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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The State of the Emerging Church

What is up with the emergent church? Click here to learn a little something for a video interview with Tony Jones.

12 comments:

Winsome.One said...

Can I link your blog to my new (!) blog?

Fajita said...

Yes

Marshall Brown said...

Faj,
I hope you know me well enough to know that I don't have any hidden agendas or ulterior motives. I'm asking more for the sake of curiosity and interesting discussion than anything else.

Here's my question. If I'm not mistaken, part of the plea of emergent churches and emergent leaders is to break away from any type of denomination, church organization, or even any kind of "ism" by which they might be labeled as following a certain group's church traditions or doctrines. But adopting, using, or even proclaiming oneself or one's church as "emergent," or one's religious movement as "emerging" to the point that one can even identify common characteristics - isn't that becoming what the emergent leaders are proclaiming to be breaking free from?

In other words, in order to be an emergent church, my church would have to adopt certain practices and principles. Doesn't that seem to be less emerging and more conforming?

Just curious what your thoughts might be.

(Again, I'm not trying to be critical of emergent churches or leaders. I'm generally pretty envious of what I see emergent churches accomplishing.)

JGonzalez said...

CJG - I thought it was an intersting interview. On the one hand, very set up (of course... no one likes to be surprised), and very pro-emergent in general, but that's to be expected.

I think there was only one reference to the bible being the core of their belief... I would have liked to hear that more. It's hard to argue with that, where as it is not difficult to argue with implication.

Denominationalism... this has always been such a lose-lose subject with me. At some point, you have to call yourself something. Does that turn you into a denomination? What about the simple concept of identifying yourself... or your group? When does an identity evolve into a denomination? It's hard to identify with the, "The Free Egalitarian, We're Not Really a Group, But We Meet Together, Corporaty, Non-Corporate Entity That is NOT a Denomination."... or at least I think it is.

Equality amongst people is not a new concept... but I love the idea of building a foundation around it. We (our society?) seem to be challenged to do that... yes, even these days. However, I struggled a little with the thought that I was listening to a well articulated, but less formed set of ideals. I'm hoping we all know that living by ideals is a scary and slippery slope.

Back to the basics... I think a great opportunity to advance a number of his great (and well articulated thoughts) was lessened by not emphasizing the bible as the center point, and the center of our salvation being Jesus.

Unarguable points... regardless of what you're starting... or growing.

JGonzalez said...

CJG - What are your thoughts on heirarchy in the emergent church?

Fajita said...

I want to resppomnd to everything, but I only have a moment.

On hierarchy: There is a hierarchy, but not necessarily by design. That is not only a difference, it is THE difference that makes a difference. As much as possible, the art and flow of emergent is open source. Anyone can step up and do anything. Ther eis no central authority.

Authority is basically deomcratic and option. For example, I choose the people who I consider to be authoritative and by my choice I align with them TO THE EXTENT I CHOOSE. Ther eis no penalty for not choosing an authority and no privilege if I do.

It is organic rather than institutional. Sometimes a hierarchy forms organically.

The real challenge is to stay organic - to stay emergent. Emergent means that there are little and new growths occurring all the time - some of them stick and some of them die off. But there is always new growth.

Whenthere ceases to be new growth, things cease to be emergent no matter the are called.

More later Bye

JGonzalez said...

CJG - Thanks for the comments. I know you're busy these days.

Lack of heirarchy (or chosen heirarchy) seems very slippery to me... and honestly... scary. I liken it to how heirarchy was formed in the wild west, when it was formed on the fastest shooter, or the strongest puncher. Bottom line is that power (good or bad) will be exerted and the heirarchy (with out direction or purpose) will be formed. At the moment it does, ones choices become limited... at least as it relates to the idea of open source.

It is also curious to me that as I've read in the bible, there always seemed to be a clear heirarchy and source of leadership... one that clearly made decisions, and provided unwaivering direction for various groups (congregations).

The idea of growth and death is not new - it's the hope of every congregation to grow (...I assume). In this case (with the Emergant movement) it seems so amorphous... which (to me) is immediately followed by the work in-efficient. And you got to admit that the Lords plan for salavation is very pure and simple and efficient.

Anyhow... I'm having a lot of difficulty believing that 'freely' chosen heirarchy is a system that can really work... at least not with the way most humans are wired.

Fajita said...

Marshall, you make a good point and also expose the power of names and labels. If something is going to have a label, there must be some sort of criteria used for people to know if X is or is not of the label.

What is currently different about emergent is that the name is a temporary description of a phenomenon that is happeing. something common has been spontaneously occuring in many places, a similar story among some Christians in all denominations. They began sharing their stories and somehow finding each others. This has happened enought that someone at some point said that something is emerging - they described what hwas happening as emergent.

Well, when does a description of a phenomenon become a label, an identity, and agenda, a group, a denomination?

What has happened with some "second generation" emergents is that they were not necessarily experiencing the phenomenon, but noticed it happening or overheard conversation about it and then decided whether or not they would like to be part of it. Their first contact with emergent was not a personal experience, but a report or observation of someone else's personal experience.

As you can see, these are very different reasons for pursuing what is called emergent.

So I guess I am making a distinction between two kinds of people who ae emergent - those who had the experience and didn't know it was common to anyone else and later found out it was and those who heard about it and made a decision about what to do in response to it.

The first group is a more organic type of group and the other is a more institutional type of group.

The greatest challenge for whatever emergent (or any other term which...emerges) is to avoid becoming a denomination.

My hunch is that, and I hate to say this, emergent will be a significant prophetic voice to Christianty for about 100 years, and then be unable to resist becoming an institution of soe sort, though I doubt it will become a denomination.

After 100 or so years, something new will happen again - a new group of prophets will rise and critique Christianity with emergent on the receiving end of the critique.

Fajita said...

More on hierarchy:

Power is indeed most intolerant of a vacuum. There will always be power structures and emergent is no exception.

What is thusfar different is the extent to which there is a required adherence to the hierarchy. In emergent, there is none. In all denominations, even the Churches of Christ who claim (falsely) not to be a denomination, there is a required adherence to doctrinal rules and beliefs. Failure to comply results in corrective forces.

Emergent (thusfar) is different in that the very basis of the emerging is not based on answers, but rather is based on questions.

Just about any denomination comes together to reinforce their answers. Emerging churches come together to wrestle with their questions toward an answer or perhaps a constellation of answers.

Furthermore, the answer or constellation of answers arrived upon are always understood to be "as we undertand it now" rather than "now and forevermore."

Slippery? You bet. Real slippery. But before the slippery can be discounted as too dangerous to be a real Christianity, one must consider that there is no amount of certainty in something that is wrong that can make up for its wrongness.

Denominational allegiance is necessarily an allegiance with wrongness. To me, certainty in something wrong is scarier than slipperiness.

With emergent there is a generosity and grace which tolerates differences with teh full on belief that you or I might be wrong about this or that, but we have not elected to reduce out thinking to established answers concocted by men 100, 500, or 2000 years ago.

Emergent recognizes that the gospel is transcultural across all times - and therefore looks different in different contexts. This is part of the beauty and grace of the good news of Jesus.

OK, this is getting to be another long answer, but back to the whole hierarchy thing. One thing emergent currently has going for it that almost no other groups do is that it is self-critiquing, open to honest outside critique, and openly acknowledges that not only is emergent not the one and only way of Christianity, but that it is not the kind of Christianity that is for everyone.

What hedges against a heavy handed hierarchy forming is that emergent does not take itself too seriously in that no one I have ever heard who is considered to be an influencer who is in the emergent church has ever made claims about how emergent has finally straightened everything out for Christianity.

Essentially, emergent is a phenomenon in Christianity which is calling people to God. My pesonal opinion is that emergent is God's tool, a gathering of prophetic voices, meant to challenge the sinfulness and division of the current denominational fragmentation and global idenitity crisis of Christianty.

If emergent has but one message to Christianity and to the world it is that God does not need denominations, not is He much interested in them. God can redeem he world without them.

Finally, a word about hierarchy in the Bible.

God always used people to lead other people. Moses, the judges, King David, the prophets, the apostles etc. God used culturally relevant power systems - often time reluectanlty (Having a king was Israel's idea, not God's) in order to accomplish His goals. That I can agree with.

what I ahve a hard time agreeing with is that there was a clear sense to their leadership. The clearest leaders would probably be moses and the judges. But they were flawed and often time REALLY messed up. Samson the judge was not exactly the kind of leader to emulate.

I think that the apostles were riding by the seat of their pants the entire time they were spreading the gospel. They made decisions that were later either trumped or rendered pointless by the Holy Spirit (e.g. picking Matthias to replace Judas), were prejudiced until rebuked by the Spirit (Peter against Gentiles), were divisive and critical (Paul about John Mark), and riddled with doubts (Thomas).

I do not believe Jesus implemented a clear and obvious hierarchy of power resting first on the apostles and then one elders adn deacons (Jesus never mentinoed elders and deacons), but instead appointed some faithful (and flawed) men and women to carry the torch with the often mysterious and unpredictable guiding of the Holy Spirit.

It is people, not God, who feel compelled to create hierarchies and power structures, institutionalize them, and then protect the institutions.

Anyway, I should just go back to bed. Peace.

Lonely Dissertator said...

"To me, certainty in something wrong is scarier than slipperiness."

Now it makes sense! (What makes sense? I don't know. "It" does!)

Your recent two posts answered some key questions I had about the emergent movement.

JGonzalez said...

CJG - Thanks for the comments. I know you're busy these days.

Lack of heirarchy (or chosen heirarchy) seems very slippery to me... and honestly... scary. I liken it to how heirarchy was formed in the wild west, when it was formed on the fastest shooter, or the strongest puncher. Bottom line is that power (good or bad) will be exerted and the heirarchy (with out direction or purpose) will be formed. At the moment it does, ones choices become limited... at least as it relates to the idea of open source.

It is also curious to me that as I've read in the bible, there always seemed to be a clear heirarchy and source of leadership... one that clearly made decisions, and provided unwaivering direction for various groups (congregations).

The idea of growth and death is not new - it's the hope of every congregation to grow (...I assume). In this case (with the Emergant movement) it seems so amorphous... which (to me) is immediately followed by the work in-efficient. And you got to admit that the Lords plan for salavation is very pure and simple and efficient.

Anyhow... I'm having a lot of difficulty believing that 'freely' chosen heirarchy is a system that can really work... at least not with the way most humans are wired.

JGonzalez said...

CJG - I thought it was an intersting interview. On the one hand, very set up (of course... no one likes to be surprised), and very pro-emergent in general, but that's to be expected.

I think there was only one reference to the bible being the core of their belief... I would have liked to hear that more. It's hard to argue with that, where as it is not difficult to argue with implication.

Denominationalism... this has always been such a lose-lose subject with me. At some point, you have to call yourself something. Does that turn you into a denomination? What about the simple concept of identifying yourself... or your group? When does an identity evolve into a denomination? It's hard to identify with the, "The Free Egalitarian, We're Not Really a Group, But We Meet Together, Corporaty, Non-Corporate Entity That is NOT a Denomination."... or at least I think it is.

Equality amongst people is not a new concept... but I love the idea of building a foundation around it. We (our society?) seem to be challenged to do that... yes, even these days. However, I struggled a little with the thought that I was listening to a well articulated, but less formed set of ideals. I'm hoping we all know that living by ideals is a scary and slippery slope.

Back to the basics... I think a great opportunity to advance a number of his great (and well articulated thoughts) was lessened by not emphasizing the bible as the center point, and the center of our salvation being Jesus.

Unarguable points... regardless of what you're starting... or growing.