RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, the award-winning newsmagazine program hosted by Bob Abernethy and produced by Thirteen/WNET, will present a special series on a new movement in Protestant Christianity — “The Emerging Church” — to be included in programs distributed Friday July 8 and July 15 to PBS stations nationwide at 5 p.m. ET (check local listings)

In this two-part report, correspondent Kim Lawton examines how some evangelical and mainline Protestants are rethinking Christianity for a new generation. In conversations conducted largely through “blogs,” leaders of the emerging church movement argue that old models and categories are no longer effective. They are developing new theologies and new forms of worship, often blending elements from different traditions — and eras — of Christianity. Some are generating controversy for urging a radical re-examination of conventional understandings of the faith.

In the first report, Lawton explores the diverse ways the emerging church movement is taking shape at the local level, profiling a congregation in Minneapolis that uses couches and recliners instead of pews, and going behind-the scenes at experimental worship sessions that blend contemporary technology with ancient religious practices. Lawton also talks with leaders of the movement about how they are reassessing what it means to follow Jesus in today’s culture, and hears from one critic who says that some parts of the movement are threatening traditional Christianity.

It’s not like The Dwelling Place is part of the Emergent/Post-Modern (PoMo) Church movement, but we have enjoyed being a part of their conversation. One reason is because if you say “emergent”, too many people have preconceived ideas of what you are and what you’re supposedly about. (You say “missional”, they have no idea and they have to hear you out.) One of the things that struck me about the Emergent Convention was that it was predominantly white. This left the nagging thought that this might be a conversation going on strictly among a certain segment of white evangelicals. I was heartened to hear that Brian McLaren and crew were working on not only making this a truly multicultural conversation, but were broadening it past it being solely an American Evangelical conversation. South America and Africa should be we represented by the time of the next Emergent Convention. We’ll see.

A blog site by another post modern brother has gotten me thinking about a few things.

Like most black institutions, the black church started because we weren’t allowed into the white counterpart. So we had our own. The fact that black people came to follow Christ despite the example and method of the (white) church is in itself a miracle. Even after segregation ended, the weekly hour of national religious segregation remained, but this is maintained by both sides. (Heck, listen to my language. Even I make it sound like there’s only two races in this country. Well, for the sake of my argument, just go with it.) We can tell ourselves that this is partly due to worship style differences, if that’ll make us sleep better at night, but I don’t buy it. Mostly it’s due to people worshiping within their comfort zones, with people just like them.

It’s also because of the role that the black church plays within the black community. Political hub, community center, and service provider, the black church is truly embedded in the heart of the black community. In this way, the black church has been ahead of the curve in its missional mindset. Though a re-thinking of the Gospel message is still a conversation worth taking part in.

And conversations do need to happen. We’re past the point of this being an exercise in theologically-based, intellectual noodling.

The black church has not been immune to the problems of modernity. Crass materialism, rampant consumerism, and hyperidividuality have inflected, and been inexorably tied to, the Gospel message. If “deep ecclesiology” and “generous orthodoxy” are going to mean anything, dialogue has to happen. If the church cannot speak to all parts of itself in love, what hope (or example) does the rest of society have? Once again, the church would lose an opportunity at being relevant to its culture.

And we can’t afford any more of that.

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