In the latest Christianity Today, Andy Crouch wrote an article about the emerging church movement. There’s been lots of email traffic in my inbox over this, as well as some traffic in the blogosphere. Here’s an edited version of an email I sent out to a few friends with my thoughts on Andy’s piece:
“In writing, as he does in person, Andy came off as sly, with a twinkle in his eye. However, he did seem to capture, as a journalist, some of the ambivalence within emergent/emerging church (there’s one ambivalence right there: which is it?). Is Rob Bell one of us or not? Does the Emergent Convention represent us well or not? Is it a movement or a conversation? Ask 10 people these questions and read 10 blogs, and you’ll get 20 answers. So if a journalist walks around and interviews a bunch of us, he’s going to hear a lot of dissensus. I think that was one of the major themes that came through in the article.
“Now I personally think that dissensus is a wonderful thing and we should emphasize it. That difference of opinions is what makes the conversation so fruitful, and the inner critique is only going to make the EC, our books, etc., a lot better. Let’s be honest, the EC got a major overhaul for ’05 based on some of that inner critique.
“However, bloggers like ***** **** are already using this article to (once again) say that emergent in the US is merely altered evengelicalism while in the UK it’s really an orgasmically great thing. That’s sick, and if anything needs to be blogged about by some of us, it’s that this was a journalist’s view about what we’re up to, and as such, it is partly right and partly a misrepresentation. That’s what happens in journalism.”
Some I’ve talked to on the phone think that Andy tried to marginalize us by making the hair jokes a running gag throughout the piece. I personally think that Andy is an important dialogue partner for us; if when he looks at us he sees more style than substance, then we’d better work harder at making substance our priority (I bet that even Andy knows that the hair jokes were a cheap shot). And CT may want to marginalize us, but I think a lot of organizations would kill for a cover article highlighting their impact.
Some have a valid gripe that the piece only profiles one church (Mars Hill (the Grand Rapids variety)) and one author (Brian McLaren), and that neither of these does ministry in an urban context. Now I haven’t talked with Andy yet, but I’m sure that he’ll acknowledge that the emerging church is more complex than he could possibly report in a 3,000 word piece. Again, maybe the lesson is that we need to emphasize the small, urban church plant as we talk about emergent with others.
If we can’t all take a deep breath and learn something at a time like this, then we’re really screwed.