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Emerging: A Response

posted by xscot mcknight

Dear Emerging,
The number of folks who surrounded you with advice and wisdom continues to draw our admiration, but I do want to put some of this together from my angle.
There are so many streams flowing into this emerging movement that it is no longer very useful even to use the word “emerging.” But I think by using the names you do use that it is clear to me that you are part of the world-wide emerging movement.
Young pastors need to have a wise, elderly mentor who listens, counsels, and steps in only when necessary. So, I hope you have that sort of person you are going to: perhaps a spiritual director or, better yet, a wise pastor who has been around the track a few times to put all of this into perspective. I cringe at the thought of young pastors making life-shaping decisions without the wisdom of the grey-headed folks. I learned this in Proverbs and it has stuck with me. Seek the wise if you want to become wise.
There is no reason for you and your pastor to hide from one another, hope things settle down, or wish that the issues will go away. They won’t. So my recommendation is a simple one: pick one (emerging-type) book (Tom Wright, The Challenge of Jesus
or Simply Christian) that both of you can agree on and read it together, meet weekly for coffee or lunch or breakfast and discuss the book. For you to flourish in the ministry under this pastor’s guidance you will eventually — the sooner the better — have to convince him that you are orthodox, that you are within your church’s parameters, and that you can think critically about the emerging movement. (It saddens me in situations like this that too often it all comes down to what the senior pastor thinks — and too often in a congregation polity!) Work through the book with him and if he thinks you don’t fit, he’ll let you know.
Search for guidance and discernment on what you are called to do. You are young and you’ve got decades in front of you — Deo volente — and you are in a situation that will give you some opportunity to discern where you are headed. Perhaps it will be to seminary; perhaps not; perhaps to a different church; perhaps not. Instead of turning this into a struggle, seek the light.
Focus on the center. So often in tough situations, like what you are in, we dig in our heels and convert the particular issue at hand into the most important issue in the world — and it almost never is. To get your bearings on this I advise sitting back, taking into view the big arc of the Bible, the Story, the Gospel … etc … however you want to frame it, and ask how your issues fit in. We ought to be able to dwell together in the gospel and we usually refuse to dwell together for non-gospel issues.
Some particulars: I’m sorry to hear your pastor taking pot shots at emergent. It is irresponsible to talk about emergent without reading the stuff with a hermeneutics of love. You might think of modeling how to respond to these writers instead of confronting him on it, but it is not outside your relationship to mention that it is unwise to take folks to task whom one has not read.
On the blog: I’ve said this before — don’t write on your blog what you don’t want everyone in your church to read. Blogs are permanently public, friend.
Teaching students to think historically is part of the hermeneutical method we have to learn how to use, but it doesn’t come easily. I teach college students and I’m not sure some every care to embrace a historically-shaped reading of the Bible. You might think here of things you don’t care that much about — in my case it is mathematics — and think what it would take for you to become passionate enough about it to make it your own.
On truth … I think I know what you are getting at: for you truth is expressed in particular contexts in particular ways for particular days. (This is what I call “wiki-stories” in Blue Parakeet.) If you are in an evangelical church, you will need to get clear in your head what you mean by this sort of thing. If you think all truth is contextually expressed and your pastor thinks the Bible is shaped by its context, then you may have some common ground. But I would say this: this issue is very complex and it takes some good philosophical studies and a sound perception of the doctrine of revelation to make orthodox sense.
One final point and I may be missing the mark here: you might be in a situation of an authoritarian pastor who is threatened by change and by any kind of challenge. He may well be surrounded on the elder/deacon board by those who protect him and support his every move. If so, I’m sorry and, apart from a work of grace where a pastor sees the light on the need for genuine conversation and congregational input, your days could well be numbered. Even though I prefer for us all to dwell in unity, you might not be able to remain in that situation.
I hope these thoughts are of help to you. Our prayers, and the prayers of the Jesus Creed community, are with you.
Write us later on how things are going.
Blessings,
Scot



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Ted M. Gossard

posted October 29, 2008 at 3:44 am


Good, helpful response. The way lines have been drawn in certain places in the evangelical world, does make a common understanding impossible it seems, apart from a work of grace, in this area.



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David

posted October 29, 2008 at 4:53 am


I’d be slow to say that his pastor was taking “pot shots at emergent” based on the fact that he had too many emergent links on his blog. If someone serving in leadership in my church linked to certain emerging authors I’d be concerned (and I have read the books.)
I live in the south. I know that anti-intellectualism is rampant. It is very possible that this fellow’s pastor hasn’t read a lot of things. But why not start by asking the pastor to read a book that he has appreciated together? If he’s not interested in that then whether or not he’s open-minded about emergent authors is the least of your problems. If he is then you’ve got a great starting point for discussion. Then, when you’re done with his book ask if you can read one of your recommendations.
I’d still maintain that this pastor may have a lot to teach this young man. The body of Christ is filled with generations of Christians for a reason. Christ didn’t promise to build up his body with only hip 20-40 year olds. This older pastor may have investigated thinking that is similar to emergent years ago. I think his experience and his position before God dictates that he not be dismissed so easily.



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Mick

posted October 29, 2008 at 6:13 am


Scot, sound words. I also encourage David’s thoughts to be prayerfully considered, espcecially if you read them in the vein of a post my Imonk yesterday on trusting your fathers. Something to consider even if it isn’t to be part of your story with your pastor.
Our most unifying ground is encountering Jesus together as brothers and sisters beneath the cross. If this is at all possible, build on this.



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Eileen Warren

posted October 29, 2008 at 7:04 am


The thing that disturbs me with this conversation is the only two options seem to be to either find a healthy way to live in your community or leave (all done lovingly). We see this format for resolution as far back as Paul and Barnabas.
I’m thinking these days… That my spiritual community is/will be a commitment or investment until my death. My “community” is a smaller version of the church I attend on Sunday morning. Building long-term lasting community is life giving and allows deep insight and advise to flow in a safe and holy way.
i guess therefore i think a missing thought is to have a strong community then the “right” church can become a more objective process.



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Frank Viola

posted October 29, 2008 at 7:46 am


Tom Wright is a good choice for anyone, I think. Immensely enjoyed his book SURPRISED BY HOPE.



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Julie Clawson

posted October 29, 2008 at 7:58 am


I liked your ideas, but I wonder if in real life things could ever be so easy. When we went through this, having the pastor be willing to read a book and discuss would have been heaven. Instead we were given a note saying we were not allowed to talk to him about these things ever again. I’ve had friends who were fired just for reading Wright and McLaren.
Same things with mentors. Great idea, but it’s difficult to respect someone who is just constantly telling you you are wrong just because you are different. (and its far worse for women – I’ve yet to find an older woman to talk to who knows anything at all on these topics).
Doing these two things while remaining within the established community is trying. One either finds trouble or suppresses the self and its questions. Neither is healthy. So I would love to hear stories of how people have actually made this work.



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RJS

posted October 29, 2008 at 8:17 am


Julie,
You are right, of course – on all counts. And it is much harder for a woman to find mentoring or conversation partners. An asset of this blog (albeit a poor substitute for face to face interaction) is that there are male and female voices at the table.
As I see it we have two separate issues. As parent of teens I don’t particularly want the youth pastor using his or her interaction with 11-18 year-olds as a forum to think through controversial questions. That should be done in relationship with peers or older mentors (ideally – but this is not always easy as you’ve pointed out).
On the other hand – the lack of opportunity to think and work through these kinds of questions and ideas in any kind of established community is really a problem in many churches today.



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dopderbeck

posted October 29, 2008 at 8:39 am


Scot, this is a great letter, but here is the bit of sand that always sticks in my craw: several times you used words like “orthodox” and “gospel issues.” But that’s the rub, isn’t it? To this conservative pastor, I’ll bet my hat that calling scripture “wiki stories” or any host of other similar things are per se “unorthodox” and “core gospel issues.”
How do we, as missional Christians who want to extend the Tradition and reform our thinking and practices in ways that are faithful to the historic truth of the Gospel, conversant with the context of our culture, and honestly engaged with the best learning of our times, frame what is “orthodox” and a “gospel issue?” And, how do we negotiate the way we frame this with others, often of a preceding generation, who frame it somewhat differently? How do we reach some consensus on what “orthodox” and “gospel issue” means so that there is some common center between the “young emergent” and the “old evangelical”?



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Scot McKnight

posted October 29, 2008 at 8:42 am


Julie,
I know that side of the story well, too. But where you began is also where this young pastor needs to begin … it may lead to the need for a fork in the road and it may not. I hope it doesn’t.
dopderbeck,
Yes, I suspect that is the issue. So, that is where to begin — and I suspect reading Wright or Willard (or, if I may, my Embracing Grace) might just put all the issues on the table in the voice of a 3d party so that it is not “you vs. me” but “we look at that author”.
The consensus will come only by listening to one another.



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JohnH

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:24 am


They might not be pot shots. Might be full on cannon fire and with good reason, IMO.



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Daniel

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:25 am


Scot, your third paragraph is advice too often not given or ignored.
Grace founded in truth is so important in situations like this.



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dopderbeck

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:32 am


Scot, yes, but… I dunno. Maybe it’s my own insecure need for authority figures. Or maybe it’s my hyper-analytical lawyer mind. Let’s say we take the approach to orthodoxy that I think you or NT Wright might advocate — orthodoxy is more a matter of finding ourselves in the broad narrative of redemption in Christ than it is of the details of some particular set of propositions.
So then we come to a contentious issue, like the relation of faith and science being discussed in some other threads. Some people think the narrative is still intact if “Adam” and “original sin” are ahistorical constructs. Some think anything less than a traditional historical reading of this story destroys the narrative and is therfore unorthodox. Some, like Daniel Harrell, try to find mediating positions. Does a narrative approach really help us here to determine what is an “orthodox” “gospel issue” in this case(or in many other similarly contentious examples — say, double predestination vs. an Arminian understanding of grace vs. inclusivism vs. universalism)? Or doesn’t it just beg the questions, “what exactly to I have to say the narrative is,” “who gets to say what the narrative is,” and “what does it mean for this narrative to be true?”



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Dianne P

posted October 29, 2008 at 11:21 am


Julie,
“and its far worse for women – I?ve yet to find an older woman to talk to who knows anything at all on these topics”
Thanks for those words. As an Older Woman (Scot’s generation), I wish we had the opportunity to sit down and chat. I’ll try to peruse your blog more often.
But what you reminded me of is my privilege and honor to spend time with young women. I’ve done that at my previous church, and am currently doing that now. We started with Scot’s Jesus Creed, are currently deep in Webber’s Divine Embrace, and will next move onto Blue Parakeet. Thank you for the prompt to treasure and nurture that relationship – and to be open to more of them.



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Wes Ellis

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:04 pm


Scot,
I think you give great advice. I have struggled with very similar questions to those of the letter you received. I think my biggest problem is that I feel alone in this.



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Karl

posted October 29, 2008 at 3:09 pm


I think this statement by Scot is important to keep in mind:
“For you to flourish in the ministry under this pastor?s guidance you will eventually ? the sooner the better ? have to convince him that you are orthodox, that you are within your church?s parameters, and that you can think critically about the emerging movement.”
Leaving aside the issues raised by dopderbeck about who defines “orthodoxy” I still think Scot says a lot here. Few would advocate that a senior pastor keep on staff (long term) someone who wasn’t within the parameters of the church/denomination in which they served – as defined by the governing authority or charter of the church/denomination.
And the INability of some within the emerging movement to think critically about that movement has at times frustrated me, even though I have many emerging impulses too. I would expect that an evangelical senior pastor, even if somewhat open to emerging thought, would be concerned about a junior staff member who had bought postmodernism and emergent-speak so hook, line and sinker that she lacked the self-critical eye and had no concerns about emergent per se, except that the movement might stop short of its goals – i.e. might not be emergent enough and might retain too much evangelical baggage.
It would be a poor fit otherwise, and likely to lead to unsatisfactory, frustrating and unedifying results for all concerned. That’s not to pass judgment on where you are in your walk – it may be a healthier place than many evangelical pastors. But it IS wise counsel re. discerning whether you can flourish in that relationship, or can rightly expect the pastor to keep you there long term.
I suspect that Julie is right – especially if you are pretty far down the emerging scale you’ll likely find your experience mirrors hers even if your pastor acts with more grace. But I think Scot is right also, that just because something may not work out doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to try.



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Henry Zonio

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:10 pm


Wow! Great, balanced advice. I guess that’s the wisdom of seeking out help from you “grey heads” :) I would be in agreement that the SP is probably somewhat authoritarian, which does mean days are numbered.



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Mike Mangold

posted October 29, 2008 at 10:44 pm


As an outsider looking in (a non-Trinitarian Pentecostal) I have to ask all of you one thing: is a pastor really necessary? As we understand the priesthood of today (yes, that is exactly what being a pastor is all about), is that “office” even created in the New Testament? I know all the biblical references to “leaders of the flock” and so on but are the demands on contemporary pastors what Christ envisioned 2000 years ago?
I know I have a tendency to step on toes, but really, come on, why should “Emerging” even have to go through these crises of emotion? Here is my image for all of you to contemplate: in the very same sermon, my FORMER pastor exclaimed to loud hoots and hollers that we are all “priests and kings.” Within the same sermon, he scolded us for believing that we could, on our own, act without his guidance (i.e. final say-so). And that’s what I think Scot does (sorry Boss): he mentors pastors in a movement that along the way says that pastors may not be needed. The mentorship is fantastic.



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Mike Mangold

posted October 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm


BTW: Emerging: may the grace of our God flow down on you like rain in a desert. May he show you his guidance, protection, and favor now in this moment of doubt and for ever. You are a beloved child of God and all of your brothers and sister in Christ pray and support you and your family. In Jesus’ name we pray (which is all Jesus requires of us…)
Amen



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dopderbeck

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:25 am


Scot and others, I’m curious for your take on this rumination. So this idea of “orthodoxy” has been nagging at me for quite some tim. I wonder if in the context of the young pastor’s conversations with his senior pastor, we could use a word like “authenticity” instead. “Orthodoxy” and “central to the gospel” to me sound like hard demarcations based on mere assent to propositions. You agree with this list, or you’re out. Perhaps even, “if you get this one wrong, you’re not really among the elect / saved / Christians.”
But as I read scripture, the central concern seems to be “authenticity.” The epistle of 1 John, for example, is heavily invested in “orthodoxy,” because one of the writer’s central concerns is to distinguish authentic Christians from false teachers (possibly Gnostics) who are denying the deity of Christ. But the overall emphasis is on right relationship — the false teachers were ultimately unable to exhibit a right relationship to Jesus issuing in the prime virtue of love, because they were not coming to Jesus as he is, as the God-man. The sense, I think, is not to ossify a certain statement, expression, or contextualization of faith, but to encourage and enable people to remain in authentic, transforming relationship with Jesus. I’d suggest that other places in scripture in which proto-creedal statements are passed along perform the same function.
So maybe the starting point for this cross-generational, emerging-to-conservative-evangelical conversation is to shift focus from the demarcations of “orthodoxy” to the purposes of “authenticity.” Then the younger pastor can say something like “here’s how I think what NT Wright / Willard / McKnight / McClaren / etc. helps people deepen an authentic relationship with Jesus”; and the older pastor can say “here’s where I see some concerns with authenticity.” Not hard analytical lines, but relational boundaries.



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Anonymous

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:30 am


Relational Orthodoxy | Through a Glass Darkly

[…] Posted on October 30, 2008 Interesting discussion on Jesus Creed about how a younger pastor interested in the emerging church movement can relate to an older pastor who is wary of it. ? Here’s a comment I posted for discussion, offered here for discussion as well. […]



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Anonymous

posted October 31, 2008 at 6:37 am


Emerging Church: Social Gospel? at einAugenblick.de

[…] Scot McKnight: Emerging: A Response – Ein Brief von Scot an junge “Emergente” […]



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Anonymous

posted November 2, 2008 at 5:26 pm


Around the horn (10/26-11/1) « Zoo Station

[…] Over at the Jesus Creed Scot McKnight received a letter from an emerging pastor,? and then responded: […]



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