Whatever the Emerging Movement is, it is clearly a protest movement. Sometimes it can appear to be cranky, but there is substance and there is focus in what the Emerging Movement is protesting. And, though sometimes the resolutions fall flat or fail to materialize or collapse into the unworkable, there are genuine resolutions being worked out.
What is the Emerging Movement protesting? Let me count the ways.
That’s not an attempt to be funny: there is a list of at least ten items the Emerging Movement is protesting, and most would agree that it has its finger on some hot buttons. And let it be said that its primary focus in protestation is the evangelical movement and, sometimes but not always, the mega-churches that so clearly define and set the tone for the evangelical movement.
First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches. This generation of Christians is not as capable or interested in putting up fronts when it comes to “church” or when it gathers. Instead, it prefers a higher level of honesty. (Now the older generation would contend that hanging out dirty laundry is not advisable, while this generation is not so sanguine about the desire to protect.) Let me give one example: most evangelical Christians don’t pray. (Stats show this.) Neither do they read their Bibles as often as they claim. (Stats also show this.) The Emerging Movement doesn’t want this hidden in non-confession but wants it out in the open — and then it might even ask if reading the Bible is making a difference or if praying “works.” It likes to ask these sorts of questions.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church. Why there needs to be so many kinds of Baptists or free church types or so many others kinds of churches is becoming more and more incomprehensible to the emerging generation. If the gospel is what it is supposed to be, if Jesus prayed for us to be “at one,” and if we are supposed to be able to do things together, why not worship together? And, it denounces such divisions as much by raiding the entire Church tradition as anything else: increasingly the emerging generation finds things it likes in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions — things that were “no no”s to a previous generation.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer. I will touch on this origins for this tomorrow in my post on postmodernity, but the emerging generation does not find certaintist expressions as amenable as less certaintist expressions — even when the same thing can be said in different ways. Certainty denies the frailty of humans, the limitations of our own minds, the need for conversation and relationship and communal growth, and it sets itself up for collapse the minute a more complete grasp of knowledge is found.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action. “By their fruits, ye shall know them…” (I fell into some KJV language, but the point is the same.)
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians. (By the way, this is not a false dichotomy; it is ancient form of hierarchy.) The Emerging Movement will ask as much about how a community’s spiritual formation comes about as how individuals are being formed. (So my current poll will soon find an emerging complement.)
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel. It is the simplistic packaging of the gospel, so it is sometimes said, that causes so many problems in the Church today, so the gospel needs to be presented and performed in such a way that its rugged realities are clear in the summons to join in the work of God in our world today.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning, between 11 and noon. Sunday morning, if it is at that time or another time, is when the Church gathers to worship and share life, but the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel. Frankly, for many, stomach flu breaks out when they think of the ornateness and the elaborateness and the expense of Sunday morning services.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons. Scripture, it must be seen, is an expression of God’s authority and not an independent authority. The very notion that one needs pastoral approval for one’s calling or one’s promptings or what one is permitted to do many find unconscionably usurping of God’s authority.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical. To use my words (and you can trace this in my Emerging Movement Category in the sidebar), it wants a “purple gospel.” It is not so much a denial of either but a combination of both. (There’s a big difference in those two ideas.)
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem. It embraces culture and state and politics and business and it protests old-fashioned Christian separationism and enclave Christian circles. The walls between Church and World, so it is suggesting, need to be impermeable and not permeable, they need to be knocked down so the passage from one to the other is an imperceptible as the passing of Jesus from one person to another.
Tomorrow: I will post on postmodernity and the emerging movement.