Emergent Q and A, Part 3

November 27, 2006

Continuing a series on Dan Kimball’s most frequently asked questions about Emergent...

4) Do “postmoderns” want to hear apologetics?

Generally speaking, people in the emergent conversation are convinced that Christian apologetics, in their current, popular form, are doing more harm than good in postmodern culture.

“Postmoderns,” as they are called, are much more interested in how people live out their beliefs than in the details of their intellectual convictions. Thus, the experiences of churches that minister to those who are steeped in postmodern culture are that people are drawn to fellowships where people are acting out the mission of Jesus – feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, etc. – moreso that fellowships where the primary focus is on teaching and protecting/claiming doctrinal correctness.

5) Can a modern contemporary church have an “emerging” ministry and worship gathering in it and not have conflict with the senior pastor and emerging leader?

This is apparently a very common problem. Emerging ministries, started as a sort-of 20-something service, suddenly become very popular, and then – because of their popularity – church leaders outside of the ministry start trying to control the ministry. Ironically, this almost always kills the ministry, because mainstream leaders in such churches often don’t have a good “feel” for what the emerging ministries are trying to accomplish.

I haven’t experienced this myself, but it is apparently a very common story – and a huge problem.

6) Does being “emerging” mean you don’t preach or teach the Bible but only use experiential and contemplative prayer in a worship gathering?

In short, no. Insofar as I can tell, churches that try to minister to the emerging culture uniformly include bible teaching as a part of their weekly gatherings. In fact, some of the most well-informed, academically-charged teachings of which I am aware are coming from these types-of churches.

The difference is that teaching is not the FOCUS of these churches. Rather, they derive their identity from their ministries, particularly within their particular communities.

7) Does the emerging church believe in hell?

It is important to remember that emergent is a conversation that is taking place among friends who are interested in ministry in emerging culture. Emergent does not have an official “theology,” and different people in the conversation may ultimately come to different conclusions. As such, the most one can do is survey what some of the more significant leaders in the conversation have to say.

Even then, however, this question is a little tricky.

On a surface level, the answer to this question is almost always “Yes, emergent leaders believe in hell.” But that doesn’t mean that they believe hell is what evangelicals have made it out to be. Most significantly, there are a lot of questions being asked about whether hell is a place of ETERNAL punishment.

I’m planning on writing on this subject quite a bit more in the future, so stay tuned.

8 How many “emerging churches” are there? Is this a fad or something growing?  

Statistically, this is impossible to nail down. As I mentioned in a prior post, emergent is a phenomenon that is being experienced WITHIN existing churches even moreso than in the formation of NEW churches. As such, statistical analysis of the extent to which emergent is present within various churches is not really possible.

As to whether we are dealing with a “fad,” I am not sure that I am comfortable with that word – its a little too pejorative for me. However, if by that you mean “is this something that will be around in a century or two?”, my answer would go like this:

Insofar as terminology like “emergent” and “emerging conversation” is concerned, I doubt people will be using language like that in a decade or two. However, it will not be because the “fad” of emergent came and went, but because it served its purpose. The changes across almost every form of Christianity that are occurring even as we speak – changes that are part of what we are now calling the “emerging church” – and changes which emergent seems to be facilitating in some ways – are likely to be permanent. Those changes include:

– An increasing reliance on deriving identity from the PRACTICE of Jesus’ mission, as opposed to primary focus on teaching and doctirnal conviction/correctness

– An increasing use of art, poetry, etc. as an expression of faith

– A return to contemplative practices and other spiritual disciplines as a means of spiritual formation

– New, deeper understandings of the meaning of God’s redemptive purposes, which go beyond the now-traditional “heaven-after-you-die” approach

Will emergent cause these changes? I think it will in some ways. I also think a lot of them will happen in places where people have almost no familiarity what what is going on in emergent. As I said in the first post, the “emerging church” is a much bigger thing that the emergent conversation. It is something that is happening, even outside of the emergent conversation.


Thanksgiving List

November 23, 2006

Today, I’m thankful for…

  1. A sure future and a hope for freedom from bondage to sin, death and decay.
  2. Sheila – her friendship, compassion, example, and character. (Have I mentioned lately how incredibly gorgeous she is, too?)
  3. Turkey, dressing, rolls, mashed potatos, coke, cheesecake, and football.
  4. Mom and dad – their health, their generosity, and their love for the grandkids.
  5. Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, in-laws galore, and all of the crazy holiday mayhem that comes with them. And God bless ’em all – I love ’em – but I’m also thankful for…
  6. The day after the holiday mayhem ends.
  7. A secure home that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  8. The odometer on my 98 Altima – 157,000 miles and no end in sight. Woo-hoo! Paid-off transportation!
  9. The eleven girls on Lexi’s soccer team – the way they go out and overachieve, game after game, is just flat amazing to me.
  10. Getting to watch my girls’ countless arabesques, plies, ron de jombes, and an assortment of other ballet-related, french-sounding elements that I can’t even pronounce, much less type.
  11. The nervousness I feel when Levi starts sacrificing chess pieces to gain position on his opponents. And the pride I feel, regardless of whether it works.
  12. Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Chris Carter (X-Files), Joss Wheedon (Buffy), Ron Moore/Michael Rymer (the new Galactica), and an assortment of other producers, directors, and writers who helped to shape me into the sci-fi nerd that I am today.
  13. Sid Meier – the genius behind the ever-addictive Civilization series of computer games.
  14. Grant, Toby, and Brad – and great lunch conversation, often over Rosa’s soft tacos, which can turn from sports to faith struggles to sexual purity in a split second.
  15. Many, many other people in my faith community whom I have the privilege of calling friends – Michael, Susan, Tim, Angie, Joe, Bart, Laura – and lots of others I’m not naming here.
  16. The women who meet and pray with Sheila every Monday night.
  17. Daily blogbread from people like Mike Cope, Scot McKnight, Jason Clark, and others.
  18. The wonders of Bloglines.
  19. Thurm, Greg, Chris, James, and others whom I’ve never met in person, but whom I’ve gotten to know because of this blog. (Greg: I’m still puzzled by how we have never crossed paths – Highland isn’t THAT big…)
  20. Tony Romo.
  21. Papasitos.
  22. Tabbed browsing.
  23. Rhapsody to Go and my SanDisk wma player.
  24. Jeff Deyo, The Newsboys, Jeremy Camp, Lincoln Brewster, MercyMe, and a handful of other Christian artists, who help my heart keep up with the places where my head already wants to go.
  25. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
  26. Dual-core processors, GeForce video cards, the engineers at Creative Labs (who make the soundblaster cards), and oodles of hard drive and ram space.

November 21, 1987

November 21, 2006

I have apologized profusely for events on this day for none less than nineteen years, now. My dear wife, raised in the Methodist tradition, on the most anticipated day of her life, was forced to endure an acapella arrangement of The Bridal Chorus that was – shall we say – tortured at best.

The problem was not with the collection of kind ACU students who helped to make the recording. They did everything they could to make the best of the situation. The problem was the arrangement.

Every dog within a 10 mile radius of the Cisco Church of Christ began to howl during Sheila’s bridal entrance that afternoon. The audience shivered as though fingernails were being drawn along a chalkboard in a nearby classroom. And I grinned nervously, thinking to myself – “This isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was going to be. I sure hope she doesn’t turn around.”

The musical genius behind the arrangement, which, though separated from Cisco, Texas by half a continent and the wide expanses of the Atlantic Ocean, almost certainly caused Richard Wagner to roll over agonizingly in his grave, was none other than yours truly.

I thought that arranging some of our wedding music would be the perfect, romantic gift for my wife.

But I blew it. Big time.

And ever since then, I’ve promised myself that some day, some how, I’m going to marry that woman again, this time in a beautiful chapel amidst a thundering orchestral/choral score from Wagner’s classic opera. It will almost certainly still be a recording, but one in which I will thankfully have had no involvement beyond – perhaps – offering my credit card for purchase of said recording at Best Buy, and then only after consulting with Greg Straughn, or some other person with demonstrable musical taste.

She will wear a flowing, white dress. I’ll wear a tux. Our girls will serve as the bridal party, and Levi – who else? – my best man.

Everyone will cry and laugh and dance. Then, from that day forward, we’ll forget about the shivers that ran down our collective spines that afternoon as the tape of that wretched arrangement began to play. All will be forgiven. Her perfect wedding will finally have come to pass.

And, in the meantime, I will be happy that day one was a tiny, albeit profoundly unpleasant glitch in what has otherwise been an joyful, fulfilling life with this person – the most beautiful, most radiant, most patient of all brides.

Happy Nineteenth Anniversary, Honey! Someday, I promise, we will do it again – and get it right.

(…and have I mentioned lately that I’m really, really sorry?)

Weird Al Does it Again

November 20, 2006

For your viewing pleasure today, sage moral advice from Weird Al Yankovic.

Not widely known is the fact that Weird Al is a member of the churches of Christ. All of you non CoC-ers out there are shaking your heads right now in agreement, aren’t you? It explains so much about us!

Emergent Q and A, Part 2

November 17, 2006

Continuing a series of posts on Dan Kimball’s list of common questions about emergent…

3) Has Brian McLaren gone too far? 

McClaren is the target of a lot of abuse from critics of emergent. Scot McKnight, among others, has observed that McClaren’s beliefs are often equated with the beliefs of all emergents, conveniently allowing critics to skewer the entire emergent conversation with a single thrust at McClaren.

In any event, my observation has been that a typical McClaren critic either doesn’t understand (or worse, doesn’t even care about) what he is trying to say. 

I suspect that most of McClaren’s critics would less harsh if they had a chance to get to know him. By all accounts, he is an incredibly kind-spirited and gracious individual. Among those who have met him personally, I have never heard anyone express anything other than the highest opinion about his attitude, accessibility, and character.

McClaren is not a theological trailblazer. For the most part, he is exploring idiological pathways that have long been inhabited by others. Occasionally, I will hear someone from academia mention that he is a little sloppy in the way he words some things, but – in the end – he does not express (nor does he claim to express) ideas that are all that original.

So why does McClaren draw so much fire? I think it has something to do with his ability to take ideas that were previously understood only in academia and translate them into terms that mainstream Christians can readily appreciate. Ideas that undermine traditional evangelical beliefs aren’t new. They’ve been around for some time, “safely” obscured behind academic walls and theological language. McClaren, however, is opening the doors into this previously obscure world, inviting us to look in and think about issues that have long been raised by other, less apt communicators.

“Inviting us to look in and think,” a phrase I used in the last paragraph, is a good description for what McClaren usually does. He often avoids telling his audience what he believes about a subject, preferring to invite them to wrestle with the issue themselves.

Even when he is only raising questions, I think McClaren draws heat because his critics know their ideological structures are beginning to sag under the weight of the scrutiny of postmondern culture. The questions he is asking – which often point out the weakest spots, the ones that are most likely to collapse at any time – are making them nervous. Sometimes, vitriol is the only way to hide insecurities about one’s own belief systems.

Yet to come…

4) Do “postmoderns” want to hear apologetics?

5) Can a modern contemporary church have an “emerging” ministry and worship gathering in it and not have conflict with the senior pastor and emerging leader?

6) Does being “emerging” mean you don’t preach or teach the Bible but only use experiential and contemplative prayer in a worship gathering?

7) Does the emerging church believe in hell?

8) How many “emerging churches” are there? Is this a fad or something growing?

Emergent Q&A

November 16, 2006

Dan Kimball just posted some reflections on his experiences at the National Outreach Convention. During the convention, he hosted a session called “Emergent: Friend or Foe?” in which there was considerable discussion about emergent/the emerging church.

What fascinated me about Dan’s post was a list of questions that came at the end . Dan says these are the typical questions that he is getting these days. They are also the sort-of issues that I tend to run into when people direct questions or comments at me about emergent.

So, since – as far as I can tell – most of my readers are not emergents, I’m going to devote a series of posts to providing my own responses to these questions.

Here are the first two:

1) What is the difference between the “emerging church” and “emergent”?

When I use the term “emerging church,” I am referring to a larger phenomenon that is being experienced across almost all denominations, in which Christians are struggling with what it means to be “church” in the presence of postmodern culture. The church that is surfacing out of that struggle is the “emerging church.” It is “emerging” because the form that it will take is not yet fully developed. It is still taking shape.

While there are a few churches that would call themselves “emerging churches,” the “emerging church” is also something that is surfacing within more longstanding denominations. In that sense, it is more aptly described as a reformational experience within existing churches.

“Emergent” and “emergents” are descriptions of a particular group of people who are having an ongoing conversation about the “emerging church.” The “emerging church” is much bigger than this group of people, and there are a lot of people who would never call themselves “emergent” or associate themselves with the emergent conversation who are nevertheless involved in what emergents would describe as the “emerging church.”

2) Do you believe in absolute truth?

Yes. I believe in absolute truth, but…

1. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I’ve got it all nailed down.  

2. I don’t think genuine truth can be reduced to propositions.

3. I think the most important truths are experienced, not “known” – those experiences are generally found in community with other people and with God.

4. In that respect, I believe you can learn as much (or more) truth from art, music, poetry, film, and literature as you can from a thick book on theology.

5. In any event, I think being in loving relationship with other people is more important than proving I’m right and they are wrong.

For these reasons, you generally won’t her me, or most other emergents, spouting absolute certainty in our particular theologies or convictions. In other words, we try to adopt what is often referred to as a “generous orthodoxy.”

Questions yet to come, most of which will have similar “yes” and “no” answers…

3) Has Brian McLaren gone too far? 

4) Do “postmoderns” want to hear apologetics?

5) Can a modern contemporary church have an “emerging” ministry and worship gathering in it and not have conflict with the senior pastor and emerging leader?

6) Does being “emerging” mean you don’t preach or teach the Bible but only use experiential and contemplative prayer in a worship gathering?

7) Does the emerging church believe in hell?

8  How many “emerging churches” are there? Is this a fad or something growing?

Feeling Less Alone

November 14, 2006

Many thanks to my buddy (and youth soccer coach extraordinare) Toby Christian for tipping me off to ACU psych professor Richard Beck’s series of posts on universalism.

As careful readers of this space have already noticed, I have been increasingly frustrated about the lack of serious dialog about the nature of hell. It is an elephant in the church. And frankly, I think a lot of us are avoiding the subject because it invites open (and often vicious) criticism from defenders of the evangelical party line.

In short, its a touchy subject. And kudos to Richard for taking it on.

I am an increasingly reluctant Armenian who is ready to have a close look at the scriptural case for universalism. Reading Richard’s surprisingly thorough assessment of the options, and following him to his somewhat definitive conclusions in favor of the universalist position, has been a breath of fresh air for me; and an encouragement to move forward with my own investigation of this issue.

Especially helpful was a new term for me – “thanatocentrism” – that is, a focus on the moment of death as being all-important in the question of salvation. I’ve always had a concern about evangelical theologies being too thanatocentric, particularly in light of the fact that NT writers don’t seem to be that way, but I never really had the words I needed to talk about the concept. Now I do.

Also recently writing more generally on the subject of hell: Paul Mayers on Jason Clark’s blog. Paul provides a great survey of the history of Hell, as well as the greek words that are translated (possibly improperly) as “hell” in the NT.