Monday, April 19, 2010
I Didn't Learn It From the White Males
This post is for a Synchroblog that asks the question, what is emerging in the church? This effort is partially in response to the recent Sojourners article by Soong-Chan Rah and Jason Mach alleging that the emerging church conversation has largely been dominated by white male hipsters, and partially just to celebrate all the good things that are in fact emerging. So even though I am a white male (though decidedly un-hip), I did want to contribute and speak to my own experience of being led into this conversation through non-white, non-western voices in the first place.

About ten years ago I had just finished a degree in philosophy at Wheaton College (where I had my first introduction to postmodernism) and was working towards a Masters in Missions and Intercultural Studies. While I was already beginning to rethink my theology and worldview thanks to those postmodern philosophers, I hadn't yet even heard of names like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt or whoever. Instead what I was encountering through my grad studies were the myriad of ways that Christianity gets expressed in indigenous cultures around the world, whether through African Independent Churches, South Asian Christianity, Native American churches, etc. It was here that I began to realize how diverse the Christian faith really is, and how culturally bound my own versions of faith were as well. Thankfully through this exposure I was also introduced to the concept of contextualization - the idea that just as God chose to incarnate God's self in a particular first-century Jewish culture in order to communicate the gospel to the people of that time and place, so can the gospel be incarnated and re-contextualized to many other times and places and cultures. The fact that African Christians were able to take the gospel and adapt it to their indigenous cultures, or that Native American Christians were able to be Christians and yet still integrate their ancient customs and religious practices, inspired me to think that maybe, just maybe, we white Western Christians could also have the freedom to adapt our received traditions and belief systems to our own emerging postmodern culture.

More than this, it was missiologists working outside of the West, people like David Bosch or Lesslie Newbign, and especially Latin American theologians like C. Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar, who first developed the "missional" ideas that have become so significant among American emerging church folks as well now. The idea of a holistic, integral mission that addresses both spiritual and physical needs, and doesn't divide the world into "sending" and "receiving" nations, or even into "the church" and "the world," but sees the whole of life as a mission and the kingdom of God at work in the whole world, is something that was being talked about outside the West decades before some of us here in the States started reading about it and being inspired by it.

In other words, for me at least, this idea of creating an emerging, missional, postmodern faith didn't come by listening to a bunch of hip white males, it came by listening to the voices of the non-Western world and learning from their examples. They led the way. Whatever is emerging among white American Christians was pioneered by them first, and we owe them a debt.

This is true for me, and I know it is true for many of the well-known white male emergent leaders as well. Ask most of them who inspired many of these ideas for them in the first place and they'll often point to these same non-Western voices. None of us are trying to claim credit for it, or trying to say that we invented it. We're simply trying to learn from whoever we can, and follow the lead of these global pioneers as the church continues to emerge here in our own context as well.

This is what I see emerging in the church both globally and locally, and it gives me hope.

UPDATE: Here are links to some of the others who have contributed to this Synchroblog. Good stuff!

Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong.

Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement.

Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse.

Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male.

Dave Huth post a on new ways to talk about religion.

Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church.

Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community.

Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness.

Julie Kennedy describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face.

Dave Brown comments on the emerging church and swarm theory.

Danielle Shroyer reflects on what she sees emerging in the church.

Brian Merritt offers his pros and cons of the emerging church.

Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity.

Susan Philips points out that emergence happens as G-d redeems our shattered realities.

Jake Bouma suggest that what is emerging is a collapse into simplicity.

Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today.

Rachel Held Evans writes on what is changing in the church.

Tia Lynn Lecorchick describes the emerging movement as a wood between worlds (from The Magician's Nephew).

Amy Moffitt shares her journey towards a theology of humility.

Travis Mamone comments on the need for the emerging church to rely on the word of God.

Sa Say reflects on the the prick of doubt.

David Henson lists what he sees as what is emerging in the church.

Angela Harms writes in in defense of emergent.

Wendy Gritter asks how we can listening to the voices from the margins.

Bruce Epperly comments on the largeness of spirit of emerging spirituality.

Linda Jamentz reflects on listening to the voices from the margins in church.

Lisa Bain Carlton hopes that our emerging conversation can respond humbly to our moment in time.

Christine Sine asks how far are we willing to be transformed.


posted by Mike Clawson at 9:50 AM | Permalink |


At 4/19/2010 02:12:00 PM, Anonymous Susan Phillips

My experience parallels yours in many ways. I have encouraged / challenged all of us to "start naming names from the deep well of widely divergent folks who inspire each of you(us) to risk (y)ourselves for the sake of the good news. Honor the saints among you who humble you with their examples of generosity, hospitality and love. Invite others in and listen again to the stories that make you squirm and give you no space to wiggle out of the conviction G-d ignites — and I will trade stories with you."

Thanks, Mike for being specific about the global voices who have inspired you.


At 4/19/2010 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Tia Lynn

I'm so glad you pointed toward the emergence of other cultures as the primary influence of the emergence going on in the west. That's a point that needs to be made more.