Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Depressing Emergent Complexity

I studied a fair bit today in preparation for both Sunday’s teaching, and an upcoming seminar at which I’m speaking with one of our ministry directors from Bethany. After finishing my preparation for Sunday, I spent some time perusing Emergent Church blogs. There are thousands of them, without exaggeration! I was surfing through them for several reasons, but one of the large ones is that this morning I had the privilege of hearing David McCullough at a business breakfast. He stood before us, grey and wise, pouring out his heart like a prophet with his plea that we work on recovering that which has been lost: a sense of history; the love of reading; matters of honor and duty; good conversation at the supper table.

As I sought to translate his talk into my world of service and leadership in the church I wondered if we in the church don't have things we need to recover too. I started asking questions like this. What would happen if followers of Christ read their Bibles and responded to the things God was teaching them? What would happen if they met regularly to pray for one another and their neighbors, and they practiced hospitality, developing relationships within their neighborhoods? What would happen if they were so captivated by Christ that loyalty to Him and His ethic far outweighed any other loyalties, national, political, economic, or otherwise? My blog surfing was driven by a curiosity regarding whether these things are being addressed. Here's what I found:

Though simple, these practices are rare commodities in today’s spiritual marketplace. The emergent church hopes to offer a new way of doing church because the old ways don't work. Has the church of modernity failed? In many ways yes, though probably not to the extent that her young accusers say. But now I’m wondering, after 40 minutes in the emergent blogosphere, if the cure isn’t worse than the disease. One blog offered over 60 links! I became weary and confused just scrolling down the sidebar! After a few blogs, one gets the feeling that the emergent movement has it’s own celebrities, it’s own inner circle, it’s own language (emergent, orthopraxy, orthoparadoxy; missional; trans-missional; deconstructive; post-emergent; post-deconstructionist hermeneutic; blah blah blah). This is ironic, coming from a movement that was formed, in part, because the gospel had become inaccessible to common people.

Could it perhaps be simpler than this? Instead of a whole new movement… how about:

Love God – Read the Bible, Pray, listen for God’s voice and if you’re having trouble hearing, check with a friend and share together about what you’re learning or not learning.

Begin to Live out the Ethic of God’s Reign – when He’s in charge of the world fully, there will be an infusion of justice, beauty, environmental transformation, healing, hope, and celebration. Why wait? Let the reign begin today.

Love People – love your neighbors. Invite them over for dinner. Start a book club or something. And (this is important) young Christians; love and honor old Christians. Old Christians, pass on the torch of responsibility to new generations. We need each other. We need history. We need new ideas, forms, and ways of thinking. We need good conversations.

It’s discouraging to see a whole new subculture rising up offering the ‘new way’ to ‘do Christianity’ with the implication that we’re finally going to get it right. No – we won’t – no matter how emergent or post-modern we become. We’ll continue to be a on a journey of transformation. But if we’re humble enough to learn from each other along the way, and stay committed to a path the embodies the ‘simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ’, perhaps there will be a quieter, broader based, longer lasting revolution. That, it seems to me, is what’s needed.


At 25/4/06 21:41, Anonymous Stevan Vanderwerf said...

I appreciated your thoughts on the recovery of some Christian 'basics.' I wanted to comment on the relationship of young and old Christians as you mentioned. I think this is an area where Bethany as a church can grow. I am a young college graduate and I attend the Wednesday night Prayer group, which is primarily composed of a few older generation faithfuls. While there remains a bit of a culture gap due to the difference in age I find my time valuable with them. Many of them are very open to sharing their thoughts and wisdom with the younger generation but can't seem to find a venue to express that in the context of Bethany. One individual in particular is really passionate to continue his Bible teaching and has tried twice to teach a class geared towards young adults but not one young person showed up! I think with a little bit of facilitation Bethany could reap the benefit of young/old generations learning from each other. Anyway, just some thoughts to keep in mind from the congregational side of things...

At 27/4/06 10:26, Blogger Erica Murray Wright said...

One of the challenges with the Emergent "conversation" is that the participants have grown up with consumerist Churchianity as a foundational ordering principal. Many are still being weened off the fads of "how-to-do-chcurch" books, seminars and lingo. To break away from that particular culture and to truely BE church/community/family on a local level is happening...multigenerationally and all. Our age spectrum is one of the most beautiful parts of the community I belong to. We hope to increasingly draw followers of Jesus and seekers from all generations into our community. I hope other "emergent" communities will look to those of the older generations for wisdom and friendship. It's so worth it!

At 27/4/06 11:40, Anonymous Penny Carothers said...

I agree with you Stevan. What would happen if we could partner 'young' and 'old' Christians in a mentoring relationship? I think that would be a good first step. I know of a lot of young folks who desire to learn from the wisdom and guidance of those who have been following Christ for so much longer, and I know that older folks would have fun with us!

At 28/4/06 08:53, Anonymous jeff brown said...

I agree that the emergent movement can at times seem complex. True emergent churches are those that live out a simple and pure devotion to Christ. They are churches that are not trying to follow some model on "how to do an emergent church"; rather they are being creative in living out this devotion to Christ. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that follows a particular model when it works well for someone else: whether the model is selling hamburgers, books, or religion. Following a model will not make a church emergent; it will only shorten its life span. Creatively living out a simple and pure devotion to Christ will make a church emergent, and relevant to whatever generation in which it finds itself.

At 28/4/06 20:10, Blogger Candice said...

Hi Richard! I was at Capernwray a few years back, and stumbled across your blog through some friends. This quote is on one of their blogs, and is something I'm definitely learning about (and going along with your posting):

"I have rightfully no other business each day but to do God's work as a servant, constantly regarding His pleasure. May I have grace to live above every human motive, simply with God and to God." ~Henry Martyn

I'm thankful that God's given you so much wisdom to share.


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