Saturday, June 04, 2005

Emergent Threat

I am emergent. I am conservative. But I am not MPD [multiple personality disorder]. Can the two live in harmony?

Terms like 'emergent' and 'postmodern' are dangerous and often heretical.

Primarily because each one has hundreds of imposed definitions. As of late, the emergent movement/church has been a big topic of debate among conservative [SBC] circles especially. Even in the most recent issue of SBC Life. The 'younger leaders' dialogues with Jimmy Draper. The un-inviting of Brian McLaren to the Kentucky State Convention over a [mis-quoted] statement he made...the list goes on.

As a member of The Ooze, I've been refreshed by the emergent conversation for the past few years. This week, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren,Tony Jones, and others have posted a collective statement about what their view of 'emergence' is and is not...

It is WELL worth your attention and discernment. You decide if it is heresy or a search for an authentic God?

http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1151

I'd love to hear your comments!

5 Comments:

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Scott M. said...

Before diving into the other pieces, I suppose I'll point out that MPD was reclassified and renamed some years ago to Dissociative Identity Disorder as one of the class of dissociative disorders. The story of how and why I know that is completely off topic, though. [g]

Labels are important shorthand that ease communication.

Labels are highly context sensitive, contain hidden meanings, and impede honest and open communication.

Both those statements are true. The reality is that we always create labels, classifications, and groupings. It seems to be part of our nature. And as long as we are talking with others who share our definition and understanding of the shorthand we're using, they aid communication. As soon as we wish to communicate outside that group, the assumed meaning we ascribe to our labels becomes a barrier to overcome. Worse, it's a barrier we may or may not recognize.

You specifically mention that many different meanings have been hung on the labels emergent and postmodern. However, the same thing is true of the other descriptive label you use in your opening comment. Conservative has probably as many different meanings attached to it as the two terms you mentioned. When someone uses that label for themselves or for others, I'm rarely certain precisely which context they intend.

Labels are also used as ways to make statements. For instance, the application of the label evangelical to specific churches or denominations appears at heart to be a criticism of the churches that are not included. Yet the usage of the label is so pervasive, it can't really be avoided even when there is not clear agreement on who is and is not being appropriately evangelical.

In a similar way, emergent appears to be making a similar statement, even if it's not always clear what that statement is.

I'm less clear how the postmodern label could be considered heretical in any context. It's simply a label placed on the not fully understood, but clearly observed changes occurring in western culture. The culture is definitely different than the modern culture and also different from those cultures that preceded modernism. Even though our understanding is still developing, it simply is, so I don't see the heresy. As I read somewhere recently, it would be like describing 2004 as heretical. It's not. It is simply a label describing something that exists.

Of course, within the postmodern culture we can be heretical, but there's nothing new there. A common modern heresy was and is a rejection of the supernatural (miracles and more). An ancient heresy was the rejection of the fully human incarnation of Jesus. We can take our culture and incorporate it into our faith and beliefs in a heretical manner, but that does not make our culture heretical. Our culture simply exists.

The document on response to criticism is very well constructed. I especially like the focus on avoiding argumentation and defensive reactions to perceived (or even intended) insults. They are striving for a very christian avoidance of strife and slander.

 
At 5:36 AM, Blogger tom cottar said...

You specifically mention that many different meanings have been hung on the labels emergent and postmodern. However, the same thing is true of the other descriptive label you use in your opening comment.

My point exactly. Within the 'conservative evangelical' community, the postmodern label has been used to define open theism [God is not omnipotent], the homosexual church movement [homosexuality is not a sin], and other 'liberal' agendas. (I realize I am using labels to further explain your comments on labels).

However, within the PM/emergent community, 'conservativism' is typically regarded as Bible-thumping, redneck, uneducated exclusivism involving pickets, boycotts, and other various knee-jerk reactions. (edit: although knee-jerk reactions are found on a sundry of fronts, they are in abundance here.)

Having been firmly planted in both communities, I see myself as conservative theologically (in such things as traditional Christian 0rthodoxy, ecclesiology, and missiology), but also a proponent of the PM/Emergent traits of cross-disciplinary spirituality, valuing ancient Christian practices and heritage, and the aspect of 'question everything'. I see no heresy there, but others definitely do.

Since true postmodernism is much more premodern than modern, I see myself on a swing: leaning back into the past (of church history) and kicking like crazy into the future.

The labels used are only a shortcut in our attempt at codification...

*one final note: while not afflicted with DID (old school MPD), I *do* suffer from ADHD, slight OCD, and an occasional jones for STP and M&Ms.

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Longshot said...

Nice stuff.
What do you mean by recovering Calvinist?

Longshot
http://longshot.tblog.com/

 
At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Scott M. said...

Having been firmly planted in both communities, I see myself as conservative theologically ..., but also a proponent of the PM/Emergent traits

See, it's not that hard to forge a common understanding of the labels to ease communication. In just a few sentences, you've gone a long way toward making it clear what you mean when you use the labels conservative, postmodern, and emergent. It's clear, for example, that you are using the former to describe some set of theological beliefs rather than a particular group association. It's also clear that you are equating the last two and describing certain other theological traits. What happens so often, however, is that people refuse to come to a shared understanding on the meanings of their symbols and thus talk right past each other.

As your response to me worked to clarify the meaning you attach to your symbols, I saw the "emergent" response that started this thread as an attempt to clarify to their critics. However, it has been my experience that the recognition of the need to do that tends to be more common (at all levels, not just theology) among those who are postmodern. It's not that modernism doesn't recognize that different meanings are attached to symbols. It does and, in certain contexts, even works to codify that reality. Rather, it often seems that those operating through a modern lens appear to be less likely to recognize the need.

You see, since I find the many different meanings behind conservative so confusing, I tend to simply use the very old, traditional meaning of the term in my internal dialogue. By that definition, there is very little about me that can be called conservative. However, that's not the meaning anyone else seems to attach to it today. So I have to try discern how it's being used in any context. That's usually not easy.

By the same token, postmodern to me is the label that describes the cultural lens through which I view the world in all settings. It underlies the way I act and react at work. It underlies my personal relationships. And it is the lens through which I relate to God. Those are all inextricable to me.

Emergent is something I've only really begun learning about this past year or so. As such, it is in no way analogous to postmodern in my mind.

But I don't feel firmly planted in any theological community today except the Christian one. And God stuck me there and, apparently, in the local church in which he wanted me. That was a fight, struggle, and journey in its own right and I've just been struggling to figure out how to be where I've been planted. I don't know any way to do that except to study traditions, strive to understand symbols, and question everything I encounter. Go figure. ;-)

Since true postmodernism is much more premodern than modern, I see myself on a swing: leaning back into the past (of church history) and kicking like crazy into the future.

I like the imagery. It's my perception that postmodernism is better capable of appreciating, understanding, and using the strengths of modernity than the ancient mind ever could. And there is much more affinity with the early modern than the runaway excesses of late modernity. At least, that's what I find for myself. However, there is some that is new. Neither the modern nor any of the pre-modern cultures had to cope with constant bombardment of information and exponential rate of change with which the postmodern culture must cope.

The labels used are only a shortcut in our attempt at codification...

And that's why we think in labels, speak in labels, create categories, and use them. Any communication at all beyond the simplest would be insufferably difficult and time-consuming if we didn't. And really, it's a postmodern effect that makes the labels so difficult. Even into late modernity, almost everyone you were likely to encounter mostly shared the same labels and symbols that you used. Negotiating their meaning was neither a common requirement nor a skill most people developed. The labels and symbols just were, like anchors or foundations. That's no longer true in the postmodern world.

 
At 7:28 PM, Anonymous scott m. said...

And I'll echo some curiosity about the recovering calvinist description. I had always mentally associated Calvinism primarily with Presbyterians. I had never particularly associated it with Baptists. But it's not just you. I've been seeing a lot of baptists out there claiming some association with Calvinism. Of course, it's perfectly possible I've misunderstood the roots of the Baptist denominations.

Sounds like an explanation worth a separate blog entry. ;-)

 

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