Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Emergent and The Critics of Emergent

For some reason I had a chance yesterday to listen to a plethora of videos...some from the better known Emergent folks like Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones and others from people who seem to think that anything Emergent or even remotely similar to Emergent is evil, heretical and is directly from the pit of hell.

In fairness and in the name of full-disclosure I must say that I don't completely fit into the Emergent camp...However, I think it to maintain a sense of intellectual integrity I have to mention that my beliefs and interpretations/experiences of faith line up MUCH closer with the Emergent crowd than that of the more conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist crowd.

So with that, I simply wanted to mention a few observations from my adventure yesterday.

1. The Emergent Christians (EC) and the Fundamentalist Christians (FC) speak different languages. Additionally I think the ways in which the two sides dialogue is different to a degree that makes communication extremely difficult.
It seems that it is difficult for them to even have conversations because the language used and the ways in which it is used is so different from one another. For example, the FCs seem to be asking questions that they feel like they answered a long time ago. This kind of "questioning" is designed to drive someone to what they think is a logical conclusion. The problems with this method of manipulation are numerous. One problem is that it is fraudulent. The purpose and intent of a conversation is to share, discuss and mutually understand...the stance taken by FCs in the videos are arrogant and presumptuous at best. Another problem is that through the ever changing culture, the "logical conclusions" the FCs assume to exist are not logical nor conclusive to the Emergent crowd. Therefore extreme frustration and outright anger seems to overcome the FCs when someone doesn't find "logical" what they do. Again, this is arrogant and less than insightful in my opinion.
The EC's seem to be engaged in more ethical conversations. I personally don't sense that a specific conclusion is the motivation in the questions asked by the ECs. The conversations seem to be genuine. The interaction of two people sharing lives, to me anyway, seem to mirror the conversations had by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus seemed to only "trap" people or lead people to some preconceived conclusion when he was dealing with the Pharisees or Teachers of the Law...not with those truly seeking.
I also sense that the more ECs are fine with not having answers. It isn't that they enjoy ambiguity...I sense that instead they enjoy serving and honoring a God that is so much larger than canned answers, a God who extends a love to His creation beyond what some systematic theology can explain. Having answers and providing them to people is fine...but when the answers aren't universal or when the answers aren't comprehensive, they may be more divisive and confusing than simply marveling at mystery of God.

2. The FCs seem to be very angry. I don't know if it is frustration or just a sense of becoming irrelevant or what. To give the FCs benefit of the doubt I do think that they really believe that their faith has been hijacked by some liberal agenda and it angers them. To give my cynicism a voice and the benefit of the doubt I think some portion of their anger is due to the shifting of their relevance, which means their voice is diminishing which means they are losing control and power. To meet in the middle on these thoughts I think it is safe to mention that any suggestion that another way exists doesn't fit the FCs paradigm. To them, if another way exists they must have been wrong all of this time. The FCs have for so long operated under the assumption that "Truth" is mutually exclusive of anything other than the way they believe and practice their faith...the mere suggestion of another idea, viewpoint or theology is a personal attack on their faith and on God. To me, this seems again, rather arrogant and myopic at best.
The ECs on the other hand seem to be more calm and inclusive when discussing their thoughts about God and more importantly, when listening to the opinions, experiences and thoughts of others. I don't see any ground being gained from showing disdain, disappointment or resentment toward those who share experiences or opinions that aren't mainstream or popular. One thing I am confident about when looking at scripture is that God's story is woven through the lives of us all. The ways in which God chooses to weave and the ways in which God is manifested in our worlds is up to God and God alone. In my opinion it is disrespectful of God to place limitations and parameters on the work of God in the lives of others.

3. Both sides have staunch supporters. The Emergent Cohort I get to hangout with monthly is in no way interested in a return to the camps of the FC. I also sensed yesterday in watching the videos that many people line up behind those who hate the ambiguity and openness found in the camps of the ECs. I will say that while many people, including me, have no plans of returning to a more dogmatic, closed interpretation of God and His Word, I don't think those who choose to stay in the FC traditions are evil or "hell-bound". The same can't be said for the FCs. They are not bashful at all when it comes to mocking, belittling and being downright hateful toward those who identify more in the EC direction. It seems that for many in the more FC group, people who are EC are either from hell or will quickly be heading there. That's say the least.

I had other impressions and may share those at some point. I guess the issue in my mind is that at the end of the day...not to mention the end of my life...I am responsible for the ways in which I have been faithful to God's call in my life. That's enough...nothing less should matter and nothing more is important.