I am more of a blog reader than a blog writer. That means I get to learn from sources of all kinds on just about everything, the criss-crossing currents of active minds. They write in blogs, book reviews, web-linked articles, and Facebook comments. While just about every faction and school of thought in Christian faith can be found on line, there are two groups that steer most of the conversation: Emergents and neo-Calvinists. I’ll go into the neo-Calvinists some other time.
The Emergents come under all sorts of names now – collectivists, communitarians, missionals, progressives, post-modernists, and so on. They see the church as it is today, and as it was in the past, and find it wanting. Most (not all) of them are people who were raised as US Evangelicals or Fundamentalists, who discovered that much of what they were taught really did not make any sense.
- They were exposed to science in schools, so they questioned creationism and found it lacking, even from a Biblical point of view.
- They saw their gay neighbors and colleagues, and found them to be the same mixed bag as straights are – they’re people, not a category hated by God and damned to hell.
- Most of them had (gasp) sex long before marriage. While the after-effects were sometimes very bitter and made deep wounds, even then they were usually able to move on from it to start a journey to something really good – sex *in* marriage. While the act itself wasn’t very smart, it also wasn’t the road to lifelong ruin as their pastors taught.
Most importantly, they saw that at least some of the church systems in which they were raised were designed for rigid order, engineered to be micromanaged by petty dictators whose wisdom and motives were not allowed to be questioned. The order put pastors over elders over laity, men over women, husbands over wives over children, famous people over unknown, white over black, rich over poor, Christian over outsider, one brand of Christian over other brands. That’s the sort of thing Jesus in the Gospels constantly spoke out against, so they asked, why was it being done in the name of Jesus? When they said what they saw, they faced the fiercest of fire from people they had come to respect and even love. They got burned. No one was listening, so they left to find people who were.
While it’s impossible to define emergents, the one common link is that they are mainly people who are emerging from a strict Christian background, evolving into people with more open-hearted and thoughtful beliefs and practices than before. Plus a few fellow travelers they’ve picked up along the way. Truth be told, everyone else is evolving too, but not in the same way to the same extent. Most of us don’t emerge from what we were raised to believe; rather, we evolve within it.
Why is it so hard to write about emergents?
I have a great inner reluctance to write about emergents. Why? Because their most important spiritual task right now is asking more than it is finding, and I don’t want to preempt their asking process with premature guidance from someone who is still himself asking. Also, I must remember our difference in background. As a mainline Lutheran from the Northeast, I didn’t have to deal much with pastors who would sooner hang an African-American than have one as their leader. My childhood background included all sorts of Christians, as well as Jews, Sikhs, Sufis, Buddhists, atheists, straights, and the most flamboyant of gays. I was taught evolution and progress in school and in church, even though I could not believe they were relentlessly positive or always bore the will of God. I was constantly asking questions, and while the church did not always encourage this process, I was never thrown out of one for asking. The world at large was less kind about that than the churches I knew. Few of the pastors I knew were abusers of power; in fact, it was more common that they lacked enough power to carry out their responsibilities.
I also see from a different viewpoint what the emergents emerged from. Even though I can’t be silent about the wrongs of Fundamentalisms, I won’t go into a war against Fundamentalists. I was raised to see people, not -isms. I know quite a few Fundamentalists who are truly driven by their love of Christ not by fear, despite what their -isms tell them. The more open Evangelicals have shown me so much about both the faith and the world that I am bound by truth to give them far more praise than anger. Some of them really do think, but think in a different pattern. Some of them are now on the fringes bordering on emergence, but are spending more time living their faith than thinking it, so their questions end up being put forward in a different way.
It’s hard to write about the road the emergents are on. Why? In part because I’ve already been down much of that road. Many of them have taken to questioning everything, even the most basic of Christian truths, practices, and resources. That’s good. But when I was on those roads years ago, it didn’t take me long to discover that many of the ‘new’ discoveries that seem so wonderful are not what they seem. I found that I could avoid slavery of mind only when I questioned the value and method of being radical, of the ‘progressive’ myth, of scholarly methods and consensuses, of being ever-suspicious, and even of constantly pursuing one’s doubts and questions. Otherwise, the methods become a trap and an idol, and the method starts to dictate the faith rather than help give it shape.
I guess I have to be engaged in the emergent conversation (…oops, another hip cliché…). That is where so many of the questions are, and my mind spends most of its time in the asking mode. But I find myself having to do so as an outsider. I am changing, even evolving, but I’m not ’emerging’ from anything. I’m not someone who’s in it to engineer proofs for a point of view, nor to write refined critiques of the church as-it-is – although I have that ability. I’m here to testify and to tell stories, including ones that aren’t my own. I must keep listening, for that is how I learn. But I also must speak. I’ve been through too much not to share with you what that has taught me.