Saturday, November 13, 2004

Without Author|ity 2: Clearing the Table

Now I'll try to respond to some of the issues raised in the comments following my rant. I'll deal with these fairly briefly, because I don't consider them the substantive issue at hand -- we'll deal with that once we've cleared the table.

1) To those who say there is no emerging church:

Then why do you keep blogging about it? Your statements of non-existence do not in any way really refute the existence of these communities of faith. That's a nice way to try and preempt some fruitful conversation about the future of the church, but it simply doesn't work. Nihilism is so 19th century.

2) To those who say emerging church is just a evangelical-fundamentalist phenomenon:

a) To even use the term "evangelical" is highly problematic. Sociologists as prominent as Robert Wuthnow and Christian Smith, and a polling organization like Gallup dramatically disagree on what constitutes "evangelical." Smith says evangelicals are 7% of the U.S. population, Gallup says they're 38%. Who are evangelicals?

b) That's just the sociological; it's more problematic when you get theological. Stan Grenz wrote a book in 2000 called Renewing the Center, and just days ago a group of more conservative scholars came out with their response (read: attack), Reclaiming the Center. Each is battling over who gets to use the term "evangelical." What is evangelicalism? Who gets to define it?

c) To those who conflate evangelicals and fundamentalists by accusing emergent of being "evangelical-fundamentalist" (or using the pithy but ultimately meaningless term "fundagelical"), you're making an even bigger mistake. Friendships were broken, books were written, and new seminaries and magazines were launched in the middle of the 20th century in an effort to differentiate evangelicalism from fundamentalism (see, for instance, George Marsden's excellent history of Fuller Seminary, Reforming Fundamentalism; see also Mark Noll's The Rise of Evangelicalism for an excellent account of the origins of the word "evangelical"). The conflation of the two in popular parlance is the result of journalistic haste and laxity.

d) QED, it is virtually meaningless to accuse someone or some group of being evangelical.

3) To those who accuse us of using the machinery of evangelical publishing to disseminate our work:

Can you believe that Charles Wesley had his hymns published? What a sellout! What was Martin Luther thinking to let people reprint his treatises on a moveable type press? Loser! And how about all those bloggers? Don't they know that much of the technology of the Internet has been pioneered by pornographers!?!

4) To those who think that I am inconsistent with the inclusive nature of Emergent:

While, at first glance, it may seem that I am standing in contradiction to Brian McLaren's recent Emergent/C email and to Jason Clark and Emergent-UK's "Inclusive Church" event, in fact I am not. All of us in Emergent want to 1) stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us (more on this in a coming post), and 2) be open and inclusive to those from many (all?) Christian theological traditions. However, this does not mean that we include or embrace sinful and dysfunctional ecclesiastical/denominational structures. You'd better go back and reread Brian's A Generous Orthodoxy, for he promotes the broad theological heritage of Christianity, not the many super-structures that have grown like weeds around those theologies.

5) To those who say that it's just about Jesus and we should quit arguing about theology, philosophy and the church:

The philosophy that "It's just about loving Jesus -- let's all just go out and serve the poor" is just that, a philosophy. More importantly, it's a theology, and the problem is, it's a very reductionistic theology. The idea that one can take two thousand pages of holy scripture and two thousand years of interpretation and Christian action and boil it down to "just" this or "just" that is offensive to the gospel and to those saints who spent their lives trying to better understand and live out the gospel. Let's all stop pretending that Christianity is simple. God gave us minds capable of incredible things, so ideas matter.

6) To those who promote leaving the church altogether:

By doing so, you have just separated yourself from orthodox, biblical Christianity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ummm not so sure I would say you have sold out because you use an evangliecal press to get published - but rather because emergent seems to have sold out to the corporations, becoming a brand, a way, a solution (just a cursory glace at all the stuff put out in the last 2 years under the emergent label tells you this) and by doing so it rather seems to be going down a different road that the one you are picturing.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regards to #1. I blogged about emergent church because I badly want there to be an emergent church and I am deeply concerned about the prospects for this occurring. If there are emergent churches, they're not visible to me, and I don't think straight-up evangelical churches qualify as "emergent" in any interesting sense. So my question in response to your remark, "Your statements of non-existence do not in any way really refute the existence of these communities of faith." Where are these communities of faith? McLaren said in his interview that "a few dozen" congregations are committed to the theology of A New Kind of Christian. As long as these are largely invisible, it is hard for the rest of us to get excited about emergent, or even understand what is meant by the term.

In terms of #2, of course any sociological word, and indeed any word at all, trying to analyze the word and get a coherent concept out of it proves a lot harder than you initially thought. But, we all still use words, and in general, they succeed at some level or not. "Evangelical" has as much meaning as any other word, and it certainly is not meaningless to label churches and individuals as evangelicals. Wittgenstein saves us from such linguistic scepticism. When I go to the website of Mars Hill Bible Church, the first church identified in Crouch's article, and I see that their statement of faith starts with inerrancy, I go hmmm... is this what emergent is? No thanks. Not that I'm opposed to inerrancy, but if that's the way you start to self-define.... been there done that, no thanks. That's what originally prompted my use of the evangelical-fundamentalist label, and as far as I can tell, a lot, a LOT, of the so-called "emergent" churches out there are operating within that sort of theological paradigm. The emergent village message boards, too, are dominated by socially and theologically conservative attitudes. In what sense is that "emergent"?

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops... the 10:48 am post above is signed by:
Steve Bush

8:49 AM  
Blogger tony said...


1) I think that inerrancy is a load of crap, too, and 2) MHBC has never claimed themselves to be and "emerging" church. But if Rob and his peeps did want to be involved in emergent, we sure wouldn't require them to drop their inerrancy statement. It's those kind of foundational litmus tests that we're trying to avoid...and I suggest that you avoid them, too.

But the point of my original rant was just what you'er saying: there are lots of traditionally conservative churches that are calling themselves "emergent." I am questioning their self-classification.

Gareth: You're going to have to be more specific than that, or you may have to do more than a cursory reading of our stuff...

10:52 AM  
Blogger James said...

I see "emergent" as a brand sold by YS, sold by Zondervan sold by whoever owns Zondervan. Our church gets postcards sent to us in catalogs that we can buy and send to people so they will come to our church and boost attendance, and you can buy "postmodern" postcards! In such a consumerist culture, even the fringe is being bought and sold. The most recent book I read on ministry to postmoderns totally sucked - I could have written it. It sucked so bad I won't even write about it on my blog. It was published, though, because it was some megachurch associate pastor to "twentysomethings" or "GenNext" so the publishing house knew it would sell. And they tricked me!

From my little corner of Oregon, I am suspicious of any churches who advertise themselves as postmodern or emerging or whatever. It seems some people (who have money and/or connections) see postmodern/emergent as the "thing" after the last 20 years of seeker-sensitive/purpose-driven. I, however, see postmodernism as the "thing" after 500 years of modernism. That difference seems to be crippling the movement. I think, anyways.

Also, Tony, you should sell t-shirts that say "Nihilism is so 19th century."

Thanks -

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Tony. I value your opinion greatly and I think we share a lot in terms of concern and orientation.

But, here's my question: If there's no litmus test, then how does Emergent retain any meaningful directedness? "Emergent" comes to mean everything... and therefore nothing. That is what I feel has happened over the past couple of years, and it saddens me. Also, if there is no litmus test, then on what basis do you question anybody's self-identification as emergent, as you say you are doing, and as I think you rightfully are, and as I am trying to do?

I don't think there should be any single litmus test, and I don't think it should be inerrancy. But when I see inerrancy, I am very sceptical that emergence is in the neighborhood. As I have said in my post today, I think there should be a variety of visible and identifiable clusters of ecclesial communities (and the discourses that they make possible) each oriented around a handful of values that they see most central in their own understanding of emergence, and each making explicit what their central values are and how they embody those values.

If emergence tries to be all things to all people, it won't be anything to anyone. If it can serve as an umbrella that houses a variety of identified sets of positive commitments (they don't even have to be compatible!), then I think something interesting could result. For me, the values of spirituality, social justice, and community are central to what qualifies as emergent in an interesting sense. I don't expect everyone who is rightfully considered to be emergent to hold that particular valueset, but if I can't locate conversations and congregations within the emergent fold that are embodying the value set that I hold, then emergent doesn't help me any, even though I am deeply dissatisfied by the status quo Christianity in the US and so qualify according to THAT litmus test. If other embodied value-sets were identifiable within the emergent umbrella, even one's that differed from my own, at least I would have a picture of what it is to be emergent and I could learn from congregations that are doing things differently than I am.

Steve Bush

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So here's the crux of the issue for me. Until the prominent voices in the emergent conversation can make visible a set of existing ecclesial communities, and explain what it is about them that makes them qualify as emergent, in some detail, then we're going to be confused about what is and isn't emergent. And to the degree that emergent confuses, it will be avoided, b/c the human psyche resists confusion.

I think most of the critiques that occasioned your "gauntlet" post and the critiques in the responses to that post are bogus. But I think that until ecclesial communities and their practices are publicized (not in the marketing sense of the word!) and made visible, then the accusations that emergent is just a subset of evangelicalism, that it is just a marketing scheme to sell books, that it is just a repeat of what so-and-so did 500 years ago, will persist and be unchallengeable.

Steve Bush (yet again!)

1:07 PM  
Blogger UF said...

"By doing so, you have just separated yourself from orthodox, biblical Christianity."

Wow. "Evangelical" is undefinable, but "orthodox, biblical Christianity is?

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with JJ on that one. What exactly is biblical, orthodox Christianity.

Not to harp, but to what structure of authority are you appealing to make that claim?

you said "Discourse is the answer." Does discourse just mean conversation in this sentence?

5:22 PM  
Blogger maggi said...

HOw does this:
"More and more of us are now convinced that something new cannot happen within the existing organizations and institutions. They are irredeemably reified into patterns of institutional conservatism and survival; they are irredeemably sold out to market forces and have thus commodified the radical, liberating message of the gospel."
fit together with this:
"All of us in Emergent want to 1) stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us (more on this in a coming post), and 2) be open and inclusive to those from many (all?) Christian theological traditions. However, this does not mean that we include or embrace sinful and dysfunctional ecclesiastical/denominational structures. You'd better go back and reread Brian's A Generous Orthodoxy, for he promotes the broad theological heritage of Christianity, not the many super-structures that have grown like weeds around those theologies."
Do you mean we're welcome to leave our institutions and join Emergent? Or do you mean we're welcome to call ourselves Emerging and you'll tolerate us staying within our sinful, irredeemable institutions? (Of course, these are tongue-in-cheek questions! But you can't stay and leave at the same time.) I'm not sure, from your posts, whether you envisage Emergent positively including those who stay within the insitutional Church (and that's different from claiming that you uphold their theology), but your Throwing Down the Gauntlet post didn't seem to read that way. What do you think of staying and Emerging,as opposed to leaving and starting a revolution?
I look forward to hearing what the substantive issue is.

3:14 AM  
Blogger Mary DeMuth said...

Points well taken, but I do take odd with the simplicity argument. Is the gospel only for smart people? The literate? Those capable of framing words? Today I share a story that mitigates against some of the intellectualism that bothers me: I am an intellectual. I love discourse. I love emergence. I live in France where, apparently, EVERYONE is emerging from something! And yet, there is a simplicity to the gospel I fear we forget. There is beauty in simplicity. We offer this world a Person, Jesus. A carpenter with dirty hands. A God-Man who turned the world upside down. Who stooped. Let's be cautious we don't forget Him in our wrestling with emergence.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Chris Enstad said...

Maggi's cool

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, it seems to me that in the efforts to resist labelling and categorization, Emergent has just ended up confusing a lot of people. I don't think this much confusion serves anyone too well. I'm guessin you might think people ought not to be confused, but that doesn't change the fact that they are.

Before Emergent even gets to that place where you/we outline specific beliefs or values, I think some more has to be said about what category emergent falls into. Is it plant, animal, or mineral? Is it a label taht can be taken on by an individual congregation, as in "We are an emerging church?" Is that kind of label something that can go on ad infinitum? Or is it only a stage in growth? Is it simply a corrective?

What has impressed me most about this whole conversation has been the very radical approach to theology—the approach that says "The methods have to change AND the message has to change." Honestly, I don't even know if I'm totally on board with that yet, but I understand (at least a little bit) where it comes from. Anyway, this is the kind of defining value that would really separate emerging thought from evangelicalism, but all we seem to hear about is form as opposed to real differences in content.

I'm not saying this is your fault in particular. I'm not even saying that emergent, as an organization, has not TRIED to explain in some ways. As I said before, there just seems to be too much confusion for something that could prove to be so vitally important to so many people.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Carson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Mitch said...

6) to those who promote leaving the church altogether

Get a grip of yourselves! These teachers went to school for good reason: to be a resource to you. Why walk away from them. If you don't like something they have to say then come to your own conclusions, pray about it, talk to others. If you are wrong and you are a holy person then God will eventually get through to your skull (directly from your heart). :)

The only reason you feel the need to leave is because you have assigned authority to someone who doesn't have authority over you. You've only trapped yourself.

Jesus didn't take preachers as followers. He took the flunkies (fishermen), sinners, murders, rebels, tax collectors. That's all of you.

Take what is yours. You built the church. Use it. You support a pastor in your community. Use him/her. You have eyes and ears and mouths. Read the bible and talk to each other. Be who you are supposed to be, who Jesus taught you to be. (“Be all you can be! Join the army”… of God. HA! I know, I’m a geek at heart)

I'm not talking about standing up in church and telling people how it is. That's absurd. You'll deserve to get kicked out, excommunicated AND crucified.

No. Stay after Sunday service. Ask the pastor questions, and be respectful because he/she went to school and has been doing this for longer than you! Go home and read your bible. Find other people who are interested in talking about Jesus stuff. Ask around. Meet with your fellow emergent, when you find some locals :), once a week.

You don’t need someone else to do this for you. You are God’s gifted sons and daughters. It's your faith so own it!

Emergent. Coming into one’s own.

4:55 PM  
Blogger el mol said...

in your defense of selling out you have in essence made clear that you have become what many said they would not become, part of the enagelical center . . .I know you spent time articluating the confusing and not so clear definition of evangelical, but since this is MY comment and this is YOUR blog, i will take liberties . . . the emergent movement has clearly become increasingly less critical of the evangelical machine because it has not only become a part of it, it is moving quickly to the most popular and most prominent place . . . I am frankly grateful that some of the hyperbolic language of early 2000's has faded . . . but lets be honest here, you cannot deny that it is easier to critique the machine from the outside than it is from the inside . . . especially when there are paychecks involved . . .

and . . .

6) To those who promote leaving the church altogether:
By doing so, you have just separated yourself from orthodox, biblical Christianity

Have they REALLY?

I love you . . . go shoot some ducks

Jason Mitchell

7:42 AM  
Blogger Randy Buist said...

I want to type, "I want to help Tony out here," but he'll just kick my butt anyway. (I mean that in a good sense.

I'm reading thru these comments, and here are a few things that I've experienced over the past three years as I've interacted at various levels with the 'emergent' people.

While it seems (to some people) that emergentvillage has sold out to the big dogs, it's a way to get the word out. It is a means by which voices can carry a longer distance. The echo continues thru the canyon. It is a more effective means than staying within your own garage and talking to those who help you change the oil in your car. Those people already know your perspective.

If you attend only the large conferences in San Diego and Nashville, you may get the sense that emergent has sold out. Attend something smaller; go to a thelogical conversation or join us in Santa Fe for the annual 'friends of emergent' gathering in the fall.

Then you will realize that NOBODY has sold out. Emphatic - nobody. You simply don't know these people well enough to make that judgement if that is where you find yourself. You will also realize that there are new kinds of faith communties growing in this (U.S.) country along with other places around the globe.

To suggest that there aren't places that are engaging in the kind of thelogoy that McLaren suggests in "A Generous Orthodoxy" only notes that you are new to the conversation or new to these people. If you want a list of faith communities that are doing this stuff, read thru the blogs. Or e-mail me.

These are real people with real lives and real passion for Jesus. They are navigating a way of being God's people that is simple in regards to their passion for Jesus Christ. They are complex in regards to recognizing that theological constructs are not always true to the ways of the kingdom (including the Bible), but they've been passed off as good thelogy with little resistence. Theological issues of this sort require good minds, and it is a conversation that is probably too complex for some people.

Finally, for those who want to define "emergent" in terms of theology or wanting a mission statement or a set of things it holds dear, I understand because I have friends who want the same of emergent. Then you can decide if you are 'for it' or 'against it.' Stop!

Emergent and those who are connected with it... there is no 'it.' We are it. We are followers of Jesus who have a passion for Jesus that we too often missed in the organized church. We believe Jesus called us to follow him in serious ways that don't sell out to... (that list for another day) We believe people matter more to Jesus and the kingdom of God than the 'success' of each litle or big church.

We're about relationships; so I invite you to get to know a few of us before you get too critical or decide that we don't exist. Blessings friends.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Randy Buist said...


11:50 PM  
Blogger Mitch said...

Thank you Randy! I've been reading and trying to get a handle on what the deal is with emerging. What you have just written a) makes sense to me and b) I feel is positively "brilliant".


Now, I'd like to know from the rest if this is what the emergent is for them too.

10:03 AM  

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