2005-01-21

Critiques of the emerging church movement

As someone immensely sympathetic to the emerging church movement, I have some critiques of the movement. I am interested in seeing what you think...

1. Despite protests to the contrary, it seems like the emerging church movement is neck-deep in consumerism. I own a lot from the emergent YS line, and it seems like sometimes they use "emergent" as a tag line for new, hip, trendy, cool. My biggest critique is that the whole movement (of which I am admittedly a part of) smacks of avant-garde consumer trendiness...

Just look at how they market Dave Kimball, or postmodern youth ministry, or Len Sweet, or Brian McLaren. At the same time these guys (rightly) eschew modern American consumerism, they are neck-deep in it.

2. There is a certain pride attached to the idea that "we" can see that the gospel is always incarnated in cultural forms so that there is no such thing as a timeless "culture free" gospel from a human perspective. We often contrast this with a critical view of "them" who cannot see that their gospel is culturally bound to... (modernity, or foundationalism, or the reformation, or the counter-reformation). Yet, there is a flaw: how can we claim that all versions of the gospel are culture bound unless we somehow see ourselves as having a viewpoint "above culture" to say that all other gospels are in-culturated? We have to assume the very thing we critique: a trans-historical viewpoint for our view that everything else is historical.

Circular, very circular. I guess I am just a skeptic of skepticism. On one hand, I do not know of any version of the Gospel that I think is free from cultural baggage. We speak in metaphors about God, and metaphors are tied to language, and language is tied to culture and history. So, in most ways I agree with the emergent viewpoint. But, on the other hand I cannot say that there is definitely not a culture free Gospel. I just do not have that epistemic certainty, nor the trans-historical perspective to say that. And, at the same time, I do know of at least one class of knowledge that is trans-historical, and that is mathematics... So, it just isn't as easy to critique any theology's culture-boundedness as emergents tend to think it is.

3. And then, to tie in 1 and 2, there is the whole thing about "us" (emergents) versus "them" (modernists). This breeds pride and splits up the Body of Christ in the Name of unifying the Body of Christ (if you don't understand how dangerous that is, check out how the Stone-Campbell "Church of Christ" movement devolved from a plea for Church unity to my-way-or-the-high-way). And not only that, but when you segment two parts of a social group (i.e. the Church) and then pit them against each other, then you can sell both sides more product and make more money off of them. So, then you can get a publishing company (how about Zondervan or Baker books) who is making money hand-over-fist by publishing books on its "emergent YS" or "Brazos Press" publishing houses, marketed to young emergents about how to change the Church to be relevant. Then, from their regular publishing houses they are marketing to the exact opposite contingent books about how NOT to change with culture.

While I think that such publishing houses are needed, I also think that there is a HUGE potential for pride, division, and trendiness. We emergents need to get real humble real quick.

4. On the whole, the emerging church movement seems to offer more critique than it does construction... it is a protest movement and as such it seems to have a generally negative demeanor in many ways... that may just be the nature of the time we live in.

5. For a movement that eschews labels, we sure do like labels a lot. My friend Molly smacked me in the face with this one. We don't want to be tagged with labels such as modern, liberal, conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal, traditional, charismatic, contemporary, or (God help us) fundamentalist... but we slap that danged ol' "emergent" on everything... after all, it just sounds so much cooler than the rest (at least for the next two years). We gotta get off of this marketing cycle we are on, or else it will slap us all in the face in a few years as outdated, and it will discredit all of the great insights that the "emergent" movement has tried to make known.

Just some thoughts... Whatchathink?

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