Emergence Christianity Explosion!

Emergence Christianity Explosion! January 10, 2013

I’m in Memphis, coordinating an event called Emergence Christianity: A National Gathering with Phyllis Tickle and Friends. It’s gonna be awesome. In advance of it launching tomorrow, some of my friends have written posts reflecting on it.

Bruce Reyes-Chow: Aren’t We Done Emerging Yet? Sure.

I know — f or some people, the whole ”emergent” church thing is sooooo over and as a brand, sure. Not one to get too caught up in needed precise definitions *shocking*  the core values of this population — the ones that have drawn me into relationship with these folks are still there: a genuine passion for the Christian faith, a curiosity about what may be happening and a willingness to try some things . . . and best of all – huge, empathetic and frustrating intentions about life and the world. From the conservative Baptist to the way-too-liberal Presbyterian and everyone in-between, I have been inspired by the many conversations – glancing and deep – that I have had over the years and so I look forward to yet one more gathering that will feed my soul and spark my synapses.

Adam Walker-Cleaveland: Hope for the Church: “I’m Not Dead”

I think that’s true…we’re not dead yet. The church isn’t dead yet. There is hope and beauty and potential with the church…but as I mentioned in my previous post, we have to be ready and willing to do things differently. And…although the church isn’t dead yet, I do think it would be good for all of us (pastors, seminarians, professors, lay people) to realize that we are headed down that track, and we need to wake up to that reality.

Jay Voorhees: Emergent 10 Years After: A United Methodist Perspective

However, the question that remains for me is if the emergence conversation has had any impact on the broader, institutional church. Some will say (cough…Tony Jones…) that there is no future for the already established, institutional church and that we should treat it with respect as we help it die a peaceful death (actually Tony might argue for assisted suicide, but that’s another blog post). There are others of us that understand (which Phyllis affirms) that reform movement often create something new, but also bring forth changes from the institutions that they are pushing against. Have changes been happening in traditional communions like my own? Are there influences from the emergent conversation that have begun to make their way into “traditional” church life and practice.

And Deb Arca has an interview with me about the event.

What are your thoughts on Emergence? Is it dead? Just getting started? Has it made an impact, or not?

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  • I don’t want to say this too loudly, but, seriously, many people and ideas associated with Emergent saved me from “the new atheism.” I hope it’s not dead, because I think it can really help a lot of people.

    I do find it strange there there is nothing here in my city going on that is directly connected with Emergent (yet).

    • Craig

      Rob, had you not been so saved, what would you have lost?

      • For me, the tendency was to demonize. I don’t think all humanists/skeptics/atheists fall into that trap, but definitely the most vocal do. Honestly, I think it’s a form of racism (since most people were born into their religious identity). Again, I’m not trying to say the entire “movement” is bad, but I personally could very easily have drifted into the same kind of fundamentalist mindset that I had walked away from in evangelicalism.

        • Craig

          One may have been born into a crime family known for its violence and corrupting influence. This hardly means it’s a form of racism to censure such things.

          • Do you not think comparing any religion whatsoever to a crime family is a little ridiculous?

            • Craig

              But such a comparison is only to show this: the “born into” feature of one’s religious identity far from suffices to secure your racism comparison. And it does show this.

              • I just see religious identity much more closely related to race and culture in general than any list of beliefs or whatever else people tend to say. That’s why I think the comparison is valid. Yes, all religious ideas are worthy of a skeptical examination. But, demonizing a 10 year old because he was born into a Muslim family is just racism. At some point, he should question his beliefs connected to his religious heritage. But, his core Muslim identity is no more “evil” than being gay or white or whatever.

                • Craig

                  I agree that demonizing a ten-year old for being born into a Muslim family is a lot like racism. I don’t agree that this is the sort of thing that non-religious critics of religion are generally doing (at least not any of the critics I’ve encountered).

                  • In an academic setting, I agree.

                    But, the most vocal opponents of religion in general do seem to be doing this. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris – they see religion in all forms as inherently evil, so anyone who participates in religious ideas or actions is, likewise, evil. I’ve listened to possibly hundreds of debates between these guys, and read dozens of books and articles around the debates. The tone and the demonizing of difference is no different than the crazy right wing fundamentalists and talk show hosts. Even if they are right in some of their critiques.

                    • Craig

                      The primary problem with “demonizing a 10 year old for being born into a Muslim family” is, as with racism, its content and not its tone. Demonize the boy on account of his birth as sweetly as you like–it’s still highly problematic.

                    • I don’t know of anyone demonizing a ten year old. So that is just irrelevant. As for tone, I see many differences from the authors you mentioned and the crazy fundies. There are crazy atheists, no argument, just not in the group you listed. The difference is, they have something to base their statements on and they use reason to build their arguments. You disagree with their basis or their logic, but rarely do I disagree with their tone. Provide and example if you’d like.

                    • To me, I think the line that is too often crossed is between simply critiquing ideas and seeing religion in all its forms as inherently evil. It’s incredibly simplistic, and seems to be more of a problem with the critic than with any of their potentially legitimate criticisms. The critique morphs from “religion is stupid” to “religion is evil,” which means anyone who supports or associates with or participates in any religion whatsoever is, by implication, evil. And, that obviously includes kids who are born into it. Religion is THE main problem with the world, and getting rid of it would solve ALL of the other problems. Scapegoat.

                      That’s a lot in a short paragraph, all of which requires a lot more justification – something I’m becoming more convinced is needed from an emergent perspective…

                    • And I think you’re just the guy to do the investigation Rob. An understanding of just what is acceptable and reasonable is needed for both sides of this conversation.

                    • I hope so! Or at least I want to be a part of it…

      • This is why I continue to say that, if nothing else, Emergent can be a “safe space” for people to leave Christianity altogether (not that everyone should or will).

        • Craig

          I wonder if the halfway house might be a better analogy.

    • Sven

      I’m always curious to speak with atheists who switch to, or revert back to, religion. What about Emergent Christianity pulled you into it?

      Not starting an argument here, I’m honestly curious.

      • I still consider myself an atheist. And religion has to be very carefully defined.

        I think what’s more important about atheism vs. religion (or however that debate should be framed) is how each of us hold our beliefs/ideas/opinions. Emergent, as far as I can tell, is the only movement that allows people to doubt and question everything, without being demonized for doing so. Maybe that exists in other places, but I haven’t found it. More often than not, the specifically skeptical communities find “religion” entirely worthy of ridicule.

        • Craig

          I see. That’s insightful Rob.

        • Well said Rob!

        • Craig

          You know, on Rob’s compelling conception of the Emergent community–and I’ll follow him in calling it the “safe place” conception–it should be open to inviting sympathetic atheists and former Christians into leadership roles, and especially those who can sympathetically interact with the rest of the emergent folks. To the extent that it isn’t so open (and I suspect that it isn’t) makes me suspicious of the motives of those in the current leadership roles. I wonder if the Emergent leaders aren’t in fact overly committed to carving out some stable form of Christianity somewhere between fundamentalism and secularism, which is still essentially committed to safeguarding religious ideals of some kind or another.

          • I definitely can’t speak for the entire movement, only mine and many others’ personal experiences.

            As far as “leadership” goes, I’ve run into several groups within Emergent that don’t need or want “leaders” at all, in any traditional sense.

  • Craig

    Can you think of any peculiar incentives that surround your friends, the clergy-types who’ll attend, and the “biggest ‘names’ in progressive Christianity”?

  • As I said not long ago, “Emergence” is about to hit puberty. And who knows what that could mean for the future. Is “Emergence” dead? No. Inasmuch as an adult is no longer a juvenile, a juvenile is no longer a child, a child is no longer a toddler, a toddler is no longer an infant . . . then no, “Emergence” is not “dead.” But it is very different now.

    The “Emergence” of yesterday is done. It has reached a point of new maturity. The mind, body, face, and behavior of “Emergence” has evolved. And it will continue to be evolve. And it is impossible to predict what’s ahead. Like a teenager bombarded with hormones, “Emergence” will move forward by whatever spiritual impulses now flow dynamically through its proverbial veins.

    As for the gathering in Memphis, if it is about embracing the unknowns of tomorrow — which means accepting new growing pains and preparing for unforeseen challenges — rather than being just about reminiscing about the “childhood days,” then I’d say you will be prepared for the next phase of new growth. So long as you guys aren’t beating a rock like Moses did at Meribah.

    But it will be a phase of growth in which those who were at the genesis of “Emergence” will have far, far less influence. You have led the rabble through the desert. A new and different generation is now at the River.

  • I hope the Emergent Movement dies. Don’t get me wrong, encountering Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, this blog, etc., has been a changing point in my life, but as Pete himself says, the only church that illuminates is a burning one. The last thing we need is a other movement, denomination, or label which disenchanted Christians can attach to themselves. The movement must go quietly into the night rather than raging against it. In this change will come.

    • Craig

      Nate W., you may well be right. But I wonder if the current leaders of the Emergent Movement aren’t motivated to resist this conclusion.

    • Jonnie

      Might we be leaning a bit too much on Pete’s whitty remark about burning churches to characterize the whole scheme of Christian churches as only serving a purpose in their death? Pete, for his part, has his own Lacanian psychoanalytic reasoning informing what the church should be. In fact, it is a very particular hermeneutic. Maybe we could say the only illuminating Rollinsian church is a burning one, but the struggling urban church providing ministries upon which low income families in the area depend should probably stay clear of the flames.

      • Craig

        I have no desire to see that struggling urban church burn, but it strikes me as less-than-ideal that low income families in the area have to depend on a religious institution in the first place. Perhaps we should hope for a future in which, among other things, there is far less dependency on religion, even in the face of poverty, fear, or tragedy.

        • I totally agree that, ideally, no one should depend on religion. I, too, hope for a world without saints. But, as it is right now, practically, that’s all they have.

          • Jonnie

            They’re not depending on ‘religion’ guys. They are finding themselves supported and assisted by other people in their community that have ‘grouped up’ in a way that enables them to have ministries of support.

            • Craig

              Well if you can remove the religion while preserving what it is that people depend upon, then I’m all for that.

    • I definitely think this is an unnecessary interpretation of what Rollins is trying to do by repeating that quote. As far as I can tell, Pete is trying to change both what “the church” is and participants’ relationship to it. But, he doesn’t literally think the church should not exist at all.

      • Jonnie and Rob – Sorry, I guess I may have erred on the side of “provocative” at the expense of clarity. In repeating Pete’s quote I didn’t at all mean to promote either the destruction of church buildings or the dissolving of any gatherings of believers. I simply meant that the moment “emergent” becomes a brand or an institution and crystallizes into a specific lattice of doctrinal concepts that are held up as marks of distinction between its followers and “other” Christians, is the moment when it has become an idol. So far as “emerging” is understood as a way of interacting within faith communities and the world and not an identity by which we judge ourselves to be different from (or superior to) others, it is a good thing.

        So, in saying “I hope the emergent movement dies” I did not mean that I hope the ideas within it pass away, but that instead of coalescing into yet another segregated Christian center of religious identity (fundamentalists, evangelicals, liberals and emergents) those who have been impacted are willing to let the identity label “emergent” die and humbly and purposefully step back into the flames of their “non-emergent” faith communities to embody the emergent spirit of humility and openness to the ideas and thoughts of those who are different.

        • I think I agree.

        • Jonnie

          Good word. Thanks for the clarification.

  • T.S.Gay

    I appreciated your conversation today. I was taken aback by Nate W., and Rob, and Jonnie talking about stepping back into the flames of their non-emergent communities. Not that I’m anti. Just have a hard time thinking about going back.
    I admit that to me Rob’s point about emergent as a safe space seems like its best position for a future.. I mean where else? Some might not want to leave their pagan, hindu, buddhist, jewish, secular, positivist, catholic, evangelical, even progressive, or spiritualist postions altogether- but appreciate the conversation. Isn’t the conversation what was talked about as an “emergence” primary characteristic. And I’m big on multi-voiced worship…..and I don’t think this has been considered creatively.

    • NateW

      I agree that emergent circles are wonderful in that they are safe places to ask questions and have great conversations. Ultimately though, safety isn’t what we need. The core of following Christ is giving up our own safety that others might find it (and, in turn give it up). For me, right now, that means remaining and being active within my evangelical-white-suburban-megachurch. Every time I’m there I have to remember that every single person I see there is an exception to the stereotypical type of person who attends churches like that. I am in a men’s study group and I’m sure that they are uncomfortable with my views sometimes, but our relationship transcends “right beliefs” as we interact with each other as humans instead of brains. They are my brothers and we are learning from each other. Brotherhood WITH those who are different is what the Gospel of Christ is all about!

      Yes, it is lonely. Yes, I wish often for someone who understands the way I think. I’m convinced though that what I most dearly want is not found in being understood, but in understanding another.

      We can talk in generalizations and labels all day, but will never get anywhere. In the end every single individual person defies labeling and categorizing. To be crucified with Christ is to die to labels, and enter into communion with all.

      • Nate, I see where you’re going with the idea that “safety is not what we need.” I agree, to an extent. Ultimately, in order to embody the Way of the Christ, we need to get a place with ourselves where we are able to set aside some of our own desires and wants for the sake of others – but, again, never to the detriment of ourselves. But, I do think that many people need transitional spaces where they can simply be. And, that requires that communities need to welcome those who are not yet ready to commit.

      • Chris

        Thumbs up, Nate!

      • NateW: “To be crucified with Christ is to die to labels, and enter into communion with all.”

        Nate, you’re mixing allegorical and non-allegorical language, and thus saying nothing. You use too highly charged symbolic words and try to claim something about “dying to labels”. I’m sure “communion” has some really nice, just and peaceful interpretation for you, but that doesn’t take away that there are still many places where it is used to exclude others. When I hear “with all”, I hear, “as long as they think like me” and I’m not exactly alone in that interpretation.

        If you try to defend your definition, then you’re trying to bring your “label” to life, and your message of killing labels becomes meaningless. That has been the gist of most of this conversation. Rob has tried to bring in some of the actual difficult conversations that the ermerging church needs to have, like, how do we, “set aside some of our own desires and wants for the sake of others – but, again, never to the detriment of ourselves”, but you and others keep dragging it back to “communion” this and “crucified” that, and how your church is an exception to the stereotype.

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