Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Emergent matrix: a new kind of church?

Scott Bader-Saye has expressed my feelings toward the so-called "Emerging Church" better than I ever could, in an article in the Christian Century.

An Emergent definition of relevance, modulated by resistance, might run something like this: relevance means listening before speaking; relevance means interpreting the culture to itself by noting the ways in which certain cultural productions gesture toward a transcendent grace and beauty; relevance means being ready to give an account for the hope that we have and being in places where someone might actually ask; relevance means believing that we might learn something from those who are most unlike us; relevance means not so much translating the church’s language to the culture as translating the culture’s language back to the church; relevance means making theological sense of the depth that people discover in the oddest places of ordinary living and then using that experience to draw them to the source of that depth (Augustine seems to imply such a move in his reflections on beauty and transience in his Confessions). Relevance might simply mean wanting to understand why so many young people have said that attending U2’s Elevation Tour and hearing Bono close the show with choruses of “Hallelujah” was like being in worship (but a whole lot better).

This kind of relevance will also include the recognition that the church becomes relevant precisely by offering something that the culture does not. In a loud and frenzied world, that may mean creating a space where people can bask in silence and rest in liturgical rhythms. In a world of superficial entertainment, it may mean throwing parties that nurture deep and authentic community. In these ways relevance and resistance begin to look more like dance partners and less like competing suitors for the church’s soul.

Perhaps “relevant-resistant” is another way of naming the “incarnational” church. To incarnate the reign of God means to take on local flesh, to speak the vernacular, to dive deep into the cultural particularities of a time and place. But as Jesus shows, to embody God’s word in a time and place is both to participate in the world of the fallen and to offer an alternative to that world. The emerging church, to be anything other than a hip blip on the radar of American religion, will need to live the tension of “relevant-resistant” no less than it lives the tension of “ancient-future.”

Read the whole thing here.

The emerging church movement has some real creativity and passion. But I wonder how different it is in strategy/ideology than the MegaChurch models of the 70's and 80's. Both the mega and emerging confess to be speaking the language of the culture rather than the church. Fair enough. But as the author above points out, at what point do we cease to be an alternative way of being in the world because we've cozied up to comfortably to the prevailing culture? What gospel can we then proclaim?

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