Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Emergent Conversation Dead?

The Emergent Church movement or conversation is in real trouble. There has been a large swell of disappointment and the change in leadership or stepping aside of leadership has not really helped. A small look at some of this is helpful. Nick, the Hopeful Skeptic appears to have touched off the latest round of trouble with his blog about his disappointment in the movement. What is left of the Emergent Village is trying to get back to basics and link up like minded churches with a nice map of where such churches can be found. One interesting note about the map is the Mark Driscoll and his Seattle church do not appear to be listed. Of course the map drew some scathing comments from former Emergent types such as Remonstrans This was too much for former National Coordinator, Tony Jones. Jones unleashes a bitter diatribe at those who think the movement has lost heart or soldout and points to the emergence of women and minorities in the movement. Josh Brown declared the movement dead while the other extreme was represented by Jonathon Brink who wants everyone to partake of his enthusiasm. Of course Team Pyro and Phil Johnson were there to offer their thoughts on the death of the Emergent Church with a warning that the underlying problems that lead to Emergent Church still exist.

But I think this debate about the death of the Emergent Church and their response is enlightening. I do believe that this movement is dead for several reasons.

1. The movement was based on Post Modernism. That is about the only thing that joined the group together, and that led to much of its problems. They could not even agree on what Emergent meant, much less define any standard beliefs. Nick the Skeptic thought it was a movement that was organizing into something more, but Tony Jones hated the idea of a revolution despite the fact that Brian McLaren was writing his books and promoting the idea that “everything must change”. Josh Brown thinks it failed because it became a church or at least an organization. Showing again that for two to walk together they must be agreed. Post Modernism does not make a firm enough basis to stand together upon since it is naturally a individualistic theology/philosophy.

2. Emergent Church was primarily a protest. It was a protest against many things. The mixing of politics and church, the traditional way of worship, the current fads in Evangelicalism (too unauthentic), and for many the theological truths especially inerrancy. The point is that protest movements are hard to keep together because not everyone is protesting the same thing. Some may not be against a more traditional theology. Those people were run out of the movement early on. See Mark Driscoll. Others may not be so against traditional styles of worship or completely in favor of liberalism. Some might feel the need for some politics, and others might just be against conservative politics. After initial success the differences emerge and are very hard to keep together. I think this is part of the problem with the Emergent Movement.

3. Emergent Church was never really divorced from politics. This is going to be a bit contoversial, but I believe it is true. When one reads the works of Emergents, anger toward the Religious Right and Politics is top on their list. Notice that almost every one of the above linked articles has references to politics. Nick referenced Obama through a quote. Tony Jones cannot help but mention Fawell and Dobson. Remonstrans mentions the social gospel at the end of his post that fits into a Liberal Democratic Agenda. The Emergent Church and Liberal Politics were always intertwined. The Liberals won the election that always cools a movement. Plus, President Obama is not turning out to be the Messiah as Nick alludes too. That will also hurt the movement. This of course passes over the fact that Doug Pagitt has stepped down from leadership of the Emergent Village and moved into politics as he is running for the Minnesota Legislature. I think it is a glimpse of where the priorities of the movement lie.

4. Emergent Church is built on social action, not theology, and that is always doomed to disappointment. This fits nicely with the above point as Emergent types come to understand that the state is a quicker engine to accomplish goals such as "ending poverty, war, and environmental destruction" (From the end of Remonstrans blog). There will always be poor with us as Jesus told us and wars and rumors of wars are not going anywhere either. Environmental destruction is debatable as to whether or not it is even occurring. Thus, a movement focused on these things is destined to lose members, focus, and eventually run out of gas. It happened in the 60’s and 70’s so that the 80’s was an era of Yuppies not Hippies. Social activism is not wrong in and of itself, but when it is taken by itself apart from theology, it will be a failure and exhausting to those in the crusade. This has happened in the Emergent Conversation/Movement/Denomination/Organization.

In conclusion, I think that the entire Conversation of Emergent is doomed. I do not believe that it will be able to revive itself. Thus, while I understand what the Pyromaniacs are talking about when they think the underlying problems still exist, I think this particular manifestation is dead.