The emergent movement & postmodernism: Part IV
Emergent and emerging
Some people, when speaking of the emergent movement, will use the words “emergent” and “emerging” interchangeably. However, Mark Driscoll takes good care to note that his Mars Hill church in Seattle is an emerging church (and part of an emerging conversation) rather than emergent. Driscoll’s distinction would be notable as he started out as part of the original emergent conversation and has since distanced himself from it. The reference to emerging is noted in Wikipedia as a “wider, informal, church-based, global movement” rather than the term emergent, which would specifically refer to those associated with the Emergent Village community (essentially the Emergent Church). Driscoll, in the following YouTube video, lists and defines four types of emerging voices:
- Emerging evangelicals: not trying to change Christianity, just trying to make it more applicable and more relevant
- House church evangelicals: Get rid of big church and meet in small groups like homes and coffee shops
- Emerging reformers: Believe in the reformed distinctives but try to make the church culturally relevant
- Emergent liberals: Calls everything into question including Christian orthodoxy without wanting to arrive at any answers
Note that Driscoll only uses the word emergent in connection the voices associated with the Emergent Village. This is the group Driscoll has publicly distanced himself from.
How does the emergent movement affect me?
The influence of the emergent church is pervasive in mainstream American Christianity. The main venue many of these emergent voices get their message out—apart from Internet-based distribution—is through their books. Don Miller is known for his New York Times bestseller Blue Like Jazz, Rob Bell has written a thought-provoking book titled Velvet Elvis, and Brian McLaren has recently released a book called A New Kind of Christianity that has unleashed a furor of criticism. While I find that many pastors eschew the emergent movement, many Christians are drawn to it. Perhaps it’s because the emergent movement has succeeded in making itself culturally relevant and practically applicable to those who do not hold theology degrees or work in Christian ministry for a living. Christians and non-Christians alike are taking notice of these works and this movement, even if they can’t quite define it.
Some time last year, my best friend [forever] (BFF) read Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, and insisted that I needed to read it. She promised it would help challenge my conventional notions and that it had helped her break some of the legalistic mindset she’d carried with her since graduating from a college that centered around a legalistic (and Pharisaical) lifestyle. I reluctantly borrowed her copy with a promise to read it only because she was my BFF. Here’s a short analysis I wrote last May:
When I was going through my “spiritual crisis” recently, my best friend handed me this book. She said, “You have to read it; it’ll change your outlook on Christianity.”I glanced down and read the title: Velvet Elvis. With a name like Velvet Elvis, how could this book be any good?
I opened the book up and began reading skeptically and with a critical eye. Bell starts out by discussing how he came a cross a paining of Velvet Elvis and then delves into this discussion of how there’s a big movement in history—something greater than ourselves happening. Standard fare from Rob Bell. After reading Bell’s response on Twittering the gospel, I was disillusioned with his outlook on Christianity. His answer seemed so vague… so unsatisfactory. His book couldn’t possibly offer anything better. Yet I made a promise to my friend and continued to push through the book.
To my surprise, Bell’s book isn’t as shallow as I’d thought.
While he repeats the rhetoric about a movement in history greater than ourselves, he explained Bible passages in a way that I’d never understood before. He draws heavily on Jewish culture to shed new light on Bible passages that once seemed so mundane. Never before had I known that the reference to “yoke” in Matthew 11:30 had deeper meaning than what oxen carry. And I never understood that the disciples functioned as Jesus’ talmidim. Bell’s writing style is clear but his message actually runs deep. …
Bell does seem to have a good grasp on the gospel but presents it in quite a different light. He acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God and “the way, the truth, and the life”–the only way to get to heaven. He also posits that truth can be found outside of the Bible. And since God is truth then anywhere truth is found, there God is. He uses Paul citing one of the Cretan prophets as an example of this.
He says that some Christians see their faith as a brick wall–pull out one brick and the structure of their faith begins to fall apart. He says that we need to be flexible. If something in our faith is wrong or proven as false, will we stray from the faith altogether?
A major problem I do have with this book is that nothing is absolute. He encourages Christians to question everything, including his book. Take nothing at face value. In fact, he asserts that God likes it when we ask questions. Turns out in Jewish culture, when rabbis ask students a question, students respond with… a question. According to Bell, straight answers are not standard. I don’t agree with this. There are absolutes in life and Bell doesn’t acknowledge or accept that.
While I’m not a fan of how Bell runs his church or the way he presents theology, Velvet Elvis is a book worth reading. I initially said I wouldn’t recommend it; I’ve since changed my mind. I’ve ordered my own copy and plan on rereading it, highlighting it, and marking it up. He makes some very many good points and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I like this book. I’m afraid to pick up Sex God or his latest Jesus Wants to Save Christians but Velvet Elvis isn’t a bad read at all.
I have since returned my BFF’s copy to her and have my own copy with plans to re-read and highlight it. Velvet Elvis impacted me that much. And Velvet Elvis is indeed reflective of emergent conversation even if I wasn’t fully aware of it nearly a year ago.