I had am currently involved in an interesting (to me anyway) conversation on the emerging church movement on the Grace Centered Magazine Message Boards. I thought I'd share a couple of my responses, although you can click on the title of this post to go to the actual thread and read the whole conversation and track where it goes from here.
Anyway, I had sort of bowed out of the conversation, but I came back in with this post in response to what looked to me like misrepresentations of what the Emerging Church Movement/Conversation was all about. I offered the following observations from my point of view:
a) I can find absolutly no one who is advocating "postmodern Christianity". There may be someone, but I haven't found them. What is being advocated is that some of us engage a changing culture. What is being suggested is that maybe we don't have to convert people to modernity before we can convert them to Christianity (you know, since there were Christians before the advent of Modernity). What some of us are wondering is if modernity (which is arguably more humanistic than postmodernity) maybe wasn't the best thing that ever happened to Christianity.
b) What is being suggested in the emerging church is that while it was quite appropriate for Christianity to engage modernity and take that philosophy "captive for Christ", we make have made a mistake by totally embracing modernity to the point that many feel Christianity is utterly dependent on it. What I hear being constantly cautioned against in the emerging church is that while can and should take postmodernity "captive for Christ", and while we should and must listen to postmodernity's critique of modernity to untangle it from Christianity, we must NOT make the same mistake that the church made with Modernity.
c) Leaders in the emerging church are quite clear that they are not calling on everyone to abandon existing church structures. They are simply asking for support, or at the very least that traditional/modern Christians would focus their energy on reaching the significant part of the population that a modern version of the Gospel can connect with instead of tearing into those of us who are trying to find another way to express the truth in a radically changing culture.
d) The accusation that the emerging church is presenting an "I'm OK, You're OK" Gospel or that they have an "everybody's in (universalist) ecclesiology is simply false. What is being questioned is the practice of "motivation by exclusion" that most churches practice. What many of us are wondering is if belonging to a faith community might actually lead to believing more effectively than doing it the other way around (and may actually be more Biblical). Read McLaren's new book "The Secret Message of Jesus" when it comes out in April (or just read my reviews of it for the quotes). He will surprise a great many of his critics on this point.
Postmodernism, as a philosophy/epistemology is still in its embrionic stage. So far it simply points out the flaws of modernism (deconstruction) and is just beginning to reconstruct an alternative. It can't be defined yet because it is still in the very early stages of it's development which may/will take hundreds of years. Even so, many of it's criticisms of modernity are valid and should be headed. Thank God some are willing to actually consider what this shift means for the Church and for the Gospel rather than hiding their heads in the sand and hoping it will go away. (It is quite possible that our overcommittment to modernity stems from the fact that the church vacilated between ignoring it and declaring it "evil" and "foreign to the gospel" for years until they realized this was not the case and doing a pendulum swing.)
Later in the thread, somone who is just hearing about the movement for the first time made the statement, "So how can people promote a philosophy [postmodernism] if they don't know what it is, and why would anyone be persuaded to adopt it?" I offered this in response:
It's becoming clear to me that maybe this is the heart of the misunderstanding about the emerging church movement/conversation. Emergent is not trying to pursuade people to adopt postmodernism. It is not trying to encourgage churches to become "postmodern churches" or Christians to become "postmodern Christians". Postmodernity is a philisophical and cultural shift in the way people "come to know things" that is taking place in the culture at large. It is in it's early stages, but it is catching, particularly in younger generations. Because it's in it's early stages, it is, of course caught up in deconstructing what came before it (modernity), which is why it has a clunky, silly sounding name like "post-modernity". This is not something that people are trying to "convert" others to. It is something that is developing all on its own. What some of us are trying to figure out is, what is the church going to look like? How are we going to accurately and effectively communicate the Gospel, when the old ways of "coming to know things" don't communicate the same way anymore? (this most certainly does not mean that the old ways are "wrong", "bad", or even "stupid".) What you will find if you look is that many of us in the EC movement/conversation either are or were Youth Ministers. The reason for this is that we see this stuff first and are having to change our methodology and how we even construct our arguments because what once communicated, now just doesn't with many people. So, it's experimental in many ways. It's often confusing, and sometimes scary. But, for many of us, it's where we must go as a matter of faithfulness to God, the Gospel, and our Calling.
Anyway, so far it's been an interesting conversation between lots of people with different perspectives and opinions. Check it out if you are interested.
P.S. We have posted a new episode of Post Restorationist Radio. Phil was out of town, so my friend Matt Wilson sat in for a conversation on Youth Ministry. I have also posted a new lesson on Fasting to the "Join The Revolution".