So I just got back from the Emergent Convention 2005 in Nashville, TN. Nothing like venturing into country will billboards reading “Hell is real” and “3600 children were lost to abortion today” for religious dialogue. I will say that I spent the first half of the convention plagued by an intestinal bug. Nashville, that I know of, has no “don’t drink the water” type advisories; but I should know better that to eat the clam sauce at hole in the wall restaurants.
I’m not going to try and define what the Emergent Church movement is, but I have a pretty good idea of how it is perceived. A bunch of what amounts to Christian hippies; New Agers cloaked in Jesus. Self-stylized, post-modern, deconstructionists who hold to no absolute truths, no moral core, and don’t value Scripture. I doubt that anything I have to say would change anyone’s mind who believes such things. And it’s not like I’m completely down with everything they do and say either. But I enjoy the dialogue. I do know that I’m in the process of re-thinking, or at least thinking through, how church is done and how I view the Bible, and making the Gospel relevant for a rapidly changing culture. So any resources that can stir my imagination, I will greedily consume.
I’m still troubled by the monochrome nature of the audience. If they are engaged in something that’s supposed to impact the world, they can’t keep looking like they are only having this conversation among young, intellectual, white folks. However, this is a problem facing the segregationist mentality of the American church as a whole, not just this conference. Plus, I know that they are pulling together global ministries to guarantee that the audience (and speakers) will look radically different in only a year or two.
I was also glad to see that they were done emphasizing the cosmetic changes. “Ooh, look at us, we’re so edgy. We have services in the dark, lit only by candles.” “Let’s ride our bicycles for Jesus as a form of meditative prayer.” “Let’s have the DJ spin an ‘I love Jesus’ re-mix for 11 minutes.” I’m all for creativity, but sometimes I got the feeling that they were doing “new” things simply for the sake of being creative, without any real purpose or meaning.
Most of this movement is a reaction to a church that has reduced much of what we call spiritual living to a series of business models, formulas, charts, graphs, and self-help prescriptions propped up with Bible verses and God talk to give them authority. That’s where I see the church at now, stuck in this “rational”(and odd word to associate negatively with religion which often doesn’t have enough rationality), “systematic”/reductionist for easy consumption mentality.
I like asking questions, especially questions that challenged my faith and the intellectual boxes that people liked to pre-package God in. What drew me to them was the fact that they were comfortable asking questions, even doubting some of the sacred cows of religion. Not simply criticism for the sake of criticism, either. I’m all about trying to rehabilitate the Christian tradition in the lives of people who have dismissed it. For example, I know many spiritual people who can’t get behind Christianity simply because the self-proclaimed “gate-keepers of the religion” bar entry with their list of test questions. “Unless you hold to the seven day creation account, you can’t call yourself a Christian. You obviously don’t value the inerrancy of God’s Word.” When church gets in bed with politics or tries to do the job of science, neither of which is the purpose of religion, many thinking people say “pass.”
We, and I’m definitely including myself in this, risk a certain kind of hubris in thinking that we’ve got it right. Such thoughts should drive us to a deeper humility as we realize how little we do get it. Also, I am working on my judgmental attitude that I tend to have toward “religious” folks. I’m sure that I’ll be working through some of this in my blog over the year (mixed in with other stuff. I couldn’t take writing a theology only blog.)
But, hey, I got to hang out with Brian McLaren. And he remembered who I was. And I also found out the answer to the long unaddressed mystery of how many long island ice teas does it take for me to try an evangelize a bush. The answer is known to me, but shall remain a mystery for you.
*And I’m no longer announcing when I’m going to be away on these type of retreats. Some of the women on my message board took it as an opportunity to “re-decorate”, starting too many “Bridget Jones’ Diary” inspired threads.
Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) or just do so at my message board.