Ten Years of Emergent/ing

Next Wave E-Zine has a ten year retrospective of the emergent church movement by Stephen Shields that is, as we would expect from Stephen, comprehensive and even-handed. Money Quote:

And so the tenth anniversary of Next-Wave
arrives at a critical moment for the emerging church conversation. 
Theological differences indeed threaten the short-term cohesion and
long-term viability of the emerging church and yet in the midst of
those differences, many claim some genuine ecclesiological and
theological advances that may yet prove to have long term significance.

followers of Jesus Christ are not ultimately reliant on their own
brilliance, devices, and stratagems to co-labor with God in His
Kingdom.  Submitted hearts can call on God for His wisdom and guidance
and trust that the Spirit will lead.
  Human institutions,
movements, and conversations come and go.  But surely sometimes God
chooses the canvas of human efforts to paint beautiful portraits.
of course, the criterion by which the long-term success of the emerging
church conversation will be judged will be the degree to which it has
precipitated a greater love of God and others. 

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  • Peter Rollins

    Hey Tony
    Thanks for this. However, do you not think that such statements as the one you quote here simply re-establish the very thing that radical emergent thought is questioning (and hence fundamentally misunderstands it)?
    For instance, if we said that emerging theology (to different degrees and in different ways) embraces metaphysical doubt and the need to take full responsibility for ones own life and actions in light of its suspicion of metanaratives, then how can one reconcile this to the sentiment implicit in the line, ‘fortunately, followers of Jesus Christ are not ultimately reliant on their own brilliance, devices, and stratagems to co-labor with God in His Kingdom. Submitted hearts can call on God for His wisdom and guidance and trust that the Spirit will lead’?
    Is this affirmation not a type of double think that mimics the facile pop wisdom of, ‘I am not sure if I believe in God but I know that God believes in me’. In other words, my doubts are all really pseudo-doubts that are cradled in my certainty at a meta-level? In this way emerging thought turns out to be just as other-worldly and onto-theological as the movement it attempts to critique?

  • Hi Pete,
    Hope I’m not butting in (sincerely) but since I’m being quoted, I was wondering if you’d be willing to engage over your comment. Before I respond, I wish to ensure that I understand. Can we chat via email?
    We may disagree at a fundamental epistemological level or it may be that you misunderstand me and I misunderstand you (i.e. talking past one another, as it were).
    many thanks,

  • Hey there
    Would love to chat, and I am sorry that my tone in the comments sounded so strong!
    I am also aware that my own thoughts here may not be representative of how many people who adopt the term ’emergent’ think. However I guess one of my projects is to develop Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’ and show how it is an important source for the most radical form of emergent thinking.
    For me religionless Christianity operates without any metaphysical guarantees. There is doubt, complexity and ambiguity throughout. And so there can be no final foundational claim to an external source ensuring that everything will work out well in the end (one can, of course, hope that there is).
    I do argue however that there is a type of non-foundational foundation in faith of the type that Pascal hints at in his statement, ‘the heart has reason that reason does not know’. This I think can be termed ‘rebirth’. But that rebirth is such an immanent event that it does not give itself over to epistemic justification or other-worldly guarantees. For me the story of the man born blind is a representation of this. He says he can see but refuses to make any absolute claims concerning the person of Jesus. To put it in another context one could say,
    ‘I have been reborn, transformed, renewed by God, but then again I wonder who, what or even if God is.’
    I guess I was worried that the above statement might do the same as some types of mystical apophatic theology… namely give with one hand (unknowing) what it takes with the other (an ultimate knowledge). This is why Derrida ultimately found negative theology too positive.
    Instead of saying ‘I am not sure God is there in my day to day life but I know that God really is there’ (i.e. everything is ultimately going to be o.k), I am more prone to say that Christianity allows us to claim, ‘God is here in our midst, although I am not sure God exists’ (i.e. God is what we live here and now without guarantee that God is ‘out there’). While the former justifies faith via a metanarrative the later lives Christianity as a meganarrative (a grounded story)
    Hope that is useful

  • Honestly, Pete’s response to the idea of metaphysical claims sounds an awful lot like something many of us are already familiar with: its called Mainline Christianity.
    And even more honestly, I do not think therein lies the future of Christianity. IMHO, the idea of a “religionless Christianity” is akin to tossing the egg and leaving only the shell, not the other way around.
    Now, if Pete wants to move forward believing this is his best effort at living an integrated, genuine life, then I say: “go for it”. I just wouldn’t personally call that Christianity.

  • Dan H

    So, if we can have no real confidence (which is not exactly the same thing as ‘certainty’) that there is any God ‘out there’, or even that God is ‘real’ (except in the sense that we choose to order our lives as if God were real), why bring God into the equation at all? Why not simply say, ‘we have somehow been transformed or renewed by something’, and that consequently ‘we will live towards an integrated, whole life, however we choose to understand that’? And why connect this with Christianity, specifically, except perhaps for a desire to use the images and thought-forms of the tradition one is used to?
    It still seems to me that the earliest Christians had both a metanarrative and meganarrative–that each informed each other. I understand that for too long the conservative evangelical church has emphasized cognitive belief in a metanarrative to the exclusion of a radical lived life, but I’m not sure I’m on board with simply swinging the pendulum to the opposite side.

  • Hi Pete,
    Thanks for your gracious response and I appreciate your elaboration.
    First of all, let me clearly acknowledge both that my own epistemology is rather unsophisticated and that I lack the depth of your own learning in philosophy. I’m not proud of that, but I do want to be upfront about it. I sense that we *may* have profound epistemological differences. So, please feel free to educate me on any of the philosophical constructs that you mention that may be relevant to any continued conversation and I will not think that you are talking down to me.
    You may or may not know that Brian McLaren was my pastor for many years. 7 years ago or so, we had an email conversation about epistemology that I posted in 2006 here that I think is relevant to our conversation:
    I might phrase things differently today, but Brian and I were able to find some common ground in our discussion. In short: I believe anthropocentric epistemology is locked into doubt based on the finiteness of the human mind’s capacity and reach. But I also believe in a true knowledge based on an theocentric epistemology that is transpropositional (not anti-propositional but more than propositional – lexical knowledge + experience).
    That’s probably a rather complicated way of saying that I genuinely believe in revelation and faith!
    Otherwise, I don’t see any ground whatsoever for taking “full responsibility for one’s life.” Why take responsibility at all if there is uncertainty?
    For what it’s worth, I would not affirm “I am not sure if I believe in God but I know that God believes in me”
    Regarding “no metaphysical guarantees,” the connotations of “guarantee” make me want to agree with you. I do wish to affirm epistemological humility. But I’ll suggest that this humility runs even deeper in affirming God speaks clearly as the Creator of language. I simply do not have any larger reference point than God to independently judge the veracity of what He says. So I’ll suggest a theocentric epistemological stance is rather radical as the locus of knowledge is then external to the human mind. (Obviously subjectively it is connected (it must be perceived) but it’s objective veracity is external to the human mind.) That’s why I see a theocentric epistemology as *profoundly* humbling. By my own devices, I am in a worse epistemological position than even the 2 year old hearing a theologian lecturing on alternative theodicies.
    Pete, I *think* we disagree on some basic points regarding the possibility of the knowledge of eternalities, but I also wish to acknowledge that I still might not quite be seeing what you’re getting it.
    Please also forgive my surely technically incorrect philosophical language above. I’ve read just a little philosophy but I can see you’ve dug a bit deeper!
    Finally, thanks for taking the time to engage.

  • @Darren –
    I realize this will more than likely just serve to prove a point, but take it easy with the cheap shots at other religious traditions. Your not doing yourself, or any one else, any favors by smacking the straw man that you call “Mainline Christianity.”
    Mainline Christianity gave us MLK, Jim Lawson, William Sloan Coffin, Anne Lamott, Frederick Buechner, Paul Tillich, Nadia Bolz-Weber, James Cone, Walter Brueggemann, Miroslav Volf, Diana Butler-Bass, Marcus Borg, Jurgen Moltmann, Rita Brock, John Cobb, Bruce Reyes-Chow, Karen Ward, Peter Gomes… The list goes on.
    I get it – you’re not predisposed to us. That’s fine, but could you refrain from the lack of graciousness to some other of Christ’s servants trying to live out the gospel the best we can?

  • wilson

    words words words

  • Good conversation. (Cranes neck over)