Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Emerging Conversation With the Assistant Village Idiot

The Emerging Church conversation is composed of nice, earnest people who want Christianity to be more than a text-based, Sunday morning experience. They want to return to some earlier, multisensory forms of worship, including especially the visual arts, which they believe have been increasingly neglected in the modern church. The EC stresses Christians in community, knit to each other but still interacting with the culture around them. They believe the older culture of Christendom has eroded to the point that the church can no longer use it as a vehicle for bringing Christ into the world, and new models for transforming society must be developed. They have very cool names, too, like Mosaic, Sanctus1, Solomon’s Porch, and Vaux.

So why would a Christian want to kick people like this around?

Probable answer: because I am a grouchy and irritable person who can only focus on the negative.

EC stresses acting like Christians in the world as the driving force for attracting others to relationship with Jesus, in contrast to getting our theological ducks in a row before we move. As a consequence, many of their opponents are the usual crop of fundamentalist meatheads who have a few favored doctrines they want to remain in neon prominence, at the expense of Christian action. Having really irritating critics is usually a plus in my evaluation. If you are torquing off the very folks I think need to be torqued, I have a tendency to salute you reflexively. Emerging churches don’t have sappy music – well, okay, probably just a different kind of sappy music, but I’m all for that at this point – they often use older liturgical pieces in new ways, and they stress the taking of communion. They prefer the telling of stories to the propounding of doctrines. Also, they like candles, which I think you can hardly get enough of.

So why would a Christian want to kick people like this around?

I told you: I’m a miserable person who doesn’t like any new idea that I didn’t think of.

I was struck by how much better I liked reading about the people who are actually doing this, and how much I agreed with them, compared to the people who write about emerging churches and theorise what they’re up to. It would be tempting to ignore the latter group as just the usual wooly-headed chatterboxes with unresolved, uh, personal issues that they confuse with theological insights, such as the church has known through the ages. But the nice people who are actually doing all this good work seem to be very impressed with the writing and speaking of the philosophizers. Therefore, all these PoMo condescensions, vacuities, and reframes cannot be disregarded as some minor eruption common to all revolutions and reactions. Despite the emphasis on orthopraxy – right action – over orthodoxy – right belief – we cannot just assume that all this fancy reconceptualizing of the church is incidental to the conversation, and mere chaff that will fall away in time. For good or ill the theological underpinnings, especially including the claim that the underpinnings are few or none, are central to what is going on. This is not because I say so, but because they themselves say it, by both word and deed.


Der Hahn said...

I've done a little bit of reading about EC. A couple of things sprang to mind.

My experience is pretty much mainline Lutheran. I don't know if the EC is influencing our church or denomination though I suspect it is. Despite that old man's 'Here I stand' declaration, we seem to latch onto every religious fad train that rolls down the tracks.

My first observation is that I wonder how much this is a reaction to the mainline churches being geared pretty much for pre-teens and sixty-plus with very little in-between if you aren't a parental unit. Teens are served but in a way that seems to disconnect them from the main body of worship. Somewhere along the line in the last fifty years, mainline church leadership wrote off a continuing relationship with twenty-one to forty year olds, with the assumption that they would come back once they got married and had kids. With fewer and fewer people following that demographic arc, I'm not surprised that cohort is looking for a new experience.

My other observation is that their criticisms sound pretty familiar. The highest sin in our (secular) society is hypocrisy. A group of people has found that the church can sin and be somewhat hypocritical. One of the best ways to avoid being hypocritical is to not proclaim any defined standards. Pretty clever of them.

Anonymous said...

Off topic. You should update your link to neoneocon

Assistant Village Idiot said...

We were LCA before we were Covenant, de hahn. My theology is very Lutheran, but they do seem to have lost their grip.

I think your comments on why people left the mainstream churches are a topic in itself, though I think it will weave in to this one. You would very much like some of the EC approaches, but not others, I think. As EC's are highly varied, so would your warmth, I think.

Ben Wyman said...

First, never, ever use the terms pomo, po-mo, or PoMo ever again. These are not terms used by people who are actually familiar with postmodernism. These are terms used by people who merely think they're familiar with postmodernism. Use of these terms is the giveaway that you're an outsider faking your way in.

You would possibly allowed to use this phrase if space was a priority - such as a text message, say - but I think that conserving characters is rarely a high priority in many of the sites you frequent.

Postmodernism has a lot of specific points to it that poke up in EC services, which I think is why these things have become interchangeable in people's minds. Let me quickly run over a few of the major points of postmodernism:

1. Recycling of culture into new formats. In broader culture, "That 70's Show" would be a good example, in the church, it's the embracing of Augustine as hip and a love for liturgy.
2. Broader embracing of different ideas and theologies as acceptable - we're now all allowed to disagree on whether the Old Testament is scientifically accurate, or how the Trinity works, or how to interpret different verses. It's all okay!
3. Increased focus on visual versus text elements. That's how I have a job.
4. Emphasis on fragmented communication and discontinuous narratives. Though, as I've discovered, you can't get too out there. I adapted Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries to play while someone did a version of "Gotta Serve Somebody." Nobody liked it. Actually, not even me.
5. Elimination of formality whenever possible. You knew that one.
6. Finally, rejection of the distinction between high and low culture - a love for low-rent comedies, current TV shows, and comic books as channels for the gospel: for example the popular: "The Gospel According To..." series - The Gospel According to The Simpson, The Gospel According to The Beatles, The Gospel Reloaded, etc.

Seriously, name a tenet of postmodernism that the EC does not employ. I dare you.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I thought pomo was a mild derogatory used by its critics. I'll be alert next time.

I'll take the dare, though I admit it set me back, and so is a point well taken. There certainly isn't much.

Not all in the EC believe there is no objective truth. One described that Jesus in the center is solid, but things get fuzzier as you move away from him. Many believe that truth is real, but ever elusive. Most secular postmodernists would find that a bit strong.

I don't know what the emerging church believes in its heart of hearts about language as signifier and its use in oppression, but they don't bring it up much, anyway.

That's a weak answer, and they do seem to check off all the other boxes, don't they?