Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Distancing from Emergent?
The rumor is that Dan Kimball, Scot McKnight, and Erwin McManus will be starting a new ministry network for missional Christians apparently as a more conservative (i.e. less theologically open) alternative to Emergent Village. Besides this, more and more emerging voices are saying that they're not willing to self-identify with other "emergent" folks anymore either. I understand the motivation but it saddens me because it seems to miss one of the main point of the emerging conversation which is that we don't have to agree on our theology in order to be in relationship together. So what if you don't agree with everything Brian or Doug or Tony or whoever thinks? That was never the point anyway. Is disagreement a reason to take your ball and go play somewhere else, or is it an invitation to jump into the conversation and explain why?

At any rate, I've already written in the past about why I have no qualms about owning the label "emergent", and besides, Julie has done a much better job of responding to this latest round of distancing than I have time for, so y'all should just go read her post about "Claiming Emergent".

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posted by Mike Clawson at 9:57 AM | Permalink |


10 Comments:


At 9/17/2008 09:06:00 PM, Anonymous Bob

a couple of thoughts-
for me it's not about not wanting to be friends or associate with those who have different theology than me. I have plenty of those!

It's about identifying with a movement whose critics and proponents alike are defining theologically in ways I'm not comfortable with.

True- it's mostly the critics that are doing it- but what you are seeing is a tipping point- the Emerging church being identified with certain positions, a "hardening of categories" if you will... and to the extent that I don't and can't claim those particular positions, out of necessity I have to say- "yeah, my friends, but not me."

The unfortunate part of this, I think, is the lack of proactivity on the part of those at the forefront, to highlight a broader spectrum of voices (including those on the more conservative end of the spectrum) and bring balance as a way of diffusing the critics. I know that they will say they aren't necessarily interested in doing anything "for" their critics and wasting energy on the negativity there- okay.
They weren't interested in changing the name of Emergent so as to help minimize confusion between the emerging church as a broad spectrum and Emergent the less-broad organization- I understand that, but...

To me, this is simply a natural process that happens- not a positive one, but one that can bring positive things.

 

At 9/18/2008 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

This seems similar to what some emergents have done with regard to evangelicalism. While there are emergent (or emerging) evangelicals, there are also those loud voices within emergent who may speak with appreciation for their evangelical friends but who say "sorry, I just can't call myself evangelical anymore" for reasons that Bob described well above: "It's about identifying with a movement whose critics and proponents alike are defining theologically in ways I'm not comfortable with . . . and to the extent that I don't and can't claim those particular positions, out of necessity I have to say- "yeah, my friends, but not me."

I don't see any reason why that should be ok - and even celebrated - in one direction, but somehow illegitimate or to be decried when it happens in the other direction. With the amount of theological innovation going on within emergent and the broader emerging movement, it was pretty much inevitable that some would pull back and say "sorry, not only can I not go with you there personally; I don't want to be associated with a group that calls itself Christian but is still ok with some of its members going there."

 

At 9/18/2008 11:05:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

It's not the same thing at all Karl. Evangelicalism is a movement (partially) based on agreement on certain core theological beliefs. The emerging church is not. Thus if a person finds themselves in disagreement with some or all of the core evangelical beliefs, then it's totally appropriate for that person to say "sorry, but I'm not an evangelical anymore". But if a person finds themselves in disagreement with the theology of some other people in the emerging church, that fact is pretty much irrelevant since the emerging church has never defined itself in terms of doctrinal agreement in the first place.

 

At 9/18/2008 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"the Emerging church being identified with certain positions, a "hardening of categories" if you will... and to the extent that I don't and can't claim those particular positions, out of necessity I have to say- "yeah, my friends, but not me."

What are you referring to Bob? I've not personally seen any "hardening of categories". I have seen various people in the EC saying "this is where I'm at right now and this is what I'm thinking", but I think it totally misses the point to think that one person's opinion (no matter whose it is) somehow represents everyone else in the conversation.

"The unfortunate part of this, I think, is the lack of proactivity on the part of those at the forefront, to highlight a broader spectrum of voices (including those on the more conservative end of the spectrum) and bring balance as a way of diffusing the critics."

So how is that going to change if you and your friends pull out of it? What frustrates me about these kinds of complaints (i.e. "the emerging church doesn't include enough X") is that this conversation has always been open source, so if you don't think something is being brought to the table often enough, then it's your job to bring it, not to just sit back and criticize someone else for not bringing it.

"They weren't interested in changing the name of Emergent so as to help minimize confusion between the emerging church as a broad spectrum and Emergent the less-broad organization"

In what sense is EV "less broad"? I don't think anyone in Emergent Village has ever intended it to be any less broad than the rest of the emerging church. There is no statement of faith by which to exclude anyone, and no expectation of agreement on anything any one person in the group says or writes. EV is just as broad as the people who are willing to join the conversation. So if Dan Kimball or whoever doesn't think it's conservative enough anymore, then maybe he ought to stick around and bring that perspective to the table rather than saying "sorry, but I really can't afford to be seen with you guys anymore."

 

At 9/19/2008 05:25:00 AM, Blogger Dan

Hi Mike,

A couple of things. I am reading Bob's comments and I think I fully understand what he is saying. I have plenty of friends too who are not the same theologically and plenty of friends who aren't Christians so their theology is significantly different than mine. So this isn't about the desire to only "play" (your words) with people who only believe exactly what you do.

For me it is about re-focusing time and prayer and energy into what I have shared got me into the whole emerging church world in the beginning - and that was evangelism. At least what I personally experienced back in the beginning, it was primarily about evangelism to emerging generations. There were generations missing from church and not responding like they used to and that brought people together. We were thinking through how culture has changed and rethinking leadership, what evangelism is, church structure, what the Kingdom is, etc. all in the process.

So for me, the network we are discussing is about refocusing back on evangelism and for those interested in that. So because of the urgency, we simply want to refocus back on that. We fully understand evangelism is theology and that is why Scot McKnight is interested in this and has the same heartbeat for this.

And yes, we are looking at using the Lausanne Covenant, and I don't see anything wrong what-so-ever of having a statement of some sort. Focusing on evangelism and having something like the Lausanne Covenant allows for diversity, but also allows for common understanding about how evangelism and justice theologically is viewed. I believe we need to have a common understanding of that in order to build from. It isn't being tight and overly restrictive at all if you read it. It is then easy to refer people to that for questions and it is very wrapped up in evangelism, theology and justice which that document is about. So it fits what we are thinking about well (if we end up formally using that).

Anyway, maybe this helps or not. But thought I would comment here. I've been in this "emerging" conversation since around 1995 or 1996 and paid close attention to what has happened. So, as I am sharing, it is with the persepctive of having seen the various times and phases of it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I hope these were helpful.

Dan

 

At 9/19/2008 09:58:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

Mike, I focused mainly on theology because that's the presenting issue for many people going either into or out of emergent, but now I wish I hadn't because I see what you are saying and think focusing solely on theological disagreement is a red herring. I still think you have to parse the situations pretty closely to say the backing out of emergent by some in order to form a network that more closely fits who they are and what they are primarily concerned about, isn't similar in some respects to the backing out of evangelicalism and into emergent by others.

Sure, the criteria by which evangelicalism self-defines and the criteria by which emergent self-defines are different. But that's kind of beside the point. In both cases, someone is saying "sorry, I just can't be considered part of this group anymore because we have differences (either I with you, or you with me, or both of us with each other) that keep that from being feasible and cause me to fit better elsewhere."

That is the case whether those differences center around theological disagreement, or anger over the treatment of the poor and disenfranchised, or desire for a different primary emphasis, or some other aspect that makes you say "hey, I appreciate some of what you're doing here but I just don't think I can wear your community's nametag any more." It doesn't mean you can't still have meaningful, productive dialogue ("play") with people in that community; just that you have recognized it isn't a good fit to call it your primary community and wear its badge.

 

At 9/19/2008 11:38:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dan (welcome, and thanks for commenting here) and Karl,

I get what you're both saying. And if the point of this new network is simply to refocus on one particular stream of the emerging conversation that you feel has been neglected recently, then I'm totally down with that. I think that's great. As I (and many others, including Scot) have written about before, there are many streams to the emerging conversation and all of them are worthwhile and deserve attention.

However, it's the perceived disassociating/distancing from other emerging folks who want to focus on other streams, or take the conversation in directions different from your own passions and beliefs that I'm concerned about. If you say that's not what you're doing, then great! However, if that is part of it, then I think it's both uncharitable and inaccurate. Refocusing on evangelism doesn't place you outside of the emerging conversation. It just places you in one particular stream of it. Likewise, declaring a commitment to the Lausanne Covenant (or some other declaration of Evangelical orthodoxy) doesn't place you outside of the emerging conversation either. It just means that you're an emerging evangelical and bringing that perspective to the conversation.

I guess what I'm saying is the same thing I said over at Andrew Jones' blog: that you're still "emerging" whether you like that terminology or not as long as you're willing to remain friends and remain in conversation with the rest of us. It sounds to me like you are, which is great, we need your voice.

 

At 9/24/2008 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Kester

Mike-

I find myself being convinced by both sides of this. I think it is because you would all have slightly different definitions of what emerging/emergent is. If emergent is a conversation between Christians who are exploring what it means to be a Christian, then I think that Mike is right and anyone who engages in that conversation is emergent whether they claim to be or not. I don't see that changing.

However, there do seem to be (and I may be misperceiving this) certain topics that aren't as welcome at the table as others. The more conservative the conversation gets, the harder it seems to hear the guy that's speaking (unless that guy is Mark Driscoll, I have never had a hard time hearing him). I appreciate your saying that the more conservative voices should keep speaking up if they hope to shape the conversation, but I hear in some of this a tiredness with trying to shape the conversation. And I can understand that. Clearly, I'm still in this conversation (as are Bob and Dan, or we wouldn't be posting comments), but I grow tired of feeling left out when I argue a more conservative viewpoint and getting rewarded when I argue a more open one. That's going to sound like whining or sour grapes, but I'll risk it. The fact is that I stopped participating in a lot of the evangelical type conversations because I got tired of being the "liberal" voice whose friends consistently questioned if I still believed in God. But lately I get tired of being the more "conservative" voice whose friends can't believe that I keep insisting that Jesus is the Way.

You're right that it would be a mistake for anyone to take their ball and go home, but I don't see Bob or Dan doing that. The fact that they're here means they're still in on the conversation. It may just be that it's no longer the conversation it once was. And I can't really explain why that is, so I won't try.

 

At 9/26/2008 02:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

It's unfortunate that you've been subjected to those kinds of attitudes Kester. For myself, I've not encountered too many emergents who would disagree with you that "Jesus is the Way", though we might have a good conversation about what "the Way" is all about.

Personally - and this might be an ideal though I've also seen it play out in reality - conservative views should be just as welcome at the table as long as they are also welcoming to other viewpoints. Sometimes when other emergents react negatively to conservative views, I've noticed that it's a less a reaction to the views themselves as it is to the absolutist ways in which those views are sometimes asserted.

 

At 9/29/2008 01:30:00 PM, Blogger Kester

Mike-

I agree that often the emergents get backed into corners with "when did you stop beating your wife?" kinds of questions and I understand and empathize with their refusal to answer a complicated question as if it were a simple one. However, (and, again, this is just personal experience) I've also had occasions where the conversation goes the way of "can you believe these guys who still think you need to believe the (fill in the blank) to be a Christian?" and I am one of those guys. But the attitude of the table is already so clearly turned against that viewpoint that I'd rather just leave the conversation. I'm not saying I should leave it, I'm saying I understand the impulse.

 

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