Update: Now that I have done some actual writing about the Emerging Church, I am bringing the stories forward again. I think they will mean more a second time around.
The Emerging Church likes to have narratives instead of dogmas, so I will start with some stories.
There is an apocryphal story of a woman who had seven demons who came to Jesus. "Daughter," he said, "what would you have me do?" "Cast out six." she replied. "Or maybe five..."
An angry young man came to the middle-aged pastor's office door. "Your culture is dying and your theology sucks." The older man felt irritation well within him, but composed himself and invited the stranger in. "All right then, tell me about that."
The young man started slowly, but as he told his tale of how he had been disillusioned and insulted by the church of his youth, he warmed visibly. They had called him unchristian when he asked questions. They disparaged his friends. When he found them tedious they said he was unspiritual. The pastor was moved in spite of his initial anger. He had heard such biographies before, and knew that they were often more truth than exaggeration. A particular complaint came so close to what was happening in his own church just that week that tears came to his eyes.
The visitor's reading of the Bible, he said, taught him that Jesus must be different than that. The young man's scowl softened and disappeared as he spoke of his vision of kingdom living - of people who wanted to live the Gospel visibly, function as a community, and actually be generous, be forgiving, be welcoming. He had met some people he thought might be like that. They liked to discuss the things of Jesus instead of just telling him what the "right" answer was.
The pastor nodded silently for some time, and eventually asked. "What are these new people doing to make sure they don't wound those who come after them?"
The scowl returned, and the young man left abruptly, sneering over his shoulder "I told you already. Your culture is dying and your theology sucks."
"And also with you," the older man muttered.
The artistic sister was trying to describe the worship experience to her scientific sister. "There were things that made you think. They were not only people who could welcome you with such simple, homey, gestures, but people who brought up new and exciting ways to think about God. It's like the running into them during the week, and the sharing of meals, wasn't just a preparation for the worship, but an actual part of it. It was their worship, our worship, and as the evening went forward, with the candles and the projected images and the old words coming in by surprise, it seemed that the Holy Spirit was actually there, about to speak!"
"Sounds like a dopamine surge. The anticipation of pleasure. Don't you see that these people are just manipulating you, with their faux familiarity set in faux newness?"
The artist sister, startled but thinking quickly, countered "No, we don't seek a dopamine response to complete our worship, but we're not afraid to use it."
"What's the difference?" asked the scientific sister.
"I don't know, exactly" admitted the other, confused and hurt. The scientific sister walked away, grimly satisfied, back to her worship where there were never any dopamine surges at all.
The Prodigal Son and his elder brother became middle-aged. Their father had died years before, and both now had two sons of their own. In both families, one son left amidst anger and insult, taking half of the family wealth. The new prodigal son of the elder brother eventually returned in much the same way that his uncle had. His father hugged him and wept: "Now at last I understand what my father did years ago." But he also knew how to explain it to his own older son.
The original prodigal did not wait for his wayward son but went looking, as he wished his own father had done. When he found him, he was drunk, and contemptuous, with a tipsy prostitute on his knee. He would not return with his father. When he did show up at the gate many years later the original prodigal would not speak with him. "He made his bed. Let him lie in it."