Deeper problems in “emergence” Christianity

On Tuesday, Julie Clawson posted an excellent piece on the Emergence Christianity gathering in Memphis last weekend.  In her article, she rightly criticized Phyllis Tickle’s thoughts on the fall of Constantinian Christianity.  (Please read Julie’s post; it’s lengthy, but it’s worth your time.)  As a result, several of my fellow women of faith tweeted, reblogged, and discussed the content of Julie’s post and the problems that have become evident in much of emergent culture.

There was no problem with Julie’s thoughtful remarks about the confusion over Phyllis’ speech.  There was no problem with the continued discussion on Twitter, in which many women chimed in to suggest that there might be some issues within the movement, including a failure to examine privilege.  But for whatever reason, the conversation turned unpleasant when the women involved were accused of “attacking” the movement and being “passive-aggressive.”  In other words, it was the Emergence Christianity version of calling women “shrill.”

I stopped identifying with the emergent movement some time ago.  I found it to be largely populated by well-educated, white, cis-gendered, straight men.  It’s not that I have anything against that particular demographic, but I prefer to have a broader range of people in my life.  I have also become frustrated with the fact that Emergent types are willing to talk about inclusion but often fail to practice it.  For example, LGBT people are frequently left out of the conversation in the supposed interest of attracting more people to the table.  To put it simply, there is a widespread attitude that people should not be made to feel “uncomfortable” if they believe that homosexuality is a sin by having actual gay people speaking and teaching.  To allow such would imply that Emergents have taken sides; thus we’re reduced to hearing straight people speak on behalf of LGBT Christians rather than hearing from LGBT Christians themselves.

That said, I have three real problems with the back-and-forth over the last two days.  First, anyone who voiced (or tweeted, rather) concern over Phyllis’ statements was shut down as approaching their disagreement in the “wrong” way.  In fact, Jay Bakker even suggested to Suzannah Paul in a tweet that the best way to handle criticism is in person or via telephone.  This is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say, given the fact that Phyllis’ speech was 1. public; 2. the last thing on the program for the weekend; and 3. made by someone with whom it would be difficult for hundreds of people to have a personal conversation.  Should everyone who disagrees with President Obama’s policies attempt to put a call through to the White House?  This may be much smaller scale, but the principle is the same.  In effect, Jay was shutting Suzannah down for speaking out, rather than engaging her to find out why she felt that the speech was misguided.  In fact, in suggesting that it is unfair or unreasonable to critique problematic aspects of Emergence Christianity is much like telling people that it’s un-American to point out continued bias in the broader culture.

The second problem  is that following that awkward Twitter non-conversation (note: tweeting about someone’s tweet is also passive-aggressive), the discussion turned to “rigorous thinking.”  Once again, this is a way to shut down any real opportunity for honest consideration of privilege within the movement.  In this case, anyone who is not an academic or an intellectual is left out.  Additionally, it is assumed that only certain people are capable of having intelligent dialogue (read: men).  Women could not possibly have put in the time and study needed to be active participants.  As Sarah Moon pointed out in a series of tweets,

So, today I critiqued someone’s ideology and their response was “They must not teach [ideology] in the US.” Listen, man.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when white men assume my critiques of their academic discussions is based in ignorance

I have not put hundreds of hours into studying different theories for justice/liberation to be told “You must not have been taught” Nope.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that it is taken as a given that LGBT people don’t have any background in systematic theology.  Using the old “but we need to use our big brains to sort this out!” to silence reasonable criticism is a way of belittling anyone who isn’t a straight, white, cis-man by assuming that person is not intelligent or educated.

Which brings me to the last problem.  It disturbs me that the words “rigorous thinking” should be used in conjunction with anything having to do with faith.  This was exactly the kind of narrow-minded bullshit I tried desperately to leave behind with the evangelicals.  In their case, the issue was over finding the one correct interpretation for every single word of the Bible.  Right doctrine trumped everything else.  Now we have this particular brand of emergent thought that assumes we just need to study harder so that we can figure out God’s intent through Scripture.  Understanding the context and nuance in history and the Bible will render previous versions of Christianity null and void and lead us to perfect practice of our faith.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing.  Replacing one crappy theology with an equally crappy theology leaves us nothing but a huge pile of manure.  And certainly, maintaining that study is the most important aspect of spiritual practice ignores the fact that not all Christians are highly intellectual, nor do all of us want to spend the majority of our time poring over dense tomes.  Most of us just want to love God and love people, and we’re all still trying to work out what that means.

I no longer have any hope that this movement is redeemable.  (I’m sure my first clue ought to have been that Mark Driscoll was once associated with it.)  It certainly isn’t the place for progressive Christians to find the kind of faith that does not merely speak on behalf of, but openly invites the voices of those who are most frequently silenced within the church.  I don’t believe the answer is to start a new movement; I believe it is to stop looking for a revolution or a leader and start practicing the very things we want to see happen within Christian faith.  Until and unless we confront the real problems—those pertaining to privilege, status, and value-attribution—we will never be the people God intended us to be.

57 thoughts on “Deeper problems in “emergence” Christianity

  1. One of my seminary professors was a pro-LGBT and feminist Pentecostal (which got her into trouble a few times when she presented papers at American conferences). One of my favourite soundbites from her was her comments on how we use the word theology. If we say just “theology”, we mean: straight, white, male, European-descent (usually German), and typically Reformed or Lutheran. If anybody else does theology, it gets an adjective: feminist, LGBT, Catholic, black, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, etc. This simple way of discussing theology reinforces the idea that “real theology” is straight white male European Protestant and everything else is at best a derivative and at worst a perversion.

    • That’s a brilliant assessment of the problem. I think a lot of these movements start off with good intentions–earnest desire to see faith become more inclusive. Unfortunately, in the process, they frequently succumb to the same sorts of things that sparked them in the first place. I think this happens with social/cultural movements as well. Perhaps the best thing to do is to take away the good and leave the movement itself behind as something that has worn out its welcome. After all, there has been real progress made in some ways.

      • I think that the “take away the good and leave the movement itself behind” is something that will happen somewhat naturally on its own in the next generation or two. I say that because the movement is largely defined by postmodernism. As everyone enters postmodernism, having a designated “postmodern movement” doesn’t make any sense.

        The fact that it is all white educated men so far may simply be because they have been more educated in formal postmodern thought but as postmodernism seeps to the grassroots level in North America (most of the world never embraced modernism in the first place) then the other voices should inevitably get louder. That’s how I see it, but maybe I’m just a bit more optimistic :)

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. Inclusivity aside, I stop associating myself with the movement simply because it was hyper-intellectualized Western mental masturbation with a postmodernism fetish. I have two theology degrees and have published on postmodernism and theology. That stuff was interesting but hardly why or what I worship. Emergence led me to what is likely unpopular with the movement even though they cherry pick a few ideas out of context. In Eastern Orthodoxy there are only three saints identified as theologians: St. John, St. Gregory, St. Symeon. Moreover theology has not so much to do with intellectual prowess but the direct experience of God. For all the Byzantine (Constantinian) pomp and circumstance (which I admit is not inclusive in the terms here) the truth is simple: the presence of God is simple and mysterious and union with God is what we all seek. I don’t see anything of that sort in emergence – just a LOT of “interesting” talk. I want to meet God not an interesting idea. And no, my way of doing that isn’t for everyone but works for me and others. I think the movement suffers from an evangelical way of thinking that has a different object. No wonder why I know many who have been led to agnosticism after passing through the emergent movement intellectual clique.

    • “…hyper-intellectualized Western mental masturbation with a postmodernism fetish.” I absolutely love this phrase. Probably the most concise description I’ve seen on this whole topic.

      I have no theological degree, nor have I studied postmodernism or justice theory. My degrees are in nursing and education, although the former was from a Christian liberal arts school. As such, I was required to take multiple Bible, psychology, and sociology courses. I also know how to read. I hardly consider myself an expert, but I’m not sure that going over the Bible or Christian history with a fine-tooth comb is required to know what “love your neighbor” means. Jesus didn’t party with the educated elite, he hung out with prostitutes and fishermen.

      What initially attracted me to the emergent movement was the letting go of some of the hard-line thinking in evangelicalism. Unfortunately, I just discovered another kind of rigid structure. I’ve found much more freedom in ancient spiritual practice than in theology.

  3. Excellent post. I have seen exactly what you are talking about and have been troubled by it as well. You have described the dynamics better than I could have. The point about how “rigorous thinking” is being used to assert and mask privilege is most apt. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy and I am still (loosely) associated with the academy. This card gets played a lot in philosophy in pretty much the same gendered way: The “macho” disciplines that come with a heavy technical component, such as philosophy of language and metaphysics, set the standard for rigor and are more prestigious, while ethics and social/political (not to mention feminist and queer philosophy) are deemed less “rigorous” and less prestigious. It is no accident that this distinction tends to track lines of gender and racial privilege, although a lot of philosophy is uncomfortable admitting that reality.

    Also, I find it more than a little ironic that the big names in emergent Christianity, people who are largely steeped in postmodern theory, French psychoanalysis, and critical social theory (i.e. whatever Zizek says is cool to read) have any business uncritically dismissing others’ “intellectual rigor.” I am not saying that these disciplines lack rigor (my bailiwick these days is gender studies, queer theory, critical theory, and ethics); it is just that they for their part are routinely targeted within the wider discussion outside emergent Christianity as themselves lacking intellectual rigor. One would hope that that experience would teach them to reflect critically on the privilege and power involved in enshrining one’s own theoretical pronouncements and experience as normative or exemplary. Whose rigor is it? What ends does it serve? Who gets to judge what counts as rigorous? What is “rigor” for?

    • Good point about how the postmodern Christian theologians/philosophers are dismissed outside the movement. That’s a constant theme among non-emergent evangelicals–that they don’t take the study of Scripture seriously and want to bend God to fit into their preconceived ideals. It actually reminds me a lot of Jesus talking about the children shouting at each other in the marketplace when he referenced the different reactions he and John the Baptist received. In the end, I’ll leave both the “rigorous” evangelicals AND the “rigorous” emergents to their pissing contest. Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here pondering the meaning of “love your neighbor” and looking for ways that I’m screwing up the whole privilege thing myself.

  4. Yeah, I think the over-intellectualizing has put a dent in the Emerging Christian movement. Like I listen to Homebrewed Christianity a lot, but sometimes they assume that everyone who listens to them are in seminary school. I’m not, so I don’t understand a lot of the big words.

    I think the movement needs more storytellers and less theologians. Theology is great, but to the average lay person like me, we can’t really contribute. All I have is my story. Now I just need an audience to hear it.

    There are some folks in the movement I still dig. I still love reading Brian McLaren’s books. And there’s this couple I know, Terry and Rebecca, that do a lot with for the homeless. But you’re right, something needs to change. Maybe the Emergent Village was just a stepping stone for progressive Christianity.

    • Story is so important. I’m now experimenting with taking a hard look at my own privilege through writing fiction. Others explore these themes through creative non-fiction or personal reflective writing. There is no reason why we all need to be intellectuals. I’m not impressed with the notion that we all need theology degrees to have thoughtful conversation.

  5. I love theology and intellectual discussions but ALL OF THIS. Those aren’t the center of my faith. I am an academic person so studying is my way of worship, but it bugs the ever-loving-crap out of me when people disagree with me and their argument is big word after big word, as if that would prove they were smarter and shut me down. Get that a lot with emerants.

    Also, your point about emergants being willing to *talk* about inclusion but not practice it. And putting the comfort of bigoted people over the comfort of the people they oppressed.

    • I love how you describe studying as worship. I think sometimes we get bogged down by narrow definitions of worship, and that is actually not one I’d heard before. Pretty cool thought, that.

      I started to feel very uncomfortable when I realized that the prevailing attitude is that oppressors will change their minds if only we don’t make them feel awkward. I’ve actually never seen that work. Privilege needs to be identified first, and the silenced voices need to be heard. From my own experience, that is what works (at least, with decent people).

      • Yeah, thanks for saying that Sarah. Study and learning as worship has always been emphasised in Judaism and also in Islam, but I’d never thought of my avid learning as a form of worship. In Hinduism too, learning is respected as a spiritual path, of of the four forms of yoga.

  6. They all seem to be such poseurs, concerned with looking cool. They were probably Goths when they were younger. Becky, what does ‘CIS-gender’ mean?

      • Yes, ‘hipster’, that was the word I was looking for. There is someone on my Facebook who is self-consciously and overtly hipster. I don’t have much time for anyone who just wants to be like a bunch of other people rather than an individual. I’m also very intellectual, but prefer to see things rooted in historical or everyday reality rather than abstract reasoning and don’t particularly identify with a lot of post-modernism. I tend to be quite scathing when people get pretentious and rarified and can’t relate to or convey themselves to ordinary people. I don’t know what Phyllis Trible said, but I much prefer her to these skinny men in black. She was making sense to me decades ago.

        • I’m not particularly good with abstract reasoning. I’m an extremely concrete thinker. Things that bother/offend/disturb me tend to be specific actions or words rather than generalized concepts.

          I have always liked Phyllis’ writings. Her comments were apparently (I wasn’t there) full of blame for women for shirking our duties to home, family, and spiritual formation of our kids. On the flip side of that, feminism is blamed by evangelicals for MEN not taking responsibility for kids’ spiritual development. So basically, we women can’t win either way.

          • That sounds very American to me as well. People in Europe don’t tend to think like t hat. You HAVE to go out to work if you’re a woman unless your husband is an very high earner because of the cost of mortgages or rent, and this idea t hat women should stay in the home isn’t heard anywhere now. A lot of women would prefer to stay at home with their kids but it’s just not an option unless you’re rich.

            • That’s really interesting. I live in a relatively low-cost area, and with a bit of clever planning, I was able to stay home as soon as we had kids. I’m still homeschooling our younger one. This isn’t an option for a lot of moms, though, so I know I’m fortunate. But one of the consistent problems we have is, “Why can’t DADS stay home instead if we’re so bent on having a parent home?”

                • Because a lot of Americans, especially Christians and even some more progressive ones, are uptight? I honestly have no real clue. LGBT people are alienated among some progressives because the progressives fear that no one will join their movement if they think they have to start “accepting” LGBT people.

                  • I find people who are reluctant to welcome in LGBT folks as full members of the community (and that means access to all rites and leadership roles) tend to fall into a few camps …
                    1) Their theology proclaims homosexuality is a sin – working on this to varying degrees but do not feel sinners can be leaders
                    2) They have some issues relating to their own sense of sexuality that gets displaced on to LGBT folks (and women)
                    3) Fear of giving up place at table and spotlight (common among those who proclaim to be pro-gay but yet their meetings, etc. don’t include LGBT voices sans the infrequent token)
                    4 Fear that if they come out as pro-gay they will lose book deals, speaking gigs, etc. – this is a very real fear. Xn (evangelical) publishing has taken a hard right in the past few years to where some cutting edge books that used to get published probably wouldn’t find a home anymore (e.g., I doubt Zondervan would risk putting out the next Mike Yaconelli). This is where serious money can be found if one plays the hipster Xn card just right.

              • Rents and house prices are MUCH higher here due to lack of land, w hich in fact makes everything more expensive because of business rents – as does the high cost of fuel. Also there are a lot of single parents, both unmarried and divorced, and they tend to have to be employed as well.

                • Wow, yeah, it’s like that in a lot of our bigger cities. We can easily afford to live here, on a single teacher’s salary, because cost of living/rent/mortgage is low and teachers are paid better here than in a lot of places. But if we’d ended up out in Boston, where my husband is from, we would barely be able to afford rent, let alone groceries and other necessities, on a single teacher’s salary. I would be working as well, or we’d be renting from his parents.

      • As prefixes go, that’s not a very nice-sounding one. I mean just the sound of ‘cis’. In any case, I think it can vary. There are times when I identify more with men than with women – it tends to depend on the sort of men or women I’m faced with. I’ve done several ‘androgyny tests’ and come out right in the middle on all of them. I enjoy being mentally androgynous and I like mentally androgynous men. From my experiences with Americans, I’ve noticed that in the UK we are much less gender divided than the US. There seems to be less of a gulf between men and women and the expectations of their respective behaviours.

        • Interesting, I think you’ve highlighted a gap in the language. I have no problem with being “cisgender” (the label or the definition). But it still, to an extent, resides in a binary understanding of gender. I know many people who identify with much greater variance than the terms allow. I use it here on my blog because it speaks to the privilege Americans have when we identify exclusively with our birth-assigned gender.

  7. I have to admit that I’m not that familiar with the particular interaction mentioned in this post. And agree on your overall theme. I do from time to time listen to Jay Bakker post, I guess he is a mix of emergent or progressive. I know he is supportive full LGBT acceptance. Sometimes I listen to stuff from Peter Rollins, Peter is on a theological planet all of his own. He has an interesting way of painting a picture with his personal brand of theology – highly recommend Rollins. Back to the topic. I think in any church movement you can have a wide range of thought and sometimes people don’t realize what it loos like from others viewing on the outside. I think that emergent christianity should have build into it the desire to evolve and put away old ways when it is about things we should already be past – how women are treated, LGBT people too. Time will tell, I guess.

    - Ryan

    • Jay’s open inclusivity is something I’ve always admired. I was so disappointed at his thoughtless remarks to Suzannah, and at Peter Rollins’ hostile shut-down of the discussion when he said we needed “rigorous thinking.” I’ve had friends who received open hostility at Emergent Gatherings because of their sexuality or gender identity. Tony Jones was exceptionally rude to the women who commented on one of his recent blog posts (which asked for their feedback). I’m tired of someone else speaking for us instead of inviting us to the table to speak freely. It’s like saying, “You can have freedom to be whoever and whatever you want, as long as you do it where I don’t have to see it.”

  8. I am still somewhat of an “outsider” to a lot of these conversations, but I’m in a way forcing myself into them. I personally have a lot of (possibly naive) hope for the emergent movement as a whole, but not necessarily for certain pockets within it. I agree with your criticisms, I’m just not sure they apply to everyone or every situation or group. I could be completely wrong, and I guess only time will tell. But, I do seriously appreciate your honesty.

    • I appreciate what you’ve said. You make an important point–this doesn’t apply to all people with Emergence Christianity. I think my frustrations are with the tone of the movement as a whole, and with some of the “big shots” who at least seem to be speaking for us collectively. Unfortunately, many of the people being driven away from the emergent movement are the same people being driven away from churches outside the movement. It makes it seem like we are just overall dissatisfied, when really it’s that we’re tired of always being on the fringes of our faith communities.

      • They seem to be trying to do away with the past and I don’t think that’s ever possible or desirable. I think we need to claim things from the past that have more recently been neglected. I don’t think we can totally divorce ourselves from Orthodox traditions. But then I’m coming from an Anglican background and not a more Protestant one.

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  10. wow…we were on the similar brainwaves this week! i love how you question the implied primacy of intellectual engagement. it definitely excludes, and even though i am naturally oriented that way, i’ve realized that booklearnin’ and arguments don’t nurture my faith like actually walking it out. which i kind of hate, cuz i’d much rather read and talk than actually do the work of serving/loving/praying most days.

    i actually laughed out loud when you mentioned calling up the white house:) it’s so strange to me that progressives seem to want to insulate leaders from critique. in explicitly hierarchical traditions, that kind of desire for control makes sense (according to their own framework/values), but it’s entirely out of place in progressive spaces.

    • I actually like all the thinky stuff too, but I do find that it sometimes ends up either in places that my limited knowledge doesn’t reach or in places that are intended to be out of reach for many. I like what Sarah said in her comment about intellectual engagement being worship. That just reinforces the idea that we need to both hold things in our hearts/minds AND put ourselves out there to live our love.

      I can’t fully take credit for the White House thing–it was similar to something my husband said when I told him about the series of tweets. The tendency to isolate and protect leaders is, I think, a big part of institutionalized Christianity. It’s ironic that this sameGreco-Roman system that many emergents have sought to escape is the very one they have re-created within the movement.

  11. Don’t forget, in the US this grew out of a response to seeker sensititve evangelicalism whereas globally it came out of a post-Chistian UK and Europe. So naturally they would veer toward the US evangelical model that elevates the author/speaker/pastor model as “expert.” Re LGBT folks – some of this is a continuation of the power dynamics that put the white male in charge. But also, Wallis and others have alluded to the glaring reality that if they side with the marginalized, there goes the major book deals with the Christian (read evangelical) publishers, appearances on Red Letter Christian TV, the big bucks speaking gigs and the like.

    • So in other words, it’s not profitable to actually be more Christ-like. That isn’t a very surprising philosophy, given the unholy alliance we in the US have between Christianity and Capitalism.

      • Amy – ding, ding, ding. You might like to delve into the research of Jeff Sharlet re the Family (Tony Campolo compared the theology of the Red Letter Christians to this group.) Then look at the places where these guys are speaking – how liberal, rigorous, freethinking etc. can you be when chatting up say Wheaton or Calvin College? Go too far and you will never be invited back. Hmmm …. there’s A Larry Ross (Billy Graham and Rick Warren’s PR rep) who handled the publicity for Rollins’ last book – he comes into a project as part of a very calculated PR plan (that in this case failed as Ross is noted for getting his clients on national TV etc.) – can you really call yourself pro-gay without apologizing for that snafu we’ve all sold pieces to outlets where we aren’t in sync but there’s a line and when you cross it, need to say oops. e.g., I’ve said in hindsight I shouldn’t have gone with Thomas Nelson and Zondervan though at the time they were more liberal than they are now – you can see this hard swing to the right in Xn evangelical publishing land that started a few years ago.

        Re how to be like Jesus – I cite the story of the woman at the well – by going to this person, Jesus blew it as a proper rabbi – he broke every holiness law to reach out to her and in doing so, he made himself so unclean that getting clean again would be a nightmare. I balk at going there but the more I move in that direction, the more I know I’m doing the right thing.

        • I will have to check all that out. This blog is mostly a brain dump; my typical writing is fiction, and I already determined that I won’t go with Thomas Nelson for publication. Their fiction seems to be mostly the typical stuff found in Christian book stores. I’m surprised, I guess, about Zondervan–at least in regard to women. The more inclusive/gender-neutral version of the NIV was only published in 2010, wasn’t it? Our old church refused to use the updated version. I guess Zondervan’s progressive streak doesn’t extend any further than that, though.

          The speaking gigs thing reminds me of the time my Christian college (which is actually comparatively liberal) invited a Christian feminist to speak. A whole lot of the women mocked her after she delivered her (very good) speech. I don’t remember the college inviting anyone else like her to speak after that.

          The woman at the well is a great example. I also like the story of the Ethiopian eunuch as an example of being inclusive without being condescending. It’s the story I use to remind myself that it’s not a matter of me extending an invitation to the table, it’s a matter of me recognizing that people who are not me are already there.

          • The Q you asks requires major unpacking re the future of publishing in general – this is why I am hanging out at SXSW as whatever the future will be, those in the digital not publishing world are leading as innovators.

            But more to the point of Xn world. In 2007, I was brought in to Thomas Nelson’s edgier W brand (you know the imprint that let Donald Miller say sh*t, something some secular publishers won’t let you do). But the then publisher neglected to note in the negotiation process that the imprint would be folded under the larger Nelson umbrella. Since then I’ve seen a turn to the right. Zondervan then wanted me to reach out to the edgy Mike Yaconelli types (the ones who read the Door which had just folded). But right as the book was about to come out, they fired Rob Bell (and my book was much more out there than his). Since then, they too have veered to the right. My skim of the Christian books at BEA indicated that the publishers were playing it safe … and like the Republican Party going rightward.

            Re fiction – all I can say is don’t go with a Christian imprint – there is a formula you’ll be expected to follow along with a set of rules that IMO squelches an original voice.The good news is there’s emerging a lot more DYI and hybrid type publishers that are often staffed by people who used to work in traditional publishing e.g., Samzidat Publishing.

            • Wow. Thanks for the info. I had no idea this was all going on. The closest experience I had with any of this was with Rachel Held Evans and the whole vagina/Lifeway kerfuffle. And Lifeway’s refusal to carry her book made no difference–it still ended up on the NY Times bestseller list (thanks in part to the launch team, on which I served). Being new to all this writing/publishing stuff, it’s pretty eye-opening to see what’s going on underneath.

              I guess that whole formula thing explains why Amish romance is so ubiquitous.

              • The vagina controversy spurred it on the bestseller list as the controversy led to appearances on The View and coverage in secular outlets like Slate that don’t cover Xn books. Same with the Rob Bell snafu – but I don’t predict the same outrage. The Bell blowup happened because Rob Bell was a megachurch pastor who was espousing some views very common in mainline circles but very controverisal to evangelicals. Now that he’s no longer a pastor, I don’t think his fellow pastors are nearly as concerned what he says. :)

                I went to a panel on Xn fiction where the formula was explained out and I recall it made me ill.

                • Good thing I don’t write Christian fiction! At least, not explicitly. I got a tongue–er, keyboard–lashing last night for writing a story with a character who used the f-word. *sigh* I am pretty sure I could figure out what the formula is, which is why I don’t read explicitly Christian books.

                  I wasn’t aware of Bell’s upcoming book. I didn’t find anything terribly controversial in the last one, though I liked it all right. But I haven’t been in that loop for some time now.

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  13. if some people in the emergent movement are more concerned with putting up an image of being cool and “smart” and “intellectual” but do not actively promote or reflect a sense of respect towards those who are discriminated or oppressed by mainstream religion or society, including women and LGBTs, then this group of people is not really worth the attention or trust, so to speak.

    • That is the conclusion I reached when covering this – it emerges until it impacts the book deals. And I as a weriter, I am not anti-book but one can be a writer without buying into the missional marketing and branding biz – though that is where the big bucks lie.

  14. Yes if the main aim of writing books on emergent Christianity is more about gaining influence, garnering praises from peers and making big bucks for the sake of it, then it would seem the authors would have lost sight of or neglect to carry out the original goals of emergent Christianity, which is all about promoting freedom, equal rights for all and social justice. It might be the case that the ideals behind emergent movement sounds good, but it is of little use if it appeals only to the intellectual but does not register in the heart of those who profess to promote these ideals. It is somewhat like the so called “grace” cliche – whereby it may be nice to talk about among the peers but not so evident in people’s interactions with one another.

    • In my own personal experience, the Emergent movement has largely been about questioning the central doctrines of the faith. I actually met with some local folks interested in having that conversation, and it was good–in fact, the organizers actually pointed out the place of privilege we are in when we can have these largely intellectual conversations. Most of us were also out in the world living out the changes we wanted to see. But in the wider emergent circles, it always seemed to me like a boys’ club–lots of educated white men pontificating. The direct exclusion of women, POC, and LGBT folks was brushed off as a function of needing to “attract” more people to the conversation. Typical evangelicals would not be interested in participating, even if they were questioning Hell or standard salvation doctrine, if they also had to welcome women, POC, & LGBT people as speakers. I still see this among evangelicals surrounding LGBT people–the push to “agree to disagree” and the pressure to refrain from taking a firm stand on LGBT issues within the church. In fact, although I was absolutely an ally, I didn’t come right out and say it for a long time out of fear of alienation by the very people I was trying to help move forward in their strict conservative thinking. I actually found MORE support when I fully acknowledged my position than I had when I was trying to be covert about it–including from people who disagreed with me.

    • I meant writer – not to self, no typing pre-coffee. Unlike global emerging that largely grew as a post-Christian response to secularized culture, US emergent came out of a response to US evangelicalism. And with that comes some baggage in terms of publishing deals, funding streams, etc. not to mention the temptation to become a giant goldfish in an increasingly itty-bitty goldfish bowl by being branded as “emergent.” The original thought from the leaders stopped by 2007 – it’s now rinse, recycle, repeat in need to churn out product that will appeal to the masses.

      Re where the emerging spirit is going – y’all have definitely captured that it’s LGBT civil rights esp. as it intertwines with third wave feminism and inclusion of people of color not to mention rise of spiritual humanism.

  15. Amy – what you have stated above reminds me of my past observations on Preterist and universalist groups – they too comprise mainly intellectuals who dare to challenge traditional doctrines to promote freedom from fear based doctrines. But they are not without their own internal “politics” or tension too, in some circles. I suppose for every group, there may be an unspoken pressure to conform to certain norms or expectations, to the extent some people in a group may feel compelled to agree to disagree so as not to upset the more conservative members of the group. This can become another clique where people become accustomed to using certain lingo and may be inclined to exclude others who do not think or talk like them. I think in the case of emergent church, the basis of the movement is equality and justice and equanimity, so it would be unfortunate if the groups choose to become exclusive in their actual interactions with people while professing to be inclusive in their theologies. Somehow the actions and the ideologies don’t match, and they would have to find a way to reconcile the two. Otherwise the emergent movement may lose credibility if this trend of internal tension continues. Ultimately perhaps people may go solo and not see themselves as part of any group or movement.

    • You’ve just described where I am. I chose to distance myself from Emergence Christianity because of my blatant feminism and firm position as an LGBT ally, in the same way that I chose to stop associating myself with most evangelicals because of my views on salvation and Scripture. At the moment, I don’t align with any particular group, although I do still attend a church. As much as I think my current church would agree with my position on some issues, I doubt they’d be very happy with the way I express it (and likely not with my views on certain taboo topics as well).

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