Friday, September 01, 2006

a Place to be Kind

What exactly is the emerging church? I posed the question last night and even though we didn't stay expressly on topic, the answer to the question was floating all over the room. Lots of folks have made attempts at defining it, some of the best ones by critics of the movement. And though Greg and Todd might want to smack me in the back of the head for saying so, I think D.A. Carson in fact gives a decent overview of Emergent. And if your detractors understand where you're coming from, then maybe you're doing something right. This particular paragraph from Carson's website:

The major issue is epistemology—i.e., how we know things, or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective which, in turn, breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we “know” is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right. Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is “antifoundational”) and insists that we come to “know” things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses upon relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion.

How we know things, or do not know them, is the major issue for me. I'm not even suggesting that we are unable to know things with compelling amounts of certainty, I am suggesting that even in those instances a little amount of humility goes a long way. Recently Newsweek ran an article on Billy Graham which cause a great stir among some evnagelicals because of the seeming humility Graham demonstrated in reponse to some of religions most difficult questions. Billy is far from being an emergent church advocate, but his approach to relationships seems to fit EC--friendship, conversation.

As I said to Brittany afterward, I think the emerging church is more about atmopshere and ways of relating than it is about dogma. Actually, I didn't say that to her, but it was what I was thinking when I said, "Emergent is being Christian and at the same time being kind and respectful."


greg said...

While I don't disagree with the substance of Carson's assessment, it's important to note that he thinks emergent folk are wrong about the way they read modernity. That's why he qualifies with: "Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth..." It's not any of the things we say it is; it's just pictured that way.

There are a couple things he ignores though, and I say this in total agreement with him that this is an epistemological shift. There is an ecclesial shift happening, as well as an aesthetic and theological shift. Epistemology isn't the only issue. It is a big one. Epistemology aside though, emergent is at least asking "what does it look like to embody Jesus in the world." I think the evangelical church stopped asking that question a long time ago. They see "way, truth and life" as a substitutionary means to heaven, not a way in the strictest sense, a way to live my life. So the question they end up asking is a second order question: what does it mean to live like a Christian in America? Ick.

Erros said...

A lot of what emergent is can be summed up in a statement made by Rumi a loooooooooooooong time ago:

"Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I'll meet you there."

It captures well the spirit if not the form of what emergent strives towards.

Jeff Kursonis said...

Hi Tim, Todd and Greg and the rest!

Dixson copied me on an email, so glad to hear you guys are getting set up out there and had a good first meeting. That's awesome you are doing Pete Rollins book - can't wait to hear where it takes you.

We are about to send out a big letter to all the cohort leaders to let them in a lot of new and exciting things that are happening with EV and the site and wonderful reports of Cohort activities all over.

I hope some of you can make it to Glorieta in November.

Just wanted to say Hi, and you'll be hearing more from us soon.


Todd said...


Did you feel that? Yeah, that slap in the back of the head.:) I do agree with you. I am not so sure the emphasis of Emergent is a different "way" of being Christian. In other words, what you were thinking to Brittany does express a large part of what is going on. Some will argue, and have, the desire to state dogma humbly really exposes their epistemological shift, a charge with which I am nor sure I agree.

The very title and approach of Carson actually exposes those in power because Carson has refused to become "conversant" in terms of conversation - at least at the point of writing his little diatribe.

I am going to post a quote from James K.A. Smith. He points out an area where had Carson spent some time in conversation might have still offered his critique but would have done so with a bit better insight.