Yesterday Austin and I went to UBA (Union Baptist Association) headquarters for a dialogue on the Emerging Church. It was reasonably well-attended by some key leaders in the Houston area, as well as some prominent and influential Emerging Church personalities. Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, and Debbie Jones (wife of Andrew "Tallskinnykiwi" Jones) were in attendace, as well as a group of guys from a ministry in Germany called Kubik. All in all, I'd say there were about 30 people there.
The boys from Kubik are evidently masters of audiovisual technology, and showed us a short flash presentation they had put together, which included a series of question that they and the folks involved in their ministry are asking. Questions such as (I'm paraphrasing here), "If God is inclusive, why are we so exclusive?", "Why do we feel like we can't be honest about our failures?", "Why are we so inward-focused?", and some others that were so profound that they have escaped my memory. We then spent the next 10 minutes in small groups of 5 or 6 reflecting on our impressions of those questions, and which ones resonated with us the most.
Next, we spent about an hour in a circle, just questioning and answering. A couple of questions that came up:
"Where are all the women in this movement?"
"Is the Emerging Church really just a phenomenon among affluent white people, or is it crossing racial and cultural lines as well?"
Ken Shuman, the local guy who kind of put this gathering together, asked
"What does an Emerging Church look like?"
Which, of course, is the question you just CAN'T ask. Not because we don't want to answer it, but because it can't be answered, which is kind of the whole point. Churches will reflect the communities and relationships that they are generated out of, and not some predetermined formula. "Emerging" is not a style, or a model. The sooner people figure out that "Emerging Church" does not mean candles, soft music, gotees, Apple computers, and flash videos, and that you cannot just drop these things into your old service and make it postmodern, the sooner they will get their arms around what "emerging" really means.
Out of this conversation came a remark by Doug Pagitt that the Emerging Church is not merely a question of ecclesiology, but a question of theology, which prompted me to ask,
"Theologically, then - is there anything that is 'off the table', not open for discussion?"
It's a question that Tony Jones had posed at the Late Night Theology Discussion at NYWC.
One of the responses to this question came from a guy who talked like he was really important, but I have no idea who he is. He said, "If you're asking if there's anything theologically that is off the table, then I would say - the table. If you're trying to develop some kind of 'Emergent Orthodoxy', then I'm not interested."
Brilliant. For more questions like this, check out this blog post by Tony Jones.
After this discussion was some more time just to talk and network a little bit. I had a minute or two to talk to Doug Pagitt, who made a remark in our private conversation that didn't go over very well with Austin. Doug said, basically, that American Christianity, which he would call "Augustinian Christianity", in the form of Catholicism and Anglicanism had failed. I understood this to mean that they had ultimately failed in the end, and are failing today - not that they had been a failure all along.
I then posed the question I wish I could have asked 2 years ago.
"What's a guy to do when the language and questions of the emerging church are capturing his heart, and interest, but the church where he serves, that he loves dearly and is invested in keeps butting up against those things? Can he stay there, and be a change agent? Or does he have to leave and start something new?"
Doug said that that guy could stay in his current position as a change agent as long as he relinquished his salary. If he wants to continue to get paid by that church, he cannot stay there and try to push an agenda that is contrary to the vision and values of the existing church. "Pirates" is the exact word he used for them. The fact is that most guys who ask that question, when they get another job, don't give a rip about the church they were in. So if you really feel like you need to be a change agent for the church you're in - you gotta give up your salary, and you have to stay just as committed as if you were still receiving it... which I would guess is not all that likely.
Also, I asked the guys from Kubik if they had a website. One of them said - "Don't bother, it's all German." The other said, "We did have one, but we took it down because we were getting overrun with a bunch of Christians."
In other news - I've added a wedding countdown to the sidebar over there. I will now begin accepting your congratulations. And your gifts.
The couple is registered at Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Amazon.com