You Might Be an Emergent Christian If…

You Might Be an Emergent Christian If… March 29, 2012

I’m working on wrangling the final submissions for book three in the Banned Questions series, which will be Banned Questions About Christians. It’s funny because sometimes the seemingly easiest questions are the ones that respondents struggle with the most.

Case in point: I got an email from Carol Howard Merritt today, who is writing for the book. She has wrestled with a question for days that effectively asks: what is an emergent Christian? After trying in vain to get out of answering at all (typical emergent), she came up with what I thought was a wonderful narrative response (typical emergent) that she felt was woefully inadequate in answering the original question (typical emergent).

So in order to clear up any confusion, once and for all, I thought I’d compile a list of simple criteria to help you figure out if you are officially an emergent Christian or not.

You might be an emergent Christian if:

  1. The list of Christian bloggers you follow has more than five women with three names.
  2. The words “substitutionary atonement” cause reflexive sighs or eye rolls for you.
  3. You find you always use your fingers to make little air quotes when you use words like ‘salvation’ or ‘sin.’
  4. Wild Goose is your new annual pilgrimage destination.
  5. You identify yourself as some hybrid of multiple denominational names, perhaps with a “-mergent” thrown on the end for good measure.
  6. You commonly use phrases like “some of my best friends are atheists,” or “that reminds me of what Zizek said about…”
  7. You know what “The Event” is.
  8. You can’t read an article by or about Mark Driscoll or John Piper without wanting to hurl your fair-trade soy latte at your MacBook.
  9. You consider the fact that you’re a Christian to be more than a bit ironic.
  10. You find yourself quoting Derrida in regular conversation.
  11. You can fill in these names: ______ Pagitt;    Nadia Bolz ______;    _____ Caputo;   _____ Rollins (no, not the guy from Black Flag).
  12. You have a bald head, facial hair and hipster glasses.
  13. You prefer “faith community” over “congregation,” “gathering” instead of “worship” and you always hesitate self-consciously before using the word “church.”
  14. You cringe when God language (or any language about pretty much anything) is not gender-inclusive or gender-neutral.
  15. You use the words “authentic,” “context,” “ecclesial” or “metaphoric” more than two dozen times in an average day.
  16. You say things like “I don’t really preach any more…”
  17. You consider calling someone a “post-” something or “post-post-” something is a compliment.
  18. You answer every question with either another set of questions or a series of deep, reflective sighs.
  19. Something just doesn’t feel right unless you’re boycotting something.
  20. You have any idea what “postcolonial hermeneutics” means.

I should be clear that you don’t have to identify with all of these to be an emergent, and really, if I told you how many it took to be emergent, that wouldn’t be very emergent of me. So sit with these, engage in dialogue about them, and maybe take them with you on your next spin through the prayer labyrinth made entirely of compostable materials.

But whatever you do, for The Event’s sake, don’t actually call yourself an emergent. No self-respecting emergent would ever do such a thing.

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  • I have no idea how to answer any of those questions.  Could have been Greek.

  • Numbers 2, 5 (Lutheranabaptiscopalian), 6, 8, 9 (considering that I’m openly bisexual), 11, 15, 18, 19, and 20 accurately describe me!

    I have glasses and a beard, so does this mean now I have to shave my head?

  • What if i don’t know what The Event is but I like Jason Ritter on Parenthood much better.

  • Yup, I’m pretty clueless as well. I mean, I get a few of the things you said, but mostly, I was scratching my head. =)

  • Melanie

    1,2,3,8,9,11,13,14,15,17,18,19,20  – yup.

  • Simon

    You might be an emergent if #21: “Your gathering has dialogical midrash sessions rather than sermons”

  • Simon

    You might be emergent if #22: “You use words like “relational” or “missional” and not words like “evangelism” or “denomination”

  • Doug Pagitt

    Someone should create the “Shit Emergents Say” YouTube video.

    • Christian Piatt

      Actually Travis Mamone did two of them. Pretty funny.

  • Simon

    Anyone else gonna add some more of these?

    You might be emergent if #23 “You say you’re anabaptist, but you’re not actually a  Mennonite, Hutterite, Amish or Moravian.”

    There must be at least 27 more to make the half century…

  • Ed Taylor

    Am I too un-hip if I go look some of these up now? because I guess trying to be “more emergent” would make me less emergent, right?

  • ThingsJustDontAddUp

    I find it interesting that #1
    is “The list of Christian bloggers you follow has more than five women
    with three names” when the only really widely-known (beyond the most inner circle of emergent people) “emergents”
    are straight white men. Okay, Nadia Bolz-(don’t know the last part) is finally
    starting to break this ugly, oh-so-revealing, trend, but she’s about it. And this issue is the primary reason that I
    have stayed far away from this “hip” new Christianity, even though my
    beliefs probably fall well in line with it. If “you’ll know them by their
    fruits” is true, then the fruits of the emergent movement are this: you
    reproduce a bunch of similar looking, intellectual white guys from middle/upper
    income brackets who spend their lives plastering their own names ALL OVER blogs
    and books and the speaking circuits instead of serving the needs of the poor
    and oppressed in humility and with the ultimate self-sacrifice of not getting
    noticed.  And you
    know what? These “leaders” in the faith, with all of their power and
    influence, don’t seem to do a damn thing to actually use that power to step out of the way and raise up
    minority and female voices in any real, substantive, “creative” way (like they always pat themselves on the backs for being). Oh, sorry, women do get a few guest posts and guest spots on the TRULY famous mens’ programs and blogs and conferences. But again, the fruit reveals the true pursuit and the true values, and the fruit is just more hip, rich, white guys. They aren’t bad people, but they are horribly duplicitous, perpetuating every inequality that they so eloquently self-promote themselves by teaching against. You’ve had your say, white guys. Now be quiet and go follow your own teachings. Believe me, we will all survive. In fact, maybe Christians will finally jump off of the celebrity-culture bandwagon that you perpetuate so unapologetically. Blech. I’m sorry for the rant, but I just can’t stand this. Seeing this new name, Christian Piatt, show up all of the time just pushed me over the edge.  I really wish I could get a real response from one of these guys about this issue, but I realize that just won’t happen. I really am trying to remain respectful here, but if you can’t tell, I’m angry and I’m going to let that show for once instead of smiling and excusing it all away. 

    • Carol Howard Merrit
      Rachel Held Evans
      Rita Nakashima Brock
      Nadia Bolz-Weber
      Cathleen Falsani Possley
      Lisa Sharon Harper
      Diana Butler Bass

      Those are off the top of my head.

      • ThingsJustDontAddUp

        Okay, but I just read that list to my husband and the three other people here, and the only one that any of us had ever heard of was Nadia Bolz-Weber (and that was only myself and one other person, because we both read Sojourners). The real “Rock Stars” who are widely known, outside of your inner, more hard-core emergent circle, are all straight, white, middle/upper class men — Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Shane Claibourne, Christian Piatt, Tim Keller. There is some kind of weird strangle-hold that men have on the most elite, top tiers of a movement that seems to be so outspoken against that kind of thing. 
        Look, I’m sure you hate getting comments like this, so I appreciate that you even took a few moments for a brief answer. But if you weren’t one who fit the category and who wasn’t benefitting from your status there, I think you would have addressed the broader issue too and maybe at least added, “yeah, it sucks, and I’m sorry. I’d really like to see that change, and we need to be extremely deliberate about changing that.”  But it’s like you can’t even see it. It is obvious that you are not the one who does not see yourself represented or appreciated or esteemed. 

        I am speaking to you as a person from the outside of your movement. And I am telling you that this is a common criticism I hear, and obviously feel myself. You guys have a PR or an image problem, at least. I’m not saying that’s your heart, as I’m sure it’s not, but that’s the perception. And for those of us who see the Biblical story as primarily about the Exodus story, moving out of injustice and oppression to a peaceful, free, all-inclusive, diverse body of unity and justice, that is a HUGE red flag. Yours is a white movement. A straight movement. And a mostly male movement.  

        I’m not trying to be a blog troll and I’m actually not trying to be rude, so I do apologize if it is coming off that way. I am speaking from my heart and giving you an honest perspective. 

        •  I agree about the reality of white male privilege, as I’ve discussed in lots of my articles previously. I’ve even written specifically about being aware of white male dominance in the emergent movement. But this was a humor piece about what it means to be an emergent. There was a bit of a nod to the white male thing in the point about having to be bald, have facial hair and trendy glasses – description of the quiquintessential white male hipster.

          • ThingsJustDontAddUp

            Yes, this was a humor piece, and humor is built on reality.  That “point about having to be bald, have facial hair…” does give a bit of a nod to the male dominance, but what is funny to you tips off some hurt and confusion for others. That’s the point. Your perspective and position allows you to make and chuckle at the joke, to brush off criticism, and even get miffed that someone is upset at you for it.  

            I didn’t think that you don’t understand white male privilege in an intellectual sense. I am sure most of you have written and spoken about it, and that I would agree with what you have said. But I am wondering what you are doing in practical and real and concrete ways to change this reality? Maybe to step back from the crowds like Jesus did so that you DON’T create this celebrity mentality around only one type of person?  At the very least, do you make apology for the reality, or are you just acknowledging it and saying “darn it, wish it wasn’t that way, but don’t be upset at me over it”? And finally, if this is the reality, shouldn’t you EXPECT some anger to show up and welcome the opportunity to respond with love and understanding and apology? 

            The emergent movement prides itself on challenging the status quo in general Christendom and in society, and I would hope that it would be willing to have others question the status quo in the emergent movement.  

  • ThingsJustDontAddUp

    (Sorry for the weird formatting on my last post. frustrating.)

  • Chollie

    I’m new to this whole emergent thing, and just happy to find thoughtful Christians.  Regarding the white male criticism, I wonder how people become names in this emergent area?  Would it not just be by posting interesting material, writing articles, speaking to groups, etc?  Am I missing something here?  I certainly don’t discriminate against women writers, speakers and teachers.  Love to hear them, read them.  Where is the coercion or exclusion in the blog, speaking writing world.  Sorry, but I don’t get it.  Seems like a free market of ideas at work.  Write something cool and I’ll read it!

  • Laura W