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From "Cool Young Emergent Intellectual" to "Old-fashioned, Boring Old Conservative"

(Note: please read this in conjuction with Follow-Up Post to “From….Emergent to….Conservative” Also recognize that this is an earlier post, from a more unpolished version of myself.)

Those of you who read this blog probably know what “emergent” means – basically, it is a form of Christianity which is custom-made to the generation now aged 20-30. There is a knee-jerk reaction against the protectionism of the 70’s, the perfectionism of the 80’s and the big-shiny-shallow churches of the 90’s. Hallmarks of Emergentism are obsession with big questions (not answering them, just chewing on them), downplaying or outright rejecting hell, the importance of the Bible, the exclusivity of Christianity, the horror of abortion and the perversion of homosexuality. Ambivalence on these topics allows the Emergent movement to be very “laid back” about their faith, and spend more time being “culturally relevant” than offending their society with the cold hard offense of the Gospel. Emergent folks also are sick of “the institutional church” and either want to start a new church in their own image or just leave and fly solo. Emergent people are very interested in compassion (some actually do something about it…some only pat themselves on the back for THINKING about doing something about it), but generally Emergent folks aren’t all that interested in evangelism, except to fellow disgusted Christians.

(Note: This is an extreme, slightly biased view of “Emergent”! There are people who use the word “Emergent” simply to refer to traditional Christianity with a modern flavour…there are also people who call themselves emergent who don’t really fit the bill at all. I am not talking about everything under the Emergent umbrella, just those who fit the description above)

For a while I was calling myself emergent: then I stopped, but others still labeled me as such. Now, right at this moment, I feel like just absolutely rejecting all things emergent and pushing just as hard as I can into the old, “1950’s,” Bible-thumping, perfect-family, conservative, insitutional-church oriented, close-minded “steroe-typical-Christian” mould which I have been reacting against.

Before explaining my reaction, maybe I should explain my journey (there’s a very Emergent thing to do! lol…)

My main reasons for becoming Emergent were reactionary. My wife had experienced a lot of pain growing up (and especially leaving) a home which was very close-knit and probably a little on the legalistic side. Because of her tendency towards extremes and her desire to please authorities, she took the legalism of her family much more seriously than the others – thus, when she began to question and ultimately to reject some of the rules she grew up with it made the “leaving-the-nest” tensions much more acute than normal.

Since I grew up with the Bible and church as my emotional happy-place, there was a conflict in our early marriage. When my wife saw me reading a Bible, or doing some other overtly “religious” activity, the fresh wounds from her past were opened, and she reacted negatively. I didn’t want to fit the mould of a super-religious, domineering, perfectionistic family-head, and so I backed off of that stuff. Also, I began to see that some of my religious expression was motivated by an insecure desire to protect myself – I started becoming suspicious of all things overtly spiritual. Finally, we had some negative experiences with the church, which made us want to retreat into more secular occupations.

After all that, out popped a very stereo-typically emergent couple. We dropped Sunday-school and other church involvements and only showed up for Sunday-mornings. For a while we even thought about dropping that. We read a lot of books and resources by Emergent authors, watched a lot of movies, and hung out with more Emergent friends – although we still kept contact with our “institutional-church” friends. We began questioning the typical Emergent questions (mentioned above,) and wondering how to make our faith more “relevant” for evangelism to our generation – as well as reaching people like us who had been “burnt” by the institutional church.

Okay, all that is background: this post is me saying – and saying emphatically – “I AM DONE!!” I am not emergent anymore!! I quit. I resign. I am burning (metaphorically speaking) all of my Emergent books, I am diving back into “the institutional church,” I am (slowly) developing convictions about the tough questions of life, and most of all, I am taking the reigns of our family, to lead us into being a solidly Christian home.

There are a lot of things which have been feeding into this. God has been leading me to a lot of Reformed resources which – as I learned recently – is the stronghold of all things anti-Emergent. These scholars and talkers have been picking away at the arrogance, woundedness, reactionism and independent spirit behind my Emergentism. (Note: I am putting a finger here on MY immaturity – others have their own motivations) Also, I have gone back into my church, and (much to my surprise!) have found that the leadership is NOT threatened by change. They are able to keep step with me in my Emergent literature. They aren’t insecure about their faith or “the church,” and (here’s the real shockeer!) they are just as frustrated with outdated formalisms where they are present, and are actively seeking new ways of expressing their faith through the church. I felt like leaving the church because I wanted it to change: now I am realizing that it is just people like me whom the Church leadership is seeking IN ORDER to change the church!

I guess these things have all been pushing me back from my Emergentism, but what really got me was a visit with some really “on the edge” Christians. I suppose that a year ago we would have left that visit saying, “Wow, isn’t it cool that a Christian is free enough to do that…and there were no awkward ‘God moments’ in what we talked about…” or some such thing. Now…? There is something different now. Aside from a difference in our spirit, we also have a child. A very, very impressionable child. As I sat watching a video containing swears, inuendo’s and Godlessness, then sang songs about breakup, immorality and blasphemy while alcohol flowed freely, and prayers and God-talk were conspicuously absent…I couldn’t help but ask, “Do I REALLY want my child to be a part of this sort of atmosphere?” It was more than the things done, however: I recognize that there is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation, or enjoying secular entertainment. However, in this case these externals seemed to be a symptom of something deeper. There was a spirit about that house – something in the air. I didn’t feel comfortable. There was a decisive moment while my family and I were lying in bed. We were talking about how the evening made us spiritually uncomfortable and dark. Although it was several hours past his bed-time, my son was restless between us. I prayed something to the effect of: “Lord, this is not a house of peace. This is not a place where you are Lord. But in this room we declare that you are Lord. We pray that you would pitch a tent of peace over us as we sleep, and that your presence would be here.” Before I was half-way done that short prayer, our restless son cuddled up and was instantly asleep. Both my wife and I also felt a burden lifting and slept deeply and dreemlessly all night.

I mentioned above that my wife had some things to work through from her family. We have tended in the past to be very ungracious in our perception of her family because of this: however, recently I have been thinking, “What is worse? A family which raises strong, solid, Godly children but has a hard time letting go, or a family which raises questioning, authority-despising, godless kids who are tempted by all sorts of vices, freely available in their home?” I mean really – what sorts of kids are these emergent folks going to raise? Kids imitate what they see, and kids take it to the next level. My wife has had things to work through, and yet she is SOLID! Her parents did an AWESOME job raising her. I am very, very glad that my in-laws were the farthest thing from Emergent.

Another event sticks out in my mind: we had my longtime mentor/pastor over to pray for/dedicate our new house. He was talking to us about a Christian home with a Bible in his hands when my son walked up to him in his typically intrusive, curious 19-month-old manner. There was just something about the way that Ivan turned to him and opened the Bible for him and said, “This is a Bible! Isn’t the Bible wonderful? You love the Bible, don’t you? Yes, of course you do!” that at first struck me as strange, bordering on offensive (isn’t that mind-control?) but almost instantly I realized was extremely good (yes, we control minds…that is what education is all about!). I don’t want to be a father who implicitly says, “Korban, God is not important. After all, we don’t open the Bible, go to church, or talk about God – except to complain about how badly His people are making a mess of things.” Rather, I want God to be the centre of our lives – explicitly and unappologetically. I want to be one of those families that has regular times of meaningful prayer, family devotions, and who are often in church. I want my children to grow up in a bubble of Christian friends. I want my children to grow up with a deep, unquestioning belief in a God who is the source of all good things, the one in whom alone happiness is to be found, and in whose service their lives will find meaning.

This is what I want for my kids, this is what I want for me – I want to be a conservative, unappologetically religious, family-oriented man.

I can’t be this and also be Emergent. But that’s okay. Emergent is a phase, a transition period. For some, it is the time-out box where they sit on the bleachers, lick their wounds, catch their breath and go through a season where they spend more time critiquing those actually playing than playing themselves. For these people, they will eventually grow out of emergentism, to slide out onto the ice themselves and get involved once again. For others, Emergent is the locker-room, where the gear and clothing of Christianity are steadily and systematically peeled away and exchanged for the “street-clothes” of relevance and agnosticism before silently slipping off into the night.

Nobody stays Emergent forever.

I have no regrets. For us, Emergent was a good stop – THE stop, the place where God wanted us – along the path of life. There are things I hope to always take with me from there: I hope always to be concerned with global compassion initiatives, with environmentalism and with sanctified technology. However, we are done now. We are not Emergent anymore.

Now, a major question on my mind is, “How do I lead my family in spiritual matters?” Any ideas anyone?

19 Comments »

  1. Hi, I’m Marvin Plank, Marvin and Melva’s son-in-law. Very much appreciated this entry. I’m finding some things in Reformed theology to be very solid as well. I’ve just started following your blog, may have more comments in the future.

  2. That makes two of us who no longer call ourselves “emergent.” For us, staying in that region might have meant leaving unanswered many of the questions which brought us there. However, asserting that everyone else who considers themselves under the umbrella of “emergent church” stays there out of an unwillingness to answer tough questions is unwarranted vitriol. If you think that admitting “I don’t know,” “I don’t know for sure” or “I don’t know yet” to a question is not a real answer, or that denying long-held but illegitimate dogma is tantamount to plugging your ears and yelling “lalalalala,” then all you’ve learned from your time of uncertainty is that you don’t like it. I do not dispute your decision to leave what you identify as the emergent church, but to imply that others who do not follow care little about family and values underscores your arrogance, intentional or not. Finding answers and laying moral groundwork is more than reducing life to a series of false dichotomies and insulting those whose answers diverge from yours.

  3. Chad:

    Please understand my heated, somewhat hyperbolic reaction against “Emergentism” as directed at a version of MYSELF which I am now choosing to reject. I mean no offense to others who chose to remain within the Emergent Church. Also, note my caveat about Emergentism being broad and my words not being directed at certain people who call themselves Emergent, but don’t fit the description I have in my opening paragraphs (are they called “Emerging,” not “Emergent”…? Semantics – yuk :p)

    I stand by my parting shot, though: for myself and those whom I have watched, the Emergentism which I have described here is most often a transition – either a time out before plunging back into committed fellowship, or away into agnosticism and worse. Also, it seems like it is almighty difficult to raise ballanced, Christian children without church-based support. Maybe I am wrong, but that’s my perspective and experience.

    By the way, what would you call yourselves, now that “emergent” is no longer your tag?

  4. We read this and said “Wow! Josiah can sure express himself!” Especially liked the word-picture painted in this paragraph… “Emergent is a phase, a transition period. For some, it is the time-out box where they sit on the bleachers, lick their wounds, catch their breath and go through a season where they spend more time critiquing those actually playing than playing themselves. For these people, they will eventually grow out of emergentism, to slide out onto the ice themselves and get involved once again. For others, Emergent is the locker-room, where the gear and clothing of Christianity are steadily and systematically peeled away and exchanged for the “street-clothes” of relevance and agnosticism before silently slipping off into the night.”

  5. Ecclesiastes 7:18b
    “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

    The problem lies in extremes. There is both good and bad in the emmergent church and in old fashioned convervatism. Why not embrace the good and leave behind the bad? You could save yourself alot of trouble by letting this verse be your motto. Maturity and wisdom I believe would take this road on many of the hot bottom issues of Theology. It does not speak of being lukewarm or wishywashy but of being wise. All of Ecclesiastes 7 and the whole book could use a good read and a good ponder.

    • Yes, I am taking the good of emergentism along with me as I walk back into a more traditional form of Christianity. I have always taken this verse as a pre-Christian, burnt-out-on-sin old man saying that it seems like those who cut a middle-path between super-sinner and super-religious pharisee have it right. This is generally good advice, but “the eyes of the Lord look to and fro throughout the earth, seeking a man whose heart is completely His, so that He may strongly support Him” (paraphrase – I’ll find the verse if you want me to). We need to be sold out to God 100% – this will lead us to make strong statements, as we seek to follow Him with a passion. This is not a verse that says, “don’t take a stand on either side of any debate.”

  6. I really enjoyed reading this and I have to agree with you on almost everything. I think we all go through stages in life, stages in our faith like this. And this is just one of them.
    I esp. liked your question: ““What is worse? A family which raises strong, solid, Godly children but has a hard time letting go, or a family which raises questioning, authority-despising, godless kids who are tempted by all sorts of vices, freely available in their home?” ”

    I have seen the damage done in families on either side of the spectrum and in all reality, I would choose the family who raised solid, Godly children but have a hard time letting go. Because that is far better than the “other evil”.

    • Certainly. Anything on the blog is open to public viewing and discussion.

      btw, I will be pre-publishing my “emergent” blog in the form of an e-book in a few days. I plan to send it to a few friends for feedback before publishing it (just for free on the site). Would you like to receive a copy?

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