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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What IS Emergent?

On Thursday, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Chris Seay penned a post at emergent-us called Our Response to Critics of Emergent.

This article generated about 50 posts in a Yahoo Group composed of my posse here in Atlanta. I have been one of those critics in the past. I wrote two posts that were quite critical of Emergent here and here.

Yet I find myself wanting to continue the "conversation". As much as I am cautiously skeptical about Emergent, I am repulsed by the vitriol that is cast on those who identify as Emergent. I have seen this up close as my pastor has been accused of heresy because he has referenced various Emergent authors and is therefore "guilty by association".

I'm not mocking anyone when I ask "what is Emergent?". I am sincere in the question and have yet to have anyone answer it. I'm wondering if Emergent is simply about asking questions without providing any answers. I know that is a crude summation, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that.

There are many legitimate problems with the modern evangelical church that need to be discussed and challenged. I think that it can often be difficult to identify those things that are simply part of our American Christian subculture yet have nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that I have mentioned this before, but John Fischer had an excellent illustration of this in his book, "Real Christians Don't Dance". He said that we are like an orange and that as we try to peel off cultural baggage to get at the Gospel, sometimes we rip into the fruit and it hurts. But we still need to try.

My first take on this Emergent document is quite positive. I was very impressed by much of what was said, particularly the tone in which it was said. This doesn't mean that I necessarily agree with what each of these individuals have written. I tried to take what they said at face value, without parsing it for errors.

My biggest critique of Emergent isn't that they are heretics;: it is that at root it seems to be an aesthetic youth movement. Once again, that isn't all bad, but there sure is a lot of discussion for something so trivial if that is the case. This is where confusion sets in and I can't really figure out what this is all about.

I also differ from McLaren in particular in his take on how we should approach the postmodern world we live in. He seems to be saying that we need to adopt a postmodern view. To the contrary, we are called to have a Christian worldview.

I think what is appealing about Emergent and people like Brian McLaren or Don Miller is that I and many of my friends reject the false dichotomy of absolutism v. relativism. On one hand, I think most evangelicals do reject moral relativism. Yet, many of us are often repulsed by the arrogance and anti-intellectualism of many absolutists.

I'm finding as I get older that I am less confident in my own "rightness". I'm more than willing to admit my own lack of understanding or certainty on various issues. This doesn't mean that I don't believe in absolute truth; I do. I'm just not sure that I can always know it in its fullness.

My friend Josh Jackson replied to this thought:
"I think you hit the nail on the head. What's appealing to me about
the emergents, particularly Don Miller (only loosely tied to the
emergents, as far as I can tell), is in the wake of my 15-year
encounter with evangelicalism was the arrogance of certitude on
every minor point of theology, even when different denominations
held differing views. I mean what percentage of evangelics belong to
the denomination of their parents and are convinced that it
coincidentally is right about everything. Emergent doesn't assert
that there is no absolute truth, just that we're unlikely to get
everything exactly right on this earth."

Sorry for the stream of consciousness thoughts but it is late.

Update: David Wayne (aka The Jollyblogger) wrote an excellent piece today about the importance of non-Emergents having a open dialogue with Emergent:
I think some of us have a fear that, if we dialogue (rather than preach at) with those with whom we disagree that this is the equivalent of endorsing their perceived errors, or even exposing ourselves to contamination. Some of us are very insecure in what we believe. We are afraid our beliefs won't hold up under cross-examination so we stay away from those we disagree with and talk about them rather than talk to them. I know I have been guilty of that. But I'm also of the opinion that a belief isn't much worth having if it can't stand up to examination or criticism.

Update: Brother Maynard (great name!) has written a post attempting to answer my question "What is Emergent?" I am very impressed by what I have read so far and will respond soon.

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