The Emergent Church

I’m starting to get a handle on this whole emergent church thing, and boy am I behind the times. At the ripe old age of 30, I am already a relic of the distant past.

No, seriously, go check this out. Or this. The Emergent Church is the Postmodern Church, and this means certain things like disdain for traditional power structures, worship and apparently also doctrine. You know, folks come along and say that there’s a lot of unbiblical accretions in the church these days, that have developed over the centuries (and they’re right) and they fight that by adding on a lot of unbiblical accretions of their own.

Tim Berglund has some excellent analysis over here about the Emergent Church movement (link from Joe– thanks!), and I’d check him out for a primer.

One thing I have a lot of sympathy for is the Emergent Church’s professed distaste for marketing. They rightly reject the Boomer church mentality of dividing people up into demographics, recognizing that doing this is for the purpose of marketing more effectively to them. Of course, the backside of this is that the EC movement does exactly the same thing- if not explicitly, at least implicitly. They say so often, “Boomers are like this, and Gen-X is like this”, and then spend a lot of time convincing you that “Boomer is bad, Gen-x is good.” There’s lots of references to Douglas Coupland and the like. And reading Douglas Coupland is a good way to get a handle on what they refer to as Generation X, especially the book actually entitled Generation X. And it’s a really fun read, for any purpose.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Funny thing about Generation X, though- everybody thinks it’s something different. Generation X was originally supposed to be people born from about the assassination of Kennedy through the middle of the 70’s, and then came Generation Y. During the time that this term became popular, really from Coupland’s book, these people were in their 20’s. Now, when people talk about Generation X, they mostly mean people in their 20’s, even though this is supposed to be Gen-Y. So the definitions have changed.

What’s more, the characteristics of Gen-X as opposed to boomers is that Gen-X is suspicious of authority, suspicious of marketing, in search of meaning and very interested in relationships. The boomers, natch, are the opposite of all that. But the boomers were the hippies! And when the hippies were in their 20’s they were… you guessed it… suspicious of authority, suspicious of marketing, in search of meaning, and very interested in relationships. And they were good, and their parents bad, and I seem to recall a lot of talk about how to get the hippies into church. So one can only come to the conclusion that all of this generation talk is really overplayed. Mostly, it just seems like people want to have young people in their church.

So then, to get back to the Emergent Church itself- it seems that what’s really going on is that people have taken a look at the culture, decided they need to be more ‘relevant’ and shape the church to match the culture. Now, I know they wouldn’t say they are doing this, but take a look at this “exegesis” of 1 Peter 3:1-7. The author’s method is to understand what Paul was doing to his cultural norms, and then to do the same thing to our own cultural norms. Actually understanding that Paul is teaching timeless truths about husbands and wives is entirely beside the point.

Look also at this “Emerging Church A-Z”. How much of it is driven by culture? The EC is defined by blogging? By DJ-ing? This is basically exactly the same thing that the Catholics did, when they chiseled the name “Odin” off the statues and chiseled “Peter” on, when they took the Feast of Lupercalia (basically a sex lottery) and renamed it St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t successful then, and it isn’t now. Christianity isn’t about taking stuff out of the culture and reinterpreting it in a Christian fashion. The Internet does not define the church. Christianity is about cultural transformation, among other little things like submission to God’s word and personal redemption. The Po-Mo’s have this attitude of helplessness in the face of a culture that defines all, that rules all. There is little analysis of whether or not the way people think and react today is a good or bad thing. It’s assumed to be good, and then co-opted. Here’s some stuff about using U2 for inspiration in worship! Check out this quote:

We can’t enter into worship on Sunday and embark on a pedestrian wade through a four-hymn sandwich without setting aside the ‘holy’ experience of a bar we spent last night in, listening to a funky soul singer, and sipping Irish coffee. We find worship an unconnected experience when we realise how alien it seems to recall the spiritual energy and gospel motifs we found in the latest version of Romeo and Juliet at the movies. And we often want to cringe in church when we sing a melodic jingle about loving Jesus, when we think of our souls soaring as we play U2’s complex ‘Pop’ album loud on our CD player at home.

This is like saying, “How can I be expected to enjoy sex with my wife, when pornography is so much more fun?” And yes, I’ll stand by my analogy- a spiritual experience to U2 is to church what pornography is to a marriage.

The world is absolutely rolling the church right now, at least in the modern Anglosphere world where most of this EC stuff is going on. This whole movement reminds me of a kid getting beaten up by a bully on the playground and saying Oh, it’s OK, we’re just playing a game.

Postmodernism has nothing to do with the church. Postmodernism is about destroying timeless truths, not repackaging them. The patron saint of Postmodernism is Pontius Pilate saying, “What is truth?” just before handing Jesus over to be crucified. The culture is NOT going to be transformed by listening to Bono, “creating new Christian rituals” or pandering to pagan religions. It will be transformed by the individual process of us being transformed, one by one, by the renewing of our minds by solid teaching and worship. And despite what they’d have us believe, that has everything to do with logic, the “logos”, our “reasonable service”.

For 2000 years, the church has built relationships, cared for the poor, driven social change, trained up the weak and transformed lives. Everything that the “Emergent Church” wants to do has been done, successfully, for millennia. But all of a sudden that’s not good enough, and we need new models. Just over the last 20 years, people have apparently fundamentally changed from what they were for the previous 2000, and so we need all new church models.

Of course, this isn’t what’s really going on. What’s going on is that people want to repackage, to take the good old church and wrap it up in a shiny new wrapper. In other words, it’s just marketing. Being a member of that crucial “Gen-X” demographic, you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little suspicious.

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