Monday, April 09, 2007

The Emerging Church

When we talk about church these days it's important to get the names and categories straight. Those of us who look for denominational clues to tell us what was really meant by the sign out front have a hard time discovering what is really going on inside the building. My personal experience is that even when you get inside the building, the crowd inside is no more informed than you were as a newcomer, so varied is the mixture.

This is a good trend, by the way. I am encouraged when I see all sorts and conditions of men, women and children doing church together. The first time I saw sneakers peeking out from under the vestments of an acolyte I knew I was in the right place. Same with the young family with two beautiful, well-behaved children. Mom in a comfortable casual dress, with clean, shining long hair hanging naturally with no hint of a vanity cut. Dad in a short-sleeved shirt with both arms so covered with tattoos he appeared at a glance to be wearing long sleeves.

Readers who have never seen anything like this in their home church need to get out more. There's a lot of stuff happening out there that will make you feel old before your time if you're not careful.

Scot McKnight's article in Christianity Today will help you get up to speed. He elaborates on five points that are characteristic of the emerging church.

►Prophetic (or at least provocative)

Aside from alliteration, these five topics are all hot-button issues for serious Christian conversation. Any one of them is apt to spark an argument, which is why the writer has done such a workmanlike job of handling them. With the skill of a snake-handler he says just enough about each of these subjects to de-mystify their various toxic side-effects. (The second one pushes my button, but I have to admit that my own view of the topic tends to be two-dimensional.) That word praxis might have been practice and still fit with the list, but I think the implications of the thirty-dollar word are more nuanced than the vernacular.

The article is recommended reading, but let the reader be aware of the distinction between "emerging" and "emergent." This is the latter-day echo of the old antidisestablismentarianism debate. So don't let yourself get distracted...

To prevent confusion, a distinction needs to be made between "emerging" and "Emergent." Emerging is the wider, informal, global, ecclesial (church-centered) focus of the movement, while Emergent is an official organization in the U.S. and the U.K. Emergent Village, the organization, isdirected by Tony Jones, a Ph.D. student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a world traveler on behalf of all things both Emergent and emerging.

Enough of that. Go to the article, which opens with this delightful paragraph.
It is said that emerging Christians confess their faith like mainliners—meaning they say things publicly they don't really believe. They drink like Southern Baptists—meaning, to adapt some words from Mark Twain, they are teetotalers when it is judicious. They talk like Catholics—meaning they cuss and use naughty words. They evangelize and theologize like the Reformed—meaning they rarely evangelize, yet theologize all the time. They worship like charismatics—meaning with their whole bodies, some parts tattooed. They vote like Episcopalians—meaning they eat, drink, and sleep on their left side. And, they deny the truth—meaning they've got a latte-soaked copy of Derrida in their smoke- and beer-stained backpacks.

Thanks to Sarah Robinson, of all people, for the pointer. See, she's not an infidel after all. I think.

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