Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Not All "Emergent" Approaches Are The Same

There have been several attempts to classify the different approaches (usually referred to as "The Emerging Church") to Postmodern Christianity. It's very interesting to see the different philosophical approaches that people have taken in trying to figure out the postmodern faith puzzle! An article from Emergent Village shows a breakdown on these approaches (more general than some other lists) by pastor Darrin Patrick.

Emerging Conversational — They are mainly after theological revision for the church. These folks are really interested in trying to re-imagine theology in light of our postmodern situation. They often challenge traditional understandings of evangelical theology and cast doubt on many of the insights of the protestant reformers of the church. They tend to focus on the mission dei (mission of God) that takes place outside the local church.

Emerging Attractional — They are mainly after methodological revision in the church. These folks are really interested in trying to re-imagine methodology in light of our postmodern situation. They often challenge traditional understandings of evangelical church programming and tend to focus on reaching people in and through corporate worship experiences.

Emerging Incarnational — They are mainly after structural revision in the church. These folks are really interested in trying to re-imagine ecclesiology in light of our postmodern situation. They often challenge the complex structures of the evangelical church. They tend to focus on reaching people through relationships and simple church structures.

Another model comes from Wess Daniels...I include this because 1) Everyone usually agrees (disclaims) that none of these "emerging" categories are clear-cut, and 2) Wess adds in this list some key names of leaders that one might recognize from the groups.

Deconstructionist Model: Probably the most well known group of emerging churches these churches are truly postmodern in just about every sense of the word. These are Christians influenced mainly by deconstruction, a philosophical approach invented on the continent. In their holy readings of philosophical discourse Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault and Caputo would be there. Much of the focus is on adopting postmodernity, and contextualizing the Gospel accordingly. Peter Rollins’ Ikon in Ireland would be a good example of one such group. I think Tony Jones and Brian McLaren would also fall under this category. I would say they are accommodating to postmodern culture, against modernism, and often against the institutional church making them lean towards a sort of non-denominationalism.

Pre-modern/Augustinian Model: This model would be the second most influential within the EC, and can be in (friendly) opposition to the first group. Instead of understanding postmodernism in terms of Nietzschean philosophy as group one would do, this model leans more towards a Renaissance styled post-modernism (similar to what is represented in Toulmin’s Cosmopolis). Whether this group is truly early modern or whether it reaches back further to the pre-modern era I am not quite clear on, but St. Augustine and St. Thomas are key figures for this group. This is the where the Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank, James K. Smith and others would fall. We see some catholics here, as well as other theologians that tend towards placing a higher emphasis on tradition within the overall framework of the Christian faith, rather than simply contextualization. This group would be see history as having shown us a better way, and if we reach back far enough we may be able to find wisdom that will help us in our quest of faith today. They would be more favorable towards institutional church, and have a pretty clear understanding of what kind of church we ought to become, but would also be seen as nostalgic and trying to uphold an institution that has often oppressed and violated those we are called to help.

Emerging Peace Church Model (Or Open Anabaptism): This model of the emerging church stresses the non-conformist tendencies of Jesus, and thus the church should follow in his footsteps through non-violence, love of enemy and caring for the poor. This one may be closest to a kind of new monasticism that has so often been written about in recent times. While there are people from the various peace churches involved in this type of church, there are also people from a variety of traditions who are seeking to contextualize the Gospel within our culture. This group does not accept any one style of culture as being good, thus their non-conformist attitude is directed at modernity and postmodernity alike. They see Jesus (and his incarnation) as their primary model for engaging culture. They are influenced by Wittgenstein, Barth, Bonhoeffer, John H. Yoder, McClendon and Nancey Murphy to name a few. In this group you will find people like Jarrod McKenna and the Peace Tree, Shane Claiborne, some Mennonites, Rob Bell’s Mars Hill, Submergent, Jesus Radical and convergent Friends, to name a few. This group is counter any kind of Christendom styled church and thus would be sometimes for and sometimes against institutionalization, and would see contextualization as important only up to the point that it remains ultimately an extension of Jesus’ ministry and message.

Foundationalist Model: This model of the emerging church is more conservative in their reading of Scripture and modern approaches to ecclesiology (standard preacher-centered teaching, music for worship, etc) while seeking to be innovative in their approaches to evangelism. This may come in the form of people meeting in pubs, having tattoos, cussing from the pulpit, playing loud rock music for worship and adding a layer of “alternative-ness” to their overall church service. These churches can be found within larger church communities, or can be on their own, sometimes as a large (possibly mega) church. They follow standard Evangelicalism in that they aren’t attach to traditions, and come out politically and theologically conservative, while maintaining a more accomodational stance toward culture in the name of evangelism, they will ultimately look similar to older church communities theologically. This is where I think Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus and many “emerging services” within mega-church congregations like Willow Creek might be found.

I display all of this to say that many people that bash the Emergent Church, really don't understand the depth and complexity of this movement. People like Ken Silva, spend a LOT of time harshly disagreeing with anyone HE considers a part of the "Emergent Movement". There is a lot of hostility by some towards the Emergent Church (as and example, Ken has lashed out at many like Tony Jones and Rob Bell (to the extent of even posting a quote questioning if Tony is truly a Christian...ouch! This caused a huge stir...just follow the links, you'll see). The problem (not to focus only on him, but as an illustration that many people and churches do this as well) is that this is done by said person without truly trying to understand the complex subtleties of the postmodern faith movements and why the emerging approaches might be needed. I would even argue that many of those involved in Postmodern ministry (even the "big" name leaders) would agree that they don't understand all of what's going on in postmodern faith. Hence why we can find several taxonomies of emergents and soooo many books written on this subject. I'm not criticizing Ken or anyone else who does this, just showing that there is a LOT of conflict and misunderstanding when it comes to postmodern ministry!

To me, this is an exciting historical event happening within the Christian faith. I feel like I am living and watching Church History happen. It is both a scary time for many individuals and churches, but also, a very exciting time for those who are willing to embrace and immerse themselves in postmodernity, and all it has to offer the Christian faith!

What are your thoughts?
Where do you think you might fit in?
Is there one category that resonates more with you? Why is that?
Is there another category not mentioned that better explains where you might be?

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