Final thoughts in the emergent movement series
People not directly involved in the emergent movement likely think that it’s something that doesn’t affect them. Not true.
The emergent movement and its connection to postmodern philosophy is having a vital effect on the way Christians and non-Christians alike think.
I, for one, find myself constantly questioning things in Christianity. I’m very open and honest about my struggles in this respect. I used to live under the veil of pretending to have it all together. I’d rather err on the side of being too broken than being too pretentious. (“A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise.” —Psalm 51:17)
Questioning one’s faith is typical within emerging Christianity. Question and reasoning can be helpful to the health of someone’s Christian life. It challenges a person’s faith and forces them to understand, reconcile, and know what he or she believes.
Where emergent Christianity takes things too far is that it can get too deconstructivist and undermine things that, as a believer, should not be undermined (eg, the deity of Christ, the necessity of his finished work on the cross). Those things should not persist as constant questions but rather, should be resolved and the topic should move on.
Emergent Christianity also tends to go in circles on questions. Those in the “conversation” contend that questions are healthy. Yes, to a point. Questions should be asked in the quest for answers. To simply throw questions out for the sake of engaging in constant conversation is ultimately fruitless because it accomplishes nothing.
Rob Bell, in Velvet Elvis, offers the Jewish culture of answering a question with a question as proof that it’s okay to go around and around with questions. I counter that answering a question with a question in Jewish culture is meant to be an end within itself. The answer (in the form of a question) is not meant to lead to endless conversation but as a way of stating a point of finality while leading the inquisitor to muse further on the answer in his or her own mind.
So when it comes to questioning things within Christianity, I have accepted this as part of postmodern and emerging thought. Where I stop, however, is that I seek answers and definitions to my questions.
Along with postmodern thought is the idea that everything is relative. This idea of relativity can be found in the emergent movement. However, within the framework of Biblical Christianity, there are absolutes. (I believe absolutes exist outside of the Bible but I’ll stick to my topic of Christianity.) Since Jesus was absolute and authoritative with many of this statements (“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me” —John 14:6), there is no room for relativity. Again, believers of the Bible should not be questioning whether Jesus really meant what he said. While Jesus was figurative with many of his statements, he was also very literal. To take his literal meanings, distort them, and teach those distortions as valid Christian thought is dangerous.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Most believers go through times in their lives when they questions the basics and fundamentals of Christianity. The problem is when people in leadership begin teaching these doubts, assisting in undermining Christianity in their own congregations. If a person chooses not to believe in Christianity, questions it, and tries to point out its weaknesses, that’s one thing. To do the same while claiming to be a believer and teach others to do the same is wrong.
So while I understand there are many areas in life that are full of grey, Christians should not deny that some things are plainly black and white (figuratively speaking). Emergent Christians can seek to blur the lines, giving the illusion that black and white is or can be grey.
Emerging church excels, however, in taking Christianity to the 21st century. I get frustrated when I hear Christians knocking other Christians’ choice of worship. A common complaint I’ve heard is that churches have become a type of theater: things are done with video, multimedia slides, and lighting effects. These things are dismissed as unnecessary and purposeless. I view these things as a valid and appropriate means of reaching postmodern American society. While some people may enjoy that “old time religion,” for others, it does not reach them. I am with Paul when he says “I became all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22) There is nothing sinful in using video, slides, overhead projectors, and the like. Simply because it’s not a person’s style of worship doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
The argument along with that is that good gospel preaching can stand on its own and there is no need for visual anything. While that may be true, visuals are a supplement, not a replacement. I am baffled by Christians who are willing to embrace technology in every other aspect of their lives but insist on keeping it out of the church. To reach a 21st century generation, Christianity cannot continue to function in 19th century mode. It is possible to adapt to the culture without sinning in order to evangelize. This is the area where the emerging church has challenged the ecclesial institution and can help make it better. Some Christians call it becoming “worldly,” however, I see it as taking Christ’s message and making it practical and relevant.
And that’s how the emerging church challenges me: how do I make 1st century concepts and teachings from a Middle Eastern culture practical and relevant 20 centuries later in a postmodern American society? It’s a question I don’t have an answer to but hope to discover that answer someday. (Even if the answer comes in the form of a question.)
Note: I typed this entire post on my BlackBerry so please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors.