Aug 01 2010

Emerging, or just merging?

Category: churchharmonicminer @ 1:46 pm

I have often thought that the “emergent church” or the “emerging conversation” reminds me an awfully lot of bull sessions in the dorm of my small Christian college in the late 1960s/early 1970s.  That is, provocative questions are asked in such a way as to imply that there are no good answers to them in the existing framework, and so something completely revolutionary is required, which should start with throwing out the bums who have been ruining everything.  In a post titled Emerging Church and Mainliners, Michael Kruse makes the point that to “mainline protestants”, whose groups are mostly shrinking in numbers, the emerging “post-orthodoxy” mixed with progressive perspectives is little different from the progressive and highly “non-judgmental” political/social orientations of the traditional mainstream left:

I’ve been saying for years that much of the emerging church in is simply Evangelicals embracing Mainline Protestant theology while experiencing reticence about Mainline institutions. While “emerging church” encompasses a broad range of expression, in the Mainline world it is almost monotone. Emerging Mainliners have little dispute with Mainline theology or the deep commitment to progressive/liberal politics. It is overwhelmingly about polity, structures, and frustration with lethargy. In this sense it is not truly post-evangelical and post-Mainline … that is … it is not truly emergent. The Mainline emerging church does not embrace the emerging church movement because it is something new but precisely because it dovetails so perfectly with their theological and political persuasions. And it really borders on comical to listen to some emerging church types describe the profound new reality that is emerging when in fact they are describing what Mainliners have been saying for decades. It is new and emerging to them only because their horizons have been so small.

At the PCUSA General Assembly this month, Landon Whitsitt, a pastor in my presbytery in the Kansas City metro (Heartland Presbytery) became vice-moderator for the denomination. On some issues I’m sure Landon and I are very different (for one thing, I don’t have a PCUSA tattoo on my forearm) but read what he said in a recent interview with columnist Bill Tammeus:

What can the Emergent Church Movement, which has come primarily out of the evangelical branch of the church, teach the Mainline churches? On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is that movement?

“I don’t know if ECM can ‘teach’ the Mainline anything, frankly. I have always kind of thought that the ECM is the vehicle that is dragging Evangelicalism into a form of faith similar to what the mainline churches experience.

“I’m sure they’d disagree, but, as an example, a lot of folks in the ECM are jazzed to the hilt about Walter Brueggemann right now. I’m so sick of Bureggemann after reading countless books during seminary. They love N.T. Wright. I’m not trying to be rude when I point out that those are Mainline folks.

“What the ECM challenges us on, however, is our creativity. We’ve gotten liturgically and politically lazy. No one wants to be a part of a bureaucratic institution anymore and no one wants to spend a hour on Sunday morning sitting through what is essentially a business meeting with some hymns. But ’emergence’ in general (a la Tickle): This is nothing short of our age’s Reformation. …

Landon is spot on. I’d also add that unlike some other segments of the ECM, within the Mainline, to be emerging is close to synonymous with being politically progressive in your cultural engagement. And in that sense, it feels to me very much like the emergence of a progressive tribalism that simply is a mirror of, say, Southern Baptist conservative tribalism. Whether all this is a good thing or bad thing is all dependent on your perspective I’m sure. But I don’t think it is emergent in the sense of coming a deep reassessment of what it means to be the church and of our engagement with the world. It is the extension of Mainline sensibilities with new modes of relating.

Here’s another way to put it. Much of the “emerging church” is essentially old-style liberal/leftism, dressed up with vaguely progressive sounding Bible verses.  Most of the emergent could listen to nearly any modern mainstream sermon or teaching, and agree, while being very comfortable with the progressive political inclinations of the mainstream churches.

Sadly, most of them don’t know this, because they’re too young to know better, and despite their pretended cosmopolitanism, many of them really don’t get out much, or read widely…  all while accusing traditional evangelical churches of “preaching to the choir.”

So, I have a simple recommendation:  instead of calling themselves the “emerging church”, they should just “merge” with the mainstream churches, their natural home.  They can do their post-modern thing without guilt, and in fact with great affirmation.  They can go to church with people who share their political/social orientations, aren’t bothered especially by legal abortion-on-demand or gay marriage, think the USA is the cause of evil in the world, and are skeptical of the evangelically understood plan for salvation (the one that mainline groups all used to believe, and strongly teach, i.e., the gospel).

The whole shebang should just become the “merging church.”  That might at least keep the dying mainliners alive for another couple of decades, as they celebrate their post-orthodoxy together.

8 Responses to “Emerging, or just merging?”

  1. tonedeaf says:

    It reminds me of the 1960’s “New Morality”. The “New Morality” was simply the Old Immorality. As the Bible says, “…there is nothing new under the sun…”. It’s also like “avocado” green being a popular color this season, only it’s been renamed “sage”. I’m not doing “avocado” again and calling it “sage” or “rainforest fern”. I’m not doing “harvest gold” and calling it “tuscan sun”. I’m not doing “liberal” and calling it “progressive”. You get the picture.

  2. innermore says:

    If I wanna govern people, I read the Constitution. If I wanna govern myself, I read the Bible. I don’t go to church to hear Rush Limbaugh, I turn on the radio. Democrats don’t teach me my morality, my church does. Unfortunately, the church has chosen to blur these lines. Not for the noble purpose of “emergence” nor the resistance to it, but (once again) for worldly petty political power.

    If the Kingdom Of God continues to publicly endorse, as an institution, one contemporary political policy or another, it will need to shed its tax exemption status along with many members.

  3. harmonicminer says:

    Religion is the foundation of morality, and morality, at a very basic level, is the foundation of law. Politics is the process by which laws are made and enforced, but politics provides no means for deciding what law “should” be except raw power, or compromise. Only religion (and its sibling, natural law) provide a moral foundation, based on the nature of human beings, for morality, and hence law.

    Religion and politics are not separate spheres. They overlap in very many ways, and must. They are not the same thing, but politics makes no sense without the moral foundation of religion.

    It was not an exercise in “petty political power” that the rich are no longer able to murder the poor with little penalty, people may not steal the property of others (unless they’re in Congress, of course), or that men are not allowed to rape women with impunity. Ask anyone why these things are illegal, and you will be told, “Because they are wrong!”

    Says who? Only religion has a decent answer. Only politics makes it possible for people who understand that answer to use their moral understanding to protect others from immoral acts. The Kingdom of God is not indifferent to the exercise of political power, nor to the failure to use it when necessary.

  4. innermore says:

    Agreed. Except social change is accelerating too quickly for this machine. So religion and politics seem to be overlapping in many very unhealthy and dangerous ways. As a result, I see a deepening disrespect between the two spheres. Religion knows it cannot teach morality without confirmation from the world of politics. So begrudgingly, it feels it must “tolerate” the growing number of Gentiles that corrupt it. Likewise, the body politic knows it cannot make and enforce law without recommendation from the religious sphere. So it must reluctantly “tolerate” the growing numbers of Samaritans that pollute it. As both spheres secretly wish they didn’t have to depend on eachother, we’re all left confused in the middle; trying to, or being told how to, tell the difference between truth and opinion, or morality and mores.

    It also seems that the only way I can convincingly state the truth or act morally is to do it loudly enough to offend others. This fanaticism is just one symptom of the sickness of distrust and power-fear that afflicts these two spheres. It is causing many to lose interest in both. Other symptoms: swelling touchiness instead of honorable exception, rising expectation instead of deepening faith, furious slander instead of wise rhetoric, open hostility instead of reserved disagreement. Even the mistaken appearance of one instead of the other has now become the same as true, by the way, because of this “sickness”.

    When I notice a lot of empty souls trying to, or feeling required to, find personal meaning in Radical Activism, Pious Patriotism, Distressed Climate-ism, Militant Pro-life-ism etc. I wonder if religion has lost its job. Likewise, as the political decibel-rise is causing a lot of ear damage, I notice less and less law being created and enforced. And there’s even a sense of relief about that. Could religion replace politics as law-giver, as politics replaces religion as life-giver?

  5. harmonicminer says:

    I like the “in the world but not of it” concept. I am “militantly pro-life” by some measures I suppose, metaphorically speaking (I don’t advocate violence in the cause of changing anti-life laws), but I don’t see getting public policy right to be a substitute for preaching/living the gospel, discipling and being discipled, etc. Nor do I see “pious patriotism” as a substitute for those things, though I think God did bless the American founding, imperfect as it was. We have certain responsibilities, because of that, not to become completely “as other nations,” which is, of course, exactly what the Left wants us to do.

    Israel really went wrong when it demanded a king.

  6. MrMusiclover says:

    Innermore, I agree with what you are saying. Society and the “church” are rapidly decaying and the Bible speaks to that.

    Even when I am in church I sometimes feel alone in my belief that Christ Jesus is our only hope and the Word is the precedence we have to live by. Church is not the answer; Jesus Christ is the answer. I know I’m preaching to the choir, sorry 🙂

  7. innermore says:

    Miner, what you just posted illustrates my point. Should getting involved with public policy be part of preaching/living the gospel (or vice versa)? If so, how big a part? Obviously there’s nothing wrong with either activity. But if we continue down this road, how long will it be until the gospel is public policy? I know that sounds like a Christian’s ultimate fantasy, but it is the strengthening of the link between the “of” and the “in” that makes it feel uncomfortable to me.

    Should our reason or motivation to make the country a better place be because God blessed it? It sounds good. But it feels kinda wrong. I can’t put my finger on it exactly. Perhaps it’s just that things that are designed to effect my mind are attempting to effect my heart. And the things of the heart are being directed exclusively to my mind. It puts it all out of context. I guess it’s better to say that God blesses those who make life better.

    Stepping back for a second, I hope nobody’s trying to create a religious state, just as much as I hope my religion doesn’t turn into a etched stone of laws.

  8. tonedeaf says:

    Pro 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

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