Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking on the Hydra

I've decided to educate myself about all this somewhat new-fangled "Emergent/Emerging" stuff. I got some friends, you see, and have been engaging in coffee shop discussions. New words like "missional" come up on a fairly regular basis. It's time I find out just what my new friends are talking about.

I say "somewhat new-fangled" because it was Eleven years ago that I graduated seminary, and this stuff was nowhere on the radar screen back then. I seem to have escaped into Eastern Orthodoxy just in time. But I will admit that I've studiously avoided the rumblings in the blogosphere these past few years. I realize I'm not hip, or up to date, and quite honestly, if asked, I'd be hard pressed to give a definition of just what it means to be "post modern". Does secretly wishing I had a tatoo count? I doubt it. And dang it, I own neither an ipod nor a laptop (but my husband does).

And without actually going out and spending money on actual books, I'm having a hard time grasping the concepts...and maybe that is the point. Perhaps this thing really is as multifaceted as it seems. I keep schlepping myself over to the Emergent Village in hopes of reading something of substance but all there seems to be are short blog posts concerning conferenece registrations. Bleh. I suppose I may have to actually download some mp3's and listen in. The very thought!

So, I was reading up on missional and my reaction was "...well, DUH!" what else would the Church be? It's like our little crowd here in the greater Lexington area emerged out of evangelicalism and into intentional (Eucharistic) community, (read: Orthodox), long before the movement began. History repeats itself and neither were we the first to trod that path, and the least I can say is that the Emergent crowd have perhaps some valid criticisms of the Evangelicalism from whence they sprang. Much of it seems quite reactionary, though.

So, yesterday while blogreading I read an article (deemed useless by some and helpful by others) by a fellow I've never heard of named Brett Kunkle entitled "Essential Concerns Regarding the Emerging Church". This of course written from an Evangelical perspective. Oddly enough, my reaction to the article was strange. He contrasts Evangelical orthodoxy (notice the small o) with some of the Emergent thinking floating through the ether, and what I noticed was that much of what is Evangelical orthodoxy were the very points the questioning of which drove me into the Arms of the Orthodox Church. So, I am intrigued. Like here is a great conversation waiting to happen. Ooo, listen to me. I'm already picking up on some of the lingo. And I do like coffee.

My point would be, there are some points of departure and commonality worth exploring. My invitation to those Emerging would be: Don't dismiss out of hand the notion of exploring a Church that has managed to be trans/super-cultural, enculturated variously in both time and space and yet consistent in it's praxis and belief, while remaining personally transformational to millions of Christians for two thousand years. It might just be relevant in this time and place, post-modern though it is, as well.

4 comments:

kel said...

I can't wait to hear what you discover because the whole thing is really confusing to me too. I know the emerging church goes with the post-modern era that we're in. However, there are some things about the post-modern mind-set that are unbiblical (like that there is no such thing as Truth...you get to decide what's true, or that there is no such thing as right and wrong, etc.). I don't understand how the emerging church deals with these things. If it's just church w/ good teaching (most of which is very NOT post-modern), but done in untraditional ways, then I'm ok with that. However, if it's a full embracing of post-modernity (is that a word?), then I think this is more than cultural shift, I think it's a spiritual battle that must be fought.

Can't wait to read more!

Missional Jerry said...

Welcome to the missional conversation!

alana said...

thanks Missional Jerry,

I look forward to it. Keep checking back in, as I'd really like for this to be a conversation, and not just me running at the keyboard.

pete said...

It's interesting that you talk about seminary here, because when I was in seminary the first time (1999-2003) "emergent" wasn't really on the radar either--it was more about Willow Creek and "seeker sensitive" at the time. I'm in seminary again now, at a different seminary in a different denomination than I was at the time, and there are more emergent type discussions around, although since I'm at a mainline seminary (Luther in St. Paul, MN) rather than the evangelical seminary I was previously at (Bethel, also in St. Paul), it's being received somewhat differently here.

I would recommend reading some books by F. LeRon Shults, who has kind of become one of the representative theologians of the emergent movement. He is a very deep thinker and writer, somewhat challenging, but since I know you went to seminary you shouldn't have much trouble reading him. He's also a friend of mine. Do a search on Amazon.com for him, and you should be able to find all of his currently available books. He draws on a wide range of theologians, including Metropolitan John Zizoulas.

You could also look at Doug Pagitt's blog (www.pagitt.typepad.com). Pagitt is pastor of an emergent church in Minneapolis called Solomon's Porch, and I think they are one of the churches that other emergent churches aspire to be like. Maybe not all of them, but certainly some of them.

I've never met you in person, but after reading your blog for many years, my unofficial conclusion at this point is that I think you would probably not find the emergent movement terribly compelling. In some respects, it seems to me to be a sort of "Orthodoxy Lite"--on the one hand, a positive thing is that they have "reclaimed" many traditions of the church that were lost for many years for evangelicals, such as lectio divina and an appreciation of mystery that is extremely hard to find in most evangelical churches. On the other hand, though, they (and I use the pronoun "they" for lack of a better one, because those who consider themselves "emergent" also do not find labeling themselves or grouping themselves into anything resembling a denomination, with all of its homogenizing tendencies, particularly appealing) would likely "pooh-pooh" the notions of apostolic succession or the sort of ecclesiastical authority structures that members of the Orthodox church embrace, not to mention the practices that seem very much culture bound (naming conventions, for example: so many terms remain in Greek or Russian. If the Orthodox church is "super-cultural," as you suggest, why aren't English theological words used?)

Is the emergent movement reactionary? Certainly. Practically everything in church history is a reaction to something, both on an institutional level and a personal level. While your journey and the emergence (no pun intended) of an Orthodox parish from Asbury roots may not strike you as reactionary, it has always seemed that way to me, as well as to at least a few other outsiders like me. I say that without condemnation, just as observation.

I do not consider myself a part of the emergent movement, largely because I grew up in a church (and then attended a college and then a seminary) that embraced every new "model" for "doing church" that was offered, whether that was "contemporary" or "Willow Creek style" or "seeker-sensitive." It seems to me that many of these sorts of words (like "missional") are poor uses of vocabulary. "Missional" is such a nebulous term. All it means at its root is that the church has a mission, and it is engaged in that mission. In addition, it seems to me that churches that call themselves "missional" (or "social justice" churches") are just doing what the church is supposed to be doing in the first place--but they're just bragging about how they actually do it. Not sure what the point of that is.

A few years ago, I found myself joining the Lutheran church and falling in love with the liturgy (which I remembered from my grandparents' church) and the traditions and history of the church. I'm not sure whether "emergent" is the next big movement, but I have to admit that I'm skeptical. Perhaps the best thing that could happen from it would be that it exposes, as you note, some legitimate criticisms of evangelicalism. For the time being, I think that might be the long term result, but I'm notoriously bad at making predictions on anything like this.