Sunday, January 06, 2008
In Search of a Label
Brian McLaren has some good thoughts over on the God's Politics blog about why it's so hard to find a label for this "emerging", "progressive", "new kind of Christianity" thing that so many of us are a part of. He writes:

A lot of us are people without a label these days.

Media folks want to call us the “Religious Left,” since they can tell we’re not the Religious Right. But that bipolar terminology brings a lot of baggage we neither want nor believe in. There’s “Progressive Christians” – but that’s interpreted by some as a euphemism for “Religious Left.” Some people like to mix red/Republican and blue/Democrat and speak of “Purple Christians,” but the image for me evokes bug-eyed believers who have held their breath too long.

Then there’s “Red Letter Christians” – a promising candidate. Some know it refers to the teachings of Jesus that are often printed in red letters, but others think it’s analogous to a “blue ribbon panel” or something like that. There are some hopeful terms like “Christianity for the rest of us,” “emerging Christianity,” “the emerging church,” or “a new kind of Christian” (referencing recent books by Diana Butler Bass, Marcus Borg, Dan Kimball, and myself), but I don’t know if they’ll catch on. I don’t have a better suggestion yet, so I’m keeping my ears open.

Read the rest of the article here.

While personally I'm not afraid to own the label "emergent" (as I've written about here and here), I also resonate with Brian's concerns. It especially becomes problematic when people come up with their own negative ideas about what they think the label means, and use it to then dismiss what you're actually saying. But I'm not entirely anti-label either, so, like Brian, I'm open to some better ones.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 4:02 PM | Permalink |


At 1/06/2008 09:34:00 PM, Blogger Drew

The problem is that any label will do this: it will say we identify ourselves with this but not that. As soon as you define your boundaries of what you are, you are making a statement about what you are not. Now you can eschew a label altogether, but I am not sure that this is helpful since someone will apply a label or brand if you will to the set of ideas that are called...well...whatever they may be.

The statement itself, I do not like labels, or the idea of being a "Christ follower" rather than a Christian simply creates a different label in itself! SO while I think labels are limiting because they must define certain boundaries, I think it's okay to use them descriptively, but not prescriptively. Unfortunately the public seems to favor label use with the latter rather than the former. If this is the case, then the goal is to educate them how to use the label properly rather than simply find something else altogether.


At 1/06/2008 11:18:00 PM, Blogger Jake

I'm with Drew, I think the heart behind the resistance to labels is commendable and emerges (pun intended) out of a background where we reacted against labels rather than ideas and interacted with labels rather than people. However, resisting labels is neither wise nor practical.

The bottom line is we need labels for discussions. While it's important to be able to articulate your beliefs without falling back onto a label (IE be able to explain what the doctrines of grace are without actually saying the C word), we need to be alright with saying "I'm a Calvinst" or "I'm emergent," if that will help move the discussion forward.

I guess what it basically comes down to is this- refusing to use labels ultimately leads to the same problem as excessive use of labels. In either case, you're creating a hard rule that won't always be helpful.

What label would you prefer Mike? Just "Emergent" or is there something that would be more helpful or less controversial?


At 1/07/2008 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Raffi Shahinian

I'm not sure if you guys are aware, but there has been a loud and edifying discussion on this issue on the Emergent Village blog over the last few days which you may find interesting.

I've also been posting my thoughts on the discussion on my blog, Parables of a Prodigal World, again, if you're interested.

Grace and Peace,
Raffi Shahinian


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