Emerging: A Response

Emerging: A Response October 29, 2008

Dear Emerging,
The number of folks who surrounded you with advice and wisdom continues to draw our admiration, but I do want to put some of this together from my angle.
There are so many streams flowing into this emerging movement that it is no longer very useful even to use the word “emerging.” But I think by using the names you do use that it is clear to me that you are part of the world-wide emerging movement.

Young pastors need to have a wise, elderly mentor who listens, counsels, and steps in only when necessary. So, I hope you have that sort of person you are going to: perhaps a spiritual director or, better yet, a wise pastor who has been around the track a few times to put all of this into perspective. I cringe at the thought of young pastors making life-shaping decisions without the wisdom of the grey-headed folks. I learned this in Proverbs and it has stuck with me. Seek the wise if you want to become wise.
There is no reason for you and your pastor to hide from one another, hope things settle down, or wish that the issues will go away. They won’t. So my recommendation is a simple one: pick one (emerging-type) book (Tom Wright, The Challenge of Jesus
or Simply Christian) that both of you can agree on and read it together, meet weekly for coffee or lunch or breakfast and discuss the book. For you to flourish in the ministry under this pastor’s guidance you will eventually — the sooner the better — have to convince him that you are orthodox, that you are within your church’s parameters, and that you can think critically about the emerging movement. (It saddens me in situations like this that too often it all comes down to what the senior pastor thinks — and too often in a congregation polity!) Work through the book with him and if he thinks you don’t fit, he’ll let you know.
Search for guidance and discernment on what you are called to do. You are young and you’ve got decades in front of you — Deo volente — and you are in a situation that will give you some opportunity to discern where you are headed. Perhaps it will be to seminary; perhaps not; perhaps to a different church; perhaps not. Instead of turning this into a struggle, seek the light.
Focus on the center. So often in tough situations, like what you are in, we dig in our heels and convert the particular issue at hand into the most important issue in the world — and it almost never is. To get your bearings on this I advise sitting back, taking into view the big arc of the Bible, the Story, the Gospel … etc … however you want to frame it, and ask how your issues fit in. We ought to be able to dwell together in the gospel and we usually refuse to dwell together for non-gospel issues.
Some particulars: I’m sorry to hear your pastor taking pot shots at emergent. It is irresponsible to talk about emergent without reading the stuff with a hermeneutics of love. You might think of modeling how to respond to these writers instead of confronting him on it, but it is not outside your relationship to mention that it is unwise to take folks to task whom one has not read.
On the blog: I’ve said this before — don’t write on your blog what you don’t want everyone in your church to read. Blogs are permanently public, friend.
Teaching students to think historically is part of the hermeneutical method we have to learn how to use, but it doesn’t come easily. I teach college students and I’m not sure some every care to embrace a historically-shaped reading of the Bible. You might think here of things you don’t care that much about — in my case it is mathematics — and think what it would take for you to become passionate enough about it to make it your own.
On truth … I think I know what you are getting at: for you truth is expressed in particular contexts in particular ways for particular days. (This is what I call “wiki-stories” in Blue Parakeet.) If you are in an evangelical church, you will need to get clear in your head what you mean by this sort of thing. If you think all truth is contextually expressed and your pastor thinks the Bible is shaped by its context, then you may have some common ground. But I would say this: this issue is very complex and it takes some good philosophical studies and a sound perception of the doctrine of revelation to make orthodox sense.
One final point and I may be missing the mark here: you might be in a situation of an authoritarian pastor who is threatened by change and by any kind of challenge. He may well be surrounded on the elder/deacon board by those who protect him and support his every move. If so, I’m sorry and, apart from a work of grace where a pastor sees the light on the need for genuine conversation and congregational input, your days could well be numbered. Even though I prefer for us all to dwell in unity, you might not be able to remain in that situation.
I hope these thoughts are of help to you. Our prayers, and the prayers of the Jesus Creed community, are with you.
Write us later on how things are going.
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