Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Critiquing Emergent/ing. Again.

There's a new article "On the Square" at the First Things Web site - the article is also in my "Sharing" widget if you're looking there. Kristen Scharold tackles the Emergent/ing Conversation and a book, Why We're Not Emergent, that critiques it. I agree with much that she says about the movement: There are fundamental problems here. But I'd also like to add several thoughts. It is easy in such short spaces to brush too broadly - as I am sure I am also about to do.

First, the movement is large and varied. There are many who are bent liberally and many who are bent conservatively. There are those who question all the dogmas of the Church and those who embrace as fundamental the great creeds of the Church. This movement consists mostly of young men and women who love Jesus and want to love people better. It also consists of some who have left the Church and, therefore, Christ though they are still largely unaware of it. Therefore, given its variety, it is difficult to cast a blanket over the entire movement.

Second, I was reading this morning of how the Holy Father has called bishops to see and reflect upon "the ecclesial movements and new communities [within the Church] as a gift of the Holy Spirit." The pope also exhorted the bishops, "I ask you to go out and meet the movements with much love." Now, these quotes are in reference to movements that rise up within Catholicism, that rise up to meet the Day. But there are similarities and differences with Emergent/ing. The similarities are that the Holy Spirit moves in his people and takes on different expressions, but it is the same Spirit. And in Emergent/ing there is much that the Spirit of God has done and is doing. I don't want anyone to miss this truth. The differences, however, are more and can be more serious: (1) There is a dearth of teaching embraced in Emergent/ing, no tradition that many in Emergent/ing are loyal to. Much of it is towering arrogance dressed up in humility. Sometimes there seems to be no loyalty at all but to the current wind. This "scarcity" of belief is why so many Evangelicals reject the movement - it is not, however, that those involved don't have beliefs or ascribe to doctrines, it's that they believe being a Christian is bigger than what one believes - the focus is elsewhere. And I would agree that following Jesus is more than a checklist of beliefs. But it certainly entails one's beliefs, and doctrine is certainly necessary - if you lose the doctrine, you've lost Christ. (As an analogy, there can be no friendship with me if you believe that I am a homosexual woman who is a Buddhist. Your beliefs do not keep me from still loving you, but it makes you unable to truly love me because you do not know me.) (2) They have rarely been embraced by the traditional communities they spring out of. I believe that if there were a greater reception of these men and women by their communities, a more open ear, rather than grim dismissals, the Emergent/ing movement could move as it was meant to. And while I suspect this acceptance has happened in places, some find Emergent/ing impossible to accept because some of those involved in the movement have also rejected the doctrine of their various traditions in favor of differing doctrine and, in some cases, none. I do not believe that the Emergent/ing movement is the direction the Holy Spirit wants Protestant Christians to move in, but I believe he is very active within it as he has done good work through many involved - just as he is present and working in traditional Evangelical communities. There are things in the Emergent/ing movement that the traditional Evangelical community can and should learn from. And there are things within traditional Evangelicalism that Emergent/ing must learn from.

Anyway, to recap, I wish the movement had a better anchor and I wish they were better loved. I pray that it will and that it will be. There are precious people who love our Lord deeply who consider themselves Emergent/ing. But I also hope and pray that they will be led back to the Church, the ecclesiology, (and, that is to say, Christ) that they so desperately need.

One needs a boat anchored to push out from or he loses the boat.

7 comments:

Scott Lyons said...

Photo by William Wilson, Port Oneida Gallery.

Dan said...
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Dan said...
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Dan said...
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Dan said...

Despite my comments, I appreciated the post.

Scott Lyons said...

I'm sorry for the offense, Dan. I actually had no intention of offending any of my readers this morning - I must have mis-written something in my rush to post. I certainly failed to communicate my thoughts properly to you. It was actually my intention of standing up, to some degree, for Emergent/ing over and against the article while offering my own criticism from my own experience - and attempting to do so in love. I'm sorry that I failed to express myself clearly.

My criticism of Emergent arises out of talking to people who have begun questioning fundamental doctrines of the faith, such as the Trinity or the Virgin birth. And I do believe that those who have left those doctrines have turned away from Christ - certainly a proper understanding of Christ. (I wasn't speaking of Rob Bell in my criticism even though he was mentioned in the article. I would consider him Emerging, but I understand that he doesn't identify Mars Hill as "Emerging." And he would be on the conservative side of things anyway. I quite enjoy listening to Rob.)

I also want to make it clear that I wasn't trying to define those outside Catholicism as being apart from Christ. A couple of times I linked Church + Christ, and I did so because of my own baggage: I have been told in the past, "You have the Church, I have Christ." And my belief is that the two are inseparable. Not that those who aren't part of Catholicism are parted from Christ. Certainly not! But that, for me, it is both the Church and Christ - not an either-or proposition. For me, the Church and Christ are the whole Christ. I have great respect for Evangelicals. I have great respect for Orthodox. And each are certainly in Christ even though they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Let me speak specifically. When I said, "It also consists of some who have left the Church and, therefore, Christ though they are still largely unaware of it," I mean that some have left the teaching of the Church on the person of Christ and have therefore left the person of Christ. Just as Arius did or Nestorian - any of the "great" heretics throughout the ages. I have heard people who debate the Trinity and who desire to throw the Creeds out with the morning's trash - people who identify themselves as Emergent. These people have a twisted idea of Christ, though they do not know they do. They have left him - maybe not completely, but they are on the road away from him rather than toward him. And my conviction on the matter doesn't rise up out of arrogance, but out of concern. But this is what the Scriptures teach, what the Church has always said the Scriptures teach.

I know that Christ has you where he wants you. I know that, Dan. Forgive me for appearing to suggest otherwise. I am Catholic because I believe that the body of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. I would not be Catholic if I believed otherwise. That does not mean or imply, however, that I think those outside the Catholic Church are outside Christ's Body (outside of Christ). Please forgive me if that is how you understood my post - it is certainly not what I meant or desired to communicate or would desire to communicate - because I don't believe it. The intention of my post is to say that those who leave what Lewis calls mere Christianity - the heart of the faith - have left Christ. Those who don't acknowledge his divinity or his humanity have left the faith - doctrines such as those, that, while they are not all that we are about as Christians, are essential to being Christian.

(A quick disclaimer: please understand that what I share in my sharing widget does not mean that I subscribe wholly or partly to all that the writer says or how he has said it. It only means I find it interesting - for some reason or other. I certainly identify with the post you mentioned, but there were elements in it that I could not identify with as well. And all of that is intensely personal, as you're aware since we've discussed it before.)

I wish I had not written the post, since it caused such offense. Again, it is written with some extreme elements of Emergent in mind and not with all who identify with this movement. I should have been clearer in that.

Dan said...

Thanks for the call, Scott...great talking to you, as always...and as you can see, my comments have gone the way of the dodo.