Monday, March 31, 2008
Cautions for Emergents, Part 2: Don't Get Scared Off
Yesterday I posted Part One of my two-part series on "Cautions for Emergents", in response to Karl's inquiry about what advice I would give to my fellow emergents along the way. Today I offer my second bit of advice, which simply put is this: don't let disagreements you have with some emergent writers or leaders scare you off from the conversation and the journey altogether.

I run into this a lot. I talk to people all the time who will say something like "well, I like a lot of things about the emerging church, but I think some guys go too far", and then use that as an excuse to not associate with emerging folk at all. I know people who read "A New Kind of Christian" and totally resonate with the questions it raises, but then get antsy when they read Brian's later books and aren't sure about some of his answers (or with some of the other, even more controversial questions he raises). I know people who are passionate about the missional and social justice parts of the conversation, but aren't really interested in the more heady theological topics, and get nervous whenever these are brought up. And I know plenty of people who are on a theological journey and are rethinking many of their beliefs, but they still need to take them one at a time and maybe aren't ready to tackle the even bigger issues that some of us who are further down the road are wrestling with. They might be questioning Creationism or women in ministry, but aren't ready to take on the question of hell or the evangelical version of the gospel. Or maybe they've embraced the gospel of the kingdom of God, but haven't yet realized that this poses some serious challenges to their ingrained Dispensational eschatology. Or... whatever.

My advice to those who are in this place is simply to not give up on the process of questioning and conversing in community. You have to understand something about the emerging church: it's not about agreeing with everyone else's answers. It's simply a safe place to ask the questions. Being emergent doesn't mean you have to agree with everything Brian McLaren says, or anyone else. It just means being open to the same process in your own journey that has led Brian and others to where they are at in theirs, even if you don't end up in the same place as them all the time. I think my friend Karen actually said it best in a note that posted here many years ago:
I don't have to be or not be a creationist/ dispensationalist/ whatever. I have to be open to the process. It's MY faith, where I am TODAY, yet not static, always questioning, growing, changing, trusting, accepting, rejecting, reconstructing. For me, faith is not a leap, it's a slow walk on a winding road. It's a path to explore, and I'm looking forward to where it will take me :) The point is - I have permission to walk in this unknown and explore the mystery of what's next. I don't have to think like you or McLaren, or even agree, - I may or I may not, but I have to keep walking. I have to find whatever's out there for me to find. I just need to go where it can find me.
The point is that the emerging church is a conversation among friends, not a set of beliefs that must be adhered to. As long as you're willing to remain friends and remain in conversation, you're still a welcome part of the EC. My fear is that some people will end up cutting their own journey short, or won't ask certain kinds of questions, because they are afraid of where they might end up. That they'll say "well, I can't go there, so I won't go anywhere".

And my advice then to those emergents who are more "edgy", who are trailblazing theologically and pushing the envelopes, is that we wouldn't just leave behind these other travelers in our dust either. Of course we can't stop moving forward on our own journeys, but we should at least have the patience to look back and remember the long arduous process that brought to where we are now, and be willing to help others along the way. We need the patience and kindness to revisit the basic questions and let other people come along one step at a time as well without expecting them to just automatically jump ahead to wherever we are.

The bottom line is that since everyone's journey is different, as one of my college professors was fond of saying, "we need to let the Holy Spirit be as creative in other people's lives as he has been in our own." For those who think some of us have gone too far, trust that the Holy Spirit is still leading us. And for those who think others aren't yet going far enough, trust that they too are right where God wants them in their faith right now. And let's both not get scared off from continuing to pursue the questions together in real community.


posted by Mike Clawson at 6:17 PM | Permalink |


At 3/31/2008 07:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Interesting points. If fear is the root of dogmatic intransigence, as we see many argue in the blogosphere and other places, then progressive questioning should proceed without fear as a motivating factor. Hmmm...

And you cannot get to good answers or outcomes without the right questions. Avoiding questions just gets you nowhere.


At 4/03/2008 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I am thankful for this post. It is timely for me.

I have been exploring ways of thinking about my faith -- mostly in the blogosphere, since I don't have a safe place to do that in my church community or amongst my friends -- that are different from my conservative upbringing. Considering for the first time that maybe there is more than one way to interpret 'this' Bible passage, more than one valid answer to 'that' contentious issue.

This journey has led me to the emerging church, of course... and I have to admit that I have been a little nervous about where I could end up and where some people have gone with their theology. I am so glad that I only need to take one step at a time and it's okay to be unsure.



At 4/03/2008 01:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Good words of caution in both Parts 1 and 2, Mike.