What is Emerging?
About a decade ago I recall as a volunteer youth leader at my church sitting in the leader’s training session one evening. This was the time when the youth pastor and pastor would walk us volunteers through the lesson we were to lead the students through each night. The topic for that week was something about basics of the Christian faith and we were to discuss with the kids what exactly theology was. The correct answer we were supposed to give was something about systematic theology using Wayne Grudem’s system as the best example. Somewhat naively I asked, “so why don’t we want the kids to know about all the other ways people do theology?” I was met with blank stares and was told that systematic theology is the only sort of theology there is. I responded, “but what about the Christians in other cultures who don’t think in the same patterns as Westerners who prefer more narrative approaches to theology?” to which I was told, “that stuff isn’t real theology, systematic theology is all that these students will ever need to know about.”
While I might still have that conversation in various churches these days, I feel that something has begun to shift in the church since that time. Our globalized world has forced a new understanding of how we conceive of our faith to emerge. It is harder to deliberately ignore the diversity of voices speaking into this thing we call Christianity. While some might still proclaim the other to be wrong simply for being other, it is impossible to deny that the other exists. This isn’t about being open minded or being politically correct, it is simply a necessary reaction to the nature of the world we live in. Other theologies, other voices, other ways of reading scripture exist (other always being relative to one's vantage point). We are too interconnected to ignore them or pretend they don't matter. They are simply part of the air we breathe as Christians which is becoming increasingly impossible to not acknowledge.
I am reminded of how my exasperated professor dealt with my rather obstinate historical research methods class in college. A few of the students had dismissed his attempts to teach them differing approaches to how people approach historical research as supportive of revisionist history (and therefore evil). They desperately wanted to cling to the notion that the “God Blessed America” version of history they believed was in fact the only true version of history – any attempts to tell the stories from the margins of women or minorities were simply revisionist corruptions. So the professor had us read a study that detailed the various ways the history of Williamsburg has been presented to tourists over time. Depending on what was going on in the world at the time, the historical story as it was told by the reenactors varied tremendously over the years. Each version had an agenda and portrayed American colonialism in a way that shored up that agenda. It was difficult for the students who were insisting that the very hero-centric pro-God version taught under the influence of 1950’s anti-communism was the real history to continue to bang that drum when the evidence of how history is manipulated by the teller was laid out so blatantly before their eyes.
The world has been blatantly thrust in front of our eyes, and even the church can no longer resist this emerging consciousness. What stories get told and whose theology gets privileged can no longer be determined out of ignorance. In our interconnected world, the voices of womanist and feminist theologians, the cries of the liberation and postcolonial theologies, and the narrative understandings of scripture that focus on exile, family, and oppression are accessible to even the average Christian. The church is far bigger than some of us might have once believed, we just had to be forced to open our eyes and see it. While this might seem a tad patronizing to those outside the American church system (I can see them rolling their eyes at our elation of our delayed “discovery” of the other), I for one am grateful for this emerging sensibility in the church (even if it is long overdue). Coming face to face with the diversity in our unity might not imply immediate acceptance or respect or understanding, but it pushes us outside of ourselves. Seeing a slightly clearer picture of the world as it is forces us to acknowledge and often wrestle with what we see.
Call it interconnectedness, or globalization, or simply awareness of our neighbor, the church is emerging or perhaps converging upon itself. What gives me hope when I consider what is emerging in the church is that the conversation pushes us into this converging community. And when we are in community, when we start to actually know our neighbors, is when we can start to live out the call to love our neighbors.
This entry is part of a Synchroblog on “What is Emerging?” in the church today. Here's a list of other contributions to this conversation. I'll add more as they are posted – feel free to write your own post and send me the link!
Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong.
Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement.
Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse.
Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male.
Dave Huth posts a on new ways to talk about religion.
Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church.
Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community.
Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness.
Julie Kennedy describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face.
Dave Brown comments on the emerging church and swarm theory.
Danielle Shroyer reflects on what is emerging in the church.
Brian Merritt offers his pros and cons of the emerging church.
Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity.
Susan Philips points out that emergence happens as G-d redeems our shattered realities.
Mike Clawson reflects on the non-western voices that brought him to the emerging conversation.
Jake Bouma suggest that what is emerging is a collapse into simplicity.
Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today.
Rachel Held Evans writes on what is changing in the church.
Tia Lynn Lecorchick describes the emerging movement as a wood between worlds (from The Magician's Nephew).
Amy Moffitt shares her journey towards a theology of humility.
Travis Mamone comments on the need for the emerging church to rely on the word of God.
Sa Say reflects on the the prick of doubt.
David Henson lists what he sees as what is emerging in the church.
Angela Harms writes in in defense of emergent.
Wendy Gritter asks how we can listening to the voices from the margins.
Bruce Epperly comments on the largeness of spirit of emerging spirituality.
Linda Jamentz reflects on listening to the voices from the margins in church.
Lisa Bain Carlton hopes that our emerging conversation can respond humbly to our moment in time.
Christine Sine asks how far are we willing to be transformed.
Lori Allen Wilson reflects on what is emerging in the younger generations.
Cynthia Norris Clack sees love emerging in the church.
Bob Fisher lists the values emerging in his faith community
Mihee Kim-Kort writes of the conversions and conversations she sees around her.
Ann Catherine Pittman believes that what is emerging in the church is inclusivity.
Matthew Gallion describes how emergence is spread thin across the whole church.
Phil Snider offers guarded praise of emergent.