Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Emerging Church, Emerging Culture

Jill and I have had a lot of discussions lately about why we're comfortable with emerging church thought. We've decided that much of it has to do with the fact that we spent so much time around it. Much of what we read reflects what we experienced living on Chicago's west side and working at the Rock of Our Salvation Free Church/Circle Urban Ministries. The focus was moved off of ourselves and onto the idea of serving God by serving others. There was no dropping of the evangelical beliefs that we had and still have. What we lived, though, were lives that were shaped by a community of believers who experienced much of our lives together, but we all seemed to view it through different eyes, eyes that were developed in our upbringing, our education, our entire lives both in and out of that community of faith. We understood that life sucks an awful lot of the time, and God doesn't just drop down out of the sky to fix things. That's why a community of faith is so important. We have never experienced that since we left Chicago. We have not experienced celebration that began to compare to a communion service in that gym. We have not had to depend on friends like we did during that time in our lives. The overall concept of community was ever-present, and escaping it would have left us sitting alone on an island.

That brings me back to the relationship between our experience in Chicago and our talks about the emerging church. The emerging church definitely has some racial stuff to work through, but it is moving in the direction that most racially diverse congregations have already been. The idea is not to (here I go again) try to label people as being "in" or "out," the idea is to move people, via our relationships with them, closer to God. What is accomplished with defining whether people are "in" or not? Nothing. That attitude should not be a part of how we define ourselves as Christians.

Ultimately, Jill has become convinced that the whole debate over the emerging church is really one of cultural superiority. I think she's got a very strong argument. The theology part of the debate really isn't that deep. The evangelical core beliefs are present on both sides of the debate (see Roger Olson's article "Does Evangelical Theology Have a Future" in the Christianity Today archives). Trying to debate over the theology is mostly about finding tiny bones to pick. Most of the debate really comes down to "Are we white, middle-class ______ (insert term here, Calvinists, Arminians, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.)" or are we something else. The something else is much less defined, much less a part of traditional heritage, much less secure, but also much more filled with potential.