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Archive for the ‘emergent church’ Category

This is the second part of a book review, exploring Phyllis Tickle’s, The Great Emergence. Part 1 is here.

Chapter 4 explores the agent of change in the Great Emergence we’re experiencing: science.  She points to Darwin’s theory of evolution and Faraday’s discovery of magnetic fields as the lines of demarcation for peri-Emergence.  I would offer that Tickle’s choice of Darwin is obvious but her choice of Faraday is brilliant.  Without Faraday’s breakthrough’s in electricity, the industrial revolution and the subsequent knowledge and Internet revolution would likely never have occurred, both of which have been pivotal tipping points to the Great Emergence.

Darwin on on the other hand is well known.  His work in biology led to the churches response, ultimately giving us the rise of fundamentalism.  Tickle states:

“That which has held hegemony (assumed leadership), finding itself under attack, always must drop back, re-entrench itself, run up its colors in defiance, and demand that the invaders attack its stronghold on its own terms.”

Sound familiar to anyone who has been attacked for being emergent?

This impact of science also extended to Freud and Jung in psychology, shedding light on the collective unconscious, asking what it really means to be human.  It was further pushed along by the radio and television, which propelled Joseph Campbell’s work to challenge some of the central themes of fundamentalism.

“A challenge that would have been rejected by believers as clerical heresy had it been delivered from the pulpit was now being listened to and thought about and talked about around water coolers and over backyard fences.”

The radio and eventually television allowed people to process valuable ideas and information in the comfort of their own home, as opposed to the “sacrosanct” space under the watchful eye of smarter people and religious leaders.  This served to fuel the collective imagination, freeing people to think and process ideas that were once off limits.

These freedoms eventually led to the cognitive sciences.  People began to ask:

“What are we/what am I?  Is there even such a thing as the ‘self’? … More to the point, how can ‘I’ be held responsible for anything anywhere anytime?”

This collective questioning then as Tickle states, reasserts “the same central question: Where, now, is authority?”  The process of reforming is then under the new authority established over time in the new expressions of religion.

Chapter 5 is the longest and by far my favorite chapter and essentially continues chapter 4.  It explores the central tipping points of the last 100 years, each seeming to build on each other.  It begins with Einstein’s special theory of relativity on, which then led to Heisenberg’s theory of uncertainty.  Heisenberg’s theory suggested that the act of observing something changes that very thing.  This called into question any notion of fact because the scientist observing fact is always changing the very thing he is observing.  Now apply this principle to the Bible and everyone gets scared.

“Enter the battle of The Book.  Enter the warriors, both human and inanimate, who will hack the already wounded body of Sola Scriptura into buriable pieces,” Tickle states.

This theory led Reimarus to ask if the Jesus of Western History is the same Jesus of the Nazareth.  This question spurred on the work of Crosson, Borg, and Pagels in the Jesus Seminar.

I find Tickles words fascinating here.  She says,

“Literalism based on inerrancy could not survive the blow (though is would die a slow and painful death); and without inerrancy-based literalism, the divine authority of the Scripture was decentralized, subject to caprices of human interpretation, turned into some kind of pick-and-choose bazaar for skillful hagglers.  Where now is our authority?

This question of authority pervades the book.  It almost feels like a grand theme invading history. But Tickle offers the first possible insight into this question in Pentacostalism, which relied on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  “Here is our authority,” Pentacostalism suggests.  This shift even comes at the expense of the authority of Sola Scriptura and pastors.

It was also interesting to hear how the automobile, Marxism, and AA significantly affected the role of the grandmothers as a defining force in the family and the pastor as a guiding force for leadership.  I was also really surprised but impressed that Tickle included the drug culture as a force in culture and on our perceptions on what is consciousness.

Tickle also tackles the issues that have given significant blows to the concept of Sola Scriptura.  These include slavery, women’s rights, divorce, women’s ordination, and gay rights.  She says,

“When it is all resolved-and it most surely will be-the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead.  That is not to say that Scripture as the base of authority will be dead.  Rather it is to say that what the Protestant tradition has taught about the nature of that authority will be either dead or in mortal need of reconfiguration.”

That is a million dollar statement if true.  And remember, Tickle is a staunch Calvinist and 65 years old.  But it is the following sentences that caught me as just as important, for it is the reaction to this statement that we will likely experience in strong measure.  She says,

“And that kind of summation is agonizing for the surrounding culture in general.  In particular, it is agonizing for the individual lives that have been built upon it.  Such an ending is to be staved off with every means available and resisted with every bit of energy that can be mustered.”

I know people who are going through this and to watch it is sad to watch.

Tickle does agree that there are many concepts she does not or cannot touch that were significant in leading up to the Great Emergence.  The ones I believe were deeply significant that she did not touch on include the shift from agrarian culture to industrial culture (an outcome of Faraday’s work).  This shift took the father out of the home as a dominant force in the family.  Tickle does mention the loss of the mother with the advent of the pill, but misses the first shift that took place some 100 years earlier.  I was also surprised she didn’t mention the assassination of the Kennedy’s or MLK as watershed moments in emergence.  These three assassinations were reasonably considered some of the defining moments of my parents (and Tickle’s) generation.  The third event I would have highlighted was the Vietnam War.  This was the first time an large portion of a generation rebelled against their parents for reasons of trust, and in a way that was broadcast in the media.  The affects of it were revolutionary to say the least, causing a radical divergence (or emergence) in thinking from one generation to the next.

Section 3 – Where Is It Going?

One of the things I appreciate about Tickle’s approach is that she is humble in her approach to being a prophet.  But she does use existing developments to begin reading the “tea leaves” of where the church is going.

Chapter 6 explores the history of moments that gave the reformation its name and asks the same questions about the Great Emergence, suggesting there has yet to be such a catalyzing event such as the Protestatio.

I would only suggest that the events surrounding the Young Leaders Network explored in The New Christians will eventually be considered such a shifting event.  Out of this rose important people (McLaren, Kimball, Pagitt, Jones) who could began to wrestle with what was emerging and what it meant to emerge.

Tickle continues with the issue of definitions, exploring what the potential distinctions are and wrestling with the generous orthodoxy and overlapping nature of these distinctions.  Most, I would imagine find thesmelves in more than one box.  She even says,

“And so it goes–semi-permeable lines of division that mean to suggest places on a spectrum rather than absolute boundaries.”

I kept thinking of McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy and the mashup of music that occurred over the last twenty years.  Good things came out of learning from each other and expressing it in creative ways. But the cost of this is also the purity that is derived from the original form and tradition.  And some are just simply not going to like or agree with this.

Tickle clarifies the distinctions of orthodoxy and especially orthopraxy, calling it, “(An) emphasis on (correct) religious action.”  I was struck by the notion of the tediousness she placed on orthopraxy.  It kind of struck me as odd.  But I also get that.  Orthopraxy, in a religious sense can feel tedious.  I think this is why I prefer Rollin’s understanding of “believing in the right way.”  The emphasis isn’t on the specific action, which can become an unnecessary burden in itself, but instead on the heart and motive of the action.  To me, love and trust are the central motives, not just actions of the Gospel, and thus are not specific religious constructs in that sense.

For Tickle, and I would share this, the Great Emergence is blurring the lines between the traditional categories we place ourselves in, which also find their identity in specific and historical, orthodox opinions and practices.

I also appreciated how Tickle brought out the shift from rural to urban living as playing a large part in this blurring of the lines of religious conversation.  The move from isolation in the outer areas to the city where people live on top of each other, shifted the conversation and took religion to the watercooler.  She explores how this conversation created a center of communication and thought.

“American religion had never had a center before, primarily because it was basically Protestant in its Christianity; and Protestantism, with its hallmark characteristic of divisiveness, has never had a center.  Now one was emerging, but that was emerging was no longer Protestant.”

Tickle then explored what came out of these conversations: the emerging expressions of people gathered together in conversation.  She says,

“All however share on shining characteristic: they are incarnational.  Not only is Jesus of Nazareth incarnate God, but Christian worship must incarnate as well.”

I deeply appreciated this and have stated so here.  She continues,

“There is enormous energy in centripetal force, especially as it gathers more and more of its own kind into itself.   Centripetal force, though, is usually envision by us as running downward, like the water in a bathtub drain.  The gathering force of the new Christianity did the opposite.  it ran upward and poured itself out, like some bursting geyser, in expanding waves of influence and nourishment.   Where once the corners had met, now there was a swirling center, its centripetal force racing from quadrant to quadrant in ever-widening circles, picking up ideas and people from each, sweeping them into the center, mixing them there, and then spewing them forth into a new way of being Christian, into a new way of being church.”

This one paragraph so aptly states the nature of the emerging movement. The backlash to this was that the purists (Tickle’s word, and for lack of a better term) of each camp would resist all change.  But Tickle suggests that this reaction is actually good for everyone involved acting as sort of a ballast so the “boat” doesn’t tip over.  She suggest change is good but only so much and over time.

I liked this idea and agree with it.  The conversations I have had with my friends who argue vehemently against the emerging church have been good for me.  They have allowed, even required, me to question my own thoughts and intentions and come to some great conclusions.

Tickle also explores the new expressions of the traditional movements.  These include traditionalists, re-traditionalists, progressives, and hyphenateds.  Each serves a valuable purpose in the four original quadrants. I particularly liked the metaphors she used to describe each expression, which I leave to those who read the book.

Chapter 7 reiterates the basis for all transformation is the question, “Where is the authority?”  It explores the new abstracts that emerge in the Great Emergence: orthonomy and theonomy. These terms describe the tension between the left and right camps to answer the ultimate question.

Where we are going is thus answered in the expression of where the authority lies.  Will it include Sola Scriptura in modified form?  Will in be subject to the influences of community?  Tickle also offers the idea of crowd sourcing to explain why conversation is so important.  But within this idea lies a brilliant analysis.  What is appears she is saying is that the ultimate question will be answered not by one source but by a conglomeration of sources (Scripture, community, Holy Spirit, circumstance, priesthood), all designed to keep authority from being aggregated and controlled by a small group of people.  This will not sit well with some people.

What is interesting is that Tickle seems to suggest that the Quakers had it right all along, willing to be open to multiple forms of authority and community context all along.  This fascinated me.  She also looked briefly into the history of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel (which I attended in the 80’s) and Wimber’s Vineyard fellowship, highlighting the tensions with emergence in the former and the embracing of emergence in the latter.  She credits Wimber with the rally cry of “authenticity”.

Tickle does touch on center sets and bounded sets, narrative theology and Constantine’s impact on the Hellenization of Christianity, and our revisiting of key elements of doctrine and theology, but her mentions are only brief if well thought out.  She concludes with a statement that I found fascinating.  She said,

“If in pursuing this line of exegesis, the Great Emergence really does what most of its observers think it will, it will rewrite Christian theology-and thereby North American culture-into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical that anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.”

How you feel about this statement will likely coincide with how you feel about the Great Emergence itself.

Conclusion: I cannot overstate the importance of this book on the church.  It’s a simple, elegant book that takes about four hours to read, but will give those looking for a clear understanding of the history and complexity behind emergence a big piece of the puzzle.

You can also continue the conversation with Tickle and many others at The Great Emergence conference.

Well done Phyllis.

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There is a big question right now about words.  What do we do with words?

I love what George Carlin said about words.  It expresses so much insight into this thing we do with words.  He said,

“I love words.  I thank you for hearing my words.  I want to tell you something about words that I think is important.  I say they are my work, my play, they are my passion.  Words are all we have really.  We have thought but thoughts are fluid. Weweeeemmmwehemmsmarumpeedump.  But then we assign a word to a thought.  Dink.  And we’re stuck with the word for that thought.  So be careful with words.”  George Carlin

And the question is, “Do we abandon a word?”  And the reasons are many.  The word has become overused.  It has lost its original meaning.  It’s become attached to a myth that it can’t seem to shed.  We’re tired of saying it.  All of which are good reasons to ponder.  But are these really good reasons to abandon the original word?  And what is the cost of abandoning the word?

I would first ask if we have a better word to substitute what we are abandoning?  I get clarifying and being crystal clear about what we say.  It’s helpful.  But do we have something to replace it with, something more clarifying, more informative to the original idea?  Because if we lose the original word and don’t replace it with something, we lose the ability to have or continue a meaningful conversation about a thought or idea.

Abandoning the word then has the capacity to exacerbate the problems we hoped to solve in the first place.  Misunderstanding and myth become the norm rather than the exception because we have no way to talk about it.

“You know that thing?”

“What thing? You mean THAT thing?”

“No this thing!”

“But that thing is this thing.  Isn’t it?”

“For you it is, but not for me.”

“Say what?”

Life can easily resemble an Abbott and Costello routine.

I would then ask if we have moved past the original idea because something more meaningful has replaced it?  Have we, as Brother Maynard asks, “Emerged.”  And to what?  I personally think we haven’t yet.  We’ve simply grown tired of the space we are currently in.  We’ve grown tired of the cocoon we’ve been living in for some time now.  But I do think something is coming.

If we abandon the word, does that mean the word has lost its meaning or that we don’t want to work through the conflict (see #5) anymore.  I really get this tension.  Words have costs to our lives.  Misunderstanding is often harder to redeem than if no words had been said at all.  But I would offer that this leaves us in no better position.  It simple abandons our ability to have a thoughtful and generative conversation about what we originally assumed and hoped was a meaningful conversation.  It also leaves those are just beginning the conversation behind.

I keep coming back to John 1:1, which seems to echo Carlin in some ways.  “In the beginning was the word.” And I love words.

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In the spirit of finding unity with my brothers and sisters in Jesus, I would like to offer a definition of what I see as Emergent.  This is my definition based on what I see and read.  I have spent a great deal of time looking at it from many different perspectives, but also from inside.  I find myself drawn to this space because it is bent towards finding something real.

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 look 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.

Other posts to consider to understand Emergent:

A Movement of People

Change vs. Tradition

The Liminal Problem

The Nature of Postmodern/Emerging Dialog

An Emerging Theology

Builders vs. Busters

We Are First Human

Why Is Emerging Bad?

What Are We Emerging To?

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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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Brother Maynard asked a very important question.  Is there a systematic theology for the emerging church?    In other words, will there be a coherent theological framework that answers deeply important questions concerning sin, salvation, atonement, hell, resurrection, etc.  Think of a term paper or essay that outlines what those in the emerging church think.  Brad Sargent has a response.

Several have touched on issues, asking more questions that creating answers.  The flack over Brian McLaren falls into this category.  It’s the problem when one guy in the crowd raises his hand and says, “This is a problem for me.” And no one has a good answer for him.  And when one guy raises his hand it empowers others to do the same.  And thus a movement was born, fueled by the capacity to communicate in powerful ways through the Internet. The spark of any revolution always rested in the hands of those will to suffer the initial bullets.  And in light of the previous reformation, should we be surprised that it is possible that someone pulled the wool over our eyes.

Much of the tension with the emerging church has been the desire for and the subsequent lack of coherent systematic theology, AND managing the false assumption people make about the emerging church that simply don’t exist (ex: no objective truth, etc.).  The one guy who raises his hand and asks the question doesn’t speak for everyone. And yet people assume he does, because he’s asking the question A LOT of people are thinking or feeling.

And when someone asks the question, the fundamental assumption inherent in the question is that someone got something wrong, otherwise there wouldn’t be a question.  To go back and do critical analysis creates huge tension because foundations are built that would have to be torn down.  And that is hard for people.  It feels like the rug is being pulled out from under you.  But systems inevitably close in on themselves for the sake of their own survival.  Every system does this. As it settles into a rhythm enjoying the fact that it has “arrived”, it inevitably ignores inherent problems for the sake of control, perceiving questions as attacks.

The response to the guy asking the question is often, “So then what do YOU believe.”  And here has been one of the real underlying tensions for those who are asking the questions.  We know there is a problem, yet we are still formulating our answers.  We’re still in conversation about it, evaluating, listening.  This lack of response APPEARS flippant.  “Oh they’re just interested in the questions and not the answers.”  To which I would offer is much like expecting fruit from a sapling.  The truth is that it needs time and with it will produce the fruit.

Much of the movement has been in shifting from argument to conversation, in creating a context for exploration.  In order to formulate something, we need a context to discuss it without killing each other or ruining relationship.  We need generative conversations that can continue without firmly entrenched camps unwilling to move in spite of evidence.  We need as Peter Rollins would suggest, a willingness to examine our weakest points in light other stronger points and vice-versa.

And in the meantime, those in the emerging/ent movement are learning, asking questions, formulating significant questions and issues with the old theology.  Dallas Willard’s book helped present a clear question, asking has Christianity become a Gospel of “sin management?” Doug Pagitt’s book outlines the influence of Greek thinking on Western Christianity.  Tony Jone’s book outlines the birth and rise of the people asking the questions, issues with foundationalism and the rise of wiki-society.  Dan Kimball’s books outlined the significant problem in youth who love Jesus but can’t stand the church. There are now dozens of books dealing with the problem and asking really good questions.

And this brings us back to the problem with the guy who raises his hand.  He’s identifying the elephant in the room that everyone wants to avoid.  It’s just easier to avoid it, isn’t it.  Dealing with these issues means conflict and we’d rather avoid that.  But this approach fundamentally assumes that avoiding the problem isn’t also producing conflict.  And it is.

And the temptation is to simply assume its the cool kid with black rimmed glasses and a soul patch trying to show off.  Being different will do that, which makes it easy to dismiss.  But as Paulo Freire suggested, the banking system of education, which are found in oppressive societies, simply deposits info into your brain without question.  And it’s power depends on people not questioning the system.  Once a system is entrenched, questioning the system becomes unheard of.  People simply get used to the oppression.

This is what has always bothered me abou the critique fo the emerging church.  If what currently exists is completely true and sound, shouldn’t those in power be comfortable with the questions and critique?  Isn’t the mark of sound theology the ability to withstand any question from a genuine seeker?

Which brings me back Brother Maynard’s original question.  Will there by a emerging systematic theology?  I believe the answer is yes, but I would use the term “coherent” or “sound”.  With time it will likely be those asking the questions who will then seek out and find the answers.  Some will get it wrong, but others will get it right.  And like any revolution, it is only those who stand unwilling to move in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary who will suffer.

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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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