Monday, March 14, 2005

Emergent Church

I keep hearing rumors about the "Emergent Church," and decided to look around a bit and find out what's going on. One site has numerous links including a pointers to Brian McLaren's web site. So far I'm rather less than impressed. Talk of the movement being "a conversation" seems somewhat disingenous--I gather that it already has a strong political viewpoint (transnational progressivism, justified in a rather tenditious "creed"), and a philosophical base (postmodernism). I can't quite tell if their choice of postmodernism was to let their description of the gospel be relevant to modern seekers or if they like it. I hope its the former. From my position as a hard scientist in a major university I may be seeing only the most extreme of the postmodernist/poststructuralists, but what I see is despicably solipsistic. Brian's open letter to Charles Colson makes the postmodernists sound like secular saints with a burning heart for social justice. I will reserve judgment, since I don't know the history of the movement well, but given what the movement turned into the postmodernists have the burden of the proof of their good intentions.

This piece seems typical of Brian's posts: The Three Postmodernisms. (I had to get the Google cache version, since his site didn't have the original.) The first is the nihilistic "There is no truth" version that he says is imaginary outside of drunk college freshmen. The second is the "Adolescent" version, typified by political correctness, alienated European intellectuals, and relativist pluralism. He says this one is scarce outside "sophomore English and graduate philosophy classes," from which I conclude that he hasn't spent much time on university campuses. The third postmodernism he calls "emerging postmodernism." He describes this in practical, glowing, and benign terms, but the problem is that it doesn't exist yet; so his descriptions are wishful thinking. "It can’t be fully defined yet; it may be decades away from mature definition."

When I look at the postmodern landscape, I see “fields ready for harvest,” as Jesus said. But so far, in spite of so much being at stake at this critical moment in history, those willing to get out into the fields and do the hard work of seizing the moment are too few. There are plenty of critics who stand at a safe distance on the modern road that runs beside the postmodern fields, shouting their criticisms and warnings. Instead of joining them, you will, I hope, pray to “the Lord of the harvest” – so that more workers will become willing to jump into the action and get their hands dirty in the postmodern fields, making visible the good news of Jesus.

Frankly, I don't know what he means by the above. It sounds inspirational but when I try to decide whether he means that we should embrace or redeem postmodernism the sentences get all fuzzy.

I think I can reject reductionism without buying into the currently popular isms. "Post-colonial" is not an imprimateur of virtue, and the voices of the oppressed can be as stupid as the voices of the oppressor.

Paul wrote that he tried to agree with everyone as much as he could, so that by all means he might save some. That's a good model. On the other hand, if you embrace too much you're liable to not save any, and drag others off into the swamp with you. Trying to read postmodernists/poststructuralists leaves me feeling dirty, and I don't want to do it unless there's a good reason. So far all I've seen in this "emergent church" business is vaporware and captivity to secular philosophy, with some respect for Jesus on the side.

God can do a lot using deeply screwed-up people, and using deeply screwed-up institutions. I'll not claim that this movement will never serve His purposes. But so far I'm not enthused. I'll keep reading, though.

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