Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Theology in the emerging church

Maybe I'm late in coming to this party or something, but it seems like there's been a but more talk in the blogosphere about theological stands in the emerging church scene. Mind you, there's not a lot of actual theology being discussed out there - mostly just references to theological positions that various folks are taking. When I first got into this conversation five years ago, it was mainly just the people that wanted to do regular church differently, and the people who wanted to do simple/organic/house church. Now we still have the simple church folks doing their thing (but doing it quietly as we simple church people ought to!), but the other category has developed several sub-categories. The sub-categories are actually mainly similar to the sub-categories of the rest of the mainstream church of North America - the emerging types just have various configurations of facial hair, tattoos, and they swear a lot. Some of the diversity represented is an expression of the postmodern ethos, where nobody wants to get pinned down to a specific set of standard beliefs/values.

I will say this about the emerging version of things, though - for the most part, we are taking more intentional ownership of the theologies we have come to embrace. We deconstructed the heck out of our former spiritual homeland, and in an effort to settle in a better place, made very serious efforts to define where we landed (obviously, there's some fluidity to this, but even that says something about who we've become). For the most part, I think it's very healthy - it shows that our protests of the old models were based on more than appearances and marketing.

However, I will say that there's a certain segment of the emerging church that leaves me scratching my head, and that would be the Reformed Theology segment. They, like the rest of us, have done an admirable job of examining their faith, and landing in a place that seems good to them. That's awesome, really. I have friends in this camp - some really super cool people. I'll even say that much of what they hold dear makes theological sense to me. It's just that an uncomfortably large percentage of folks in this camp are, well, a little too confident in the places they've landed for my comfort. It seems that they have become so convinced about their positions that there's not really much wiggle room to consider other points of view. The problem with this, in my mind, is that it can limit conversation - I mean, why should they enter a dialogue with me about any given issue when they already know the answer and aren't really interested in being persuaded otherwise? It comes across as arrogant, and little bit scary. The last time I encountered such absolute confidence was about the time I started rethinking everything.

I don't mean to broadbrush the Reformed folks out there, really - like I said, I've met many that don't fit the category I've just described. But I've observed this conversation/movement/Kingdom party long enough to see that this sort of attitude doesn't pop up anywhere else with such regularity.

Am I wrong? I'm open to being enlightened. I just don't have much of an interest in this emerging whatevertheheck we're doing here becoming a younger, brasher, hairier version of what I supposedly left behind.

posted by Steve at 3:54 PM
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Blogger Greg Y commented at 9:29 PM~  

I don't that ridgid thinking and unwillingness to consider other points of view are not restricted to the reformed theology camp. This describes many of my Southern Baptist friends who are not of the reformed persuasion. Certainty isn't a bad thing. It helps us make sense out of a lot of competing ideas and gives us base from which to live out our faith. Rigid thinkers challenge me to understand God better. Sometimes my reformed friends are strong where I am weak.

Blogger Greg Y commented at 9:50 PM~  

I took a moment and read your article on managing conflict in the new world. It seems to me that this certainty or ridgid thinking among some could lead to conflict. I have also seen what conflict can do to a church. I am a member of a new church plant and I suppose I am part of that emerging church you are talking about--what ever that is. It seems like one of the first tasks that a pastor of such an outfit has is to teach the congregation how to have a good healthy fight that does not leave people wounded.

Blogger Call Me Ishmael commented at 3:39 AM~  

You may have come a little late to the party, but you're early for the hangover.

Blogger Steve commented at 8:32 AM~  

I'm So. Baptist myself, so I'm well aware of the rigidity there. However, two points of clarification might help. First, there's not really such a thing as a single So. Baptist theology - there are people of many different persuasions represented there - including a growing contingent of younger, emerging church oriented folks in the Reformed camp. That's fine by me, as long as they're willing to humbly dialogue with others.

Second, you said that the rigidity of some people may be helpful because they may be strong where you are weak. I guess I'd ask in response if the rigid thinkers would admit to any weaknesses themselves, which might be strengthened by other kinds of theological approaches? A one-way only conversation is no conversation at all.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Blogger Greg Y commented at 9:27 PM~  

It is hard to talk about rigid thinking without being specific. But I will try to be clear on what I am thinking about regarding conflict.

Confrontation or conflict can be a good thing. The Apostle Paul was most rigid in his thinking process until he decided to take that little trip to Damascus (Acts 9). Like Paul, rigid thinkers today need to be confronted. The problem is that brining two strong personalities with differing views into the same space is like playing with dynamite.

Nobody likes conflict so the unspoken but gennerally accepted strategy is to minimize sparks by keeping these people apart or somehow suppressed by other means. The problem is that there is never resolution and these differences are allowed to smoulder and gain a foothold in church life. I think this is how churches get into leading gray black and white lives instead of instead of in vivid color. Divisions arise and practical action or ministry is stiffled. War eventually breaks out resulting in wounded spirits and a half the church departs leaving both sides embittered against eachother. Lovely.

I think a part of this emerging church thing has to be about teaching people how to bring differences out into the open to have discussion and resolution. After all it is about how best to carry out the great commission and it is not personal.

If conflict is handled well there will be no one way discussions. This kind of encounter affects both sides I think. Both should have to rethink their positions to reach resolution.

The church needs to be in the conflict business as well as the reconcilliation business. People need to become cmfortable with the process of resolving differences.

I am a bit of a pollyanna but it seems like these are skills that can be taught, learned, and applied.

Anonymous Morgan Owen commented at 9:01 PM~  

Conflict is certainly detrimental to the health of a church (or group). But sometimes conflict can produce good. At first I think about the conflict caused by Martin Luther. His passion was the Truth being taught to the masses. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well. If he had skirted around the issues of his time and not met the powers that be with peaceful conflict, we would be celebrating someone else's birthday every year.
However, as I read RockyR's last comment about how Paul was rigid in think I can't help but be reminded of the "sharp disagreement" Paul and Barnabas had over the John Mark accompanying them on the next mission project. I know this is not Sunday School, but Acts 15 reveals not just the fleshly desires of Paul and Barnabas, it also gives us a glimpse of how God is two steps ahead of us. Paul and Silas have an effective missionary journey. Barnabas pours his life into John Mark and is mention positively by Paul in his letters to the Christians in Corinth and Colosse. And my favorite part is how Paul tells Timothy "Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry." Yeah, this is the same Mark who wrote the second gospel. Crazy isn't it! Paul was so rigid and quick to discount the assistance of John Mark. And later, he's helpful. Confrontation and conflict can be good. I know that at times in my life it has helped me see my shortcomings and fallen nature. Thus, appreciating more the Grace available to all---yeah, that reformed stuff is for the birds.

Blogger Steve commented at 11:45 PM~  

Conflict and confrontation are inevitable. It's just a matter of how we handle them - redemptively out of humility and selfless love, or defensively with an agenda of self-protection/promotion.

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spirit farmer data

I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
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zoka coffee
university of washington
church of the apostles
quest church
sanctuary church
shoreline vineyard

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nt wright

a few of the blogs in the feedreader

jason evans
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generation me
jesus and the restoration of israel
god's continent
globalizing theology
gustavo gutierrez: essential writings
jesus and the eyewitnesses
garlands of grace
twenty poems to nourish your soul
the black swan
dancing in the streets
made to stick
signs in contemporary culture
hit the bullseye
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they like jesus, but not the church
the great omission
charisma: the gift of grace, and how it has been taken from us
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a perfect mess
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leaving church
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foolishness to the greeks
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i wrote it

managing conflict in the 'new world'
music review: over the rhine
film review: bonhoeffer
music review: fighting jacks
film review: the passion of the christ
how reality tv changes lives
the best tv article you've ever read
corks & caps: a wine lover's story of change
america's idols
random, disorganized thoughts about life after the katrina disaster
missional . . . plain and simple
on becoming post-gnostic

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