Yesterday I posted an edited, composite letter from a Christian leader to me whose integrity is being called into question because of his/her participation in the emerging movement. The letter said plenty, and your responses yesterday were very good — today I’ll offer what I have to say to such folks.
Thanks for your letter and know that you are not alone. I’m willing to say I get 10 letters along this line per month. Now to a sketched response:
Before I say much I have to begin with this: in spite of good intentions by some fierce critics — protect God’s people, defend a system of theology, prevent the slippery slope into relativism, hold the banner high for truth, etc — I must admit to being deeply saddened by the way some have responded to the emerging movement. I know that many rely on one or two “official critiques” and have done no serious thinking themselves about the issues. They have not met with folks; they have not bothered to read the materials; they avoid all blogs; they have not really thought about the issues that stimulate the emerging movement; they draw large and far-reaching conclusions that many in the emerging movement do not draw. They alienate by not listening carefully. Others, sadly I think, are simply weighing in from their positions of power before they have spent the time to think their way into what is being said. Those who judge from positions of power before they have thought through the issues carefully are responsible to God for their judgmentalism.
Now, having said that, here’s my advice…
First, above all listen to the critiques of the emerging movement. To be a Christian means to believe and do specific things — even if many of our critics don’t trust that little “and do” element in what I just said. To be a Christian has content. If any of that content — and there is no need for me to define it for you since you have clear Christian beliefs that are central to the faith — is called into question, you can expect a challenge. Listen carefully to what is being said. If you see something wrong about what you have said or what emerging folks have said, say you disagree.
Second, I suggest you list out the major criticisms you are hearing and then respond to each with three responses: (1) Yes, that criticism is justified; (2) No, that point isn’t justified; (3) Yes and No: there’s something to that criticism but it isn’t quite right because the emerging principle isn’t quite clear enough.
Third, write out your responses and discuss them with both emerging folks — who need to be more circumspect in listening to the criticisms — and the critics — who need to be more circumspect in what they say and how they respond.
Now be careful: If everything the emerging movement does is “right” on your list and every criticism of it is “bad”, then you’re in trouble. We must admit our weaknesses and value our strengths; when we can’t do that, we’ve become an ideology. And you know that I think some of our critics are as prone to the ideological side as we are. Cracked Eikons have cracked minds that need to be renewed. Until they are, they’ll have cracks. Our cracked minds are sometimes mistaken. I find it incredibly ironic that we in the emerging movement who don’t mind speaking of our cultural captivity and that our language emerges from a context … I find it ironic that we are afraid at times to admit that there are limitations to our own emerging thinking. Now, true enough, we’d appreciate it if others would join us in our mental conditioning, but we can’t change others; we can learn to live with a proper confidence and proper humility about what we believe. Acting this out goes a long way sisters and brothers.
Fourth, find a critic and make him or her your friend — have coffee, go out for lunch, go to dinner. Learn to converse with that person as a friend about what interests her or him and what interests you. You may grow in your appreciation for that person and she or he may grow in their appreciation for you. (Wouldn’t that be a good thing?) Gosh, maybe you will even become friends. I’ve sat over coffee with many a critic of emerging.
Fifth, when you get a chance, try writing up a list of your “Agreements” and “Disagreements.” Spend as much time conversing about agreements as disagreements. Do you know how much good can be done by Christians if they’d spend some time talking about what they agree on? Why is it that we have to spend so much time on our tension points? Do you know any marriages or families that do that? They “do life” together; they don’t “debate differences” all the time.
The ball, friend, is in our corner. How we respond determines our future. If we toss bombs back at them when they are tossing bombs at us, we’ve ruined our chance to show that the emerging way is different. The emerging way comes from walking in what Eugene Peterson now calls “The Jesus Way.” Sometimes we’ll have to tell them they’ve got it wrong — I’ve done this myself at times — but by and large an argument with heated rhetoric won’t get the job done. What we most have to do is put flesh on our theory: that praxis shows proposition, that performance reveals our true proclamation. Let’s live it. Starting today.
Blessings on all your endeavors and especially today as you seek the way of reconciliation with our friends in Christ,