The recent blog debate about what the emerging movement is and what it isn’t brings home to me what can be and can’t be accomplished in the blog world. I learn from many of the individual posts, and I learn about the various views that are held about the subject I choose to post about. I learn that off-handed comments come back to haunt you, as I am learning now with what I think was a misguided choice to use P-Bics. I retain the view that pastors of big churches can swing their weight behind various subjects, sometimes for the good and sometimes not, and sometimes as experts and sometimes as misinformed. But, I should not (and I apologized for this in a previous comment) have suggested that James MacDonald was doing this: like other pastors of mega-churches his influence is considerable and I think that means he needs to be careful with what he says. I have learned as well that many may perhaps think the same about professors, and I’m sorry if he thinks I’ve done what I am suggesting has been done by others.
But I will say this: what he says about the emerging movement is a caricature and not indicative of either what the movement intends or what it is doing in general. That is what I want to emphasize. I can’t think of a better place to work out what one thinks or what is going on somewhere than the blog world.
I want to glorify God with the calling he has given me to teach and to write and to think and to help pastors and lay persons to live more responsibly before God for the good of others and the world, and because I feel called to focus on Jesus of Nazareth (in an academic field, but even more personally), I tend to want to see more of our faith expressed in Jesus’ categories. I do work hard at having a biblical balance in my theology, but being limited and fallen and all that I know that I find myself imbalanced at times. But, more than anything else I want to balance my academic calling with my ecclesial calling. I hurts to think I fail at these things, but I do.
What I’ve also learned is that the emergent and emerging leaders need to make some things clearer than they perhaps have. But, I will state what I have stated before: this emerging movement is diverse and all over the theological map. But, it needs perhaps to be noted again that theology is not the distinguishing mark of the emerging movement (again I appeal to Emergent-US for its orientation — and it is not theology but something both theological and beyond simple theological articulation). It refuses to reduce its “faith” to a statement, partly because the Church has done this for all of us and partly because it wants to wed theology and praxis — and a statement can’t do that. A summons to a new life can.
When it comes to what the emerging movement is, though, I think there is a need for some clarification. First, it cannot be narrowed to a theological view (neo-orthodoxy or anything else) or to any one leader or even to a group of leaders. Most tend to operate with a leader=movement procedure. For instance, I hear this frequently about four leaders though there are others — McLaren, Pagitt, Kimball, and Tony Jones. Others will point to others. The tendency is to identify the movement with one of these leaders. Or, to say “so and so believes this, therefore the movement believes this.” Since the term “neo-orthodox” has now been used for one of its leaders, let me say something about that.
Before I do that this needs to be said: no one is suggesting the whole movement is neo-orthodox and no one is suggesting that I am neo-orthodox (that I know of), but by using this term perhaps we can shed some light on the emerging movement.
There is one thing that ought to be made clear: the emerging movement is not neo-orthodox in it central senses. Neo-orthodoxy, spear-headed as it was by Karl Barth, fought against Protestant Liberalism’s theory that religious experience was the defining core of the Christian faith and that the Christian faith could be embedded in a cultural matrix, and Neo-orthdoxy posited in its stead a radical transcendence of God and clear distance of God from humans and his creation and, on top of this, a more radical challenge of the world with the Christian faith and God’s redemptive grace. (This is why so many Evangelicals, both conservative and not so conservative, have found Barth to be an ally rather than an opponent.)
If there is anything the emerging movement is theologically it is not neo-orthodoxy: it argues, instead, for a more radical identification of God with creation and culture rather than over against creation and culture. In other words, part of the issue that is challenging the emerging movements is their lack of an emphasis on transcendence, and therefore holiness and purity and separation and the like. In other words, the emerging movement could learn from neo-orthodoxy. (No, I don’t think the “Neo” character in Brian’s novels is a cipher for “Neo-orthodoxy” but for “Neo-kind-of-Christian.”)
Neither would I want to say that therefore the emerging movement is theological Neo-Liberalism. In fact, while it might be more “incarnational” than Neo-Orthodoxy and more “liberal” than evangelicalism, what I see so exciting in the emerging movement is the possibility of another way that transcends the older lines of division that have brought us to where we are. The search for a new paradigm, which means working hard and fumbling at times, is beginning to take its shape around the Kingdom vision of Jesus, and I want to be a part of the discussion if I can. So, I like what I see and I see great possibilities here. I don’t agree with everyone who is a leader or with everyone who has a voice, but that is part of what the emerging movement is: a group of like-missional people who are offering a variety of models of thinking and practicing but who do not always agree with one another.
Because emerging is neither neo-orthodox nor neo-liberal, and not even simply old-fashioned evangelicalism, it will have features from each of the movements behind it — including (God be thanked) classical creedal Christianity. The frustration of many in trying to define it is, in my judgment, the fault in part of emerging itself for it is both in process and unwilling to let itself be defined by a theological system.
Instead, it seeks to be faithful to the summons of Jesus to live as followers of Jesus, to live out the Kingdom in everything we do and say, and to let the chips fall where they may.