According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is an Emerging Church?

Like me, some of you may be asking "What does it mean to be an emergent Christian?" And so I thought I might provide a few select articles back in the "olden days of discussion" as to emergent Christianity's attraction to today's younger generation of Christians. Too, it's always nice to be reminded of the foundations of any movement or trend and Scot's article does just that... it emphasizes exactly what the initial attractors have been among early embracers of emergent Christianity.

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Five Streams of the Emerging Church
Key elements of the most controversial and misunderstood movement in the church today

Scot McKnight
January 19, 2007

It is said that emerging Christians confess their faith like mainliners—meaning they say things publicly they don't really believe. They drink like Southern Baptists—meaning, to adapt some words from Mark Twain, they are teetotalers when it is judicious. They talk like Catholics—meaning they cuss and use naughty words. They evangelize and theologize like the Reformed—meaning they rarely evangelize, yet theologize all the time. They worship like charismatics—meaning with their whole bodies, some parts tattooed. They vote like Episcopalians—meaning they eat, drink, and sleep on their left side. And, they deny the truth—meaning they've got a latte-soaked copy of Derrida in their smoke- and beer-stained backpacks.
Along with unfair stereotypes of other traditions, such are the urban legends surrounding the emerging church—one of the most controversial and misunderstood movements today. As a theologian, I have studied the movement and interacted with its key leaders for years—even more, I happily consider myself part of this movement or "conversation." As an evangelical, I've had my concerns, but overall I think what emerging Christians bring to the table is vital for the overall health of the church.
In this article, I want to undermine the urban legends and provide a more accurate description of the emerging movement. Though the movement has an international dimension, I will focus on the North American scene.
To define a movement, we must, as a courtesy, let it say what it is. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, in their book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005) define emerging in this way:
Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.
This definition is both descriptive and analytical. D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005) is not alone in pointing to the problems in the emerging movement, and I shall point out a few myself in what follows. But as a description of the movement, Carson's book lacks firsthand awareness and suffers from an overly narrow focus—on Brian McLaren and postmodern epistemology.
To prevent confusion, a distinction needs to be made between "emerging" and "Emergent." Emerging is the wider, informal, global, ecclesial (church-centered) focus of the movement, while Emergent is an official organization in the U.S. and the U.K. Emergent Village, the organization, is directed by Tony Jones, a Ph.D. student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a world traveler on behalf of all things both Emergent and emerging. Other names connected with Emergent Village include Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Tim Keel, Karen Ward, Ivy Beckwith, Brian McLaren, and Mark Oestreicher. Emergent U.K. is directed by Jason Clark. While Emergent is the intellectual and philosophical network of the emerging movement, it is a mistake to narrow all of emerging to the Emergent Village.
Emerging catches into one term the global reshaping of how to "do church" in postmodern culture. It has no central offices, and it is as varied as evangelicalism itself. If I were to point to one centrist expression of the emerging movement in the U.S., it would be Dan Kimball's Vintage Church in Santa Cruz, California. His U.K. counterpart is Andrew Jones, known on the internet as Tall Skinny Kiwi. Jones is a world-traveling speaker, teacher, and activist for simple churches, house churches, and churches without worship services.
Following are five themes that characterize the emerging movement. I see them as streams flowing into the emerging lake. No one says the emerging movement is the only group of Christians doing these things, but together they crystallize into the emerging movement.

Prophetic (or at least provocative)

One of the streams flowing into the emerging lake is prophetic rhetoric. The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred. Since I swim in the emerging lake, I can self-critically admit that we sometimes exaggerate.

Our language frequently borrows the kind of rhetoric found in Old Testament prophets like Hosea: "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (6:6). Hosea engages here in deliberate overstatement, for God never forbids Temple worship. In a similar way, none in the emerging crowd is more rhetorically effective than Brian McLaren in Generous Orthodoxy: "Often I don't think Jesus would be caught dead as a Christian, were he physically here today. … Generally, I don't think Christians would like Jesus if he showed up today as he did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I think we'd call him a heretic and plot to kill him, too." McLaren, on the very next page, calls this statement an exaggeration. Still, the rhetoric is in place.

Consider this quote from an Irish emerging Christian, Peter Rollins, author of How (Not) to Speak of God (Paraclete, 2006): "Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world." The age-old canard of orthodoxy versus orthopraxy plays itself out once again.

Such rhetoric makes its point, but it sometimes divides. I hope those of us who use it (and this critique can't be restricted to the emerging movement) will learn when to avoid such language.

Postmodern

Mark Twain said the mistake God made was in not forbidding Adam to eat the serpent. Had God forbidden the serpent, Adam would certainly have eaten him. When the evangelical world prohibited postmodernity, as if it were fruit from the forbidden tree, the postmodern "fallen" among us—like F. LeRon Shults, Jamie Smith, Kevin Vanhoozer, John Franke, and Peter Rollins—chose to eat it to see what it might taste like. We found that it tasted good, even if at times we found ourselves spitting out hard chunks of nonsense. A second stream of emerging water is postmodernism.

Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science or Marxism. Why have they collapsed? Because of the impossibility of getting outside their assumptions.

While there are good as well as naughty consequences of opting for a postmodern stance (and not all in the emerging movement are as careful as they should be), evangelical Christians can rightfully embrace certain elements of postmodernity. Jamie Smith, a professor at Calvin College, argues in Who's Afraid of Postmodernity? (Baker Academic, 2006) that such thinking is compatible, in some ways, with classical Augustinian epistemology. No one points the way forward in this regard more carefully than longtime missionary to India Lesslie Newbigin, especially in his book Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans, 1995). Emerging upholds faith seeking understanding, and trust preceding the apprehension or comprehension of gospel truths.

Living as a Christian in a postmodern context means different things to different people. Some—to borrow categories I first heard from Doug Pagitt, pastor at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis—will minister to postmoderns, others with postmoderns, and still others as postmoderns.

David Wells at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary falls into the to category, seeing postmoderns as trapped in moral relativism and epistemological bankruptcy out of which they must be rescued.

Others minister with postmoderns. That is, they live with, work with, and converse with postmoderns, accepting their postmodernity as a fact of life in our world. Such Christians view postmodernity as a present condition into which we are called to proclaim and live out the gospel.

The vast majority of emerging Christians and churches fit these first two categories. They don't deny truth, they don't deny that Jesus Christ is truth, and they don't deny the Bible is truth.

The third kind of emerging postmodernity attracts all the attention. Some have chosen to minister as postmoderns. That is, they embrace the idea that we cannot know absolute truth, or, at least, that we cannot know truth absolutely. They speak of the end of metanarratives and the importance of social location in shaping one's view of truth. They frequently express nervousness about propositional truth. LeRon Shults, formerly a professor of theology at Bethel Theological Seminary, writes:

From a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

Praxis-oriented

The emerging movement's connection to postmodernity may grab attention and garner criticism, but what most characterizes emerging is the stream best called praxis—how the faith is lived out. At its core, the emerging movement is an attempt to fashion a new ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Its distinctive emphases can be seen in its worship, its concern with orthopraxy, and its missional orientation.

Worship: I've heard folks describe the emerging movement as "funky worship" or "candles and incense" or "smells and bells." It's true; many in the emerging movement are creative, experiential, and sensory in their worship gatherings.
Evangelicals sometimes forget that God cares about sacred space and ritual—he told Moses how to design the tabernacle and gave detailed directions to Solomon for building a majestic Temple. Neither Jesus nor Paul said much about aesthetics, but the author of Hebrews did. And we should not forget that some Reformers, knowing the power of aesthetics, stripped churches clean of all artwork.
Some emerging Christians see churches with pulpits in the center of a hall-like room with hard, wooden pews lined up in neat rows, and they wonder if there is another way to express—theologically, aesthetically, and anthropologically—what we do when we gather. They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers? If we acted out what we believe, would we encounter more emphatically the Incarnation?
Orthopraxy: A notable emphasis of the emerging movement is orthopraxy, that is, right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes. Many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy. Most in the emerging movement agree we need both, but they contest the second claim: Experience does not prove that those who believe the right things live the right way. No matter how much sense the traditional connection makes, it does not necessarily work itself out in practice. Public scandals in the church—along with those not made public—prove this point time and again.
Here is an emerging, provocative way of saying it: "By their fruits [not their theology] you will know them." As Jesus' brother James said, "Faith without works is dead." Rhetorical exaggerations aside, I know of no one in the emerging movement who believes that one's relationship with God is established by how one lives. Nor do I know anyone who thinks that it doesn't matter what one believes about Jesus Christ. But the focus is shifted. Gibbs and Bolger define emerging churches as those who practice "the way of Jesus" in the postmodern era.
Jesus declared that we will be judged according to how we treat the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46) and that the wise man is the one who practices the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). In addition, every judgment scene in the Bible is portrayed as a judgment based on works; no judgment scene looks like a theological articulation test.
Missional: The foremost concern of the praxis stream is being missional. What does this mean? First, the emerging movement becomes missional by participating, with God, in the redemptive work of God in this world. In essence, it joins with the apostle Paul in saying that God has given us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).
Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God's redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.
Third, becoming missional means participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world. The Spirit groans, the creation groans, and we groan for the redemption of God (see Rom. 8:18-27).
This holistic emphasis finds perfect expression in the ministry of Jesus, who went about doing good to bodies, spirits, families, and societies. He picked the marginalized up from the floor and put them back in their seats at the table; he attracted harlots and tax collectors; he made the lame walk and opened the ears of the deaf. He cared, in other words, not just about lost souls, but also about whole persons and whole societies.

Post-evangelical

A fourth stream flowing into the emerging lake is characterized by the term post-evangelical. The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism [or, post-conservative evangelicalism, sic. Roger Olson - sh]. This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself.

The vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically. But they are post-evangelical in at least two ways.

Post-systematic theology: The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don't read systematics, but because the diversity of theologies alarms us, no genuine consensus has been achieved, God didn't reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology. It just doesn't have an airtight system or statement of faith. We believe the Great Tradition offers various ways for telling the truth about God's redemption in Christ, but we don't believe any one theology gets it absolutely right.

Hence, a trademark feature of the emerging movement is that we believe all theology will remain a conversation about the Truth who is God in Christ through the Spirit, and about God's story of redemption at work in the church. No systematic theology can be final. In this sense, the emerging movement is radically Reformed. It turns its chastened epistemology against itself, saying, "This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let's talk."

In versus out: An admittedly controversial element of post-evangelicalism is that many in the emerging movement are skeptical about the "in versus out" mentality of much of evangelicalism. Even if one is an exclusivist (believing that there is a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians), the issue of who is in and who is out pains the emerging generation.

Some emerging Christians point to the words of Jesus: "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40). Others, borrowing the words of the old hymn, point to a "wideness in God's mercy." Still others take postmodernity's crushing of metanarratives and extend that to master theological narratives—like Christianity. They say what really matters is orthopraxy and that it doesn't matter which religion one belongs to, as long as one loves God and one's neighbor as one's self. Some even accept Spencer Burke's unbiblical contention in A Heretic's Guide to Eternity (Jossey-Bass, 2006) that all are born "in" and only some "opt out."

This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism. The emerging movement is not known for it, but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.

Personally, I'm an evangelist. Not so much the tract-toting, door-knocking kind, but the Jesus-talking and Jesus-teaching kind. I spend time praying in my office before class and pondering about how to teach in order to bring home the message of the gospel.

So I offer here a warning to the emerging movement: Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe, and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitments clear, but we must always keep the proper goal in mind: summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.

Political

A final stream flowing into the emerging lake is politics. Tony Jones is regularly told that the emerging movement is a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells "post" for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.

I have publicly aligned myself with the emerging movement. What attracts me is its soft postmodernism (or critical realism) and its praxis/missional focus. I also lean left in politics. I tell my friends that I have voted Democrat for years for all the wrong reasons. I don't think the Democratic Party is worth a hoot, but its historic commitment to the poor and to centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do. I don't support abortion—in fact, I think it is immoral. I believe in civil rights, but I don't believe homosexuality is God's design. And, like many in the emerging movement, I think the Religious Right doesn't see what it is doing. Books like Randy Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament (Basic Books, 2006) and David Kuo's Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press, 2006) make their rounds in emerging circles because they say things we think need to be said.

Sometimes, however, when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the social gospel. Without trying to deny the spiritual gospel, he led his followers into the social gospel. The results were devastating for mainline Christianity's ability to summon sinners to personal conversion. The results were also devastating for evangelical Christianity, which has itself struggled to maintain a proper balance.

I ask my fellow emerging Christians to maintain their missional and ecclesial focus, just as I urge my fellow evangelicals to engage in the social as well.

All in all, it is unlikely that the emerging movement will disappear anytime soon. If I were a prophet, I'd say that it will influence most of evangelicalism in its chastened epistemology (if it hasn't already), its emphasis on praxis, and its missional orientation. I see the emerging movement much like the Jesus and charismatic movements of the 1960s, which undoubtedly have found a place in the quilt called evangelicalism.

Scot McKnight is professor of religious studies at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. He is author of The Jesus Creed (Paraclete, 2004) and, most recently, The Real Mary: Why Evangelicals Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus (Paraclete, 2006 ). This article is condensed and adapted from a lecture given at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, in October 2006. See the blog JesusCreed.org for more of McKnight's emerging musings.

Backtracking & Catching-Up

Like me, some of you may be asking "What does it mean to be an emergent Christian?" And so I thought I might provide a few select articles back in the "olden days of discussion" as to emergent Christianity's attraction to today's younger generation of Christians. Too, it's always nice to be reminded of the foundations of any movement or trend and Rachael's article does just that... it emphasizes exactly what the initial attractors have been among early embracers of emergent Christianity.

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http://rachelheldevans.com/article-1207544015
Why I've joined the "emerging conversation"

Rachel Held Evans
April 7, 2008

By now, those of you who have known me for many years may have noticed that I think a bit differently than I used to. Like a lot of twenty-somethings who grew up in the conservative evangelical subculture, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the emerging church movement.

(If you are unfamiliar with the emerging church, you might want to check out this article from Christianity Today, written by Scot McKnight. The movement is hard to define, but I think McKnight does a good job of addressing its major characteristics.)

Some of you will probably identify. You might have read some Dan Kimball or Tony Jones or Brian McLaren and found yourself thinking, as I did, “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel; I’m so glad someone else is asking these questions!” Others of you may think I’ve gone off the deep end, that I’ve rejected Christian orthodoxy, embraced relativism, and will probably run off to some Indian ashram to mediate for a few years with my fellow hippies.

I can assure you that the latter is based more on popular misrepresentations of the emerging church movement than on the actual thoughts and attitudes of most of those who consider themselves a part of it, including myself. However, I understand why there are some concerns about the emerging church, as I myself have experienced some of its problems. So I want to address not only what I love about the emerging church, but also what I see as its potential pitfalls.

So, what is so appealing to me, personally, about the emerging church? A few things:

1. Freedom to ask hard questions. What first attracted me to emerging church writers and speakers was their willingness to confront difficult theological issues and even challenge traditional evangelical doctrine. For years I struggled with doubts about my faith, and through the emerging church movement, I found people who were asking the very same questions-about religious pluralism, the Problem of Evil, inerrancy, the notion of absolute truth, etc. Rather than resorting to the same old answers I’d heard over and over again from Christian apologists, emerging church writers were taking new approaches, approaches that particularly appealed to me as an avid reader and writer with a postmodern bent.

The problem “emergers” may run into is that, while deconstructing is a valuable and important part of bringing about reform and making the Church better, tearing down is always easier than building up. I find myself spending a lot of time picking apart fundamentalism, when I ought to be focusing on building bridges and seeking common ground.

2. Embrace of postmodernism. For years I was told by Christian apologists that postmodernism was evil and that it represented an enormous threat to Christianity. However, once I actually started reading what postmodern theorists had to say, their ideas made a lot of sense to me. One of my biggest frustrations with conservative evangelicalism right now is that many of its leaders tend to oversimplify and misrepresent postmodernism. I feel like writers and speakers in the emerging church have done a better job of explaining postmodernism and exploring how it can actually enrich and contribute to Christianity.

Of course, postmodernism has its problems. For example, while I love the fact that many in the emerging church have embraced a more inclusive attitude toward religious pluralism, we don’t want to follow the postmodern tendency to ignore or gloss over the significant differences that exist among the world’s religions. Claiming that all religions are more or less the same and equally truthful is just creating yet another metanarrative that fails to represent the very real religious convictions of people around the world.

3. Emphasis on orthopraxy over orthodoxy. I love how the emerging church movement has encouraged me to focus more on following Jesus Christ and less on being right about theology. I think that in this way, the emerging church is seeking to correct what has been a bit of an over-emphasis on apologetics and doctrine within the conservative evangelical community in recent years. I personally have felt challenged by emerging church writers to more faithfully follow Jesus in caring for the poor, ministering to the sick, exercising spiritual self-control, and being more cautious about passing judgments on others.

Some say that the danger here is that the emerging church will throw theology and doctrine out altogether. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem because, despite arguing that right theology doesn’t necessarily lead to stronger faith, a lot of us emergers still love to talk about it. To me, the more looming danger is hypocrisy. Daily I find myself slipping into those same old habits of judging people based on their theological positions and spending more time reading and writing about Jesus than actually building relationship with Him and loving “the least of these.” If “emergers” are going to emphasize the importance of Christ-likeness, it is imperative that we treat everyone (including those with whom we disagree) with the kindness, humility, and graciousness of our Lord.

4. It’s not about who’s “in” and who’s “out.” For years I struggled with the idea that conservative evangelical Christians had a monopoly on truth and that everyone else in the world faced likely damnation. I like that many in the emerging church movement seem to recognize that God is at work among all people and that we should respect and be open to learning from people with other ideas and beliefs.

However, it sometimes seems like this is an attitude that “emergers” apply to everyone except fundamentalists. The tone of our blogs and books can get a little testy when criticizing our more conservative brothers and sisters. We have to be careful not to apply a kind of reversed legalism toward those with whom we disagree.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the emerging church. I’ll definitely be posting more about it in the future. What do you think? What have your encounters with the emerging church been like? Positive or negative? A little bit of both?


Monday, April 25, 2011

We are happy when we are growing

http://rachelheldevans.com/

by Rachel Held Evans
April 25, 2011


Today’s post serves as a final entry in the Common English Bible’s Lenten Blog Tour. If you have a few moments, check out the rest of entries. 

    Happy are people who are downcast, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

    Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

    Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

    Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because
    they will be fed until they are full.

    Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

    Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.

    Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.

    Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous
    because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

    -  Matthew 5:3-10, Common English Bible

*****

I’ve always been a bit unnerved by Bible translations that render the operative word of the incomparable Beatitudes “happy” instead of “blessed.”

“Blessed” is the word we use around our Christian friends when talking about food, shelter, and responsibilities. “Happy” is the word we use when ’30 Rock’ is all-new or when the Krispyy Kreme "HOT" light glows or when our contentment comes without any guilt or pressure to spiritulaize it.

Happy just sounds less holy.

And besides, how can one be downcast and happy at the same time? Is the happiness that Jesus speaks about in the Beatitudes reserved only for some future state, unattainable in this lifetime?

Poet W.B. Yeats wrote that “happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

Indeed, studies indicate that the happiest people are not those who have achieved all their goals, but rather those who are making progress toward their goals. It is in the striving that we encounter the kind of happiness that is best described as joy.

I don’t know about you, but I often suffer from what Tal Ben-Shahar called the “arrival fallacy,” the belief that when I reach a certain destination, then I will be happy.

  • “If I can just get that raise…”
  • “If I can just finish school…”
  • “If I can just find the right man…”
  • “If I can just publish a book…”
  • “If I can just write a bestseller…”
Then, I’ll be happy.

I do this all the time when it comes to my doubts. I figure I’ll be happy once I stop having them, once my Christian faith makes perfect sense in both my heart and my head, once I no longer struggle with all these relentless questions.

Perhaps you feel the same way at the end of your Lenten journey. Perhaps you expected to be “finished” by Easter, all the lessons you hoped to learn in your 40-day fast permanently etched into your character.

Too often we ask ourselves, “Have we arrived?” when the better question is, “Have we grown?”

Growing isn’t easy. It often comes with grief, humility, costly mercy and an insatiable hunger for more. But Christ promises us that the story ends well—that we will be made glad, that we will see God, that we will be fed until we are full.

I guess we just have to believe him when he says that we can be happy in the meantime.

David Fitch: The End of Evangelicalism? 1

April 25, 2011

Many today are predicting the (even imminent) collapse of evangelicalism. Others, like Brad Wright, show that evangelicalism is flourshing, while others, like Chris Smith, show that while it may be flourishing it is not what it used to be. At work here are two questions that I want to deal with before we go another step:

What is evangelicalism? I have been, am and will stand by David Bebbington and Mark Noll. Evangelicalism is a movement in the Protestant church shaped by differing but clear emphasis on four beliefs: the centrality of the Bible, the centrality of the atoning death of Christ, the centrality of the need for personal conversion, and the centrality of an active mission to convert others and to do good works in society.

Who decides who is evangelical? No one, really. Others, mostly. There is no one who decides who gets to carry the evangelical card but there is a a general conviction on the part of others who is “in” and who is “out.” I have an opinion, and you may have an opinion, and the one with the louder voice or the bigger voice might be the most compelling but … let this be said: God does not equate “Church” with “evangelical.” But because it is a movement, and for some the movement is so important that it is nearly the same as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, it matters deeply to some.

So to you: What is an evangelical?

But what does matter is that evangelicalism is a longstanding movement, it seems to unite millions of Christians in the world, and it is contested.

David Fitch, in his new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions), thinks evangelicalism’s influence is more or less over, that it needs to reexamine itself, and that it needs to rediscover what it could be in our world. This book by David Fitch could be one of the most significant studies of evangelicalism in the current academic climate. In some ways, he is doing deconstruction from the inside out.

To begin with, David Fitch believes evangelicalism’s social, cultural and political influence have waned to the point of being a minimal cultural presence.

The theory he will explore in this book is that belief plus practice (of that belief) shapes a community’s disposition in the world, and that means he can infer back from the lack of influence and viability of evangelicalism that it’s beliefs (or its practices of those beliefs) are no longer viable.

So David Fitch is seriously questing for what can be called an evangelical political theology, but he isn’t talking about political parties — instead, he’s talking about how to be a body, a present body, a body of influence for the gospel, in our world.

He believes evangelicalism has become an empty politic, and here’s why: the four (he blends two and three above) beliefs of evangelicalism were fashioned to be a “politic” in modernity and modernity is corroding and eroding and fading. He thinks those four beliefs, framed as they are, are to our culture what “Caffeine-Free Diet Coke” is to a drink: “a drink that does not fulfill any of the concrete needs of a drink” (xxi). So, let me state how David frames the three (blended four) beliefs:

1. Inerrant Bible.
2. Decision for Christ.
3. Christian Nation.


These are “ideological banners” but really are a “semblance of something which once meant something real” (xxii).

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Recent Comments
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1.       When evangelicalism began calling for defining and affirming propositional statements about “truth” and ceased being a vibrant contrast culture in terms of *way of life,* it became another entity tolerated by a pluralistic culture. The powers that be don’t mind what propositions evangelicals fuss about among themselves, but when evangelicals live in a way that threatens (not violently) the way life is supposed to be in “the American dream” society, let’s say, then evangelicalism has once again become salt and light. Evangelicalism is now degenerating into the 21st century Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots and lots and lots of Essenes hunkering down in their cultural Qumrans ’til Jesus comes back.

2.      Best line – God does not equate “church” with “evangelical”.  Nor does God equate “Christian” with “evangelical.”

3.      It seems to me that there is one more characteristic of the old evangelicalism and that is “generous orthodoxy”. Thus evangelicalism was not limited to Arminian or Calvinistic or other particular disputable understandings of scripture. Evangelicalism was not separatistic as I see many are who now call themselves evangelicals. Fundamentalism was a descriptive term rather than a movement unlike the old evangelicalism which was a movement. It is time for evangelicals in the old sense to move on and find a new descriptive term for themselves and leave the term evangelicalism to the fundamentalists.

4.      Gingoro #3 brings up some good points. I think it is interesting that the picture used is Falwell (who I don’t necessarily think of when I think of an evangelical), instead of someone like Billy Graham (“old evangelicalism”).

5.      Evangelicals make up roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of Americans, helped elect G. Bush, overwhelmingly supported McCain, and identify as Republican at around 70%. That’s probably why the media is focused on evangelicals. Evangelical’s influence on electoral politics still appears strong. Keep in mind that it’s older adults who vote and Americans are living longer than they used to.

6.      I know in this age of the internet it is tempting to think that the American church boils down to the voices we hear the most on the internet, but that is not the case. By far the largest group within evangelicalism is traditional arminians. The only large evangelical group that people can even pretend is reformed is the Southern Baptist Church and survey after survey shows that less than 1/3 of the SBC, the largest evangelical denomination, is reformed. They might not make a lot of noise in online discussions, but all those “evangelical voters” that put George W. Bush into office, they are almost all traditional, southern, arminian evangelicals. So we need to do away with the notion that the “future of evangelicalism” is going to be defined solely by what some minor groups (neo-reformed and emergent) choose to do in the next decade.

7.      You nailed it. I’m persuaded that many people equate “what I am hearing” with “what is.” Seven yrs ago the NeoReformed voice was quiet in the internet/blog world, and some of its leaders were against the focus on blogs. Then about 3-4 yrs ago they began to be a presence and now they may well be the majority of voices in the blog/internet world. But blog/internet world is a slice of the pie, and not all that big or representative. And I wish some sociologist would compare blog reality with “real” reality and tell us about it.

I would agree that the biggest chunk of evangelicalism is probably southern, though there are many in the north tool; they are softly “Cal-minian”  (a mix of Calvinistic + Armenian doctrine) in thinking that salvation is assured but strong on free will and very avoidant of classic themes like election and divine sovereignty (except in praying to God to make a different); and they are both politically and theologically conservative.

8.     I’m a bit split in what I think of this. To begin with, I don’t really believe in predictions of catastrophic failures of social entities. So, decline of Evangelicalism? Probably. End of Evangelicalism? Probably not for a very long time. But also, I grew up SBC and my family is staunchly rooted in the SBC but I know longer identify with that group. I see in my own family evidence that the SBC is becoming more and more disconnected with the world around it. And this, to me, marks the decline. People like me are leaving the Evangelical banner and fewer and fewer are going back to it because it doesn’t seem to match reality.

9.      re: What is an Evangelical, I still like John Stackhouse’s definition on the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s website – his definition is a superset of Bebbington’s (and Marsden’s). question: Does Fitch look at evangelicalism globally? My impression is that it is exploding outside of North America (growth & influence) eg. China house church movement, Evangelical Anglican’s in Africa, Pentecostalism in Latin America. Comments so far seem to be focused on the US Evangelical church. Anyways, looking forward to this series.

10.  Does anyone have any number on the number of emergent churches or persons who identify as emergent in the U.S.?

11.  I don’t have numbers. Two observations: Gibbs and Bolger did a study of major churches, and Tony Jones’s dissertation did some sociological analysis. Tony might have numbers. But my second observation is this: it’s a movement and a trend, and some good ideas about how big it is can be gleaned from readership of books (which always represents a percentage of the movement) and sales of books. But I won’t guess on numbers.

12.   Evangelism needs to change if it’s to flourish. The old hokey, twangy ways no longer go in this society. We need to be more dignified and dare I say, more educated in our approach. Also, we need to separate politics from evangelism. American Christianity took a huge hit in credibility when people like Falwell, Robertson, etc. allied themselved with politicians. We also need to embrace the changing (improving)role of women in society. We won’t get very far if we say, “Follow Jesus, but you women are easily deceived and can’t do this and can’t do that,” and so on.



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Kevin Corcoran's Critique of Derrida and Caputo


The Kingdom of God: Ever Coming Never Arriving?

by Kevin Corcoran
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tony J got me thinking. He got me thinking about God's kingdom, and the way in which Derrida and Caputo represent it as a perpetual deferral. Tony finds the D&C conception alluring and attractive. I suspect many in the emerging movement do. I myself don't find it appealing. I want to know what others think. And I want to wonder aloud about whether it might not actually be something else that Tony, et. al. find appealing in the D&C model, something that they misidentify as the doctrine of eternal deferral.

I make no pretense at all to being a Derrida scholar. So, I am open to correction in what I'm about to say, and I would invite others more knowledgeable than I to weigh in here and to offer correction where correction is needed. Let me lay out what I understand to be the gist of the D&C model of the impossibility and undeconstructibility of the kingdom, and say why, as a Christian, I think we ought to reject it.

As I understand it, the kingdom of God or Justice or The Wholly Other or Messiah is never fully present on the D&C model but always a reality yet to come, always a reality beyond, a future, a hope, an aspiration. Indeed, God is not even to be thought of as a being, an individual, but rather as an uncontainable, unconditional, undeconstructible Event that is, as some who talk about such things put it, "astir" or "harbored" in the name of "God".

Why is the kingdom eternally deferred? Because words and worldly structures are finite, contingent, particular, limited, deconstructible and thus inhospitable abodes for the Wholly Other and the un-deconstructible. At best what we are ever presented with are "traces" of the Event that is God, and these traces call us beyond and invite us into a transformed way of being in the world.

As I said, I'm certainly open to correction here as I am admittedly outside my own areas of professional expertise. But, to the extent that I've got Derrida/Caputo right, I'm inclined to think that this discarnational model of the kingdom is utterly foreign to the incarnational kingdom of Christian faith. Whereas the D&C "gospel" regards the contingent, particular and deconstructible with suspicion and as inhospitable to the Wholly Other/Messiah/Kingdom or Justice, the God of Christian faith dwells within, inhabits, incarnates himself precisely in the particular, deconstructible and contingent. And far from "traces" of God within the particular, deconstructible and contingent the gospel suggests a fullness of presence.

Moreover, while the idea of a transformative event lies at the very heart of the gospel, the Trinitarian God of Christian theism is not himself an Event, but a God-in-three-persons. Events don't have intentions, aims, loves, etc. I can't enter into a reciprocated relationship of love with an event.

What, then, might Tony and others find so appealing in the D&C idea of eternal deferral? I'd like to think that it's not so much the eternal deferral and impossibility of the kingdom that they find so attractive, as that hardly strikes me as good news. That's about as "good" as the news delivered up in Waiting for Godot. At least in the case of the latter the two main characters believe Godot is coming, though he never arrives. Not so in the D&C story where God's coming is impossible.

Perhaps what TJ and others find appealing is the perpetual deferral of understanding, the realization that no matter what we come to understand of God and of his justice it is inexhaustible; there is always more. I wonder if it's not the idea that we ought never to be satisfied or settled with a particular theology or political arrangement, for example, but always questing, always reaching and searching.

In a way, insofar as the emerging movement can be viewed as a development within evangelical protestantism, it is easier for me to see how some of Derrida's ideas are consonant with emergent sensibilities than it is for me to understand how Caputo, a Catholic, would be attracted to such discarnate, disembodied, otherworldly notions. Catholicism's emphasis on the Eucharist, a place where Christ is really present (one almost wants to say re-incarnated) would seem to more easily prevent one from flights of disembodiment than the thin "commemorative" understanding of the Eucharist in low-church protestant denominations and non-denominations.

In any case, what do you think? Have I misrepresented the D&C model? If not, do you find the notion of an eternal deferral of the kingdom appealing?


Please note Kevin's web blog which may help frame the D&C discussion above a little more fully - http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=1054707203818412735&postID=1824111830709677492



Friday, April 22, 2011

A New Passover, a New Lamb, a New Exodus

 
 
10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of
the body of Jesus Christ once for all. - Heb 10.10
 
 
The Last Supper - Matthew 26
 
The Passover with the Disciples
 
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
 
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.[b] 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
 
Institution of the Lord's Supper
 
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”
 
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
 
 
 
A New Passover, a New Lamb, a New Exodus
 
 
After Jesus' sacrifice as the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world the Jewish ceremony of Passover was forever changed. Her pilgrimage in the old world of Canaan from Egypt had become transformed to God's new living promise of spiritual redemption, revival, and renewal, by His Son Jesus. Henceforth, after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, the Spirit of God would forever blow upon the hearts of believing men and women to raise up a new body of redeemed as God's empowered people forever transfixed upon the cross of Jesus. Who have died in the name of Jesus to be raised up by that same power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave to live forth God's love and forgiveness, mercy and justice, each resurrected day.
 
With the church's birth on Pentecost began its new exodus from the lands of sinful humanity unto the lands of spiritual renewal and rebirth. It's celebration was on the basis of the Lamb of God slain at Passover for the sins of mankind to be raised three days later from death unto life. Thus replacing the Jewish tradition of Passover to that of the church's celebratory Eucharist or, Communion Table, where Christ's broken body is symbolized with the breaking of bread, and His shed blood by the pouring out of new wine upon the lips of all penitents.
 
By this transformation has Jesus become the new bread and new wine to the new life in the Creator-God whereby He transforms, reforms, and conforms, each believing heart to His Son's Cross of salvation and empowering resurrection. That none escape so great a sacrifice and privilege of new life created in Christ Jesus, and by His holy power. That this old world be forever left behind into the hands of God who spared not His Son for the joy sent before Him - namely for the joy of redeeming those who would follow in repentance and confession before His holy name and living atonement.
 
For the people of God have arisen from the grave of sin and death unto the living joy that Jesus saw before Him by the Spirit of God in the Garden of Gethsemane. So great a joy that it carried Him to the Cross of Sacrifice and held Him by no other power than by the power of His own will and testament. That by this certainty in the power of His resurrection and salvation to come would arise a new Passover, a New Lamb, a New Exodus, redeemed from the land of the living to the land of the resurrected.
 
Holding forth a new Kingdom, and a new World, and a new Earth, to all who would become pilgrims until Jesus' second Advent-Coming as King, Ruler, Lion, Suzerainty, unlike His first Advent-Coming as Shepherd, Immanuel, Messiah, Lamb, Prophet, Priest, Rabbi, and Stricken Servant. For how could the Prince of Life truly die - He who was ever the Living Lord and Eternal God?
 
Nay, but for Love's sake, and Love alone, did the living God forge in the fires of hell swords made for righteousness, and ploughshares for peace and justice. With shields of faith and sandals shod with the Gospel of Life and Salvation. With hands and ears, tongues and hearts, that would serve others no matter how batter and bruised, with the book of life until He comes again. Forging an earthly kingdom prepared for His reign in grace and peace, humility and justice, love and forgiveness.
 
By no other tools or gospel does the Church of God come to humanity but by these holy implements. By these works and words shall we know the true people of God who have hearts made obedient upon Christ's witness and testimony in this life so many long years ago. Who serve on bended knees and with helping hands. With humbled hearts and bowed heads. Dispensing God's rich blessings against this life of sin and death, cruelty and harm.
 
Praise be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for their Almighty love and gracious mercy upon us poor sinners this day. To the God who is our eternal hope, and daily presence, be praise both now, and forever more, Amen.
 
R.E. Slater
April 22, 2011
rev. March 30, 2013
Observations on an Easter Weekend