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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Final Emergent Church Project Thoughts and the 5th theme of space not covered in the written portion of the blog. Plus you get to see me with a sunburn and a beard!
I’m continuing my series on my Emergent Church Project. If you’d like to read the posts in order, click Emergent Chuch Project, then My House Church Visit, then My Mega-Church Visit, then My Catholic Church Visit, and then My Emergent Church Visit.
By way of introduction, I’d like to reiterate an earlier statement that I do not claim to be an Emergent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Ha. Seinfeld anyone?) Actually, I’m none of the churches I visited. Rather, I’m some of each of them. For this project, I wanted to visit various churches to better inform my own group’s church project revolving around diversity of thought. So, I attempted to observe the valuable church practices as well as the areas of concern as I see them for each church. Ultimately, my hope is to house multiple theological views under one roof to show the world the unifying power of Christ. To me, this is one of the largest, if not the largest Godly abilities that has gone unused. In other words, God has the ability to unify, but humans have done next to nothing, at least in terms of our church bodies, with it.
What I’d like to test, with the EWCC church plant, is the idea that promoting a diversity of thought can go some ways towards making that vision a reality. In the recent past, it seems to me, churches have focused largely on the ethnic/racial aspect to achieve diversity yet our churches remain horribly mono-ethnic. There are a few that can claim some level of success but even with their success their model doesn’t seem to be very duplicatable, given the fact that they are the exception. More importantly, even when ethnic diversity is achieved, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of natural flow towards bringing God’s Kingdom people together who hold diverse theological views. If EWCC achieves community despite differences in theology, maybe that will set the stage to be able to have community despite all the other kinds of differences, such as age, gender, ethnicity, status, and socio-economic diversity.
For that to happen, some of the major emergent themes will have to take place within the EWCC community. Perhaps the most important one would be epistemic humility. It’s fine to have theological convictions, but what many in the Emergent Church seem to recognize is the way we should hold those convictions. If we never bother to hear someone with different convictions, and we only listen to those who hold our own we’ll never discover the areas where the other’s arguments are strong. Screaming your own view makes it nearly impossible to hear another’s view. If nothing else, I can at least listen to another view on a journey towards strengthening my perspective. Along the way, I may be faced with the fearful reality that my view is inferior and needs to be changed or dropped. This was the thinking when I sent this tweet: https://twitter.com/eagleswingscc/status/224375861837709312
Conversation was the center piece of things from the first step towards making EWCC a reality. Our logo represents a table and chairs from a sky view. Our plan is to learn from the seeker friendly church and have messages on Sundays that stay Christ, orthodox faith, centered. Since that isn’t the focus of this blog I’ll save the details of what all that means for another blog. For now, it’s enough to say Sundays will be seeker friendly. However, other gatherings will be conversation heavy, as stressed by the Emergent Church. These will be people gathering in smaller numbers to have conversation. These gatherings will have much more room to delve into deeper things, debatable things, and intimate things. We will find relationships in what Kathryn Tanner (1) has called a “genuine communities of argument.”. When she says this, however, she intends that the dialogue be done in a way to ascribe worth to our neighbor, remaining in fellowship even after disagreements, rather than the customary division.
Opportunities to participate will come in the usual ways. However, it may be that there will be a greater number of them because of the heavy emphasis on conversation. The dialogue groups will be guided by pre-selected people but they will not normally be lecture style. They will be round-table style discussions much along the lines of what happens in the Emergent Church, House Church, and Mega-church small groups. What may be a bit different is that the dialogue groups held in homes, restaurants, and coffee shops will be the primary gathering that is focused on rather than the Sunday service. It will not be another ministry in the church featured occasionally in our announcements. It will be focused on in every large group gathering. Church ministry may be promoted and found through the dialogue groups rather than the large group.
In my view, there were no truly decentralized churches that I visited and I doubt there ever will be any that last. The talk around this theme sounds really good but I don’t think it’s actually happening. Sure, some of them were able to achieve more decentralization than others, eliminating the big fancy headquarters in Orlando or something. However, centralized leaders were emerging (ha!) one way or another in every church I visited. So, the difference to me seemed to be that one organization had a larger hierarchical depth chart with more people, one large facility, and many smaller facilities, while another had a smaller hierarchical depth chart with less people and one small local facility that also served as the main meeting place. If this is true, then like so many things in life, there are positives and negatives with each model. Anyone, including the Emergent Church and the House Church, claiming their church has done away totally with centralization is doing it by comparison versus by total self-analysis.
My final, final thoughts on the Emergent Church, at least in this blog series is this. The panic reminds me of fear sales techniques. I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos and engaged in conversations about the Emergent Church and some of the warnings are over-the-top. It is true,at least in my estimation, that some of the popular proponents go too far and make claims about scripture that I would disagree with. However, I can probably find things about any of my favorite theologians that I disagree with, so what’s the difference? One might say, the frequency is the difference. To that I would just say that I disagree with some theologians more than others. Ones I disagree with too frequently, I don’t spend much time with. In my readings for this class, I didn’t care for lots of Peter Rollins while I really enjoyed Merold Westphal and Kevin Corcoran. However, I’m glad to have read them all.
My biggest critique isn’t the questioning nature of the church or the different doctrine some of its members and leaders hold. My biggest critiques are that for all the supposed emphasis on epistemic humility, it’s seemed to me that the liberal voice had pushed away the conservative voice. I wondered if grey areas eventually became just as fundamental, only on the opposite side, for those in the Emergent Church. For all the emphasis on social justice, there don’t seem to be many poor and uneducated in their churches. In fact, as Tony Jones (2) has pointed out in his book, over 71% of the Emergent Church members he surveyed have finished college. Either they are doing an outstanding job getting those they serve an education or they are not attracting to the poor when it comes to church gatherings. But the greatest disappointment, which got way too little attention in Jones’ book, is the lack of ethnic diversity. If you have a burning theological question, and you crave the opinion of a minority, one of the last places you should look is the Emergent Church.
Overall, I have learned a great number of things from those in the Emergent Church and it’s likely that I will continue to do so. Their perspective is valuable because it is often deeply reflective, carefully studied, and it is not my own.
Be sure to check out my next blog series on Women In Ministry!
1. pg. 123 Theories of Culture
2. pg. 80 The Church is Flat
P.S. For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web. We’d love to be in community with you! (This is not related to the class project. This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)