Wednesday, November 7, 2007

rant: what the hell is this emerging community doing?

I'm sick and tired of assumptions that think the emerging community is a relativistic, 'anything goes' cocktail of a little 'my friend Jesus' here and a little 'whatever you want' there, with a couple candles, icons and a cup of joe thrown in to make everyone feel cozy and warm and somewhat spiritual (but not too much for fear of stepping on toes). The emerging church is not a free for all exchange of ideas for the sake of 'i'm ok, you're ok', with no serious engagement for who God is, what God is up to and how God wants us to get on board with it all.

What it seems to me, both from my own experience and my fumbling attempts, is that the emerging churches are enacting a radical notion of living out the tension between a missional congregation in relationship to its context. This, of course for some, seems to create an ambiguous relationship that appears to allow everything. The emerging church radically and authentically seeks to wonder and live out what it means to be church, not just talk about it. The essence of this answer is best arrived at in relationship to the very God who brings it all into existence: the trinity, a holy community engaging in 'mutual interpenetration.' That is, through Jesus God is known in time and the Spirit, Jesus continued ministry of (not about) God is made manifest through communities willing to listen and engage and ponder and serve.

I found this great quote from Scott Frederickson who wrote a paper that was presented at Luther Seminary's first annual missional church conference in 2005. In this thesis entitled "The Missional Congregation in Context" he is talking about this tension around congregation and context. He mentions 'coinciding' as it refers to the trinitarian undrestanding of God coinciding as three persons, persons as it relates not the independent identity of each, but rather, the interdepedent identity, the importance of each 'person' as it is defined in relationship to and through the other. This 'otherness' is key! He says:

"The God of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, has created and redeemed this coinciding. The very incarnation of God into the Son and the resurrection of the Son to God is the way Christainity claims the context. This means that a missional congregation and its context are related. The missional congregation claims the reality of the context (the Incarnation) while not being subsumed wholly beneath it, in order to show the context of a deeper reality (the Resurrection), namely, that God is constantly at work in the world."

I love this idea for how context/culture is redeemed as God's presence in and around the incarnated Christ (Holding). I love that we can be free to engage alongside and with our culture and context without "being subsumed wholly beneath it." (Hospitality/Humility) I love the idea that we could challenge and interject hope that God hasn't given up on the world and that God can be trusted. I love the idea of sharing a new vibrancy for what God is doing in the world and how it is available for all.

What is difficult, I think, for people to understand about the emerging communities is this differentiation between the essence of church and the serious engagement with and alongside of culture.

This is not the end of the conversation of course. This is only one slice of pie, or whatever taste this might leave with you. Hopefully, it's something nourishing and somewhat tasty and doesn't just taste like shit, although a few of you out there might think so. The emerging community seeks to embody this challenging notion of missional community contextualized. It certainly is a venture that leaves many wondering 'why has everything become so watered down'. On the other hand of course it has energized others to re-engage an environment, context/culture, that has dismissed us for dissing them, trusting profoundly that both, working on each other, are necessary for God's continuing emerging work in and for the world.


isipwater said...

Some are resistant about trying church differently.

Some may fear that listening and being with "outsiders" will contaminate church.

I sense that it is not the coffee, candles, and comfort that make the emergent way threatening. Rather, it is how the emergent way calls us to a new way of being vulnerable with "outsiders" that is threatening.

dave said...

great point ryan. i often find myself in the middle of a conversation between some of lutheran christian colleagues challenging me to maintian what might be known as some kind of orthodoxy and conversation with outsiders of 'church' that think i'm not going far enough in distancing myself from church, jesus, etc. a tricky balance, but it has really caused this fumbling follower to better understand where i can stand authentically as church and with jesus without either compromising where i'm out without alienating the complete 'other'.

strange descriptive thought pattern there, but its true.

cool stuff is going on, i'm going to blog on it soon, b/c it has a different way of entering into this emerging community that i never really thought of, but in fact, just emerged right before my eyes today in a lunch with tamie.

Lars said...


I assume that I'm one of the Lutheran Christians who's challenging you to maintain some orthodoxy. If that's true, then I'm ok with that.

It's interesting, having grown up around global missionaries, who work in cultures very different from our own, that they saw no need to change the Gospel to conform to their mission field. Conversation was about practical topics, like how to convey the Gospel message, what practices should be used, what cultural practices to we keep, transform, or abolish (an especially heated topic).

A difference has long been drawn between practice and belief in cultural contextualization. Emerging churches that come from an evangelical root tend to be very culturally relative in practice, but not in theology. The main-line tendency is to keep practice traditional, while changing our beliefs to conform to what others want them to be, so they can join us without having to change. That's an oversimplification, of course, but here's the question it always leads me to: Are we making our beliefs into the beliefs of non-believers so that non-believers will be with us? But, they don't need a church to keep doing what they're already doing and believing what they're already believing. If we take away from church everything we believe is uncomfortable or unliked to make our message palatable, are we still proclaiming the Gospel?

Why are we trying to distance ourselves from the church, Jesus etc.? Are we ashamed of the Gospel? Are we ashamed of who we are? Are we embarrassed?

So much of emerging conversation I hear sounds so much like the classic liberalism and universalism of the UCC or UUA, just with candles and cool music and couches. That's how it appears on the surface, if it does not have any place where it puts its foot down on anything.

The question you have to ask in doing cross-cultural mission work in general is, "when do we have to demand a change of belief or practice in order to be a part of the Christian community, and when can we accomodate what's already there without compromising the Gospel?"