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Follow-Up Post to "From….Emergent to….Conservative"

Well, I must say that I have been a little taken aback by the huge response to my last (major) post. I’m not used to that much activity on my blog! I have learned some things from the feedback I received, and my thoughts have developed on points. Here are some of the things that I would like to say, to follow up my previous post:

TO THOSE OFFENDED: I APOLOGIZE

From some private posts and e-mails, I realize that my post was very hurtful, at least to a few people. This was not my intention, and I am sorry. My post was primarily about my journey, and a reaction against my immaturity in a past stage of life. It is always okay to critique yourself and learn from the past – however, I recognize that my language was at times too loose, and others found themselves insulted in what was to be an introspective critique. I also said some strong things against Emergentism which are true in a limited sense, but should have been said more clearly. More on that in a bit.

I guess this has all been a learning experience for me. I am used to sitting down on my computer and just dumping whatever pet-peeve, poem or insight is within me. I am prone to hyperbole and I have been wandering around, changing my perspective every six months or so, trying to find my theological moorings. I have directed all sorts of attacks at the institutional church, church-leaders, church beurocracy, and the Evangelical sub-culture. I have not lost any friends doing this, nor even had negative feedback – one of my pastors actually tracked me down and told me how much he enjoyed “The Sled” (a post which made pastors look ridiculous!). This recent post has made me realize, however, that I should be more careful in how I word things in such a public space – especially when critiquing the Emergent camp.

I cannot help but remember that I became Emergent because of pain. I felt ripped off and stifled by the organized church, and felt that without Emergentism as a safety-net, I would have simply free-fallen into who-knows-where. I remember being very angry at times with people who attacked the Emergent movement without presenting a viable alternative.

All this to say that I am sorry: I misjudged my audience, and I regret causing pain where I have done so.

CLARIFICATION OF THE WORD “EMERGENT”

I mentioned above that my usage of the word “Emergent” could be better defined. Well, this is the problem with the word “Emergent” – nobody knows what in the world it means! Broadly speaking, it is probably accurate that “Emergent” is a reaction against the Evangelicalism of the 80’s and 90’s. Like a teen which wants to break away and find their own identity, my generation (and the generation just older than me) wants to break away from the “Baby-boomer-dominated” churches they grew up in, to create a new Christianity for the future.

Instead of intolerance they want tolerance. Instead of heirarchy they want equality. Instead of dogmatic theology, they want open-ended discussion, mystery, and journey. Instead of perfect leaders and shiny buildings, they want leaders who “let it all hang out” and buildings that make them feel comfortable. Instead of paranoia of those who “drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do,” there is an openness to the “vices” not directly forbidden by Scriptures. Instead of a protectionistic “us-vs-them” attitude towards culture, they want to be welcoming to non-Christians. Instead of a difference in dress and music, they want to integrate into society on non-moral issues. Instead of rules, they want personal opinions. Instead of a sheltered perspective, they want a global perspective. Instead of local initiatives, they want global initiatives. Instead of suspicion of Science, they want an openness to new science (evolution, global warming, etc.).

As you can see, the emergent movement is very broad. It is likely that it is even broader than these points, but this is a start.

If you are like me, you are likely looking at that list saying, “So, is he saying that Emergent is bad or good?” From this list, however, you can see that there is room for all sorts of people within Emergentism – there is room for “bad” and “good” stuff.

This was a major flaw of my last post: I spoke out agains all of the Emergent movement. Attacking “Emergentism” is like fighting the tide with a baseball bat: cathartic to the deranged, perhaps, but not terribly productive.

Please allow me to refine my critique.

Everyone who becomes Emergent has a story: usually, there is pain involved. There is usually also an attraction to promises made by the Emergent movement. Thus, there is a push away from the insitutional church, and a pull towards the emergent church. In and of itself, this motivation is not sin (people who stay in the institutional churches also have motivations – but I have spoken amply of that elsewhere). What will one do with one’s motivations? This is the question. More importantly – what will one do when their motivations conflict with Jesus? This is the real heart of the issue.

Perhaps a case-study would be helpful here.

I once heard a leader in the Emergent Village discussing what it takes to become “Emergent.” The gist of his comment was: “Unless you are willing to accept the ministry of a lesbian pastor, you cannot really be emergent. Being emergent is about toleration.” (You can read my visceral reaction to this comment here) What should be glaringly obvious here is that the one thing which is not tolerated is a person who takes a stand. What if a person has a crisis of conscience? What if a person honestly feels that scriptures declare homosexuality to be a sin (Rom. 1) and forbid them from “tolerating” any such person involved in immorality – especially if they are involved in Christian teaching (cf. Rev. 2:20, NASB)? Apparently, at least some “Emergent” people believe that one must at times deny Christ and conscience in order to be a card-carying, true-blue member of the Emergent Movement.

Thus, I think it is accurate to depict three camps within the Emergent movement: those who put culture first, and Jesus infinitely second (the “culture-emergent” camp), those who put Jesus first, and culture infinitely second (the “Jesus-emergent” camp), and those who are as-yet undecided. This middle camp is comfortable and appropriate for a time, but it can never become permanent because even the the decision to remain undecided is itself rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The gist of my last post is that my family and I have been wandering back and forth in this place of indecision for nearly a year now. It was what we needed, it was the journey God had for us. It was a place of healing and maturing. I cannot condemn others in this place, because I do not feel God’s judgment over me for being here. At some point, however, we had to make a choice: we had to decide whether culture or Jesus would have the final say in our lives.

Some may still say that we are Emergent. Perhaps this is true – but that all depends what is meant by that frustrating, floppy word. What is really important to know is that we are followers of Christ, who are explicit about making Jesus Lord of our lives, and seeking to build our family on the foundation of the Bible. Can we still be Emergent and do these things? Certainly – but maybe “conservative” is a better tag for us now. I’ll leave that to others to decide.

The season we are in now seems to be a transition-stage, filled with many life-forming decisions. Here are a few I have been thinking about recently:

  1. Being relevant is not enough: I must share Christ, and Him Crucified

There is nothing wrong with learning more about the music, culture and interests of people I am trying to reach for Christ. However, I have to be honest and say that my attempts at “culturally-relevant evangelism” looked more like “trying to be cool” and “making new friends” than real evangelism. If I am terrified to speak the name of Jesus, or share the message of what He has done, it should be obvious that whatever I am doing, it is not evangelism. I have much to learn in this area, and I really need prayer, and to grow in boldness in this area.

2. Equality is a cop-out: God has called me to lead my home

There is something very easy – too easy! – about saying, “I don’t know – what do you think, honey?” It’s not right for me, as the head of our home, to drift along – mind filled with theology and work, hands busy with projects and toys – not really engaging in the important issues of family life until they are raised by my wife. It is also not right for me to test out my wife, to feel out the decision she is leaning towards, then “choose” to go along with her in whatever she thinks is best. This is not acting within my role as head, and it places a burden on her she was not intended to carry. I have a lot to learn in this area, but the teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll has a lot of good resources for this area.

3. Cowardice is not an option: I am called to be the spiritual leader of our family

I don’t like doing family devotions. I don’t like praying in public, or reading the Bible aloud. I feel exposed, vulnerable, ridiculous, and silly. I have been trying to tell myself that I am being considerate to my wife: she doesn’t enjoy these things anymore than I do, and there are wounds from the past to be considered. Scriptures are clear on this point, however: as followers of Christ, we are to “teach God’s Word diligently to our children and to talk of them when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up. We are to bind them (metaphorically, or by tattoo? lol…) as a sign on ours hands and foreheads, and to write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates” (Deut. 6:7-9). I do not want to be the leader of a home where mentioning the name of “Jesus” is a socially-awkward event, where Bibles are never opened, where prayers are never said. Christ should be to my children as constant as gravity, as visible as the sun, as vital as air, as comfortable as Mommy’s embrace. I will do what I can to provide it.

4. Indefinite indecision on important topics is unacceptable and unethical

In this life, I will probably never know which end-times theory is correct, whether the human is “body-and-soul” or “body-soul-spirit,” or how exactly predestination and free-will fit together. So what? These doctrines don’t change how I wake up in the morning. But then what about Hell? Is it real? Is it as bad as people used to say it is? Is it true that everybody who does not accept the Gospel is going there? There are questions on which perpetual ambiguity and indecision is unethical and unacceptable. If Hell is a myth, we can take a collective sigh of relief. If it is real – if it is true that people all around me, and around the world are falling every day, every minute into an eternal, conscious torment apart from God and apart from hope – then there is no excuse. Basic human compassion demands that I live every waking moment in the light of this terrifying fact, and make evangelism the #1 priority of my life. There are many such life-or-death issues in the Christian faith: I will take the time I need to research out answers, but I cannot get too comfortable with a perpetual indecision.

 

I could go on, but I hope these points give you an idea of the direction I want to take our family.

The decision has been made: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Now, we are finding ourselves in a season of purging, standing awkwardly around a pit dug under the Oaks of Shechem (cf. Gen. 35). What are the family idols? Let us root them out, let us be rid of them. Let us place them here, under this tree, cover them with earth and never think of them again. Let us move on from this place with renewed focus and passion for our One Lord, Jesus Christ.

Under His Lordship and direction, and on the firm foundation of His word, may we move forward as a family!

10 Comments »

  1. Hi Josiah,

    I am not a member of your church, but I have read both your original post and this last post and I have to say “Bravo”. I think to publicly unveil your indecision of the past and your intention to be more full of conviction and decision in the future is to be commended. I have grown my entire life rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the Old and New Testaments and had a difficult time in the beginning of my relationship with my spouse, who was not raised in a religious home. I know that through good intentions, the “church” sometimes alienates people and causes hurt, but knowingly or unknowingly, we are all searching for the peace that Jesus Christ offers. When I delved into spiritual matters with my husband, it was not with a “hard push” into “you have to believe this”. That approach would guarantee getting his back against the wall. I found it best to tread softly and encourage through the words of Christ and open the beauty of the scriptures to him through all the wonderful things promised by Christ. It was a journey into the passion of faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11). When we had discussions about the Bible, it was never to hurt, but always to build up; it was to show the wonderful light of Christ and the darkness of our current world and surroundings. In your last post, you asked the question: “How do I lead my family in spiritual matters”? At first I instinctively thought “it’s so natural – what a strange question”. But after thinking about your question, I realized that leading your family takes courage and a soft heart to let them ask the questions and help them find the answers. We too have a small, impressionable 18-mth old little girl, and we have a rhyming bible for toddlers (which is her favourite book, by the way), and we say thanks before each meal (and she knows to fold her hands and say “amen”). The name of Jesus is used during our days, not so repetitively that it loses meaning, but it is used to remember the name of our friend, the one who leads our every waking moment and to whom all our thanks and praises belong. When we play outside, we bring our God into the forefront to show how wonderful God made the birds, or the sky or the trees. My husband never had a religious upbringing, but we sit down on Friday nights and ask questions of each other on the Bible, or on something that happened to us during the week – how God kept us safe at work and at home, how He is at work in the world and visible through the people we see everyday, whether for good or for bad. We take the time to prepare for the Sabbath and we enjoy the rest God put into effect for us, to refresh our bodies and more importantly, our spirits.
    I can see where Emergentism may have been a good place to be for you and your family, and I don’t think you were critically harsh in either of your posts towards people who are Emergent. I think you have come to the decision to allow Jesus Christ more fully into your life and to “let people think what they’ll think”. Jesus didn’t have a hundred friends – he had 12 close friends, with similar thoughts, soft hearts and open minds to the truth and salvation offered by Christ. I think to make that conscious decision is very commendable and there is nothing wrong with taking a stand. My only comment from experience with my husband is “tread softly” and preach with softness. Encourage Anne Jisca to ask questions and express her doubts/fears. Then use the Word of God to answer those questions and reassure her. Let the answers come from God. Through Him, all things are possible.

    Sincerely,
    M

    • Thanks for the kind words, Monica! It’s all a journey, I guess – trying things, taking one path then another. I am trying to track down a good toddler’s Bible to read from: I have never thought about Spirituality from a toddler’s point of view, so it’s kind of interesting to think of how to bring it down to his level. Anne Jisca is really good at helping me though. She isn’t as much into the “okay, now is time for spirituality” moments: but she is much better than me in weaving her faith throughout her every-day life, without even thinking about it. We’ll just try our best and see what we come up with, I guess!

  2. Hi from Madagascar…maybe I`m your reader from farthest away. 🙂 I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog a lot. It makes me think about what I believe and I think that`s a good thing. Please keep writing, even if people don`t always like what you write! Lots more I could say about that, but for now I just wanted to recommend several children`s Bible story books. We really like The Beginner`s Bible, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes, and the Egermeir`s Bible Story Book. (I`d link to those if I was clever. 🙂

    Rhonda Slaubaugh

  3. Two Books I’ve found helpful:

    Total Church – “In Total Church, Chester and Timmis first outline the biblical case for making gospel and community central and then apply this dual focus to evangelism, social involvement, church planting, world missions, discipleship, pastoral care,spirituality, theology, apologetics, youth and children’s work. Asthis insightful book calls the body of Christ to rethink its perspective and practice of church, it charts a middle path between the emerging church movement and conservative evangelicalism that all believers will find helpful.”

    Deep Church – “In Deep Church, Belcher brings the best insights of all sides to forge a third way between emerging and traditional.”

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