Orginally published on Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 8:00 AM
by Todd Rhoades
In a guest article today, Tony Myles gives his impressions of the Emergent Church movement from a recent conference he attended. Read Tony's thoughts and see if you agree...
A little over a month ago a buddy of mine and I did a road trip over to Minneapolis for The Summer Institute. The event took place at Solomon’s Porch, an innovative congregation headed up by lead pastor Doug Pagitt. Doug has been one of the many voices on the forefront of Emergent Village (formerly called Emergent). Long story short, he’s highly relational, notably intelligent, and extremely counter-intuitive in his thinking. All that logistical mumbo-jumbo aside, I want to share a few insights from my trip. First of all, my buddy and I had a BLAST driving over. And by that, I mean quite literally… his air conditioner didn’t work and so we drove 10 hours or so with the windows down and the air blasting (the only thing louder was the cheesy 80’s music we kept listening to). Normally I like this kind of a drive, but because my voice at the time was suffering some mild laryngitis it ended up creating a major case of laryngitis. I’m not kidding… the only way I could talk in discernible tones was to lower my pitch to sound like a pro-wrestler.
Oh yeah… did I mention I was a speaker at this event? God has a sense of humor.
As both a receiver and giver of the seminars or “offerings,” I found the loose structure quite interesting. In fact, the titles alone of each option indicated a lot about the diversity of the gathering, from those who presented concrete ideas to others who hosted open forums about philosophical issues. There wasn’t any particular target group, although many in attendance ranged from young adults to those who have a history with the established church in some way and have been itching for “something else.”
The night we arrived we had a great dinner with a dozen or so people, gathering at one of Doug’s favorite local Mexican restaurants. Consequently, we missed out on a forum regarding homosexuality in the emerging church. The next day I popped into the classroom and copied down these notes off the board from that offering - whatever they mean - listed under the heading “COMPLICATIONS”:
There may be unrevealed parts of life
Element of choic/commitment
Role of circumstances
Fluidity of idenity
Feels/desires drives category
Nature and nurture
Capacity to be gay or straight
Stories behind a present moment
Influences on feelings/identity
Confusion of no fit with category
One of my favorite offerings was the one that may have irritated people the most - “God and the new sciences.” Here are a few paraphrases from the deal…
We have a common idea that God has a job description and humans have a job description. And we don’t mix them because if we do people will criticize us of “playing God.” From birth control to seeing a doctor, we’ve moved from them being ethical dilemmas to being normal now.
The new sciences stir up all kinds of new ethical questions. In the last century we do things that humans never had to consider doing. The way that we travel… hold understanding… record moments in history… is all mind boggling. We play with time like it’s nobody’s business. What did he know and when did he know it? When you listen to a voice mail, when was it said to you? When you say something on an airplane and hear it, your relationship of time to people in the airplane is different than those outside of it. If something can be known, should it be known?
One of the guys I spoke with had a hard time sitting through it and eventually got up and left. His thought was that “the motivation isn’t to know God better… the motivation is for knowledge.” I understand his point, and even sensed it in a couple of people. Honestly, though, what was fun for me was watching the way people talk with each other versus what they actually said. In many cases, being too fundamental was looked upon by the progressives as being small minded; on the flipside, the progressives were seen by the fundamentals as lacking any stable structure.
I’d been praying all along on this trip that God would allow me to listen and enlarge my heart for the church. Given the fact that I couldn’t talk much, I think he did exactly that. Overall, Emergent Village has well exceeded my expectations even though it is a bit flawed (as are all things run by humans). There were some moments in the science discussion, for example, that I was a bit bothered by a few people who seemed to have a “Tower Of Babel” mentality that we can create a scientific pie in the sky. As it’s been said, we create because we are like Him, but we cannot create like Him.
In some ways I get a sense like we often face the temptations in this great postmodern conversation to fix everything that bugged us in the past wave of ministry. Maybe so, and maybe not. Maybe there is something more.
Relevant Magazine recently shared this in one of their articles:
“For a generation raised on televangelists, pedophile priests and megachurches, Emergent [Village] seems like a pretty good deal. It represents ‘a new kind of Christian,’ a phrase coined by Emergent’s unofficial patriarch, Brian McLaren. To those who have been burned by the Church, this kind of Christian is more open-minded, intelligent, loving and sophisticated than the Christians who came before.
But this is sacred territory, and it’s easy to see why this makes many Christians uncomfortable. To Emergent’s critics—and it has many—the group is off base at best and heretical at worst. Emergent has no formal doctrine, and, thus, the group is quite mixed. ‘We have Texas Baptists who don’t let women preach, and we have lesbian mainline pastors in New England,’ says Tony Jones, Emergent’s national coordinator. ‘Emergent is an amorphous collection of friends who’ve decided to live life together, regardless of our ecclesial affiliations, regardless of our theological commitments. We want to follow Christ in community with one another. In a very messy way, we’re trying to figure out what that means.’”
Personally, I’m into this because I’m a tension lover.
Often we end up waxing over concepts that to many have a “biblical basis” - regardless of what side you fall off the fence. For instance, some see it as absolutely “essential” to keep men in leadership over women in order to honor the verbatim of the Scriptures, whereas others hold it more important to understand the “spirit” behind the Scriptures and show how women in leadership is a biblical issue after all.
You can pick any issue, for that matter - slavery, women in leadership, homosexuality - and you will find people claiming one biblical truth at the expense of the other. Proof-texting is a lost cause (as we all know), but then again… so is issue-texting. By this I mean often we come into the Bible with a favorite passion and hope it says something we’d like it to say… and if it doesn’t we fold it under a principle of “grace” or “holiness.”
What I find absolutely amazing is how two people who proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior can come to two amazingly different conclusions.
So… how is this possible?
Perhaps on one side of the camp you have people looking at the Scriptures through their own unconscious personal lens of personal experience, present day barriers, and future hopes. Then again… might the other side be doing the same? The real issue is to wrestle over the Scriptures together… together… together.
To me… this is the real “emergent” issue - honoring all of the Scriptures… including the tensions that fly against our personal hot button platforms… and being able to dialogue all over the place in order to find a *balance of tensions* that honors the Bible in its disorderly coherence. This will probably look differently from local church to local church, for some issues will quickly cause division in one context that won’t in the next. And if God is as concerned about unity in the body as the Word proclaims, then maybe we should, too.
Unity… that means parts of our passions need to not be in the spotlight so that someone else’s may share that space, too.
Many people are drooling for Emergent Village to define itself theologically, from “this belief” to “that issue.” Their intent, of course, is to be able to critique it like a politician who has run out of their own things to say and has to resort to shredding the platforms of others. Perhaps in knowing this there has been some intentional ambiguity in order to promote a spirit of conversation.
Or maybe… they aren’t being silent at all. Maybe they’re just deciding it’s better to listen than to speak. Coming from a guy who was forced to not do a lot of speaking and a whole lot of listening, I think that’s a good move.
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 17:28)
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