Saturday, October 30, 2004

Andy Crouch Responds

I am honored to report that Andy Crouch, the author of the CT article, "The Emergent Mystique" has posted a lengthy comment about the blogoshpere conversation taking place regarding the article (I've blogged about it here and here.) I may have not said it clearly enough in my first post, but I consider Andy a personal friend and a friend of Emergent -- when he first told me that he was assigned the article by the editors at CT, I told him that I couldn't wish for a better person to report on what we're up to.

So, here's his comment, followed by some of my thoughts:

It's been fascinating, and humbling, to read the responses in blogland to my article. Because I appreciate the spirit of Tony's (and others') critiques on this site, I thought I'd offer a few thoughts. I offer them not in the spirit of trying to justify myself (God forbid), but hopefully contributing to the most fruitful possible conversation.

First, the only thing that really bothers me about people's responses to this article are those who say I'm preoccupied with style over substance. True, that's where the article begins. But a good two-thirds of the article--and the last word--is completely about substance. I give a ton of space to letting Brian, Rob, and Kristen articulate some theological concepts that I take to be central to the emerging-church phenomenon. What I reported is the heart of what we talked about in open-ended conversations about what the emerging church means.

Is the hair a red herring (hairing)? Well, it's partly just good clean fun. And hey, I didn't even report on the fact that I saw two _more_ guys checking their hair in car windows as I arrived at Mars Hill. The reality is that there is a subculture--a small and fascinating subculture, call it metrosexual, artsy, progressive, whatever--that is way more preoccupied with fashion than mainstream American twentysomething culture. And that culture is way overrepresented in places that self-identify, and that others identify, as emerging church. That's worth reporting. But I take pains to point out in the piece that it ultimately is no more a movement than churches where people wear business attire.

The more substantive criticism, which I expected, is using Rob/Kristen (NOT just Rob--why does no one notice that some of the most trenchant comments were from Kristen?) and Brian as the sole stand-ins for an incredibly complex movement. Well, this was a tough decision. MHBC is not an "Emergent" church in many ways. But as I talked with the Bells, I realized that the fascinating story here was that this was a culturally-relevant megachurch plant whose founders--after planting the church--had read A New Kind of Christian and begun a theological journey that summarizes much of what seems core to the emergent conversation. I think that's pretty newsworthy. And in a magazine article--that you actually want readers to read--you have to choose a few people to represent bigger, more abstract and diverse realities. Also, my remit was *not* just to report on Emergent--the slightly more confined and distinctive "conversation" that Brian is most invested in--but "the emerging church," which generally, out there in mainstream church and mainstream media, includes churches like Mars Hill Bible Church.

On to Tony's point in this post. As someone who comes from a charismatic context (although I've worked in evangelical settings most of my adult life) and went to a mainline seminary, I just don't agree that Brian's background is irrelevant. We all come to our "positions" as "vectors"--we come from somewhere, and that affects what we see. (A very postmodern observation.) The theological problematics I hear over and over from key people in the emergent world are ones that really only make sense if your starting point is (at least heavily influenced by) the conservative wing of evangelicalism. I have talked to many savvy mainline people who were simply puzzled by A New Kind of Christian, for example. Whereas no evangelical can read it and not see the relevance of the questions Brian's asking--even if, like some of CT's editors, they don't like where Brian goes with it.

I certainly don't introduce Brian's background to marginalize him or diminish his contribution. (And BTW, the idea that CTI would want to marginalize or dismiss Emergent does not at all match my conversations with my editors nor the fact that Brian is a contributing editor for Leadership Journal.) If I wanted to marginalize him I would have relegated him to a single paragraph and left him unnamed... like I did with a certain DJ. :) Rather it's my job as a writer to *locate* his theological contribution in a history, a history he shares with many other people, who are over-represented at Emergent gatherings. Again, the insight that people do theology from a certain location is a crucial and helpful aspect of postmodernism. It is troubling, though, that so little emerging-church conversation and practice reflects a clear sense of how *particular* are the backgrounds and experiences that would make you look for answers where emerging-church folks tend to look for them. This is just a part of a larger story of the way that American culture is profoundly history-impaired.

In the end, it was a 3,600-word article for a general audience. People who thought it was too basic, remember, there are 300,000 churches in America and Brian says "a few dozen" are fully engaged with emergent; there are 150K readers of CT, many in places with no "emerging church" of any sort nearby. Also remember that there are strident voices in CT's world who would dismiss the whole emerging-church phenomenon as... well, you can fill in the blanks. A certain amount of basic education is required if there's going to be a widespread, helpful conversation in the, let's say, 299,000 churches that haven't started it yet. Those who want more substantive reflection from me should read the five-views book that we did--it was fun and I think has some real meat to it. This article is, like a lot of what I hope to write, a parable that gets conversation started. I'm glad it's working.

OK, I repent. Andy (and others) are right. I being was hyperbolic when I wrote that Brian's (and others') histories don't matter. (To be honest, I was thinking more of DA Carson's Cedarville lectures in which he used Brian's Plymouth Brethren background to dismiss him as nothing more than a recovering Fundamentalist.)

Yes, our backgrounds matter. I like Andy's use of "vector" to explain our relationship to our relationship to our pasts. The question is this: Is my background a launching pad or a ball-and-chain? I hope that mine (mainline Congregationalist with a dash of evangelical youth ministry) is a launching pad to the future.

This is why it is distressing to me (and Brian and others) when we see and hear comments by disenfranchised mainliners who haven't found a home in Emergent. I think this is a real problem, and Andy points it out in his comment above. Go to an Emergent event, read an Emergent book, check and Emergent web site, and you're likely to get a very evangelical vibe. We desperately want this vibe to change, and articles that highlight the evangelicalness of the movement don't help to change this vibe.

In other words, my post was wishful thinking. I want this to change. I'll bet Andy, Rob and Kristin Bell, and about everyone reading this wants it to change, too. Maybe if we could all be less defined by our pasts, then this movement would broaden.

Regarding the substance vs. style, I am among those who knew that Andy's hair references were meant to be lighthearted, not dismissive (thus my earlier post that Andy's writing tends to be somewhat "sly, with a twinkle in his eye" (which I love! -- it's one of the reasons that I so miss Re:Generation Quarterly, because Andy promoted that kind of smart writing)).

I am glad to hear that the bigwigs at CTI do not mean to dismiss Emergent, although Andy admits that some of CT's editors are not fans of Brian's theological direction, and many of CT's readers think that Emergent is downright dangerous. I'd say that out interactions with leaders at CT have never been particularly affirming. But it will be really interesting to read the letters to the editor in the next issue!

Well, thanks again, Andy, for being a part of this conversation.


Blogger jay v. said...

You, given to hyperbole? :)

In all seriousness, I feel very much included and welcomed into Emergent (does this mean that I am franchised"?). But you know that.

This thing of dealing with heritage as we move into the future is interesting. It's interesting for me because my own heritage is so varied, starting in a non-churched home, moving into fundamentalist Southern Baptistianity, veering through a charismanic "contemporary" church, and several other fits along the way until the Wesley brothers grabbed my attention and I found my home. One of the things that grabbed me so much in reading a New Kind of Christian was that I felt it described the journey that I had gone through several years before. All of that has led to who I am now. Do I wallow in it? No. But I recognize that those were steps along the way in leading me further down the path.

Of course, we are moving into a new land (maybe, as Jack Wesley suggests, it's part of moving onto perfection). That is the hope that we all have. But the footing isn't secure and we're not quite sure that trust has been built, so sometimes we (all of us) shout warnings or ask foolish questions when a simple remark would suffice. I think it's part of what we are living into, but that doesn't make it any easier.

One of the things that we are hoping to deal with in our Critical Concerns Course that we're putting together is this issue of particularity in tension with embrace and welcome. We all have a tendency to universalize our experience as normative for the rest of the world. How we work through that tension is probably our biggest challenge as we continue this conversation.

Any chance you are coming to Vatican City? I think I owe you a beer!

10:22 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

Jay you wrote: "we're putting together is this issue of particularity in tension with embrace and welcome. We all have a tendency to universalize our experience as normative for the rest of the world. How we work through that tension is probably our biggest challenge as we continue this conversation."

You might want to read "Exclusion and Embrace" by Miroslav Volf- he deals with how to remain a unique culture and out of that culture comes a desire to welcome.

Also, Stanley Hauwewas's "A Community of Character". I think both of these might be helpful in this conversation.

We need to do lunch now that things are settling down around the Norman house.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

Perhaps Andy's comments about hair were intended to be lighthearted, but unfortunately this is not the first time he has (perhaps unintentionally) marginalized the emerging church by reducing it's concerns to mere issues of style. His 2002 column in CT, "Thou Shalt Be Cool", reveals more about Andy's tendency to judge Christian groups by their outward appearance and cultural identity than it does about whether or not the emerging church is really as obsessed with "cool" as he seems to imply. (Just because one misguided church planter makes a dumb comment like "we're starting a church for cool people" doesn't mean that his statement is representative of the rest of us.)

Anyhow, given his long standing gripe against us supposedly "too-cool" postmoderns (and if you've ever met me you'll know why I say "supposedly"... while I'm a twenty-something postmodern/ECer, I'm about as uncool as you can get and I've never checked my hair in a rearview mirror), you'll have to forgive me if I'm just slightly suspicious of Andy's motives.

And, on the issue of CTI's hostility towards the emerging church... as a former employee of CTI, I can say from first hand interactions, that if there isn't any outright hostility, there's at least no amount of sympathy or desire for greater understanding. Given the kind of dismissive and derogatory comments I've heard and read from guys like Mark Galli and Kevin Miller, it seems like CTI would be happier if the emerging church just went away.

CTI has already chosen sides and dug in. And since, based on what I could see as an insider, it seems like most of their decisions are based on what will sell the most magazines to the broadest constituency, it only makes sense for them to marginalize and ignore a segment of the church that is still relatively small and viewed with suspicion by many in the conservative evangelical church.


10:37 PM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

so... emergent is a phenomenon of the evangelicals... andy was right?

10:43 PM  
Blogger David BC Tan said...

A appreciated Andy's article and I think he was pretty even handed. Whatever else people are saying about Emergent, it's hard not to notice that style has alot to do with what the substance is, the outward face of an inward conviction.
Thanks for keeping the conversation going....

2:25 AM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

good point. My experience with emergent type church is relegated to two, one of which probablyh wouldn't describe itself as emergent. The other, though, is really a whole lot of style wrapped up in an evangelical theology and smothered in secret sauce. I walked in and was like, WHOA all of these people look the same and they went shopping at J.Crew today... there aren't even multi-generations here... they're just like ME! Wheee!

Where is the church made up of God's ragtag army? The outcast, unknown, belittled, not cool folks? You know, the one's who can't afford subscriptions to Andy's magazine or who have pastors who won't ever be put on a stage in Atlanta?

4:42 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

You know, I'm a youth pastor for two small methodist congregations. Both of these churches, despite their small sizes are quite diverse. I'd say that one is indeed an emerging church that is quite far along in the process in that is has a strong sense of "missiology" and engages with the surrounding culture- we use celtic, traditional and modern liturgy, we sing hymns set to bluegrass, jazz, and traditional organ. And our congregational members are from both the city and the burbs. The other church I serve is a really small mission church located in the middle of an urban area. There might be several homeless folks in the congregation along with longtime members who lived in the neighborhood when it was quite prosperous. All this to say that I don't think we can coin any one certain church as "that is what an emerging church looks like". Emerging in my opinion is a congregation taking serious God's welcoming the "stranger/other" into the midst of congrgations and how we invite them into a particular story we ought to be living out. When that begins to happen- look out!! Your church is gonna look really different, in fact all your young republican burbanites might just look for a safer environment to worship in. (ouch, did I say that?)

9:37 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

What I actually meant was that ermerging churches when we really look around at what's going on are not as homogenius as we think. But maybe what I'm really talking about are missional churches. What's the difference though? And when we allow God to choose who comes through the door of our churches- things really get interesting and uncomfortable sometimes. Cheers all.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

But you know that's something I keep hearing and it really strikes me as arrogant... "hi, this church is going to change and if you don't like it leave"... there has to be a middle way.

I have heard many a pastor complaining about a church where he went to impose his ideas of change and when the congregation responds by showing them the door somehow it's the congregation's fault... I think part of the issue is that we train pastors to be divas.

5:29 AM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

Chris I'm not talking about imposing ideas on anyone, nor an agenda. I didn't say that. What I said is that for some reason God is sending the most least likely church folks through our doors- homeless, transients, and the working poor. This looks very different from the makeup of our congregation presently. Believe me, sometimes I'm sure our pastor would much rather see the yuppie up and coming couple with two children driving an SUV who can financially stabalize our church, but that's not who God has sent our way. So as a church that is called to live out the good news of Jesus- we have to figure out how to "do" church in a much different way than what has worked in the past. That's what I'm saying.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

"But you know that's something I keep hearing and it really strikes me as arrogant... "hi, this church is going to change and if you don't like it leave"... there has to be a middle way."My experience has been the opposite. In my current church the message is "This church will never change, and you had better not either or else there's the door...", and I'm on my way out, though not by my choice.

I wasn't trying to "impose" my pomo views on the church, but apparently the mere fact that I hold them is too frightening for them to allow exist within their walls.

10:16 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

Gandalf, thanks for that reflection and I'm sorry that you've had a less than positive experience in leading your particular local congregation.

For the very reason you just posted- is why I think in the face of bringing "new ways" (to quote tony) of "doing church" it is imperative that the vision of both clergy and laity is discerned together- a real, true "listening of the Spirit" to figure out where God is leading.

If the church is being called in new directions then it will happen. Sometimes the timing is right, sometimes it's not. It depends on leadership, and openness to God's guidance. Good luck with your continuing ministry. Don't give up the vision God has for this unique aspect of the Body of Christ.

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