Sunday, March 30, 2008
Cautions for Emergents, Part 1: Beware of Cynicism
In the comments on my previous post Karl asked me whether I had any cautions that I would give my fellow emerging church travelers along the way. I thought I'd try to answer him with a separate post on the topic. In fact I have two main cautions, so I think I'll do a pair of posts today and tomorrow.

My first piece of advice can be stated simply: "Don't let your cynicism lead to inaction." The emerging conversation tends to include a lot of valid and necessary critiques of what has gone before, whether in conservative evangelicalism, or bureaucratic mainline churches, or business-model driven megachurches, or whatever. I think these critiques are important and I am the last person who would try to tell emergents (as some people have done) that we need to just get over it and stop being so deconstructive and critical. Especially by those who have been burned by the church in the past, they do need a place to express their anger and their hurt, and find some sympathy and some healing. At its best the emerging church has been a refuge for those of us who have needed that safe place.

However, it is possible to get stuck in that place, and to fail to let the critique and cynicism towards what you've experienced to lead to a positive attempt to make things better. And again, I sympathize with those want to throw up their hands and think that nothing will ever really change. But I want to encourage us not to lose hope. There is still work to be done in the pursuit of justice and compassion for the poor and the oppressed, in participating in God's kingdom in the here and now, in creating communities of healing and celebration. If we neglect this work, who will do it? The mission is too important to simply throw up our hands in disgust and walk away because of the bad experiences we've had in the past.

This is one of my fears for the emerging movement, that we will talk a good game when it comes to justice, compassion, and God's kingdom, but will ultimately fail to actually changing anything because we won't be able to put away our cynicism and our critiques long enough to actually accomplish anything together. If people freak out when Emergent Village appoints Tony Jones as a "National Coordinator" or even when some of us try to find some common relational ground around terms like "missional" or "emerging", how can we possibly hope to sustain a movement capable of tackling real issues like global poverty or modern slavery or an unsustainable consumer economy? How can we create long-term sustainable faith communities that will actually be able to incarnate the spiritual and social values being discussed by emerging folks if we're so gun-shy about joining anything that smacks of "institutionalized church"? How can we multiply this "new kind of Christianity" for the sake of people who desperately need to know that an alternative is out there, if we've been so turned off by modern evangelical approaches to evangelism that we're not even willing to talk about our faith with others?

If we believe that the emerging church is on the right track on some things, and I for one do, then we must be active, not for the sake of growing the "emerging church", but because of the passion for the kingdom of God which our emerging journey has led us to. I want to see God's kingdom come; I want to see the poor cared for, the oppressed set free, the broken healed, and the bitter reconciled. But none of this can happen if we let our cynicism keep us from actually pursuing this vision and doing something about it. Let's not stop talking about it, but let's make sure to add doing to our talking.

And of course many already are... I'm not saying this as a blanket statement about all emergents by any means. This is simply an encouragement to all of us (whether we're stuck in cynicism or already moving forward) to continually remember that all of our critiques are intended to lead us not just away from something but towards something as well - towards acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.


posted by Mike Clawson at 3:33 PM | Permalink |


At 3/30/2008 05:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Mike, thanks for not beating around the bush:

I want to see God's kingdom come; I want to see the poor cared for, the oppressed set free, the broken healed, and the bitter reconciled. But none of this can happen if we let our cynicism keep us from actually pursuing this vision and doing something about it. Let's not stop talking about it, but let's make sure to add doing to our talking.

"Christians" have long been pegged as "hypocrites", because we have so commonly failed to practice what we preach. Despite the dawning of postmodernity and the rise of emerging churches, we remain at risk of perpetuating this same tragic reality -- regardless of whether or not we followers of Christ continue to call ourselves "Christians."


At 3/30/2008 07:12:00 PM, Blogger Christy Metler


Go to this website. This is a friend of ours that makes chainmaille and such. Thought you might enjoy.



At 3/30/2008 08:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

What frustrates me, yet is also nudging me to participate more actively, is the drone about the postmodern. I think that postmodernism yields cynicism. Just look at Jean Baudriallard's writing. He went from an incisive cultural/political critic from a socialist perspective, to the entire notion that we have created such unreality that we no longer know or care for what reality is.

I found this in terms of educational theory as well. Postmodernism has been over-lauded without checks and balances to tell us why it is of such value. Education is traditionally and almost irreducibly pragmatic so I thought some of that needed a corrective. I spent five years studying postmodern theories, but when it came time to land somewhere, I was plain out of gas. Calvin O. Schrag's book The Resources of Rationality totally refueled the tanks for me.

I am seeing the same trend here. I think that critical theory and pragmatism give us the tools to critique, in the PCUSA to "always reform", but with a demand of pragmatic outcome of reconstruction. It is a method to say what is wrong with something by saying what is right.

I would like to start thinking about measurable and achievable outcomes for churches and for emergent that will make something new and silence the critics once and for all on this issue.


At 3/30/2008 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the recommendation Sis. :)


At 3/31/2008 08:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

I think you're right on. I don't know if I can think of a more important caution. I really do think the choice to embrace Hope rather than to be overcome by cynicism is the great choice we have right now. And by Hope I mean believing that God really is working in our world and that our action really does matter. Hope that this world matters. Hope that we are ultimately moving towards redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.

But this is hard. And we need the reminder to hope - thanks Mike.


At 3/31/2008 03:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I really appreciated this post, Mike. There is much wisdom here. Thanks, brother.



At 4/06/2008 08:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

mike, just catching up on a few blogs & i wanted to take time to comment on this one because of course it hits home because it is the hardest part for me to shake, my cynicism. i don't think my cynicism has prevented the refuge from action, but i do think my cynicism has prevented me/us from freedom and that is absolutely getting in the way. i think the hardest part is that many outsiders think we need to get over cynicism as quickly as possible, move right on through it and be done, and trust me, that is my hope and desire too (this is one i'd take a magic cure-all pill for in a heartbeat!) but like any healing process, it takes a while...part of the wounding from the past for some people is the the idea of "get over it" and then we leave and are trying to be honest and then another group of people tell us to "get over it." i don't think you are saying that at all, i love your thoughts because i think they are honest and balanced, but i do think that is part of the weird dilemma that i have felt in the past 2 years. and most people's wounding isn't just one event, it's a long chain of years and years of stuff that needs a lot of unraveling. i sometimes wish i just had church amnesia and then the cynicism wouldn't be there. but then also there wouldn't be the propelling energy and compelling spirit to move toward what i am passionate about for the kingdom, either. all my experiences really are part of the journey and part of shaking my cynicism is beginning to be grateful for the past, glad for all the good stuff, the weird stuff because it has made me more clear how i want to live this next chapter. so, what i like about what you are saying is a reminder, we need to be careful. i need to be careful. it can be damaging & keep us stuck. we need to find healthy, constructive ways to move through, embrace what needs to be embraced, let go of what needs to be let go of and give each other a lot of space and encouragement to get there. thanks for all you and julie to do keep such good conversations going!