Saturday, August 05, 2006

how exclusive is the emerging church?

The emerging church is regularly charged with the crime of exclusivity. This nameless entity which exists only in the conversational relationships between interested parties; earns cartoon fame for its homegenity and causes practioners to consider whether they are institutional racists!

This week at Opawa we have welcomed Nigel and family, to do a workplace “internship” with us. All week I have marvelled at the irony of an English Anglican ordinand from a historically Anglo-Catholic theological institution, doing time with a historically conservative New Zealand Baptist Church.

An outsider, a local Anglican, someone with sharp powers of observation, made the comment; “wow, the emerging church certainly creates interesting partnerships.”

And so I lay this comment alongside the charges of exclusivity. Is the emerging church exclusive, or might it be that there is a simultaneous loosening of old networks and the forming of new networks?

This should not be an excuse for exclusivity or a lack of hospitality. Nevertheless, I will self-flagellate myself less this week with the ropes of post-colonial guilt.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM


  1. That was a great discussion, glad you brought it up here.

    That is a tough question. I don’t identify with the emergent church in a formal way. I still think it is a growing awareness coming from people who are connecting across different lines. You likened it to a conversation. We have an “emergent church” in our area. I don’t plan on joining… although I definitely identify with the questions.

    As this thing, whatever it is, it is going to be a curiosity as to what undercurrents are causing it. We all hope it is God’s power. So we look at the face of it as it grows and ask ourselves whether it is another invention whether we are just like those who jumped on the you-fill-in-the-blank bandwagon. This group struggles for the real, and is self-conscious of what, who and where. I think it is entirely human to wonder. This is the current I am in, I want to know about it.

    You can’t over-generalize your own experience, but my attraction has been because I believe you guys are struggling as honestly as you can with a changing networked world where you have a never before seen vantage point, one both historically and instantaneously. That perspective is largely techo. And techno is mostly in the hands of geeks like me.

    If the numbers say this is largely white geeks, or even large white geeks, whatcha gonna do?

    I think that should bring humility knowing that your movement isn’t the only way God works, and you don’t need to go about trying to capture the very essence of all that God is, as if you can bottle God up… even if your bottling is so cutting edge… or you want to offer God as everything in all truth…

    To me, at the heart of this self questioning is the growing realization that there are lots of people coming out of the woodwork who are asking the same questions and maybe more contextually seeing why they think what they think and are trying to own or understand it.

    And I like to go back to what you said about “a conversation”.

    This is why the emergent church’s idea of leadership appeals to me. But I think I let the cat out of the bag when I said, “appeals to me”.

    Anyways, I was going to go over this and compact it… but I can’t… so I will leave it this way.

    Comment by Keith — August 5, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  2. I went on a bike ride with my girl. It was approaching dark and we hit a trail, one that we have been on a million times. She said, we are lost. I told her I knew where we were. She said, I’ve never seen that sign.

    Just recently they put this sign up on the trail. She found herself in unfamiliar territory because of a small sign… but the terrain, the trees, the trail the everything else was the same.

    It was too dark to read the sign, but I know what it says. It says, “Watch Out For Snakes”. I’m glad it was too dark to read.

    Has the terrain changed all that much. The terrain was summed in two commandments.

    When we left for the ride, Kaley hollored “Que?” to a neighbor kid. She said it in such an -authentic- accent.

    Thankfully, it isn’t all upon our shoulders. Sometimes the wind blows, hits a canvas and a painted tree shimmers and leaves catch flight. That is rare, maybe only once, like this past Sunday. Sometimes the wind blows.

    Comment by Keith — August 5, 2006 @ 4:41 pm

  3. Personally, I do not find much guilt in being post-colonial or whatever. It is just a mark of division created by Marxist theoreticians to give us reason for cultural self-loathing. That bad things have happened in the past, even in the name of the gospel, is something that we should learn from to be sure. But there are those who would accuse all missionary activity of Christians without exception as being imperialism. Well, we are talking about the Kingdom of God, putting all things under the rule of Christ, so of course to their minds that is imperialism. So I do not see this as a bad thing. I do not see the need to self-flagellate over these matters, neither do I see the need to live in guilt over post-colonialism. Why should I feel guilt over post-colonialism? This is not a rhetorical question. The gospel is not the gospel of guilt, it is the gospel of grace. If we cannot live the gospel of grace out in every part of our lives – if we must insist that European descendants must engage in daily regiments of guilty penance for the sins of post-colonialism – then we have missed the point of the gospel of grace and will find ourselves permanently unable to live the gospel of reconciliation.

    On your question about exclusion in the emerging church, from my perspective here in the States, exclusion is still a problem. I wrote about this in my journal recently – normally I wouldn’t post something from my journal publicly since my thoughts can often be a little raw (meant for myself and offensive if circulated publicly), but I think that this speaks directly to the issue:

    “I’ve seen church-in-a-church situations fail on more than one occasion. Dan Kimball place the blame squarely on the olde guard leadership, but it is unfair to scapegoat them as the destroyers. The simple fact is that the c-i-a-c, this little emerging church, and its own leadership are as guilty as anyone for its failure. It is no small part due to their own stubborn anti-institutional independence and disrespect for the church’s authority that caused the breach of trust in the first place. Once the trust has been violated, the church leadership must keep an eye of suspicion upon c-i-a-c.”

    “All the talk of ‘charity’ neglects the understanding of violation of trust, and that the c-i-a-c is just as guilty as the larger body of not living the gospel of reconciliation, of not trying to reestablish that trust. Kimball speaks of the power play by the main church, while neglecting to examine his own power play – driven likewise by distrust, uncharitable motives, and self-aggrandizing power plays. It is a failure to keep lines of communication open, and a failure of treating legitimate concerns honestly and fairly rather than dismissing them or treating them as uninformed. As a result, the emerging church to this day remains unable to charitably listen to those who disagree with them, or to those who provide fair and honest concerns or criticism. Charity is still lacking, not being extended to brothers and sisters in Christ. The emerging church has failed to live the gospel of reconciliation even within the context of the body of Christ.”

    Comment by Michael Hamblin — August 6, 2006 @ 6:30 am

  4. Michael,

    good morning. thanks for your earnest response, which might have missed the tongue in cheek nature of my last sentence.

    having said that, i would be fascinated to hear more about how your gospel of grace becomes God’s kingdom of justice for those who have suffered the full-effects of colonisation? or does your “gospel of grace” really mean – oh well, we screwed you 100 years ago, but can’t you just get over it now?

    and what do you think of the first paragraph of my post, in which I suggest there is no such thing as “the emerging church” because “This nameless entity … exists only in the conversational relationships between interested parties.” so how would such a nameless entity ever be able to enter into the embodied reconciliation you condemn it for lacking?


    Comment by steve — August 6, 2006 @ 8:30 am

  5. For me, the Emergent conversation has been very helpful in bridging historical divisions between evangelical and main line, as you suggest in your post. Being Seventh-day Adventist doesn’t bode well for me in either camp, so I have always felt strung between the two: too conservative for much of the main line; not conservative enough for the evangelical framework. I have found that the event (like theological dialogue) have brought together a lot of diverse people, though not as many people of color as we would like. We need to learn a lot more from the global south. Anyway, thanks for the observation. It really matches my own.

    Comment by Ryan Bell — August 6, 2006 @ 10:47 am

  6. Steve,

    If you have concerns about so-called post-colonialism, then by all means do voice those concerns. But please, let’s be specific and intentional in our discussion. In my opinion, post-colonialism is too vague and general a subject to tackle in any practical manner.

    If you want to see how I see the gospel of grace and reconciliation in action, why don’t you just visit and read some of the newsletters? My church is directly involved with the ministry work of this organization and Celestin Musekura in particular, helping train national pastors in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, helping minister to the needs of people there. The gospel of grace and reconciliation becomes a lot more important in a part of the world that has been wrecked by violent conflicts and genocide.

    But in terms of the emerging church (which, even if we say does not exist, there are still plenty of young Christians who identify themselves as emerging) more still needs to be done in the area of reconciliation as an expression of the gospel. All our noble talk about bridging racial and cultural divides is meaningless apart from that.

    Comment by Michael Hamblin — August 6, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

  7. Michael,
    I thought I was being specific in terms of making 1 specific post about the way that emerging church had brought together a NZ baptist and a UK Anglican.

    I thought you were not being specific by talking about some nebulous thing called “the emerging church” and how it was/not responding to it’s critics. I was not sure which emerging church, which country, which year, which critic. I welcome specifics, but remain uneasy about exactly what you identify – vague and general comments about the emerging church needing to respond to critics.

    I am delighted to hear of your work in Rwanda. praise God. From my perspective, you suddenly jumped onto my site asking the emerging church to reconcile. I don’t think we’ve met and suddenly you drop a big long quote from your blog.

    I would be fascinated to know if you take this same approach in the Congo, using the internet in this way? Or do you perhaps take another approach in terms of inviting groups toward reconciliation.

    I am appreciating very much the dialogue with you, and I suspect that I might be about the enriched in some new and unexpected ways. So please keep responding,


    Comment by steve — August 6, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  8. Keith, I really appreciated your story of the bike ride with your little girl. It is a narrative that I find very evocative and that whispers and nourishes me in some very helpful ways. Thankyou.

    Comment by steve — August 6, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

  9. Not sure I would describe NOC as being historically Anglo-Catholic (most of the non residential courses tried from the outset to avoid churchmandship tribalism) – but I think the connection is obvious cos I think that emerging churches tended to be populated by evangelicals discovering what anglo-catholics have known for decades – symbolism, faith in daily life, ritual and variety, daily offices. Of course the real irony in the UK is that emerging/alternative churches are discovering them precisely at the point when Anglo-catholic parishes are ditching them!

    Comment by Tom Allen — August 8, 2006 @ 11:54 am

  10. Cheers Tom. I am currently pondering if there a difference in how emerging church is “appropriating” this rich anglo-catholic heritage.

    My thinking goes like this:
    when i read someone like Kendra Dean on passionate practices i sense a “anti-pop cultural” feeling. Hard to articulate but there.

    Similarly, my very limited experiences of Anglo-Catholic worship have tended to be very transcendant cf incarnational. The use very ‘ancient’ practices.

    My take is that in reality, what that means is that they were appropriated from pop-culture 00’s of years ago, but as culture has changed, so they have become ‘ancient.’

    My sense is that emerging might be more willing to embrace and re-appropraite pop-culture everday pratices. Eg we are currently encouraging cell-phone texting to ‘bless people.’ So are is there perhaps the same theological premises of God in the world, faithing our practices; but perhaps EC is working at a re-contextualisation?

    Or am I barking mad?

    Comment by steve — August 8, 2006 @ 12:09 pm

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