Philip Clayton [Hearts] Emergent

Philip Clayton [Hearts] Emergent March 28, 2012

Phil published an Op-Ed in the LA Times over the weekend:

Although a recent bumper crop of pundits likes to proclaim that we’d all be better off with no religion, I suspect that the majority of us believe that religion, in spite of its flaws, offers individuals the inspiration to be better people and to create a better nation. Seminary and church leaders, in particular, are highly motivated to staunch the decline. Unfortunately, many of them believe that what’s really needed is a return to the “faith of our fathers,” stricter adherence to creeds and (this is America, after all) better marketing methods.

I advocate a radically different solution: the Emerging Church. It’s a movement based on understanding the reasons for mainstream religion’s dramatic decline: improved scientific understanding, changing social norms, an increasingly pluralistic religious culture and more freedom to doubt and question — a freedom that until the last three centuries was mostly absent or suppressed and that is still resisted, sometimes violently, in much of the world today.

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  • Larry Barber

    You would think that the dean of a school of theology would have gotten the word that Emergent is dead.

  • James

    Is it me, or are those who constantly claim that “emergent is dead” on blogs are starting to sound like new atheist trolls that plague the Internet today? Emergent is only dead if you can’t deal with a postfoundational conversation that is alive and well – just refusing to become what its critics wish it would be so they could knock it down easier; God is only easily dismissed as a “fairy tale” if you can’t go beyond a narrow empiricism.

    Anyway, go Phil. Great article.

  • JPL

    Constantly proclaiming a movement dead in a faith that’s all about resurrection is clearly a losing strategy. Plus, it makes you look like a douche. So there’s that.

  • I like the article, but I have yet to see any church that embraces what it talks about. I spent a few years at Walker United Methodist which is close to Solomon’s Porch both geographically and spiritually. They read from the Tao and used terms like “the creator”, but never ventured much further than that. Until I see a religion that truly embraces and synthesizes philosophers with its prophets I will remain unconvinced of “emergence”.

    • Curtis

      a religion that truly embraces and synthesizes philosophers with its prophets
      Have you visited a UU church? They don’t claim to be Emergent — they’ve been around much longer than that. But it seems to me they have been doing what you ask for quite a long time.

      • Thomas Jefferson seemed to believe the US was moving in the direction of the UU. I’m still waiting. More so, I am waiting for churches, and people like Philip Clayton to really embrace what they say. I no doubt have a lot of personal bias, but what I see is priests and pastors adopting what managers have been doing for decades. They say they have an “open door” policy, that they want to hear what you have to say. You go in, say your piece, and in the best case, they say thank you. More often they tell you why what you have to say is wrong. Some will hand you a book or give you a lecture that doesn’t address your argument.

        If Philip embraces a “more freedom to doubt and question” then he should demonstrate it.

        • ME

          What sort of response would you like to receive from the priests/pastors you’ve said your piece to?

          • I can’t say what an answer is to a question that I have, but I know when someone is avoiding the question. If my question or statement are off the mark, use reason to explain to me why. If there is no answer then say so and work with me to find one or tell me what I need to learn to work on it myself. A leader’s job is to take input from the organization and synthesize it, not convince people that they are right and get them to follow.

      • Nope. They have abandoned Christ. The ECM most definitely has not (regardless of what ME and Frank say).

    • Lausten, why don’t you try Solomon’s Porch. Going to a church down the block pretty much has nothing to do with us.

      • Thanks for the invitation Tony. I do plan to come there someday. Currently I’m living “up north”. I acknowledge I am biased due to past experience, but trying another church without some strong evidence that my time would be well spent is not on my agenda. What I can’t reconcile is “more freedom to doubt and question” with mission statements on your website about following Christ. “Questioning” is very different than “following”.

        • ME

          Lausten, since most churches believe Christians are “made” not “born” you would think every church, every denomination would welcome questioners, doubters, non-believers etc. But, maybe it’s a paradox, the church is also going to have a large portion of people who also are or want to be followers.

          Would you be ok with church leadership that are committed “followers” as long as they are welcoming and opening to doubts/questioning?

          That’s what I think the best model would be, but, curious what your perspective is.

          • I don’t know what that would look like. I don’t see how you can be committed to open inquiry, wherever it takes you, and committed to one source based on faith. You can have a moral compass and be committed to peace, but that’s different than claiming there is an answer somewhere even though that answer is not fully revealed.

          • ME

            If you don’t mind sharing, what are the questions you ask the ministers you’ve visited with?

          • ME: How do you account for the justification of genocide? What is it with the passage about smashing babies head on rocks? If there is good evidence, taught in seminary, about how the Bible was written and assembled, why is that not mentioned on Sunday? We know there are blatant contradictions in the Biblical accounts of Jesus so how can we claim to know him?

          • ME

            The question about why some stuff isn’t taught on Sunday, that’s a good one! (My personal opinion, maybe sometimes there’s a fear of rocking the boat a little too much. Shouldn’t be that way, though, we should never fear the whole truth.)

            The other questions, I think there are kind of standard responses (some of which I personally believe) based on denomination and I’m sure you are familiar with them. Is it that you find those answers unsatisfactory (which is perfectly logical), or that the people you talk to just won’t really engage with you, or maybe you don’t think they really believe the answers they are telling you? I’d just really like to know what it is the people in those positions could do differently that would be more agreeable to someone with your perspective.

          • I think I answered that at the 8:41pm response above. That was some defining of what I think it means to be engaged in questions. Above you said something about leaders that are committed “followers” but allow for questions. That sounds to me like those leaders have made up their minds but are tolerant of people who question. When we are talking about questions like where did the universe come from, I don’t see how you can consider that closed.

            I want what religious leaders say they have. They say they have the path to truth. If they do, they should be able to address what we all observe and they should be interested in how truth has been refined over the centuries. They should be able to demonstrate how that path functions. I don’t get that. I get illogical answers, or just ignored or answers that I wonder if they actually believe themselves.

          • ME

            My opinion- anyone who says they have the path to truth is lying to you because no one has it. You are searching for something you can’t have and will not get, at least in this life on this earth. You get illogical answers because there are no logical answers to those questions.

            Lets say you could take a time machine back to Jesus’s time and witness his execution and rise from the dead. Even if you were there, you still wouldn’t be able to attain the path to truth. Trying to get that from pastors is asking too much.

            I agree with you 100%, when you are talking about questions like where did the universe come from; there’s no way you can consider that closed. I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that the pastors you’ve talked to have claimed otherwise. Maybe if you keep trying you’ll run into just the right one.

          • I didn’t want to go so far as to say people are lying. I think most believe are telling the truth, they just aren’t willing to really examine their own basis for it. They believe the faith decision was sufficient.

            You’re heading off into a land of murkiness where pastors aren’t supposed to make claims about knowing things. I don’t think my experience with pastors is that limited to say that only the ones I have known would make such claims. We’re back to this notion that I need to keep trying (to find the right pastor). No, they need to change. They need to quit just writing articles like Philip does and actually practice those new ideas.

            What do you think we should be asking from pastors?

          • ME

            To the 25 year old me, what I wanted to know from pastors, and from anyone, was, exactly why the heck do you believe this crazy stuff? I think pastors should be able to easily, clearly and specifically explain why they are a Christian. And, they should do it on Sundays every once in a while. This doesn’t mean their explanation will at all be satisfactory or make sense, but they should be able to relay their own explanation with ease.

            I think I feel pretty similar to you, pastors should have critically examined their own faith and if they have they will be to do what I’m saying and they should be able to respond better to your questions.

            “We’re back to this notion that I need to keep trying (to find the right pastor). No, they need to change.”

            Yeah it’s probably a better strategy to wait for the world to change to suit your needs 😉

            On a personal note, I think at one point I was in a situation somewhat similar to yours. What made all the difference for me was not something I did or any other person did. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

          • Waiting for the world to change:

            When I first went back to church as an adult, I was looking for community. I was pleased to find it had become more liberal and I could support it and stay true to my political and social agenda. I tried to return the favor by supporting its movement to become a stronger voice for a progressive social agenda. As I moved up in the organization, I found that support was localized. There may be social justice committees dotted here and there on the religious landscape, but the big players don’t see them as part of a movement. It is hard to tell what the big players want, other than more members.

            Change comes from within organizations and from without. Each individual has to decide from where they best can affect that change. My thoughts on who Jesus is have changed significantly, but my thoughts on what religion should be haven’t changed much. My understanding of church structure has changed a lot, and that led me to see my place as outside of that structure. That doesn’t mean I don’t still want the same changes.

  • ME

    This is one of those articles that reinforces my impression that the Emergent Church is the “Church of Christ Without Christ.” Or if not that it’s for people who think Jesus is a good story (fictional) and his teachings are good for propping up the political agenda of making the world a safer and more equal place.

    Not necessarily anything wrong with that, as long as the Emergent Church is honest about it. I wonder, though, is it better for a non-believer to go to an Emergent Church or a Catholic Church?? I suppose Jesus can and does break thru the barriers both churches erect.

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