Andy Crouch Responds
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.