I like Emergents


I’m a boomer but I really like emergents. Really.  Most of the responses to my columns are from emergents and of course all of my students fit this age group. I like emergents—perhaps too much.  Recently I was asked how I’d fare if I left the classroom and had to jump into pastoring.  My response: “I’d probably do OK with those under 30 but I might be ineffective with the older more traditional people.”   I spend just about all of my time with emergents and I really like you a lot. Here’s what I like about you. (…and I have two cautions at the end too)


1. I like your honesty/authenticity. My generation had lots of secret sinners.  Your generation has just as many sinners but you share your sins publicly.  I like that. I hope you ignore my generation’s warnings “about sharing too much” and you introduce a fresh and authentic Christian community maybe something on the order of John Wesley’s class meetings.


2. I like your idealism.  When my generation was your age we were idealists too. We stuck flowers in the end of gun barrels and sang “Give peace a chance.” We really believed we could end all war and never again would the United States get involved in the internal politics of another country.  We believed this with all our hearts.  We also believed we could end poverty in our lifetime and banish racism forever from the world.  We hippies were great idealists.  So when your generation comes along dissatisfied with “the way things are” and envisions new ways of doing things right I admire you.  I wish you more success than we had.  I hope you will be able to ignore those in my generation whose idealism has been crushed and have now appointed themselves balloon-busters for your generation’s dreams.  I pray you will succeed where we failed. Idealism is closer to kingdom values than cynicism and hopelessness.


3. I like your missional values. My generation pretended to reinvent a “church for seekers” but by and large we generally just reinvented a larger shallower church far more suitable to our own tastes.  I like your emphasis on the church as God’s tool of doing His work in the world—bringing in His kingdom.  You see the as a pipeline not a reservoir.   I like this idea.  I hope you ignore my generation’s warnings about “giving away our resources” or “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs” and I hope you really do recreate a “church for others”—a more generous church.  I like this missional emphasis.


4. I like how you integrate everything.  My generation was good at dividing one area from another.  We sorted the religious from the secular and labeled everything.  I marvel at how you emergents integrate God into everything.  My generation went to church to worship then we went to a movie or concert for fun.  For you Schindler's List or a U2 Concert is quite as spiritual as camp meeting or prayer meeting. We prayed mostly about spiritual things or practical needs. You pray equally about your spirituality, your soccer game, or your sexual satisfaction.  I admire this and hope you don’t let my generation’s scorn discourage you.


5. I like how you can hold two opposing views simultaneously. I admit this trait of yours drives my generation crazy but I admire it. You seem capable of holding two views that are logically inconsistent and you can claim they are both true. I admire this ability even though I don’t understand it.  Answers probably aren’t as neat as we older folk have said they are.  We don’t know as much as we think we do.  So, I think you’re on to something. I hope you are able to withstand my generation’s dismissal of your thinking as immature and preposterous. I hope you won’t get discouraged by the accusations of post-modernity and the complaints that you “don’t believe there are absolutes any more.”   You just might be right.  I hope you’ll be able to find common ground between the polarizing A/B approach boomers have taken to so many issues.  Every issue is not solved by a Crossfire approach. Maybe there is a way for both A and B to be true—I hope you’ll find it.  Maybe you will show us how God can at once be sovereign and grant free well.  How He can be almighty when there is evil in the world.  Maybe you can cut the Gordian knot of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate?  I hope you do—we surely haven’t had much luck with our A/B approach.


6. I like your social conscience. My generation of evangelicals has become wholly owned franchise of one party in the US.  In our forceful opposition to “the other party’s” stance on abortion, homosexual behavior, and school prayer we sometimes came to also oppose any other issue shirt-trail related to that party—poverty, injustice, racism or peace.  You emergents expect action from Christians—“it’s the deeds, not the creeds, dude.”  You want Christians to act like it—to bring kingdom values to actions. You do not believe individualism, personal freedom and low taxes are God’s primary values.  I admire this emphasis on “Christians acting like it.”   Not acting by just avoiding R-rated movies or alcohol, but by caring and loving people in need. I applaud you for claiming that neither political party is 100% Christian.  I personally find refuge among you emergents.  I like your response, “I am a registered Christian” and wish I’d thought of it first. I hope you lead us as a church to be “Christians first” and “Christians who act like it” not just in what we don’t do, but in what we do do.


7. I like your emphasis on “right means.”  My generation has been all about results—we get the job done, one way or another.  My generation’s life verse is, “That we might by all means save some” (which we really interpreted to mean, by any means).  You emergents emphasize right means as much (maybe more?) than right results. I like that. I like how you are more concerned with the “tone” of a person’s theological argument than the content.  I like how you care more about the attitude of a preacher than the truth of the sermon.  I admire you in how you reject a worship band not on their musical talent so much as their attitude and lifestyle.  Somehow this strikes me as a more Christian approach and so I hope you won’t cave into our pressure to “get results” by using methods and means that compromise your soul.


8. I like your relational values. My generation has been extremely successful at making church a million dollar mega-business.  We have professionalized the production and built churches that operate like businesses and produce businesslike “significant revenue streams.”  You emergents now come along and talk about “authentic caring communities” and dream of a church of people who “do life together.”  You aren’t impressed by thousands of people anonymously attending a concert-and-lecture gathering once a week.  You want church to become an authentic community of authentic F*R*I*E*N*D*S who live and love and face life together.  I admire that aspiration and think it is closer to what Jesus had in mind for the church than what we’ve got now.  I hope you don’t listen to my generation telling you that “the world has changed” and this sort of “country church approach” won’t work.  I think you’re on to something and I wish you luck.


9. I can accept your “journey” approach.  I’ll admit this is hard me. My parent’s generation’s approach to life-change was 95% decision and 5% journey.  For them almost everything happened at “the altar” or in two or three packaged “crisis moments” of conversion or sanctification or something else.  My generation modified these percentages to something closer to 50-50.  We kept [some] of the big crisis moments but preached and practiced a “faith development model” that was half progressive and half momentary crisis.  Now you emergents come along essentially reversing our parent’s numbers—you expect spiritual formation to be 95% journey and 5% crisis moments.  I have been skeptical.  I figured this model might work for “good Christian kids raised in good Christian homes” (which almost all of you are) but it would never work for the cussindrinkinsexin’ roofers that worked on my house a few years back.  However you are proving me wrong one by one.  I’m still not completely convinced this is the best route for out-and-out sinners but each time I meet another one of your friends who took a gradual journey from pagan life to the kingdom I become less resistant.  I hope you keep investigating this model and just as long as you wind up with a fully converted person I’m open to your approach.  Your route may take longer to get to the same destination but as long as you get converts there eventually I’ll stay open to you on this.


10. I like your catholic spirit.  My generation popularized the notion of a grace-based approach to people and doctrines.  By that we meant when people come to our church we are not judgmental and are accepting and loving to them.   You emergents have pushed this generous spirit further—outside one local church.  You have applied it to all denominations, and even other religions. You make a big deal of acceptance and unity.   You are far more open to learning and listening to other denominations (and other religions) than my generation is.  I like that. We boomers were good at being full of grace when people came to us.  You extend this grace to people who never join us, and even to those who compete with or oppose us.  I think this generous spirit is closer to what Jesus wants in the world so I hope you keep it and create a new kind of Christian and a new kind of church that exhibits this generous spirit.



I only have two cautions…

I like you emergents.  But like you or not, soon you’ll be taking over the church and leading us for the next thirty or forty years.  I’ve spent enough time with you that I feel confident that the church is in good hands.  So far I only have two cautions to offer. I might be wrong about both, but these are two areas I’d alert you to be sensitive about as you take over this ship.


1. Keep Jesus Christ.   We Christians could find great common ground among the world’s religions and gain wonderful unity if we would just be willing to give up some ground on Jesus.  If we would just pray “in God’s name” or “in the name of our Lord” and assign Jesus the role of  great teacher, wise man, great prophet or a wonderful example to follow WWJD-style… we could link up with most all other religions of the world and perhaps get a world-wide religious unity. It seems to be a wonderful dream.  I hope you don’t take this route, though I think it will be a big temptation in your future.  Religion today may “be about the deeds not the creeds, dude” but the challenge of tomorrow will actually be about the creeds—the essentials of the Christian faith.   I pray you do not abandon Jesus Christ.   You can give up Jesus and still be a theist.  You can give up Jesus Christ and still pray to God and join hands with Baha'i.  All three Abrahamic religions—Christians, Moslems and Jews—could pray to the One True Living God who has many prophets.  And we can most easily find common ground with Buddhists and join them in prayer.  Giving up Jesus Christ could help us bring great unity in world religions—but you just can’t give up Jesus Christ and be a Christian. I’m not so worried about keeping Christ in Christmas as I am about keeping Christ in Christianity.  I hope you’ll be sensitive to the already-present trends toward the generic God of civil religion that assigns Jesus Christ to a private-god category while we join with all in prayer to the “real God of whom there are many prophets.”  Without Christ there are no Christians.  To be prepared for this temptation read Karl Barth. 


2. Keep the church.  You are going to be tempted to abandon the church and go off into solitary spirituality.  Your crushed idealism may cause you to give up on the assembled people of God and our culture’s individualism will entice you toward your iPod rather than worship on Sunday mornings.  There will be voices recruiting you to leave the church—reversing the notion of “called out ones” to being called out of the church to an individualized privatized spirituality.  I pray you will not listen to these temptations.  Be wary of any who claim to “love Jesus but despise the church.”  Refuse to walk away from the assembly of believers into a privatized self-centered spirituality.  If you are practicing privatized faith on your own apart from the assembly you are not being a Christian at all—you merely practicing spiritual masturbation.  There is no such thing as a solitary Christian any more than a solitary marriage.  Christians come in clusters.  I hope you emergents will reinvent all kinds of new ways for the church to be the church, but none of them should include a church-less Christianity.  For a church-less Christianity is essentially a Christ-less Christianity and thus not Christian at all. To be prepared for this temptation read Bonhoeffer. 


The bottom line:  I like Emergents and think God is going to make a better church when they are leading us.  Indeed, it is soon time for more boomers to step aside and pass on the leadership to this anointed generation.  I think the kingdom of Christ would be better off for it.


So what do you think?

What do you like about emergents?  What cautions do you have? 


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Keith Drury  1/10/06