Wednesday, November 8, 2006

I care very little for politics.

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


andrew jones said...

glad you met my wife. congrats on your upcoming wedding.

CB said...

"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."

JT, thats just it, "Emergent" leaders are blind as bats if they think there isn't a reason why they're brand of Church appeals to this younger generation. The reason is that it is so undefined. That way, younger generations can slip through Church, feel spiritual, and have no accountability. Not to say that the "modern" church is any better about that, it just appeals to some older people.

The Church is inherently "pre-modern." If you really want to embrace Christ and get to Biblical church, then we have to put aside our "modern" and "post-modern" sensibilities. We have to get some of those old things back. Like accountability, like Christ crucified, like active spiritual gifts, like the arts.

Post-modern forms of worship can help, but the Church has got to realize that there is nowhere to go... Everything that needs to be revealed has been revealed. Our duty is to live it as a witness to a dying world. to be really different.

Sorry, I started rambling.

J.T. said...

I don't think I would agree with that, actually.

There is something intentionally small about many of the "emerged" churches I've seen. It's not really possible to be anonymous in them the way it is in our church, for example. People can't just come into a huge building, sit in the back, consume religious goods and services, and then leave. There aren't enough people to hide behind.

Also - their main focus is not programs or events (even worship events - church services) like ours is, although those things may occur from time to time. Sometimes it's not even that structured. Much of what happens is socially or missionally-driven. They are happenings that you wouldn't show up to unless you intended to get involved.

As to the church being inherently pre-modern, I'm not sure what you mean by that. But if you mean that the church as we know it has oldness built into it, I would say two things:
1) Old for old's sake is lame. New for new's sake is lame. And old without new would be incomplete, and I wouldn't settle for it. Let's take the good from old and new and use them both to enhance our ability to live like Christ.

2) If we're stuck on a pre-modern setting, it's because we've failed to do the necessary work of re-imagining the Gospel in our context, which Jesus, the disciples, the church fathers, etc. did.

Also - where the heck were you today, suckachump? I was looking all over that room for you.

Also- did I just get commented by Andrew Jones? Wow.
Andrew - thanks. it was a pleasure to eavesdrop on your wife's conversations around the room. She's has a very pleasant way about her that makes you want to listen when she speaks. Also - maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention on your blog, but I totally expected her to have an accent. Shows what I know. Anyway, wish you could have been here. Thanks for reading.

CB said...

pre-modern: Before the advent of modernity

Simply this: our faith is an ancient faith. When you try to describe it with modernity or post-modernity you are stripping it of its proper context. We, as believers, must seek to understand the faith as say Paul understood it. Understanding through the eyes of Derrida, Descarte, Hume or Foucault fails us, because they weren't interested in Christianity, but rather with building a system (or removing all systems and Christianity along with it) that did not include the Christian faith.

So, to describe it in our context will automatically strip Christianity of certain pieces. Now, describing it in our language is different; and important. However, Christianity is neither subjective nor objective but collective. Christians are designed to be parts of a body, to work together for a purpose.

I guess what I am saying is that "emergent" church seems like... well, it seems Pseudointellectual. At least in its popularized form. I don't even think most "emergent" folks know what postmodernity is or why it affects them. I think they're largely being different for the sake of being different.

Maybe I'm missing the point. But I have a beard, and stylish glasses; so I'm supposed to get it... I don't know

CB said...

As for where I was, I woke up this morning and have zero voice. I can't talk or anything. Decided I had better not spread my pestilence.