A friend of mine once said that “I don’t know why Emergents just don’t call themselves American Orthodox and be done with it.” I guess one reason is that such a naming would reduce them to yet another “brand name”/denomination rather than being provocateurs of conversation. I tend to go into situations with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It’s how I roll. The Midwest Emergent Conference was no different: I had some questions, some criticisms, and some conversations needing to be had all rolling around in my head ever since the last emergent convention I attended. Not the least of which was the topic of black folks in the conversation.
I’ve had some concerns about the emergent movement and you can probably pick up the tenor of my own prejudices (tinged with cynicism) in how I ask the questions. Too often I encounter an attitude of pride of acting like we’ve discovered something new and cool, like we’re the ones who have gotten things right (an attitude I know that I have been perfectly guilty of and thus my frequent prayer). As John Armstrong says, “no, we’re simply ahistorical”. We forget that the church has been around for a couple thousand years and a lot of the questions we’re asking now have been asked from the beginning. It’s not the asking of the questions that is bad, it’s the attitude of having (KNOWING) the answers that concerns me.
The Emergent discussion continues the same Protestant trajectory of “the church is screwed up and/or heading in the wrong direction” which seems to only promulgates the sectarianism that already runs so rampant among us. That “we’re better than you” that mentality of if you don’t agree with me, I can’t walk with you” attitude that usually leads to more division.
I don’t want to get caught up in faddism or of being “cool” (whatever that means when it comes to religion, church, and God). I saw that as ridiculous in high school and I don’t want to start buying into it now.
I hear promises to re-imagine church which sounds more like recontextualizing the church/Gospel in a postmodern paradigm. Yet while we have no problem criticizing the modern paradigm it seems like there is a near wholesale acceptance of the postmodern one (postmodernism may only be the tail end of modernity, the problem of naming our epochs while still entering them). Which would mean that we’re still culturally captive.
I sometimes wonder about how we approach issues of social justice. I’m pro-social justice issues, but leery of jumping into bed with politics. I’d hate to see the church reduced to being the chaplain for liberals (learning nothing from too many of us positioning the church as the chaplain for conservatives).
I wonder when the gender inclusivity of language issues will pop up in earnest. What will it do to the Father/Son language?
With our reaction to church as we’ve experienced it, from fundamentalism to the business model, we know that control and efficiency is not a model for family nor how to do church. However, we can’t just have picnics with strangers and call it church.
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