Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Why I'm NOT Leaving Emergent
Though all the navel-gazing us emergents tend to engage in can get tiresome after a while (especially for those of us doing the gazing), given all the recent posts about folks wanting to distance themselves from emerging Christianity (and/or Emergent Village) for one reason or another, I thought it might actually be helpful for someone to reaffirm why they are NOT leaving, lest the scores of newcomers who are just now joining the conversation start to worry that they missed the party and no one wants to hang out with them anymore. (Because in my position as one of the EV Cohorts Coordinators, I can honestly say that I get a good half-dozen requests from folks still interested in emerging Christianity and wanting to start a new local expression of it for every "I'm leaving emergent" post out there.)

So here's why I'm NOT leaving emergent:

1. I don't really think the theology of guys like Brian or Doug or Tony (or Danielle or Phyllis or Julie) or whoever is all that radical, "unorthodox," or shocking. In fact, I still pretty much agree with most of it. Not all of it of course (it'd be pretty strange to find someone with whom I agree on anything 100%) but enough that I don't feel the need to post scathing theological treatises accusing anyone of heresy. Bottom line, I like the directions the conversation has been going and I'm not scared off by the questions some folks have been asking or the answers some folks have been giving. A lot of it is pretty much where I'm at too. So I'm more than happy to remain a part of this conversation.

(I should also point out that by the standards of contemporary liberal theology, what most emergent writers are doing is still very, very traditional by comparison - and still historically "orthodox" in a broad sense - maybe not strictly Augustinian anymore in some cases, but not unorthodox. As I've discovered during my time at a moderate to liberal mainline seminary, being on the progressive end of emergent theology barely even makes me a liberal Christian here.)

2. It's not about theological agreement anyway. Even if I did have major disagreements with any of the major voices in the conversation, what I like about the emerging church is that I could just speak up and say so without having to break relationships. There are no requirements that any of us agree on any particular point of theology in order to be in relationship with one another. That is the whole point - the EC intends to be an open and safe space for all perspectives, with the one requirement that you be willing and able to agree to disagree and continue to respect and love one another even when you do (or at least try to - none of us are perfect). It's because of this openness to diverse viewpoints and differing theologies that I am still happy to remain emergent.

3. There are good people here. Like I said, the emerging church is defined not by agreement, but by relationships, and we've found some good ones here. People who are on a similar journey to us, even if we're not all at the same place along the way all the time. We discovered friends, acquaintances, and even kindred spirits along this journey - people like Sarah and Ryan, Karen, Steve, Makeesha, Mike, April, Jen, Rick & Leslie, Bob & Lisa, Jeff, Tony, Andrew, Kristine, Fred, Kevin, Nanette, Scot, Dave, Spencer, Rich & Rose, Jim, Rebecca, Rachel, Mark, Matt, Erin, Fran, Brian, Jimi, etc... etc..., and still more whom I only know through avatars or emails - and I see no good reason to just turn my back on these relationships, no matter how many others think the conversation is over or has gotten too heretical or whatever.

4. It's about the Kingdom of God. All the talk, all the blogs, all the books, all the conferences are just a motivational kick in the pants to get us out there engaging in mission for the good of the world on behalf of the Kingdom. It was the emerging church that introduced me to the gospel of the kingdom - to the vision of God's reign of compassion and justice and peacemaking and joy becoming a reality in this world around us. And that's a passion that I'm not about to back away from or give up on. Of course I'm not saying that the emerging church is the only place where this kingdom vision is found, but it's where I've found it, and what the movement is still primarily about for me. I don't want to leave this kingdom-movement, if anything I want to see even more people catch the vision and get on board with it. There's work to be done, and we're wasting too much time arguing over whose theology is more orthodox or who is willing to wear what label anymore.

5. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are still people who are just stumbling upon the emerging church conversation for the first time every day. As part of the EV Cohorts Team, I get to interact with many of these people on a regular basis, and it would be a real shame if those of us who have been around the conversation for a long time now and maybe are a little tired of going over the same ground one more time, just decided to pack it up and leave when there are people out there who need our help and a listening ear - who need to know, as Spencer Burke is fond of saying, that they're not the only crazy ones out there.

The reality is that there are still A LOT of people out there who have been burned by the church, by destructive and oppressive forms of faith, or who simply have questions about faith that they're not allowed to express in the contexts they are in - and the emerging church is still a safe haven for many of these folks to find the freedom to ask their questions and be in process without judgment or exclusion. The reasons the emerging church started in the first place - i.e. the flaws and dysfunctions of conventional Christianity - haven't yet disappeared, so why should the emerging church disappear? Until the church stops spiritually abusing people or denying them the freedom to fully explore their doubts and other promptings from the Spirit, there will always be a need for a safe space, and thus I will remain here so that I can be one of the ones to offer it to them.

Anyhow, there are other reasons too, I'm sure, but this is what comes to mind off the top of my head. Thus, for all these reasons and more, I am NOT leaving the emerging Christian conversation. If anything, I intend to continue my journey "futher up and further in." Anyone who wants to is welcome to join me.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 11:11 PM | Permalink |


At 2/18/2010 12:29:00 AM, Anonymous Miko

The reasons the emerging church started in the first place = i.e. the flaws and dysfunctions of conventional Christianity - haven't yet disappeared, so why should the emerging church disappear?

If they were to disappear, wouldn't that be a still better reason for EC not to?

As an outsider, perhaps I don't have the whole picture, but I've always gotten the impression of EC as an anhierarchical take on Christianity, rather than as a more traditional reformist movement.


At 2/18/2010 07:37:00 AM, Anonymous Steven Burleson

Great post Mike! Looking forward to continuing this journey with you!


At 2/18/2010 08:19:00 AM, Blogger gerbmom

Thanks for this post, Mike. :)


At 2/18/2010 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Calvin Wulf

Assuming Phyllis Tickle is right, and I do, there's still a couple centuries of conversation ahead of us. There's plenty of time to love one another. Thanks for this post.


At 2/18/2010 11:56:00 AM, Anonymous The WayWard Follower

Really appreciate your thoughts, Mike. I agree fully with your focus on kingdom-living and the need not to necessarily agree (or even disagree) theologically with the EC, but to do so (either) in a loving and conversational way. It isn't the doctrine that is the priority in the conversation.

Thanks again...


At 2/18/2010 08:53:00 PM, Blogger Mike Stavlund

Mike, while I didn't agree with everything you've written here, I did want to agree on a few...

*oh, sorry, I thought I was posting on another blog* ;-)

Great post, Mike. Thanks for putting things in perspective, and helping me to relax a bit about the recent hub-bubs. Grateful for your friendship.


At 2/18/2010 10:51:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Mike.

BTW, you were one of the Mikes I had in mind in my list of emergent friends in the post. It's been good to know you. :)


At 2/20/2010 04:41:00 PM, Blogger Andy Culbertson

I had a strong sense of deja vu reading this post and was sure you had posted something very similar before. I think I was remembering this one: Same idea (don't give up), different reasons.


At 2/21/2010 08:37:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Indeed Andy. In fact this current post has even more similarities to this one that I wrote about three years ago. Every so often posts like this, where particular people get disillusioned with emergent for various reasons, pop up and cause a stir in the blogosphere. As each circumstance tends to be slightly different, so my responses are each slightly different, and yet the main point is the same - whatever other people think of it, personally I continue to resonate with the emerging church conversation and see no good reason to give up on it just yet.


At 2/22/2010 12:59:00 PM, Blogger David Henson

"As I've discovered during my time at a moderate to liberal mainline seminary, being on the progressive end of emergent theology barely even makes me a liberal Christian here."

I've been trying to tell people this for years!!! I wish there was a way for everyone talking about the EC to read this.

As one in the liberal mainline, I always want to push the conversation even further!

I half wonder if the reason why conservative evangelicals hate the EC so much is because there is still a good bit of both camps in each other and they are trying to claim/reclaim others or people from the differing camps.

And I wonder if the EC'ers leaving the ECs are the folks that are starting to align more with mainline liberals for whatever reason and can't hold that both streams are good and valuable. When people move past a theological line in their lives there is a tendency to demonize the land from which we just came.