One one day last week I got two letters that asked the same basic question: How can grass-roots Christian pastors and leaders participate in the emerging movement today without being accused of heresy and have their integrity — moral and theological — called into question? I know some who have lost their leadership positions simply for reading some emerging books and others for participating in cohorts. Some are too adventurous for their former churches; many aren’t. The distinction is not noticed by many. I’ll post a composite, edited letter today and offer a response tomorrow. What would you say to a letter like this?
Thanks for making yourself available to folks like me through your blog. I’ve only been reading for 5 or 6 months now, but I find myself reading almost daily. The (virtual?) community gathered there has become an oasis of sorts.
I just became the pastor of a struggling church plant and I’ve been working hard to create an environment in which a healthy community can emerge…. Ah, but there I’ve already said it. The “e” word. That’s actually why I’m writing you. I’ve been in and around the emerging conversation for a number of years – before I knew “emerging” was a thing. My entrance to the conversation was quite natural. I have some theological training but became disillusioned with teh Church. I nearly gave up on the church idea. Then a friend gave me a copy of The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor. Soon after, A New Kind of Christian came out and I felt a sense of hope for the future of the church. I’ve attended an emerging event or two, and am always glad to see some take these ideas very seriously.
I didn’t jump on the emerging bandwagon. I didn’t start a blog and fly the green ‘e’ publicly. I knew there was real substance beneath the style, but most of those early conversations seemed to be a gathering of disgruntled youth pastors who were excited about getting together to smoke cigars and complain about their senior pastors.
Fast forward to now. I’m trying to lead a church – a small but growing group of people who really don’t seem to be concerned about denomination or doctrine – who are gathered in a real sense around some ‘missional’ ideas (as I’ve learned to call them). Really, in every sense we are an ‘emerging’ church. We are missional; we have an appreciation for the depth an breadth of the Church. We are gathered around practices at least as much as beliefs, probably more. We have a way of locating ourselves and Scripture inside of the larger Story of God. Somehow, I have learned to intuit the world in a very postmodern framework, therefore I can’t help but gravitate toward post-systematic hermeneutics and confidence over certainty. I tend to vote conservatively, but I root for some liberal causes – help for the poor and environmental issues. I personally read a lot of the books that inform the emerging conversation. I love N. T. Wright. I think denominationalism is increasingly useless. I could go on, but by any measure I think we qualify as an emerging church.
Now, I really doubt that 95% of my church has ever heard of the emerging movement. I sort of get a kick out of that. Most of them are immature or wounded enough that they wouldn’t go to another church if ours weren’t around. They like our church. They just don’t necessarily know why they like it. I’m OK with that.
My problem is this: I love the emerging movement. I really like Emergent Village and the common values and practices they have published. I’ve learned so much and have been so encouraged by so much of the conversation…
…and then I turn on the radio and hear leaders calling the emerging movement ‘seductive’ and ‘mislead’ and ‘rebellious’. And I like some of these leaders. There was a time in my life where I found the quality of one of the leader’s very voice comforting. He seemed so sure of himself – and in those days, it was comforting to me that although I had a lot of doubts at least he had it figured out and he sounded like a decent, reliable guy (back then). But I don’t agree with him about everything – just like I don’t agree with Brian McLaren on everything. I’ve learned form both and I find disagreement instructive and valuable.
My point (finally) is that I feel like I am being bullied by some of these leaders. I feel like they are using their platform to create a division in the church that isn’t real. I feel like I can’t publicly support Emergent or self-identify with the movement because of my responsibility to my church. I don’t want to bring unnecessary controversy into my community (especially because they don’t even know there is a controversy).
So currently, I don’t blog about it. I don’t weigh in publicly on the conversation. I certainly don’t fly the green ‘e’!
What to do about this? If I believe the emerging movement is good and healthy and largely responsible for my own journey to where I am, but I also believe it could drag people I care about into the misery of venom-spewing church giants (who, btw, dominate radio and other ‘old’ media), do I continue to avoid the topic? Or do I stick to my convictions and let the chips fall – even if that means I join the ranks of ‘emerging’ pastors who become the target of well-respected and powerful voices like? (By the way, Scot, you know who these leaders are.)
Thanks for any advice you may give.