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The New Christians

Nick Fiedler is the latest to jump on the meme that emergent is fizzling, and he’s disappointed. I am loathe to respond to posts like his. In fact, I rarely read them because I find them utterly depressing, and they tend to occupy my mind in the place of the more noble and kingdom-based endeavors that I’d like to be focusing on.  But because I am personally implicated in many of the comments, I thought I’d chime in.  Others, like John D’Elia and Julie Clawson already have, as have Mike, Jonathan, Makeesha 1 and 2, Drew, Carol, Jonny.

Emergent tree 3.jpgFirst, some historical perspective (that a young buck like Nick lacks): there have been fallow times in emergent before this. For instance, in 2001, we left the auspices of Leadership Network, Andrew Jones had moved to the UK, and Mark Driscoll jumped ship (or was pushed overboard, depending on whom you ask). A group of us met at Tim Keel’s favorite monastery outside of Kansas City. For two days, we parceled out jobs — events, website, writing, networking, church planting — and left with a great deal of energy.  And then…nothing happened. No one did anything they’d agreed to.  Why? Because everyone was doing emergent at the margins of our lives, and so it wound up on the priority list below family, work, friendships, and many other things.  It wasn’t until the Emergent Convention in 2003 that we gained any real steam, and that was only because of the energy of Mark Oestreicher and Youth Specialites. To be honest, I pretty much throught he thing was over until that convention.


Second, none of us signed up to start a movement, so your disappointment is misplaced. You wrote — and others have recently — that you hoped that emergent would revolutionize the church in America (in 5 years?!?), yet you dropped out of church and toured the world with a book contract under your arm. Meanwhile, every one of the founders of emergent is deeply engaged in a community of faith, doing the hard and private work of maintaining personal relationships and dealing with the messes that are inevitable when people live in community.

Third, I bet you’re not disappointed with Shane Claiborne. That’s because, to this point, Shane has made the very noble decision to live a chaste life, and he has committed his whole self to an irresistible revolution. Meanwhile, most of the founders of emergent are raising children and paying mortgages and coaching YMCA t-ball. Martin Luther King didn’t coach t-ball; neither did Ghandi. Start a revolution if you want, but that’s not a price that I’m willing to pay.

Fourth: In the comment section, you note your disappointment that no one took you up on your idea that we develop ” some sort of unemployment for pastors that got let go because of theological reasons.” To that I have two responses: 1) That’s what denominations do, and we’re not a denomination, and 2) If that what you want to see happen, then do it! That’s what we’ve done in emergent — we’ve tried to make things happen. Now that you’re back from your world tour, I’m looking forward to seeing what you do to make your corner of the world into what you want it to be.

Fifth, many of your commenters bemoan the fact that the leaders of emergent have “sold out” with book contracts and paid blogs. Since you are under contract to write a book, you know that there’s very little money in religious non-fiction writing, and the money is getting less. And I don’t know to whom they’re referring other than me. For the record, I make $5 per day blogging for Beliefnet. I’ve made less than $1,000 on book royalties so far this year. So everyone can stop casting aspersions on our finances.

Sixth, some commenters wonder why Brian, Doug, and I have “stepped back” from leadership. First of all, that’s not really true. And secondly, I’ve seen lots of guys who started organizations and ran them for the rest of their lives: Dobson, Falwell, Schuller, Wallis, etc. I have no interest in that.

Seventh, you and your commenters seem to suggest that, while we’ve made suggestions about changing the church in the past, we’ve quit doing that. Instead, all we do is fight the critics. In fact, Doug and I are throwing a big party this fall called Christianity21 — it will highlight many new voices in the movement and will give the microphone exclusively to women. Will you be there? Will any of the commenters who say that nothing new is happening and that new voices aren’t being heard? Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21.

Lots of stuff is happening:

  • Amazing new voices have risen up — Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sara Miles, Pete Rollins
  • I regularly read some blogs of people I think will be the next fresh voices.
  • Books are probably not the future
  • Tim Keel, Chris Seay, Karen Ward, and Danielle Shroyer are faithfully leading churches
  • Gatherings are being planned

The only question for you, Nick, and for everyone else is, What part will you play?

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