I understand this motivation. I know what it's like to have one's views dismissively labeled and thereby marginalized. I too shun most labels for that reason. And I know that it can be intimidating for newcomers to the emerging church conversation to completely jump on board with a movement that they've just discovered and aren't quite sure about yet.
On the other hand, for those who think being emergent is merely about being "cutting edge", it seems that snubbing the emergent label is their way of proving that they're not a slave to the latest trend, not just blindly following whatever is hip and current (which of course is it's own kind of "hipper-than-thou" behavior - the "I'm too hip to care about being hip" response). Of course the big problem with this reaction is the mistaken assumption that the emerging church has anything to do with being "hip" or "cool". (I call it the Andy Crouch fallacy.) Granted, emerging folks do tend to care a lot about being "relevant" to culture. But this idea of "relevancy" has more to do with what missiologists call contextualization, which has it's basis in the doctrine of Incarnation and in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9. It's hardly a superficial desire to just do "cool church".
Personally, I am not afraid to own the "emergent" label. For me it would be disingenuous not to admit that I am an "emerging" Christian, since the reality is that find myself in almost complete agreement with the spirit, direction, and beliefs of the emerging church movement. I like its openness to dialogue and diversity of beliefs among Christians, while still demonstrating a passion for the historic, orthodox Christian faith. I like its willingness to be experimental and creative in its approaches to church structure and to worship. I like the commitment to social justice, and how it situates this firmly in a broader, missional understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom. I like the acceptance of questioning and doubt, allowing people to be on a spiritual journey. I like their recognition that the Bible is always read through multiple sets of cultural and personal lenses, and thus let the Bible become less like a text book or instruction manual, and more like a living, dynamic, contextual, historical, incarnational text. I find myself consistently agreeing with most things written by emerging authors (not in a blindly accepting way, but in a "wow, they're saying what I was already thinking" way).
But more than that, I owe my faith to the emerging church conversation. I'm convinced that I would have given up on my Christian faith before now if I still thought that being a conservative evangelical was the only possible way to follow Christ. The emerging church offered me an alternative between that kind of faith or no faith. It showed me that it was possible to be a "new kind of Christian". I'm still a Christian and still in ministry because I discovered the emerging church.
In short, I just am emergent, whether I like it or not. And, since I believe in truth in advertising, I will gladly own the label.
Frankly I wish more emerging type people would have the courage to own the title too. It's not that I think it's important to create some new emergent in-crowd or anything like that. I just think it's important that those who share similar passions work together and not quibble over labels. I worry that some of the hesitancy to self-identify with the emerging church is really related to that same old Protestant impulse to separate and disassociate from anyone with whom you don't completely agree. I think one of the more helpful trends of the emerging church is to get past this need for total agreement between Christians before we're willing to associate and work together. If we're going to make an impact for the kingdom of God in this world, I think it's time that we stop defining ourselves by what we're not, and start defining ourselves by what we have in common.
Maybe for some it's a change that's as simple as how we talk about our differences. Maybe instead of saying "I like some of what those emerging church guys say, but I'm not emergent", we could instead say "I'm a part of the emerging church even though naturally I don't always agree with everything others in it say. That's kind of the point."
Anyhow, in case you were wondering, I am emergent, and I'm not afraid to say so.
Labels: emerging church
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