Monday, December 26, 2005

Exploring the EM Part 1 - What is the EM For?

In trying to describe what the EM is actually for, it is tempting to begin with Emergent Village's “four common values and the practices that flow from them:”9
  1. Commitment to God in the Way of Jesus
  2. Commitment to the Church in all its Forms
  3. Commitment to God's World
  4. Commitment to One Another
Unfortunately, lists like this tend to be reductionistic; who would actually be against these things? McKnight's own summaries begin here, but he fleshes out specific implications much more helpfully.

First and foremost, the EM is for a living faith in Christ:
“The EM is deeply concerned with the 'character' of the Church for there are far too many of those who call themselves Christian and who go to church weekly (or more often) who are not following God in the way of Jesus and who see 'doing church' as 'going to a service on Sunday morning.' The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today.”10
In other words, faith should lead to action – “it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior.”11 Put simply, we are called to “be” as well as to “say.”12 At its best, the EM calls for the revitalization of the church through the spiritual renewal in the lives of believers.

Naturally, Christ plays an important role in this process: not only does Jesus exemplify the moral goodness and spiritual discipline which we should strive to emulate; he also models how we should relate to God (we exist for his glory) and to others (we are called to graciously welcome them into our midst, to pursue justice on their behalf). With such an Christocentric emphasis, the life and teachings of Jesus – particularly concerning the Kingdom of God – form the hermeneutical skeleton key by which we unlock all of Scripture: “The rest of the New Testament and Bible are read through the lens of the Kingdom vision of Jesus.”13 The “way of Christ” drives our personal ethics.

Second, the EM is for postmoderns. While there is much debate over the particulars, most emergents agree: postmodernism is not something to fear or reject (or to critique, if Carson's assessment of the EM is correct14); rather, postmodernism represents an inevitable culture shift, one which creates opportunity for the Gospel. Thus it is something to be embraced, because God is the one who is behind this climate change. The EM desires to be a destination resort for postmoderns seeking faith, a place where they can pull up a chair and feel at home. McKnight offers an important clarification at this point: the EM is not about radical or “hard” postmodernism – it does not deny the reality of “truth” or “metanarrative.” Rather, it merely recognizes our inability to “prove meta-narratives on rational, independent, objective grounds. In other words, it contends that the only way meta-narratives can finally be persuasive is if one believes in the meta-narrative itself. Faith is required for the meta-narrative to be truthful.”15

Not surprisingly, emergents often share the postmodern preference for narrative and story (creative, artistic), over and against modernity's taste for proposition and systematic (descriptive, dogmatic). In the EM, we also find a renewed appreciation for beauty, aesthetics, sensory experience, combined with a chastened confidence in one's own intellect. Many would be reluctant to claim full knowledge of truth; they would rather hear what others think, than see themselves as having all the “right” answers.

Third, the EM is for the world and one another. Emergents recognize that Jesus' gospel message was not merely intended to transform the spiritual dimension of our lives; real faith should change the world in which we live. If this is God's kingdom, should it not reflect the things that God values – his justice, beauty, and goodness? Consequently, the EM strives to live redemptively in our culture; the gospel must be both holistic and activistic: “it is for the whole person (heart, soul, mind, and strength), and for the whole society (politics, economy, culture, environment), and for the whole world.”16

For emergents, Christianity is meant to be communal – not cloistered from the world, but living as an open community right in the midst of this world. As Christians, we are called not only to love one another well (eg. those who are also “in the camp”), but we should also love those who are still outsiders (eg. unbelievers around us). This has practical implications for the way communities of faith relate to those around them – unbelievers should be able to “belong before they believe.”17 In other words, rather than requiring people to come to faith before they can participate in the Christian community, EM churches seek to be inclusive, to invite unbelievers into their midst, as they are. This plays out in a number of ways: public meetings in secular settings, large numbers of unbelievers participating in worship (and sometimes even partaking of the sacraments18). The Christian community is real and distinct, but “the walls between the 'church' community and the 'local' community are permeable.”19

Fourth, the EM is for church and mission. This is closely tied to the previous point. Emergents recognize that the church plays a key role in the biblical story – when Jesus talks about Kingdom of God, the church is the destination which he has in view; the creation and formation of this new community is what the book of Acts is all about. Consequently, emergents maintain a high view of the church – both local and universal. Christians need to be meaningfully involved in their local churches; they should also be ecumenically charitable, exhibiting a deep respect for churches in other traditions. This valuing of church is inextricably linked to mission – churches are not meant to social clubs or fitness centers, which exist simply to meet the needs and desires of their members; on the contrary, the church is a place where the drama of the gospel is to be “performed as well as proclaimed.”20 The church is a witness to the world of what God is doing redemptively in the world.

Fifth and finally, the EM is for unity through authentic dialogue. A number of features lie embedded in this final statement. Emergents prize authenticity; they value being able to say what they think, to express their doubts and struggles without being condemned.21 Furthermore, they deeply desire to encourage others, and believe they can actually learn from them (even unbelievers!). Consequently, they generally exhibit a deep desire to listen respectfully, to respond carefully and graciously. In many cases, the EM values dialogue and relationship more than they value “being right” on a given subject.

This is extremely important, because it means that the EM finds its unity not in the content of their beliefs (particular doctrines), but rather in their commitment to Jesus (as the source of their praxis) and to one another (in dialogue and encouragement). In short, unity is based on a conversation about common interests, rather than any agreement on the particulars. This to me is one of the most distinctive features of the EM; it aims to establish unity through courteous conversation, to head off division by refusing to get bogged down in dogmatic details. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this approach can actually hold the movement together as it picks up momentum.

(note: if you want to see the footnotes, please refer to the full .pdf version)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home