Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Emergent Conversation

We had a great time of discussion at last night's Salt Lake Emergent Cohort. In fact, I noticed that the tone of our conversation was a good example of what Emergent is all about.

As the conversation drifted into politics, California's proposition 8 (ban on gay marriages) was brought up . Amongst the five of us, all three voting possibilities were represented - yes, no, and abstaining. I think at the end of the evening, each person held to their initial position, but the conversation was free from the pressure to capitulate to a certain view. In that atmosphere, I was able to hear and understand valid opinions that differed from my own. In addition, no one's faith or intelligence was brought into question for holding an opposing opinion, as can so often happen in discussions of this nature. There was freedom to listen in our conversation.


Danya said...

Can you explain what Emergent is? I see lots of books about it and a lot of them are "against" the emergent movement. I guess I don't get it all.

Andrew said...

Hi Danya! - Well this is just one man's opinion, but I think of Emergent as the way in which I come at my relations with others and how I come at scripture. I am aware that every time I read scripture, I am interpreting... I ask "What does this mean?" Since we are all reading with our vested interests in tow, I need to listen to other people to help me get a clearer picture.

Proverbs says that "Every argument sounds correct, until the other side is presented". I realized that I grew up listening to a very narrow slice of doctrine and theology. Opening one's self up to other views and ideas can be a little scary, and I think that is where much of the "against" comes from.

I like this quote from Walter Brueggemann:

"When serious people of good faith disagree, they've got to go back into the narratives and come at it again. One of the problems in the church is that people are not willing to do that. People have arrived at a place where they think they have got the answer."

I consider myself emergent because I am comfortable having some fluidity and unknowns in my beliefs. Like the conversation about prop 8 last night, I do not feel the need to get people to see my view and I felt good that no one there was giving me any pressure. We were just talking.

This is stereotyping a bit, but I tend to find those who are "against" emergent thought have immovable opinions about what one's spiritual views should be. They never seem to find it incredulous that all of their personal views just also "happen" to be God's Truth.

For myself, I found a lot of freedom when I realized I did not have a monopoly on the Grace of God and that people did not have to pass my checklist to get it. My freedom expanded when that revelation reversed itself and I realized no human could put their checklist on me. Whew!

All of that probably cannot suffice as a definition of Emergent, but it is a fair description of where I am at right now ... and I consider myself emergent... so as we learned in math : If a=c and b=c, then a=b.

Feel free to push back for more clarification.

Bruce said...


You know you can't define emergent. We are like the wind....... :)

I was thinking of your prop 8 discussion. Isn't nice to talk with people of differing views and:

1. Learn from others
2. Still love each other when the discussion is over.


Steve H. said...

Its funny, at any other point in mankind's history if a law was passed saying "Marriage was between a man and woman"

1) Everyone would go "yeah, duh"?
2) There would be no protest over it.

Fastforward to 2008 California and you say marriage is between a man and a woman and a frackin' riot ensues. Those nutty Californians :)

Redlefty said...

Wow, conversations like that are way too rare in my life!

societyvs said...

Cool - a tough issue being discussed with the ability to disagree - and this in a Christian circle - I like it!

Whatever those emergents are doing seems awesome to me!

Brook said...

Andrew -
please don't punch me in the face for any of this (that's an "Emergent criticism" warning)! I like and agree with everything you've said to describe Emergent... my only problem/question with it is: Why the need for the label?
nothing you've described is anything different than certain Christians have done since the beginning. the label just strikes me as a faddish new club of sorts. I remember when the term started gaining momentum, there were these discussions going on to figure out exactly what Emergent meant. it struck me as utterly silly, that people were claiming this label for themselves and then figuring out what it meant to be that label, trying to figure out what ideas and actions and people fit the term and what didn't, as if the novelty of this new label was the central focus, as if all the things you talk about (and more) that they were doing weren't sufficient, a new sports team of sorts needed to be formed, a label (or metaphorical flag) the "enlightened" could rally around (no sarcasm or jab intended in the use of that word). and of course now there's a market for it. and there are people against the "movement" (which strikes me as even more absurd), and it all just seems so, I don't know, unnecessary. distracting, from the point of it all. It reminds me of what Dorothy Day once said, something like "don't call me a saint. You can't dismiss me that easily." I just think the last thing we need is another label to describe yet another faction of Christians. And I don't know why anyone would want one applied to themselves. it seems counter-productive to everything "Emergent" seems to stand for.

Andrew said...

It's a fair point Brook and I have no allegiance to the word... I just think of Emergent as a shorthand descriptor - Particularly for someone with my mutt-like theological pedigree. It gives a general sense to my theological leanings, no different than if someone were to describe them selves as a liberal catholic, or charismatic, or conservative evangelical. It would be great if one could just say "I am a Christian" but there are plenty of Christians that I would not care to be lumped with (and I am sure the feeling is mutual). Though I am Christian, I feel the word hardly works as a descriptor anymore... it is too broad.

Brook said...

I like what Kathleen Norris said in The Cloister Walk, that the early Christians were "called" Christians, by others, not by themselves, and perhaps we should let others call us what they see us to be, rather than calling ourselves something we maybe are or are not living up to. or as Glenn Kaiser says, he doesn't care whether you call yourself a Christian or not, and he no longer asks people if they are "saved", instead he just wants to know if you are following Christ.
I also like the way Jesus responded to the question of who he was with "Who do you say that I am?" Instead of responding to the question of what we are with a label we have affixed to ourselves, maybe we should respond with this question and let the lives we are leading speak for themselves.

Brook said...

also, do you find the word "Emergent" any better of a clarification than the word "Christian", given the somewhat undefined nature of the new label? I would think that, unless you are on the inside and part of the "movement" so to speak, (as Danya's initial question indicates) even those inside and well acquainted with Christianity don't particuarly know what is meant by the descriptor "Emergent" (and it seems that, given some of the discussions I've heard, even those on the inside circle of that label don't know what is meant exactly). Seems like a longer "what do you mean by that word" kind of conversation is necessary (which I think is a good thing either way, whether clarifying "Christian" or "Emergent").

Steve H. said...

There have always been terms to qualify "Christian". In the 70's during the Jesus movement it was "born-again" It was meant to distinguish someone who was not just a "cultural" Christian. Now "emergents" use the term to distinguish themselves from evangelicals...more or less. The problem (among many) I have with Emergent is that "born-again" was a moniker to convey the excitement that one felt when their Christian walk went from being cultural Christian, to a REAL encounter with Jesus Christ.

"Emergent" seems to be used to indicate, "Honest, I'm not one of 'those' guys!"

Andrew said...

I think that "I am not one of those guys" was present, and still is present with the term born-again (though I think born-agains new term is "relationship") I remember growing up and hearing people say that they were "born-again", NOT religious... now I hear relationship, not religious. People are always using words to clarify who they are, and who they are not. Depending on where (or when) you live, you have to be more pronounced in your definition. Here in mormondom, someone from Community of Christ would have to be more specific in their articulation... anyone seeing them with a Book of Mormon would assume they are LDS.

I have heard this argument a few times recently, and I am wondering why the title Emergent is brought into question whereas no one balks at someone calling themselves an evangelical?

Steve H. said...

I don't call the use of "Emergent" into question. I agree with Brook...why do we need to qualify Christian? But perhaps this side of heaven, its something that is inevitable. I do it, so I don't criticize anyone else for doing it to.

I realize I don't fit neatly into the evangelical camp or the emergent camp or the Charismatic camp, but I subscribe to parts of all three. Thats why I'm back to just being "regular" Christian. Sounds better that Christian Mutt.

Bruce said...

Sounds better that Christian Mutt.

Well you at least know who your father is :)

Steve H. said...

Bruce: Now THAT is funny :)

Brook said...

>I agree with Brook...why do we need to qualify Christian?<

to clarify, I think I'm saying the opposite of this. I think we always need to be more specific about what we mean by "Christian" (or any other way we describe ourselves). in this day and age especially, I don't think one can go back to calling themselves "just Christian". it just leaves too many more questions (or, even worse, assumptions) up in the air about what you're talking about or where you're coming from. I just don't think labels do a very good job of it. There are probably as many understandings of what it means to be Christian as there are people who call themselves that. I think only conversations (including writings, blogs, art, etc.) with each other can get at what we mean when we claim this or that affiliation (or aspiration). to take an extreme example, if someone as a child was abused or molested by someone calling themselves "Christian" (very common in this "Christian nation"), and then you simply place that label on yourself, they are probably going to lump you in with a whole lot of horrible associations. And I don't think the label is necessary in the first place. if you show Christ's love to others, you won't be as easily mislabeled and dismissed.

oddly enough, I got the impression that this is the sort of thing the Emergent crowd was aiming at, that the labels were too divisive and unnecessary to the body of Christ, the Church, and they were trying somehow to almost be a common place for people of all segments of the Christian faith, recognizing and celebrating what we all have in common rather than seperating over what we didn't. the Emergent folks almost seemed to be trying to get at a "label-less" gathering of believers. that was my impression anyway. but then the label popped up, and seemed to undermine everything they were trying to achieve, by making them just another denomonation of sorts, one that others could even be against.

I remember a long time ago, when I started at a new job one time, I made a decision not to say anything about being a Christian to anyone. I don't think it was a shame thing, I think I was just sick of the misconceptions and assumptions people had about me when I had been "outspoken" about my "faith" (in quotes because it probably had more to do with labeling myself and doing certain outward expressions - like making sure those around me at lunch break knew I was praying before my meal - than it did with any substance of real faith). I didn't say a word...and yet, within a month or so, the people I worked with assumed I was a Christian, and even better, they knew what that really meant and looked like in my specific life. they knew I wasn't one of those obnoxious "bible thumpers" (that was the first place I had heard that term), and living or expressing my faith was just more natural and real. I wasn't pretending to be something I wasn't for fear of "ruining my witness". and I guess from that time on, I've had very little use for self-administered labels in my life. they just aren't necessary. I don't think they do anything but "cloud your witness" (to misuse a phrase). There's just something very freeing when you realize you aren't required to call yourself anything, even "Christian". we're simply called to repent and follow Christ. this isn't hiding anything. in fact, it may be uncovering the light you shine from the lid of preconcieved notions your label is placing over it to those with whom you live. "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you". do the seeking of the kingdom bit, and you won't have to worry about it - a label will probably be added unto you as well. and it will probably be much more accurate than anything you had in mind.

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