Tag Archives: emerging

The “I’m on Team Awesome” Delusion

thumbs upWhen I put together my first draft of Coffeehouse Theology, I sent it to tons of friends to get their opinions. Tons. I’ll be owing my friends favors in return for the next two generations.

One of my friends said something like this, “You seem to like all of this emerging church stuff, but you don’t point out what’s wrong with it.”

Insert: double-take, wounded look, and passionate reply, “Something wrong with the emerging church??? What do you mean?”

I’ll just stick a footnote here in the middle of this post since no one reads footnotes and note without any foot that this was in 2006 before it became fashionable to stop emerging… or whatever.

Still, my highly intelligent friend shocked me. How could he doubt the goodness of this new movement trying to recover practices from ancient Christianity and critiquing the ways Christianity had been infected by Enlightenment Rationalism? I mean really, is that not awesome sauce—that is, before Parks and Recreation taught us to use the phrase “awesome sauce?”

While my time with the emerging church stuff taught me to be jaded and suspicious about the Enlightenment’s effect on Christianity, I hadn’t yet thought that this emerging stuff needed to a taste of its own medicine. Could I find the downside?

As to the details of that, I’ll leave that to the experts. All I know is that I used to think I was on team awesome. I could see the flaws in fundamentalism, mainstream conservative evangelicalism, Catholicism, and mainline liberalism, but I could not see any flaws on team awesome.

How could I see flaws on team awesome? Would I not join team awesome unless it had all of the correct answers?

Clearly the people with the flaws were those not on team awesome… All that to say, it took me a little bit of time before I could see my friend’s point.

And here’s the thing: We have lots of team awesomes. I just read about a NEW team awesome on a popular Christian blog. Only this time the blogger mentioned the conservative flawed team, the liberal flawed team, the emerging/missional flawed team, and the NEW team awesome that doesn’t have any flaws.

The new, cutting edge, revolutionary, game-changing stuff never has any flaws because its part of team awesome. That is, until it’s not.

Reading that post brought me back to that conversation with my friend and the first time that I realized I was a member of a made up team awesome. After looking over the emerging/postmodern context stuff, it didn’t take long to find some flaws that tarnished my image of team awesome.

We were now team pretty good.

In all of this, a lesson from writing a Bible commentary may help. I know, I know, you probably think I’m losing it after reading that last sentence. Just bear with me for a moment…

When writing a commentary about a tricky passage, Bible scholars start with the least likely meaning of a passage and then work toward the most likely meaning. In other words, they rarely say something is “unbiblical” or “wrong” and they rarely say that one perspective is the “certain” or “biblical” meaning.

I always liked this approach to Bible study because it keeps us in our place, seeing things in a mirror dimly, realizing that God’s thoughts are not our own. We all have our most likely take on a Bible passage, but we don’t need to create unrealistic team awesomes that are 100% correct and don’t have any flaws.

At our very best, we’d all be kicked off team awesome if it did exist.

We’re stuck with team pretty good, providing the most likely answers to life. What may surprise us is that a “pretty good, most likely answer” is really all we ever needed.

Defining Ourselves by What We Are Not: Thoughts on the “Good-Bye” Emergent Posts

emergentvillage_logo 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.

Sharpening the Focus of the Emerging Church

There’s a great article at Publisher’s Weekly that not only addresses what it actually means for a book to be marketed as Emergent or Emerging. The best part of the article is the part where the author states:

What I fear will be next is a trend of blurring Emergent ideas with self-help. It’s easy to see how publishers would find this marriage irresistible: why not join an appealingly edgy hipster ethos with those stock-in-trade Christian books that promise improved prayer life, more effective parenting, and better abs in 30 days? But Emergent folks deserve more than becoming the book equivalent of a glossy infomercial. I’m not the only one who’s uncomfortable: I can, in an utterly un-postmodern appeal to an Authority Figure, quote Brian McLaren on the subject: “It’s not about the church meeting your needs; it’s about joining the mission of God’s people to meet the world’s needs.”

I jumped in with my own thoughts:

“If I can offer some sweeping generalizations… Fundamentalists tried to preserve the faith. Evangelicals tried to take that faith to individuals. Emerging Christians are trying to take that faith to beyond individuals into the very fabric of our society.”