The emergent movement & postmodernism: Part V
Impact of the emergent movement
There’s a lot of criticism of the emergent stream. And much of it is valid. If taken too far, the emergent movement could possess the ability to completely deconstruct Christianity in an attempt to demolish it.
But on the flip side, the emergent movement can be used to challenge the missional arm of the church in a postmodern culture. I like the way Driscoll put it in a Desiring God video I recently watched. In essence, Driscoll asked what missions would look like if Christianity were foreign to the U.S.? How would foreigners assimilate American culture and adopt the tools to best reach those who do not know God or Jesus Christ in a mission field? Because Christianity has been so pervasive and long-standing in American culture, American Christians take their backyard missions field for granted and assume that current American culture will bow to its old way of doing things when in reality, American Christians would never expect that in traveling to any other nation. The emerging movement enables American Christians to see the United States with fresh eyes from a missional standpoint.
The Emergent Church has also served as a rubber band for those who have escaped from the sharp talons of legalistic Christianity. The movement has enabled many Christians to retain certain core truths but make their faith flexible and pliable—when exercised, this faith can be tested and stretched without breaking and completely falling apart. Bell, in Velvet Elvis, refers to legalistic faith as a brick wall: pull one brick out and the rest of the wall crumbles because its support hinges on that one brick.
I’ve found emergent influence in dress. Older, more traditional Christians will complain that they can’t tell the difference between a young believer and a young non-believer because they simply look and act too much alike. Emergent influence in dress assists in blurring this distinction. Emerging Christians tend to dress down, and as some Christians complain, “look like the world.” Emerging Christians will defend their choice of dress as part of cultural relevancy. Here’s a snapshot of Driscoll wearing a shirt of Jesus as a DJ while preaching.
There’s emergent influence in contemporary Christian art. Since I’m not an artist, I can’t define it very well but a look at the Mars Hill website (Rob Bell’s church in Grand Rapids, Michigan) will tell you all you need to know. I’ve provided a current snapshot of the website. (I don’t know if it changes.)
Is the emergent movement harmful to long-term Christianity?
Perhaps I’m an optimist in this area but I believe God is so much bigger than any one movement. If Judeo-Christianity has weathered all sorts of sects, migrations, movements, and off-shoots in the past 5,000+ years, it is likely to weather this one. God has promised to sustain and protect his church—not any one particular denomination but his “holy, catholic (universal) church.” The Emergent Church does not threaten or thwart God’s plans nor will it move God’s plans along any faster than He wants it to. The emergent movement can only be assessed in a Christian’s personal walk with God. How does that affect him or her? Has the emergent conversation added to or detracted from a person’s belief in the triune God? For some, the emergent movement has served to draw people closer to God in an effort to more fully “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.” For others, the emergent movement is a distraction—a nuisance that must be eliminated in order to preserve the organized institution of Christianity. And there is yet another group who finds that while the emergent movement possesses many flaws, many of the questions and challenges it raises can prompt individuals to change their lives—and the lives of those around them—to better glorify, love, and serve God and others. This last group is the group I most identify with. To use another worn-out cliché, I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Even if the bathwater is very, very stinky and murky at times.) If that was the case, I would have walked away from Christianity the moment I left legalism.