Emergent Yes and No

9 10 2005

For the last few weeks I have been hanging out at a blog called,EmegentNo. This blog is managed by three Five Point Calvinist women. They pretty much have dismissed the Postmodern/Emergent Church as lacking true fidelity to the Gospel and basically being too self-centered. I think that they may be right, but I also think that I and they are guilty of the same exact thing. I really don’t think that any of us are making too many sacrifices for the Gospel. Plus, I bet they are not all that concerned about the poor and racial reconciilation. I am pretty convinced that they only believe in half of the Gospel, which is completely devoid of a social component. They seem to only be concerned about getting people in Heaven. Which is funny because as Calvinists, they are supposed to believe tha the elect is going to be there no matter what anyway, so I don’t know why they are so anxious about Emergent.

Further, I do have some problems with the so called Emergent church. First, if it really is a move of God, why is it pretty much limited to white folks? Doesn’t God have a passion for everyone? Doesn’t God have a preference for poor folk? Plus, I don’t think that the revolution is going to be led by rich white Westernes (or rich black Westerners for that matter). I am tired of the West feeling like it has to be the one that leads all of the time. I really believe that it is time for the Global South, Asia, and Latin America to step up.

Plus, I do have problems with some in the Emergent church who seem to want to ‘redefine’ the truths of Scripture and the content of the Gospel message. I have real problems with that.

Yet having said all of this, to the extent that those in the pomo/emergent conversation are not trying to own the conversation, but are truly willing to listen intently and to follow the marginalized of this world, then I remain hopeful, with the caveat that they do not play fast and loose with the Gospel. But if they are just another group of white boys trying to be the leaders of a new paradigm by being hip and cool, then I must say that they are missing the point of the Cross and are just as bad as the Modern folk they are critiquing. However, I for one am rooting for them to get it right. I really hope that there are a bunch of young people out there who are serious about living out a real and true faith and are committed to following Jesus in real, sacrificial ways, and by being in authentic community. I just hope it is not only, or even mostly white people.




18 responses

15 10 2005

I totally gleaned from what you had to say. Thanks for a thoughtful contribution to the discussion!

15 10 2005

Thanks Photini,

Though I would love to hear which of my comments struck the deepest chord with you.


16 10 2005
sabbath day's journey

thanks for this post…I really share some of the same thoughts and feelings and it’s nice to feel that, as a black woman, I’m not alone in some of those thoughts.


17 10 2005

Interesting comments.

First off though Marc – it’s not the emergent church – it is the emerging church. emergent is just one voice in the conversation, I have tried to explain this on the Eno site but they won’t have that even though I am a part of it!

The emerging church is not limited to any race or colour. There are emergent friends in Burundi, turkey, malaysia, middle east, poland, south africa, canada, uk, usa, australia etc. It is for everyone who wants to be part of it – there is no issue with race at all.

You also say that we want to redefine scripture – what is this based upon?

and again you come back to being white and cool. I don’t understand why this seems to be a race issue – can you expand on this so I can understand where you are coming from?




17 10 2005

Hi Marc,

When I talk about emerging as being a largely white middleclass phenomenon, I am really talking about emerging as it is manistfested in the states. Plus, my pomo black friends like Maurice, Anthony Smith, and Rod Garvin have made the same observations and they are very much in the conversation.

Further, in terms of some people in the emerging church trying to redefine scripture, I am speaking about some things I have heard Doug Paigitt say that caused my some concern. He made some comments in the PBS interview that seemed to suggest that we need to redefine Christianity for a new age.

Finally, I am sure that no one intends for the conversation to be about race, but people tend to clump with people who look and act like they do. I really don’t see real racial reconciliation coming out of the emerging church just yet. It really seems like a largely white movement here in the states.


17 10 2005

Hey Marc,
This is a long one (sorry!). I have only recently been introduced to Emergent No, and can’t say that I have much positive to say about them, but I was pleased to see that they recognized your critique of them rather than ignoring it. I appreciate what you have to say in this post. I would consider myself part of the “Emerging church” movement, though unnofficially so, and I appreciate your comments about it. I especially agree that it often looks and sounds very white and male… This is changing though. We have recently started a meeting of Emergent type people here in Atlanta and it was quite diverse last time we met (black, white, asian, women). The real indicator though will be if they all come back a second time! Also, about your critique of Pagitt: I personally like Pagitt a lot, though he does like to say provocative things. Perhaps that’s why I like him. You said though that you are concerned about Emergent thinking they need to “redefine scripture,” but then when refering to Pagitt you said he suggested “redefining Christianity.” For me, those are two different things. Redefining Christianity does not sound that threatening to me. This is what prophets of old and of now do – they redefine the status quo of their religion. Now, I am not putting Pagitt on the same level as Isaiah or Amos or Martin Luther King Jr. but I am saying that redefining our religion is often a wonderful thing. Certainly, redefining scripture is something different…

Also, Pagitt and any of the other “Emergent” leaders would remind us that they do not speak as figureheads for an institution, but rather as individual voices in a movement that is much bigger then their opinions. This is how I understand it anyway.


17 10 2005

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the great post and please note that I have not written off Pagitt, McLaren or anyone else in the ec. I just have some questions that I want answered, I am certainly not at a place of judgement.

Further, it is really to good to hear about what is happening at your church in Atlanta (I will be in Atlanta in December for a Black Student Conference through InterVarsity, maybe I can check you guys out).

Finally, it is an important distinction about Pagitt concerning redefining Christianity as opposed to redefining scripture, but I have heard some things about him even wanting to redefine doctrinal positions that the universal church holds to dearly, so the the jury is still out imo, but I still do not have enough information inorder to hold an intelligent opinion. I am about to start reading a bunch on the emerging church and everthing pomo once I get some money in my pocket…

17 10 2005

My church itself, Druid Hills Baptist, is actually pretty run-of-the-mill Baptist in the South (but not Southern Baptist, if you know the difference). They are fairly open though, otherwise they wouldn’t let me hang around as long as I have! If you’re still interested and have time when you’re in Atlanta let me know what I can do to connect with you. Even if you need a ride from the airport or directions or anything at all, I’d be happy to help. I love Atlanta and have had a lot of fun since we moved here. You can get my contact info from our church website: http://www.dhbc.org

I do understand your concerns about redefining doctrine and did not mean to dismiss them. I would say though that we might be hard pressed to find doctrinal truths that are truly universal to the church and have never been challenged or questioned (or redefined) in the past. With your understanding of social issues, I am sure you’ve thought about the idea of history being told by “the winners” (see A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn). As a result, history often portrays “the losers” as wrong, or worse ignores them entirely. This has been happening to non-whites and women for thousands of years! In my study of theology I have discovered the same bias against “the losers” in theological dialogues. The Church portrays their dominant theology as though it has always been that way, using words like apostolic, etc., but in reality theology/doctrine are things that evolve and develop over time. This is how I see it anyway. So for me, redefining doctrine is just part of the ecclesiastical process. This redefining is perhaps then actually more in line with church tradition and “apostolic” than accepting the “faith of our (white) fathers” is.

What do you think? Which books are you looking at reading first? (Just curious…)


18 10 2005

Hi Tim,

I am sure you know that the Early Church Father’s were not white Europeans. Augustine, Origen, and Tertullian, and Clement were all Africans. Further, the plain reading of Scripture helps to lead me to the conclusions that I am making, not the interpretations that white European theologians and clergy. Conversely, salvation by grace through faith was not invented by Luther or Calvin, Jesus had that all put together before they were even thought of. Further, the black church as always saw things a bit differently than the white church. We never felt that we had to march lock step witht the theology of the white church, especially when it came to ethics surrounding slavery and social equality and justice.

Further, most of the books out there on either side of the theological/doctrinal divide have been written by white people. So where does that leave people like me ? How I handle this is by coming to the source material myself (i.e. the Old and New Testaments) and making my own conclusions (always in the context of community, both living and dead). By prayerfully reading Scripture, I can confirm for myself that it teaches the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, etc. Further, if the faith that we share is constantly being reinterpreted where is our connection with the saints who have gone before us? As it says in 1John 1:3 “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”

So I really think that reinterpreting doctrine is a dangerous thing and may take us far from what our Lord intended for us affirm to the extent that we wind up not assenting to the central truths of the Faith.

Yes, I misread your post, you were talking about your cohort, not your church. And yes, it will be great if it remains diverse. What will also be interesting is whether or not this really impacts church life in Atlanta in a significant way and whether or not the leadership of the cohort diversifies along ethnic, racial, and gender lines.

Concerning the issue about the non-hierarchichal nature of the ec, yes I have heard that. But I don’t see the media coming to you or to someone who is not a “name” in the ec. No, they will always go to McLaren, Pagitt, Tony Jones, and other stalwart leaders like them when they need a soundbite. So i am bit cynical about this whole thing. I am truly pomo in that sense. I really see ec as a largely white movement right now, and other African American postmodern Christians who are in the know have all confirmed this for me.

In terms what I am reading/have read in the last few years, definitely Charles Marsh’s “Beloved Community” and “God’s Long Summer” have both shaped and confirmed my thinking. Others would be Brueggeman’s “Peace”; Tom Skinner’s “How Black is the Gospel”,and Columbus Salley’s and Ron Behm’s “Your God is Too White” (IVP). I am about to start reading Grenz, Newbigin, Hauerwas, and all the other usual suspects when I find some time and money.

20 10 2005

Ooh, Sorry Michele for not acknowledging your post. Great to see you back.

23 10 2005

Everything was very balanced brother– and a good critique of ENo-they are a tad too polemic & rabidly anti-Emergent(and/or anti-emerging)in their critique. Their response to you was a bit of a rhetorical wall. I dont think they addressed the concern you had with them in a teachable manner.

We do need to address racial reconciliation as a whole in the US church. I like the sermon series: The Sovereignty of God and the Soul Dynamic by John Piper and others from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors (I have the mp3’s if you would like them)-others like Bishop Wellington Boone and Tony Evans –have been examples to me of powerful preachers that the American churches needs to listen to more.

It is true that the emerging church(little e) really has to do with the next generation of up-and- comers -leaders of the 21 century church. The distinciton is not always precise but for the most part Emergent-US is just one of the most vocal streams of the 21 century emerging church(i like Emergent-UK more they have cooler hair)

as for Emergent-US–it’s especially ironic to me that Emergent-US IS mostly bunch of a white boys with cool couches,incense, and sermons on the Matrix. If this reformation is so critical and mandated by our times –why isn’t it more reflective of every tongue tribe and nation?–why isn’t it more diverse?

Mainly because they are appealing to white people who like to dress cool, be somewhat artsy, and like to be philosohically astute. If you shop at K-Mart and listen to Hezekiah Walker can you be in their conversation?(i think you can but i personally feel that you might not feel cool enough or be as accepted –i’ve seen the dynamic at conferences and gatherings–the non stylish people weren’t sought out or ministered to as effectively–it seemed like the stylish people(cool full arm sleeve tatts,pomade&color in the hair, and thrift store digs)hung together in their own clique.)

Ultimately we can be missional, incarnational, and current as so long as we keep the Gospel central.

One example to me of an emerging leader who is very missional AND biblical is Marc Driscoll of Mars Hill (www.marshillchurch.org ) I was just at his church three weeks ago in Seatlle. Though it’s predominantly white with alot of rock music(which i feel is ok in general since that’s what their leadership knows(they could do a better job of reaching out to the black latin asian etc. cultures but i think they are working on it)–overall it was a powerful example to me of how to do church in 21 first century.
I think for me that is the important question –is it biblical and strategic for the 21 century American church to do church like the 1950’s white culture or do we need to update and diversify our style?
The message never changes –what is of first import?–That Christ died, was buried, and rose again according to the scriptures BUT each church will look different in terms of location, ethno-linguistic group, and time period etc.

I personally think everything you said made sense and I appreciate your heart to reserve judgement.

24 10 2005

Hey Marc,
Sorry about the delay. For some reason I find that I do the blog thing in spurts – a lot for a few days, and then a few days off…

I certainly did not mean to imply that all of the “winners,” as I called them, in theological history have been white Europeans, although looking back I can see that it looks like it. Nor did I mean to imply or say that the black church has ever marched lock step with the white church. Thank God they didn’t and don’t! The world is much better for it! I MEANT only to use the race issue (as well as the gender issue) to illustrate the idea of “winners” and “losers” in regards to the general Western historical memory. Just as the general Western historical memory is realizing what it can and should learn from those previously oppressed and/or ignored segments of society, I think there is much to learn from many of the theological losers, regardless of their race/gender. I am not making any connection between race/gender and those theological losers.

Perhaps an example would help. Pelagius is one of those theological losers (and it is believed ny the way that he was European). In the Pelagius/Augustine controversy, Augustine “won” according to church history. Pelagius was the one excommunicated or whatever, and Augustine is upheld as a “Church Father” (which is in itself a sexist title). What I was trying to say about redefining doctrine is this: I think Pelagianism for example has some valuable things for Christianity, but if we hold to traditional doctrine we might miss out on this. (Now this does not even take into account the fact that MANY people are pretty Pelagian anyway, even if it does not fit with traditional orthodoxy or whatever, but this is beside the point for now). I hope that this is making sense – I just want to stress that I did not intend to turn this into a race conversation…

I know this is getting long, but I have another major point, which is more central to what I began with the other day. I think that you and I have a pretty basic difference in how we approach scripture. I do not see scripture as direct communication from God. I think the Bible was written by people JUST LIKE you and me. Regular people who interpreted their experience of God and Jesus through their own context, and then testified to that experience. And also just like you and me, that testimony is tempered by our LIMITED perspective. Yes, I think the Bible is limited in perspective…

You said, “Further, if the faith that we share is constantly being reinterpreted where is our connection with the saints who have gone before us? As it says in 1 John 1:3 ‘We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.'”

I think number one, our connection with the saints is in the fact that each generation of saints does this reinterpretation. Our connection is in the human process of reinterpretation. We may come to different conclusions than those before us, but we DO share the process with them.

I think second that the verse you quoted, for me speaks to the limited perspectives of humans. It says they proclaimed what they saw and heard. If you look around the room, are their not things that you miss? If you listen to a song, sometimes you hear the guitar and miss the lyrics, no? And this is how the people in Jesus’ day experienced him…

I know that these ideas are kind of out there, and I do not claim to speak for “Emergent” here in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to get them in trouble for my heresy. What I do like about Emergent though is that they would not “excommunicate” me for this kind of talk, and it is good to feel welcome even in disgareement.

24 10 2005

Hi Scotty B.

It’s been great hanging out with you online for the last few days. We certainly track with each other well. You, Darryl, RobbyMac, and Leighton are all making me want to move to Canada.

Plus, I am a bit humbled of the really nice things you said about my comments on the ENo site and on your own. I appreciate that a lot brother. Part of what I am trying to do here is to expand the conversation with other like minded Christian folk who have deep disquiet in their souls over the state of Jesus’ church and its ability to connect with culture in real and relevant ways.

Finally, I just wanted to touch on something real quick that you said that I think is really important for us key in on, the Gospel is not for ‘cool’ it is for the weak, the marginalized, those who are on the outside, not the in crowd. It is for those who did not have a ride out New Orleans when Katrina hit. It is for the girl who cuts herself everyday to self-medicate her sense of self-loathing. It is for the mother who does not know how to make ends meet at the close of every month, having to make decisions to feed the family or buy winter coats for her children. The hip and the cool are not struggling with this stuff for the most part, though Jesus loves them to and died to prove it.

Thanks for the thoughts my brother. I think that this is the start of a beautiful relationship…;)

24 10 2005

Hi Tim,

Great to see you back brother. Just a few quick things: first, I have always been a fan of Augustine and I don’t think that Pelagius really understood what salvation by grace was really all about. I always saw Pelagius as sort of a functional atheist. I mean, if you could be righteous all by yourself, what’s the need to have a relationship with Jesus?

Sometimes people lose out because their ideas and arguments are simply weak and wrong, and do not reflect what the covenant community affirms. I don’t think that this is simply a situation of Augustine making a power play and Pelagius losing out with Augustine winning the day.

Further, one can argue that the RCC pretty much went along with a Pelagian theology going into the Reformation after Augustine died off. You certainly don’t see Augustine arguing for indulgences to paid to the Church get loved ones out of Purgatory earlier.

Also, yes, I do see the Bible as God’s word to us. I agree that it is mediated by human hands, but God has always used people. What is wrong with that? I just think it is dangerous theologially and sociologically to suggest that there is no transcendant truth in Scripture. To me, this goes too far. When you say this, you lose the basis of strongly stating that God is love, don’t steal or kill, fend for the widow and the orphan, and love our neighbor as you love yourself. Now of course you can say these things without a holy book or God backing them up, but then it just becomes your opinion. Well if there are not enough people seeing things your way and a strong comes around and decides nihilism is the way to go, then might really would be right and there would be no such thing as compasson and mercy. We simply have a dog eats dog world.

I think that Bible is a subversive book. It was not written by winners, it was written by the losers, maringalized Jews and persecuted Christians. Oppressed people the world over see the message of liberation throughout Scripture.

Finally, I don’t write you off either. But I am sure going to challenge you (in love of course).

25 10 2005

I agree Pelagius has some (many) weak points. I am by no means advocating that we start a new denomination called Pelagianism! But do you not think that Augustine also has weak points? For me there are MANY there as well. In the end I glean things from both sides of the argument, as well as reject things from both.

As I said, I see many faults in Augustine’s understanding of things if you look at the whole of his worldview. Would you say that his perspective is perfect and all encompassing?

I see the biblical writers in this same way – they are authentically testifying to their experience and understanding of God. This testimony is sometimes right, and also sometimes wrong. Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that. I am not saying there is something wrong with the fact that God uses people. Nor am I saying that there is no transcendent truth in the Bible. This is taking what I have said too far. (And I am not meaning to sound accusatory here, just clarifying myself!) I am not judging the process, I am just trying to be what I consider to be realistic, describing it how I see it. In fact, I like this understanding better than thinking of Matthew or Moses as possessed by the Spirit of God and writing mindlessly as a zombie words that God is putting into their heads.

I agree that the perspectives of God is love; do justice, love mercy, walk humbly…; don’t kill; are all transcendent truths. I also agree that we sure don’t need a book to believe these things, and they would be true even if the book didn’t say them, and even if we didn’t believe them! Even if NO ONE believed them, they would still be true. I am not questioning the existence of transcendent, absolute truth, and I am especially not questioning the truth of God being love!

What I question is the ability of the Bible to convey that truth UNFLAWLESSLY. Just as I am clearly unable to convey my meaning unflawlessly here, so were those who wrote and preserved the Bible. For example, I do not believe that “women should remain silent in the church” is transcendent, absolute truth, and yet our Bible says it. Is this absolute, transcendent truth since it is in the Bible? I think not. But, let me emphasize, just because I find less-than-truth in that statement doesn’t mean I want to throw out the whole Bible!

Finally, I believe MUCH of the Bible was in fact written by the oppressed, as you said, and it has much in it about liberation. But this is not all the Bible has. Many of the history books, the wisdom literature, and many of the Psalms were written during a time of wealth and prosperity of the nation of Israel. There are stories in these places that say that God is responsible for genocide and massacre at the hand of the Israelites. Is this inspired by God’s love and compassion? I know that love doesn’t always equal flowers and smiles, but genocide and massacre is more than tough love if you ask me! Yes Jesus stormed the Temple with righteous indignation or whatever you want to call it, but he didn’t advocate genocide and massacre! I cannot affirm inspiration or transcendent truth in stories of “God’s” brutality.

Thanks, I wasn’t saying that you would write me off. But I have been written off before, and honestly, you just never know…

25 10 2005

Hey Tim,

Concerning Augustine, he is certainly not perfect. I definitely do not like his views on women (either before or after he came to Christ). To paraphrase something that Paul said, I would only follow Augustine where I see him following Christ. Ultimately though, I follow Christ.

Further, even Carla at ENo would admit that the passage you referred to about women not being allowed to speak was culturally conditioned. I don’t think that Paul believed himself that this should happen in each and every church that he was dealing with. In that circumstance, women were sitting separately from their husbands and they would call over to them when they heard something that they did not understand, thus disrupting the church service.

Plus, being the “bapticostal” that I am, I definitely believe that the Bible teaches that women are just as empowered and Spirit-filled as men to minister the Gospel of Jesus.

What this all comes down to though is rightly understanding and applying the God’s word. As believers, we don’t get to make it up ourselves. We are people of the Book and we have to have fidelity to God’s revealed will through Scripture. If we don’t use Scripture as our final authority for life and practice, what do we use? How do we know what is false and what is true?

Further, don’t get me wrong, I think that you are wrestling with all of the right questions. I agree that is problematic that we have the God of the universe commanding affirming and demanding genocide and ethnic cleansing. However, I do believe in progressive revelation and of course the most perfect revelation is Jesus Himself, I don’t see Jesus doing something like that.

Further, it is clear to me from Scripture in looking at the book of Jonah what God’s real intention for all of humanity is for us to repent so that we will not be under judgement.


25 10 2005

Hey Marc – this is getting pretty long-winded isn’t it!?

So how do we know which passages are culturally conditioned and which ones aren’t? And by filling in the blanks of what Paul said in order to claim something is culturally conditioned, are we not bringing something extra-biblical to the text? This is neither sola scriptura, or “the plain reading of the text” as you have mentioned previously.

My answer of “How do we know what is false and what is true” is this: we don’t. We must live by FAITH. My faith is not in the Bible, my faith is in the living God as I have experienced God in my own life. This is the dangerous mystery that we live in… And it is dangerous whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not. There is great risk in this, but I believe God risked it by bringing us into the process of revelation. If God didn’t want risk and our participation, then God would have zapped the scripture down onto indestructible tablets. But God did not do this – instead God has chosen to involve us, and to meet every person one on one, as well as in community. So for me, sola fide works much better than sola scripture.

Now in everything I have said here and previously, I do not want to imply that I have no use for scripture or tradition. I do honor and respect the tradition that has come before me. I accept, to a point, what they have passed down. I am thankful for their preservation and their witness, without which I would have nothing to stand on, or even be here at all. I have much to learn from them.

But respect for the past does not mean stopping there in “the good ol’ days.” IF you want to say it in terms of “progressive revelation” then I would say that that progress did not stop in Jesus’ or the early church time either – we are STILL figuring it out, and in this way, the biblical writers don’t get the last word, and nor do we! Every generation gets the opportunity to have a say in it, including the ones that follow us. I hope I will still say that even when the next generation comes up with stuff with which I disagree.

26 10 2005

Hi Tim,

I will try to keep my comments bried and concise so that the lurkers who are reading will be able to take it all in.

First, I don’t believe IN the Bible, I believe the Bible. I believe that God speaks through Scripture. I have had the experience of God giving me direction, solace, understanding, and wisdom through Scripture. My hope is not found in the words of Scripture, but rather, in God who inspired His people to write those words.

How do we know how to rightly interpret Scripture? That would be done through through sound exegesis, through the Holy Spirit, and through the covenant community (no Scripture is privately interpreted).

Also, are you suggesting that there is extra-biblical literature that is on the same par with Scripture?

Finally, I think that when you suggest that revelation does not find its end and zenith in Christ you are wading in what I would consider dangerous territory. Could it be that Muhammad had a later (and better) revelation than Jesus? How about Bahai? It purports to have the latest revelation. Sun Myung Moon also states that he is the latest messiah himself. So what is one to do? Should we do away with Christianity because Jesus is no longer the current Anointed One?–>

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