As someone from the Wesleyan stream of Christianity, I find many things that strike me as very good in the Emergent movement. (I drew this conclusion after reading 50 of the primary books by Emergent authors and visiting some of their churches during a Sabbatical a few years ago). I find that most of the books written against them are ridiculously inaccurate and poorly researched, and thus – according the criteria attributed to Martin Luther – unChristian in their lack of accuracy.
A bright exception to the vitriol, gruff talk, and bizarre conspiracy theories pointed at the Emergent/Emerging Christians, is Dan Kluck and Kevin DeYoung’s book Why We’re Not Emergent (2008). Kluck and DeYoung have written a kind, humorous, and good-natured argument regarding Emergent things they are concerned about. They have not vilified the Emergent church, and they have written in a Christlike voice, pointing out that the Emergent Christians are not the enemy. I hold them in the highest esteem for this. Since they come from a committed Reformed perspective, and I live in the Arminian stream, many of their concerns don’t’ fit for me. However, despite disagreeing with some of their conclusions, I deeply appreciate, and celebrate, the spirit in which they write. I wish more people wrote in the spirit and tone of voice that these good men have. Their book also points out and celebrates well the faithful ways the modern church has lived out the gospel.
I have a good memory associated with that book. I read the book a few years ago cover to cover while following a group of junior high girls around Hershey Park for my daughter’s birthday. They rode roller coasters, I stood and read. They giggled and laughed and had junior high girl fun while I bought prodigious amounts of lemonade and followed along 10 yards behind reading while I walked. Amazingly, I never ran into a single person in the park during that crowded day. That daughter turned 18 the other day and she is, of course, precious to me.
Years ago Donald Miller wrote a book called Blue Like jazz. It’s nothing like the movie. At all. But anyway, it was a seminal look into a generation of evangelical kids tired of evangelicalism. Very valuable book. It had many ah ha moments in it when I said “ahhh, that’s what they were thinking… ok.”
Recently Don blogged something about not going to church and it set the evangelical world on fire. It was all predictable and old news. On the one side Don said, look the way church has evolved in America is a different animal than church in the New Testament, going to church isn’t the same thing as Christian community, and people being paid by today’s church have a vested interest in it staying the same and you coming. The other things he expressed were old news to anyone familiar with his generation. And most all of their feelings are legit. I mean, do you know HOW MANY people out there have had the worst possible experiences AT CHURCH and CHURCH has been their biggest barrier to relationship with God? I wouldn’t expect this to set the blogosphere on fire.
Something else predictable. The evangelicals, sold hard core on the current mode of church (whichever one they happen to do), brought their usual list of responses. “You’ll go to hell if you don’t go to church; it’s spiritual suicide; the Bible says to; it’s about God, not you, etc etc etc.” Boring.
It’s no wonder the emergent/postmodern crowd is largely done with the modern evangelical church and started their own stuff or went to the mainline Protestant or Catholic options. It’s the same old lines, and an apparent total disconnect with why people get tired of the modern church. I’ve had really good experiences with church down through the years, and I pastor one of the best ones I’ve ever seen in action, but I’d have to be crazy to not understand the postmodern problem with church. I’m not gonna wax eloquent on all that, but I will just say this. On this whole “it’s about God, not you” thing… GOD is certainly not so co-dependent, insecure and unsure of Himself that He needs us to come together and tell Him how great He is and that He really will be ok, and make Him feel better about Himself on a regular basis. If God WERE that insecure, He wouldn’t be worth following. Church, it turns out, is not for God’s sake – it IS for ours. And the good of the world God loves.
As one good man said, “I don’t believe in organized religion. I believe in religion organizing for the common good.”