Over the past few years and certainly over the past few months and days I’ve read a number of posts where folks who formerly considered themselves in the US Emergent conversation are distancing themselves from it.
For the most part, I agree with them on their theology and views on mission. I share some of their uneasiness about the Emergent branch of the broader emerging conversation, and I welcome their discussions about theology and practice.
However, my concern is that these posts have perpetuated one of the biggest weaknesses of emergent: we are defining ourselves by what we are not. Making grand “good-bye” announcements distinguishes them from others in the emergent camp publicly, setting up a new camp that is not emergent even if it has been shaped by it.
I get the substance of it, but I question the form. Why make a public exit? By drawing such lines in the sand back in the day the emerging/Emergent crowd made it much more difficult to find allies and common ground. The same may be happening today.
Where I’m Coming From
Back in 2004 and 2005 theology was something that I had to pick apart and deconstruct, pointing out its flaws. While I began to accumulate new perspectives and learned exciting new takes on theology and mission, there still existed this side of me that was grounded in the negative—though I would have asserted that I was a humble Christian committed to relearning things.
I wasn’t a theologically flat-footed, contextually obtuse, missionally obsolete conservative evangelical anymore. I was emergent, which meant a lot of things, but in many ways thrived on not being those things. The protest side of Emergent is the one critique that D. A. Carson nailed, even if the rest of his book was fit for rabbit litter.
My problem was I gained my energy from what I was not, rather than what I was. I needed to figure out where I wanted to be rather than where I didn’t want to be.
When I DIDN’T Come Out
In May of 2007 I wrote a blog post that I decided I shouldn’t share. I wrote it because I felt like I couldn’t invest very much into Emergent any more, even if I was profoundly shaped by it and the broader emerging church. I wrote a few hundred words sharing my grievances.
But I never posted it. Looking back, I’m very glad I sat on that one.
Over the following months and years I made some changes. I started listening to different people, reading some different books, and interacting on some different blogs. However, I kept following some of the same blogs and kept many of the same formative books on my shelves. The difference was one of focus: I needed to move on to think a little differently and to practice a little differently than where I sensed the bulk of the emergent crowd seemed to be.
I don’t think announcing my grievances would have helped things all that much back then. I still interacted with a broad group of folks—some I agreed with and others I didn’t. Perhaps I’d challenge someone with a blog comment if I disagreed, but if that person wasn’t receptive or became too combative I dropped that person from my blog reader list or whatever we used before Twitter to keep in touch.
Defining Ourselves by What We Are Not
Now that many of the rank and file who have benefited from the deconstruction and perspectives of the Emergent conversation have begun deconstructing Emergent itself, setting themselves apart from something, and moving on with their lives to something else. Does any of this sound familiar?
One of my greatest regrets from my early years of emergence was writing a letter to a friend about the problems at our church and cutting myself off from him and our church. I’d give anything to take that letter back, even if I still believe everything I wrote. Thankfully God’s grace can bridge the gaps we make.
I understand that some public figures no longer want to be associated with the Emergent movement. They have other projects to be associated with now. However, I’m not sure the majority of the “Good-bye” posts are beneficial for ourselves or for the body of Christ. Do we need to once again set ourselves apart from another group?
Hope for the Conversation
After I tucked away my e-mail about leaving emergent in 2007, I became acquainted with Steve Knight at the Emergent Village blog and Tripp Fuller of the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. Even though I didn’t think my views were necessarily in the Emergent mainstream, Steve welcomed me to guest post on the Emergent Village blog. Tripp invited me on to his podcast where we chatted for hours about theology and practice long after the podcast stopped recording.
I have since benefited from their tweets, comments, posts, and podcasts.
If I’d gone ahead with that blog post back in 2007, those conversations and relationships may not have happened. While I have since stopped following certain philosophers and theologians that may or may not be at the core of Emergent, I don’t feel a need to say, “Good-Bye” to it because there are friends I could lose, perspectives that I need, and conversations that I enjoy.
So I encourage everyone to debate with charity and to offer up critiques when necessary. Post your misgivings about new books that come out—hopefully I’ll have another one for everyone to take a crack at before too long. I am all for a robust debate and questioning of theology and practice.
However, I’m not so sure saying, “Good-Bye” is the best way forward for most of us. We may find that by defining ourselves by what we are not, we end up cutting ourselves off from what we could become.