I have been doing some reading lately to understand how Christians who call themselves “emergent” are really any different than me, you or other Christians who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus in living out their faith. I suppose I am rather simple-minded, oblivious and maybe unintentionally arrogant in the sense that I assume that the way I “do Christianity” is the way everyone who is sincerely following the way of Jesus would come to agree it should be done. But then I look back on my journey and consider the diverse perspectives I have encountered and realize my foolishness.
For example, I look at the values and practices outlined by those defined as “in the emergent conversation.” In my own words, this conversation is basically among Christians who see a fragmentation in the Church both in terms of theology and practice. I think they would say it is partly due to our disconnect from the historic roots and unity in our faith and partly from our lack of radical discipleship of Jesus.
In simple terms, those in the emergent conversation look to build bridges between faith traditions and glean from those practices that have proven to be most enriching to the Christian journey in terms of our worship and connectedness to God. They are intentional in opening conversation between those from diverse Christian practice and theology. As far as mission, they would say Christ calls us to actively engage culture and human need as agents of transformation. They are open to various forms and definitions of “church” and “congregation” acknowledging the different ways the Spirit leads groups of Christians to do mission.
I read such ideas and think, “How is that any different than how I have been led to live out my Christianity? How is that different than what I am seeing around me?” But then I look and listen more closely and I realize there are still people who prefer their boundaries and dogma. There are people who don’t mind exclusiveness and cannot see that conversation, inclusiveness and understanding are in any way advancing the Kingdom of God. There are people who don’t understand the radical missional call that Jesus stands for. There are people still stuck in the philosophy of modernity where knowledge and reason and facts and information are most trusted and believed to be the means by which we can change people’s hearts to see Jesus. Theology and Truth need to be black and white; gray is at best scary and at worst heretical.
I read some comments recently from someone who, ironically, includes himself in the emergent conversation, yet criticizes it in ways that are both brilliantly insightful and sadly missing the point at the same time.
“The problems inherent in the church of modernity isn’t it’s dogma, it’s the rigid adherence to strict cultural codes that are unrelated to substanative doctrine. Those in the [emergent] “conversation” make a similar blunder by strictly adhering to the code of cultural revolt.”
In my words, he is blaming Christians for not getting the clear Gospel across to people because either they are “proclaiming” legalism as Gospel or relativism. And in either case, he says that people are going to go to Hell because they never get the message that only through Jesus are you saved.
It is true that there are places where the Church does function on one extreme or the other. But I don’t hear the emergent conversation advocating for relativism or post-modern uncertainty. I think the inherent difference in the two examples he gives is not the “Message,” rather the means by which we "proclaim" it.
For years the Church has depended on a colonial mindset towards mission. We “conquered and convinced.” It happened and still happens through the organized and institutionalized Church. Truth is based on rational, logical proclamation of the Good News: “you are a sinner; you need saved; here is the Way. . .now come to church!”
The “mission” of a post-colonial/post-modern-minded Church is not to distort that same Truth, but rather to disseminate it in a way that does not emphasize the knowledge of the Truth, but the person of the Truth. The mission happens in relationships, incarnationally and in ways that invite rather than proclaim.
Beyond all that, what I really liked about this guy’s quote was his use of the term “cultural revolt.” While I don’t think he was using it affirmatively, I thought, “how appropriate!” For that really is what we are attempting when we try to live counter-culturally as part of the upside-down kingdom, addressing issues within culture and society that affect Creation, human need and the witness of Christ in the world. In the end, that's really what I want to be about.
I'm not a big fan of labels, even though I do use them at times for ease of communication, but I guess I'm seeing a bit more clearly how labels in Christianity get started. The "emergent conversation" is not so much something new, just a label, I'd say, to identify people who are willing to be "bridge builders," something I think the world can always use a few more of.