Understanding a Movement

Sometimes it takes reading a book to more clearly articulate your feelings of the world around you. Good books can offer a schema and a vocabulary to begin grappling with any host of phenomena. This is true for Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) and the emergent movement it addresses.

Some friends at church had been discussing their last church and how they left it because it was going emergent, but I had no idea what they meant. One of them bought me this book, probably because he thought I would identify with the authors. I just finished reading the book, and interestingly enough, I understood more than I thought. I just had to become acquainted with influential authors of the movement and their terminology. Simply put, the emergent movement is nothing more than old-fashioned gnosticism dressed up for a Relevant Magazine cover shoot.

Like I said, I actually knew and understood the movement quite a bit before I read the book. In fact, many old friends go to emergent churches in town. Katy and I used to subscribe to Sojourner’s (and probably will again after I get a better job). We go to the indie rock shows. We abhor so many things about the Southern Baptist church where we got married (and the Southern Baptist church I attended before that). We like good coffee, typically vote Democratic and like Sufjan Stevens. But, ironically, in their attempts to be authentic, rethink orthodoxy and engage with the culture, emergent churches have come off as anything but authentic to us. If you have to label yourself as “relevant,” then that probably indicates you’re not.

The emergent movement ends up sounding like a monumental waste of time. Katy and I have thumbed through more than a few copies of Relevant Magazine and just felt grossed-out. I’ve scoured through enough belief statements that leave me unsure as to what churches actually believe. Must we really try that hard to sound like we’re thoughtful and engaging with the world around us? Do we really have to turn our backs on our parents’ beliefs just because they are held by our parents?

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One thought on “Understanding a Movement

  1. WWnE is a fine, fair treatment of the ecm, and gets to the heart of the issues at stake, namely, what it is that the movement’s rejecting (which isn’t as clearly understood by a lot of its proponents, let alone its adherents as it should be) and what it’s proposing in its place.

    The ecm has replaced one social ethic, an arguably conservative political ethos, for another, i.e. a liberal social ethic, while retaining most of the religious lingo & patching together a crazy quilt of unhitched religious pageantry & questionable spiritual exercises. At best, it’s not just gnosticism, but old, early-20th Century mainline theological liberalism. At its worst, it’s simply exchanging one moralism for another.

    The argument of the authors is that Jesus didn’t come to merely to affirm or change our voting, volunteering and charitable giving habits, but to save us from our desperate human predicament.

    In the other, whether Jesus ever came at all, let alone died or more significantly, rose again, is immaterial. The assertion is (albeit a quieter, ostensibly humble one) that his ethics trumps other systems’ ethics. But even that’s up for grabs. That’s why they’re not emergent. There’s more at stake than meets the eye (or nostrils, in the case of smells & Rob Bells)

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