Is “Emergent” a Noun?
If you’re a reader at GetReligion you’re aware of the tendency for journalists to see churches only in political terms. Last Monday’s opinion piece on the emerging church is no different. Tom Krattenmaker writes about the “growing movement of believers [for whom] an activist faith means more than proselytizing about Jesus and stoking the fires of our culture wars.”
There is almost no theological content in this article. He quotes Rick McKinley, leader of Portland’s Imago Dei Community, as saying, “We’d say ‘yes’ [to being ‘evangelical’] in terms of what we think about the authority of Scripture and those things…What you have is evangelicalism defined doctrinally, which we’d agree with, and defined culturally, where we would disagree. Culturally, it has been hijacked by a right-wing political movement.”
Other than that it is an article on the politics of the “liberal” emerging church movement. It showcases the morally superior attitudes of the emerging leaders that were quoted, which – let’s be real – mirrors the morally superior attitudes of most on the other side of the aisle. So that’s a wash.
Like mainstream evangelicals, emergents believe in spreading the Gospel and in the necessity of believers having a personal relationship with Jesus. The difference lies in how faith is applied — the way it’s acted out “in the culture,” as emergents typically put it. In the eyes of the emerging church, Christianity lived out in the respectable confines of megachurches and suburbia is fading into irrelevance as a new generation comes of age with a passion for healing society and a reluctance to shout moralistic dogma. “If the church doesn’t love its neighbors,” McKinley says, “I don’t understand how it can say anything that’s going to have meaning in the culture.”
The first thing of note in this paragraph is the use of the term “emergent” as a moniker for members of emerging communities. If it’s a common practice then I haven’t gotten wind of it yet. But judging from the relative inability of journalists to use the terms Episcopal and Episcopalian correctly, I doubt it.
In describing the differences between traditional and emerging movements, Krattenmaker refers almost exclusively to the megachurch model. On the one hand that’s a decent place to start, because megachurches are getting plenty of attention. And, unfortunately, on early examination the stereotype is true. There are plenty of leaders who are too concerned with church growth, and the easiest way to grow a church is to provide goods for your consumers. That doesn’t lead to a lot of service in the community. But the overwhelming majority of conservative evangelicals are members of average and small churches. So a huge part of evangelicalism is being left out of the mix here.
More from the story:
Emergents tend to be more tolerant than establishment evangelicals on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Do emergents believe in heaven and hell? Yes, McKinley explains, but according to emergent theology, the point of being Christian is not solely to achieve heaven in the next life, but to bring some heaven to this life by doing the work of Jesus.
In the comments section one commenter says, “‘Emergents tend to be more tolerant than establishment evangelicals on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.’ Well, tolerant isn’t an option (Bibilically) concerning these issues.” The responses sing the familiar chorus of “that doesn’t sound very Christian to me” with an interlude of “we don’t follow all of the laws of the Bible [so it’s ok]”.
It’s important to note that the article is an opinion piece so the writer’s support of the liberal social agenda in these churches isn’t a big deal. I think the saddest thing about it is that so many of the explicit and implicit stereotypes of conservative evangelical Christianity hold truth. Despite how we may feel about ourselves, there are too many of us more concerned with getting people into our buildings than teaching them to love Christ, love each other, and love their neighbor. Too few are willing to walk the line between loving the lost and accepting their sin, so they just reject them out of hand. I think Jesus said something about “whitewashed tombs”…
While I don’t agree with the writer of this piece, I think it’s worth reading to see what we look like in the world. Not so we can be what they want us to be, but so we can be what Christ wants us to be. So we can make disciples, teach them what Christ commanded – about himself, heaven, salvation, sin, morality, love, and service – and live those things ourselves.