Theological Seminary…that liberal.

32. They didn’t teach this in Alpha.

31. I’m not white.

30. I’m over 40.

29. I don’t have any cool, black eyeglasses.

28. I don’t like coffee or Guinness.

27. It’s immoral to smoke pipes or cigars.

26. They haven’t yet come up with my denomination of Presbymergent

25. Emergents read unapproved books.

24. I’m allergic to candles.

23. I like Jesus but not Emergent.

22. Brian McLaren’s books are not theologically correct. I’m not sure why, I just know they are.

21. I like my Christianity strong and hot.

20. The orthodoxy police will bust me.

19. I’m not uber-cool. In fact, I don’t even know what “uber” means.

18. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to.

17. If it doesn’t have the letters SBC in it, I’m not interested.

16. All they want to do is love. Where’s the truth in that?

15. I’m a bullhorn type of guy.

14. I prefer Joel Osteen.

13. I just finally bought into fundamentalism and you want me to shift?

12. I don’t really want a generous orthodoxy.

11. I refuse to switch to Apple

10. I can’t. I go to John MacArthur’s church.

9. My friends will think I’m a heretic.

8. I already was a New (Kind of) Christian.

7. I refuse to grow a soul patch

6. Hell fire and brimstone works just fine, thank you.

5. I don’t like loud, rock music at church. It’s a sin.

4. Their hermeneutic of ecclesiology is unorthodox, fundamentally esoteric and meandering. It borders on epistemological ambiguity that is really troublesome. I’m afraid it will lead to heretical uncertainty of the most pernicious kind.

3. But then I might have to really have faith.

2. Brian McLaren is the debil.

And the number one possible reason Why You’re Not Emergent is:

1. The emerging church is so yesterday.

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Just in case you were wondering. The answer is yes, this is humor.

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Newton’s third law of motion is, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” And over the last thirty years we’ve seen a distinct change in culture from a modern to a postmodern society. And after watching Jill Bolte Taylor I began to really wonder if this is a shift in culture from right brain to left brain.

Jill describes the two halves of the brain in very distinct terms. Physically the are independent of each other and are connected by a thin white matter called the corpus callosum. She describes the two halves by saying, “they think about different things, they care about different things, and dare I say they have very different personalities.” This sounds like the culture issues with the traditional church and the emerging church to me.

The right brain:

  • functions like a parallel processor
  • this present moment.
  • right here/right now
  • thinks in pictures
  • learns kinesthetically through movement of our bodies
  • information through sensory input and explodes in a collage of information
  • connected to others

The left brain:

  • functions like a serial processor
  • think linearly
  • methodically
  • about the past and future
  • take the collage of the present moment and picks out details and more details
  • take this information and projects into the future and projects possibilities
  • thinks in language
  • connects internal world to external world
  • the calculating intelligence.
  • The little voice that says, I am, separate from others.

After reading Tony’s book, I realize that much of the threads that show up in modernity are left brain oriented. And the threads that show up in postmodernity are right brain oriented. Modernity is interested in facts and figures, charts and graphs. Modernity is the PC guy from the Apple commercials. Postmodernity is the righ brain interested in images and colors, the present moment when we’re having coffee. Postmodernity is the Mac guy in the Apple commercials.

But what is the most interesting to me is that the right brain is about connectivity and relationships. What draws us together, not divides us. And much of the postmodernity movement/era I think is a response to the long drawn out centuries of living exclusively in the left brain world that can’t operate in relationships.

Must of what Jesus did was about restoring relationships, especially us to the Father so we could discover the power of the Holy Spirit. I for one think that this can only come from the right brain that draws us together.

PS: After seeing Jill, I realized why I gravitate towards the postmodern emerging church conversation. I’m right brain. You can test yourself here.

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This is the third part of the book review. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

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Chapter 5 – The paradoxes of our faith.

The section continued a dialog of what it means to engage a humble hermeneutic. He cites the issues of women’s suffrage and slavery as example, ones in which we now have a different opinion than 100-200 years ago. What was really strange was reading the name Daniel Henderson, the very man who baptized me, and now a pastor in Minnesota. Weird.

Tony does a good job of bringing out the slippery slope issue. He says,

“Based on his comments, he fears that humility – at least in the interpretation of the Bible – will lead to meaninglessness, to an inability to stand for something.”

He calls out the problem of certainty, which can lead to imperialism and instead offers Newbigin’s “proper confidence”. He brilliantly offers,

“While an emphasis on interpretation does preclude the many propositions about eternally “right” and “wrong” answers, it doesn’t mean that there’s not truth. Instead, it means that there are inherently better interpretations – that one interpretation can trump another.”

History clearly reveals that we have had better interpretations based on new information and dialog. The tension lies in the fact that we don’t like it when there are different interpretations than ours. Tony offers that this intellectual bravery to engage conversation and not settle is founded throughout history in Luther, Assisi, Day and Bonhoeffer.

Tony offers the idea that we can learn from any text in the library, not just the ones deemed “approved” by the church or written by Christian authors. This practice is one of the critical tensions between the traditional church and the emerging streams. To me, one is based on fear. The other is based on trust.

His dispatch #13 I would offer sums up the heart of the problem surrounding the misconceptions that Emergents don’t believe in truth. It says,

“Emergents believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.”

What most people will probably hear or read or say when talking about Emergents is what amounts to an edited version of this statement; “Emergents believe that truth cannot be known by human being.” I appreciate Tony putting it into such a succinct, articulate statement.

Tony also explores a really good discussion on the nature of paradox and our desire to constantly solve the paradox. He shared his encounter with a physicist who explains that paradox is inherent to nature. An example is that a electron is both a particle AND a wave. He quotes the physicist as saying,

“I just think, if there are paradoxes in physics, then why shouldn’t there be paradoxes in theology too?”

Good food for thought for those who want to box God in. I would offer that the willingness to live in the tension of the paradox is one of the strongest traits of the emerging church.

Chapter 6 – Emergent community in the new world or “Do you trust me?”

In this chapter, Tony explores different ways emerging communities are exploring a generous orthodoxy. He profiles Tim Keel’s Jacob’s Well and shares what it’s like. He then offers an intriguing insight into how Wikipedia, an open source community of share concern can offer much to the emerging church communities. I must say that I really, really liked this idea of open source church. The concern for church heresy is mitigated by the group’s desire for truth. Messiness will occur but so will a burgeoning community. I love this section. At the heart of emerging churches is the willingness to fail and learn. We’re not afraid to grow from failure. Isn’t this real life anyway.

Tony provides a very short section on Binitarianism (the belief in the two of the three parts of the trinity). The point was that we have lost the Holy Spirit. This to me could have been a much larger section, especially in regards to interpretation. It is my sense that much of the emerging church stems from a desire to discover what the Holy Spirit is doing organically and participating where God is already working. His critique is that we do what we think works and then wonder why we’re burned out.

One of the pervasive notions of this section is the question, “Are we going to trust people?” This extends the generous orthodoxy to a generous orthopraxy, which is essentially what Jesus did when he left humanity and gave us the Holy Spirit to follow.

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Summary: Tony provides a deep historical account of how and why the emerging church and emergent movement arrived and is what it is today. This is a must read book for those interested in the emerging church, or anyone who wants a clear picture of the emerging/emergent movement. If you are unwilling to read this book, you have no real leg to stand on in your critique.

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Note: Tony blends the use of Emergent and emerging church, where I would not. Emergent is an organization that coordinates activities and conversation, where the emerging church is the natural organic movement of God within the world today. It’s not a big deal but it helps to know the difference if you are reading this as a new comer.

Chapter 1 – Summary: What it means to deconstruct.

Tony created a valuable distinction for me in three words: reactionary, resolutionary, and revolutionary. Instead of jumping to the left/right, us/them mentality of the first two, Jesus chose the third way, staying in the tension of not demonizing the other.

I especially appreciated his quote from Anthony Smith in describing his view of the emerging church. Anthony said,

“First…there is an epistemological humility with this particular movement.”

That’s it. He gets it. So much of the emerging movement is a move a way from the arrogance that has pervaded Christianity, the run to know it all. I don’t know it all. And it’s nice to have great conversations with those who don’t know it all. And as we share together we can discover how God is moving.

Chapter 2 – Summary: The history of the emergent movement.

First I want to say that this chapter was worth the price of the book alone.

I really appreciated the metaphor of the lava flow. No matter how hard we try to contain it, creating hard, crusty shells on the surface, God finds a way to break through. This metaphor adequately describes the tension of any movement to break free from the chains that history always creates. That we don’t see the chains, when history is filled with examples, is a testament to the human condition.

Tony creates another distinction of Gospelism, which is mans desire to control or put rigid forms around what God is doing in our midst. To me, that’s religion.

He also continues the dialog on the natural human instinct to polarize, right/left, us/them, etc. He brings out the cultural swings from secularization to fundamentalism, and again draws us to the third way of Jesus. He finds describes it as,

“It’s what might be called the postmodern posture: an attempt to both maintain one’s distinctive identity while also being truly open to the identity of the other.”

The problem as Tony describes is that this living in the tension doesn’t fit into neat little packages.

I also appreciated reading the deep history of the initial Young Leaders Network and how it got started, the UK history with Jonny Baker and NOS, and the background to the interactive process of the web. It puts it in a framework that is larger, more global than just evangelicals.

Tony succinctly draws the distinction between bounded sets (unity based on membership), centered sets (unity based on beliefs), and emerging (unity based on relationship). I appreciate this distinction because it draws us into relationship not based on commonality but in our humanity.

Continue on to Part 2 here

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