Wanting to keep some things together

January 13, 2010

church / emergent / emerging church

I reflected recently on the voices that have been questioning whether the emerging church as a movement is over. The whole discussion, as many folks have observed, is worthwhile if only for this post from Danielle Shroyer, which is thoroughly beautiful.

But I’ve continued to think about these issues over the past few days, as more and more wonderful people give comments on the discussion that range from wonderful and full of grace to insane and full of judgment, and especially after reading this thought on the next decade of the emerging church.

Now, this post is from Brother Maynard, who writes some of what I consider to be the best thoughts out there on the missional church. I greatly value his words, and of course those of the many others who speak to us about mission. Anyway, in the post I mentioned he writes this:

As for the emerging church, the need to be “relevant” to the culture that was sparked by missional concern before spending ten or fifteen years re-theologizing will return for some. The emerging church will fracture between the liberalizing theological stream and the missional stream, which is to say, the part of the emerging church that returns to the roots of why the began to be emerging. The liberalizing theological stream, on the other hand, is made up of those who didn’t enter the emerging church for primarily missional reasons, or whose emphases changed once they began redefining their theology.

I was genuinely saddened to read this. For years, I have watched these two streams move within the emerging church in general and Emergent Village in particular. In this post I’m not interested in wondering why this fracture would happen if it does. Rather, I strongly believe that there are many of us out there who love and live within both streams simultaneously, and with some hope that some of these folks might speak about this on their sites, Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else – and thus possibly avoid a fracture like this.

I came into this conversation, as I’ve said before, through churches and ministries that arose within underground subcultures – goths, punks, hippies, and so on. They were missional, emerging communities because that was the only way that church made sense to them. Worship and life together, inclusive of music, teaching, setting, and ways to engage the world among extreme metal scenes, goth scenes, punk scenes, and so on, when they are indigenously birthed, are incredibly missional things.

Many of these underground folks didn’t have the theological background to give that kind of context to these communities, but other missional streams have combined with those to bring other fantastic people into these conversations. Some of these streams brought in theologians and ministers versed in Newbigin, Bosch, Wells, etc. as well as doing their own amazing thinking and living.

These people are wonderful. I love them, and want to learn from them and be with them and be shaped by them.

Other theologians and ministers realized that there were broader cultural changes that were starting to come out from the university philosophy and English departments where they had lurked since the evils of fascism brought certainty to its knees. They started to realize that changing the ways that we did church did, by definition, change our theology of church, and they were willing to see where that led. Some of these folks came from liberal traditions, and brought those frameworks with them, and everyone found freedom in asking questions of anything and learning from various frameworks.

These people are also wonderful, and I love them and want to learn from, be with, and be shaped by them as well. So as I said, it grieves me to think about the possibility that these streams could fracture. I want these friends to stay friends, and continue to seek the kingdom of God together. I don’t care if any of us do it in “official relationships,” but I want to seek ways that we can genuinely do it.

Starting with me, maybe. I agree and disagree with lots of things that various people in these conversations say. I don’t fit in any particular stream, because I fit in several different streams. I’m quite comfortable in communities of metalheads, punks, addicts, and other outcasts who are raw and authentic before God and each other, and there is a beautiful grace there that can take folks to the heart of God. Also, I love learning about and seeking to live in the mission of God, and the deep implications that it has for theology, Christology, ecclesiology, and justice – and want to see this shape the church.

Likewise, I’m quite comfortable in deep theological conversations, especially when they are accompanied by good, deep mugs of beer. I’m certainly not officially a scholar, as my formal theological education ended when I got a bachelor’s degree, but I’m comfortable with reading and dialoguing with scholars on all levels, and read as much, and more broadly, in theological circles than I did in college. I greatly enjoy and value “re-theologizing.”

Perhaps more to the point of recent discussions, I fit on various sides of the more public debates in these conversations – those along theology, scripture, culture, morality, politics and ethics, among other things – and I’m quite convinced that many, and maybe all, of us in these conversations do as well. I think we all know this, but I fear that we may forget to remind each other of it, and that we’re in this together.

This conversation of emergence and mission is a fairly broad one. It is much more broad than the groups of underground and alternative ministries, and it probably can either become still more broad or less broad, depending on whether or not we are enclosed, either by ourselves fracturing, or by the heresy-hunters causing more who might join us to be afraid of us. We’ve seen that the heresy-hunters aren’t all that effective, though I think they’ll be much more so if we do allow ourselves to fracture.

I want to see if, by remembering that most of us flow within multiple streams, we can keep these streams – the missional folks and the theological innovation folks, as well as the underground scenes and the new monastics and the anarchists and whoever else – and other streams who are yet to join these conversations. This has been one of the biggest strengths of the emerging church for many of us. Here’s hoping we can keep it up.