People ask all the time about Emergent Village and the emergent conversation.* They are disappointed/concerned that it is too cynical, too white, too male, not organized enough, not powerful enough or not theologically conservative enough.
I only get 1000 words a week so let me just make two quick points and then I will tell ya what I think that bigger issue is.
to listen to the Podcast of this click [here] or go to Itunes “Everyday Theology”
- Even if the critiques are true – aren’t we glad at some level that white guys are talking about this kind of stuff (making changes, challenging the status quo, etc)? My thought is that if 85% of pastors in America are male… then of course the demographics are going to reflect that starting point. We all start somewhere. You never start from scratch. We all makes the best out of where we begin.
- The emergent conversation is really something that has come up in just over a decade. With the 24 hour news cycle, the blog-o-sphere and Twitter… things take on an immediacy in our ‘plugged in culture’ that is unprecedented in human history (the dissemination of information). But have you ever tried to change something at a church? Most of the time it does not change that quickly! For example, just to be ordained will take my friends 6 years before they can even serve communion!
I have a greater concern: I have broken them down into 3 sets of 3.
Generation: A lot of attention gets paid to the overall changes in the 18-35 year old window. And it should. There is definitely something going on.
I am not sure that most churches are going to be able to bridge the gap that is about to come. That is not a knock against the church – it is an acknowledgement of how difficult the task is going to be and how wide the gap is going to become.
Most churches are funded and/or led by the Boomers and WWII generation. But who those churches are most set up to reach is Parents (35-50) who are generically known as ‘shoppers’. They are looking for a church that meets all the needs of their family.
I am not speaking negatively here, I am trying to sketch out a changing landscape. Here is what I am nervous about: when this Baby Boom / WWII generation retires / passes-on (respectively) in the next 10-20 years… there is going to be a finical and leadership vacuum in many local congregations. We will not be able to keep doing ministry the way that we have been doing ministry.
The problem is that the 18-35 generation is not interested in just doing ministry the way that it has been done – they are not going to just faithfully serve without question or input (for the most part). The expectations are different, the questions are different, and the frameworks are different.
Context: I am very interested and concerned with the Rural, Sub-urban and Urban triangle. I am a huge proponent of contextualization. This is a huge difference from Islam (as I understand the situation) Judaism and even Christendom. The gospel is meant to be (designed to be) contextualized. The gospel of Jesus Christ is incarnational. It looks different in every different place.
Unlike Islam you don’t have to face Mecca when you pray, you don’t have to make a trip to the holy city, and -most importantly- you don’t have to read the sacred text in its original language (Arabic in Islam, Hebrew in Judaism, and Greek for Christianity). Our Bible is meant to be translated!
So we have a contextual gospel that is meant to be incarnated in each locale in a fresh way. This is one of the great distinctions of Christianity that is often overlooked.
In America, however, we have a Consumeristic mentality and so we often like to buy, import and replicate instead of contextualize and incarnate. (if you think that I am overstating it go to a website like Oureach.com and click on “Fireproof” or any other theme and get ready to buy mailers, bulletins, news sheets, powerpoint slides, banners, t-shirts, and a six week sermon series).
I am not being critical of websites and services like Outreach.com, I am simply saying that I am concerned that in my lifetime the gap between Urban, Suburban and Rural is going to increase – especially for the church of Jesus Christ.
(I have had this conversation with Mainline, Pentecostal, and Evangelical leaders. I don’t think that it is unique to any specific style or creed).
Race: I am so intrigued by the Civil Rights movements of 50 years ago. But I am more fascinated by what is coming in the next 50 years. Studies are saying that by the year 2048 there will be no white majority in America.(Canada is in a completely different situation – I will have to talk about that some other time) Soong Chan-Rah [link] says that it will be true of the Church by 2042 – due to the nature and makeup of Charismatic and Evangelical churches.
Black, White, Yellow, Red, and Brown – these are us.
What is the church doing now or planning to do in the next 20 years to get ready for this? I don’t know. It seems to me from all the stuff I come across, listen to, read, and discuss that race and ethnic diversity might be lucky to break the top 10 in concerns.
And this it the great concern of mine and what I would hope to address (to a degree) with the Everyday Theology project. Generation, Location and Race is a triangle that I think about everyday. So here is my three fold make-shift framework that I am employing in my studies to get ready to be a part of the change: Philosophical, Theological and Congregational.
- To be Philosophically credible to the world that we are trying to reach and participate with. My hope would be for an internal coherence – that what we do and say is logical credible and is believable.
- To be Theologically faithful to the Christian tradition.This includes an awareness of the good and bad of Christian history, so that there is a congruence that avoids disorientation and that provides a continuity that brings some level of orientation.
- To be contextual (incarnational) as a Congregation. That each local body would be empowered to have a authentic expression that was appropriate for their community (so that it is not an alien expression that is just imported and implemented or imposed on a community).
My concerns are Generation, Location, and Race… My solutions are Intellectual, Historical, and Incarnational.
That is what I think awaits us in our generation and is our task as we walk forward as global christian who are hoping for a brand new day.
* I usually preferred “emergence” without the strong “T” at the end. That “T” is what makes it a proper name or title that people often see as a brand.
December 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm
>Excellent thoughts Bo. I have a humble recommendation as far as getting aquainted with Church history. The book is "Church History In Plain Language" by Bruce L. Shelley. I think this book would prove to be invaluable for the layperson (or the anyperson) to come to a credible understanding of Christian History. As for myself, what I have learned from this book has rocked me. You are very right that we need to be able to engage in coherent conversations about where we've come from, otherwise it's just a silly heresay conversation. (a mention of the "crusades" or the "inquisition" is like a non-believer TRUMP card). It always goes downhill. We NEED to know where we've come from, and to understand where we are in order to make it in the dialogue. Also, I have felt challenged lately that perhaps I have a theology that is not nearly exhaustive enough. It seems that many of us in the Evengelical Church, myself included, have become lazy with theology. We are more into experience alone. This is the spiritual inheritance of the Pietists (Christian History!). We need to make theology cool again. Right now, it's a dirty word, or barely a thought from the day to day of the average Christian. I think your BLOG helps. Thanks for what you do to equip the saints to better serve God in a changing world.
December 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm
>That is a good recommend – I will have to add it to my collection. I am always on the lookout for good resources like that.Here is an honest questions – one about the modern church.Modern Church: is it too easy to say that most Evangelical churches care about A) getting more people B) getting those people to give more and that C) those people primarily care about having their needs met ?I am afraid that is the Evangelical Trifecta. The problem there is that the theological endeavor is a distant twelfth in priority!It is like the scaffolding or 2×4 framework that holds up a house. Most people don't even think about it. Then when someone wants to come in a change something … to some it is a huge inconvenience. but then others just move out of the house – they don't want to live there anymore… and so often they don't even know why.My hope is to say them "the house doesn't need to be constructed that way – there are other ways to frame that and have Christ dwell with & in it"
December 2, 2010 at 12:12 am
>I love the responses to your big concerns. I love what you have going on here. I have a suggestion, especially for context. It's a book by Emile Durkheim called the Division of Labor in Society. Durkheim was one of the founding fathers of Sociology and he did an amazing job of defining different ways societies function and malfunction. It can shed a lot of light onto the discussion of context, as well as give practical tools on how to adapt to a different social (relational) context
December 2, 2010 at 2:55 am
>Yeah – good one. Sociology is definitely going to have to be one of our dialogue partners in the 21st century.One of the first books that I have on my Christmas reading list is called "Modern Social Imaginaries" by Charles Taylor. I am very intrigued by the idea.
December 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm
>There are three core texts that really defined Sociology in the 19th century and have had enormous influence on the field of study (and are still extremely relevant). You should check out Marx's Capital: Volume 1, Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Durkheim's Division of Labor in Society. Those are all required reading for about half of the Sociology classes here, and provide extraordinary insight into social constructs. I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the idea of religion and faith occurring in context.
December 3, 2010 at 6:33 pm
>This morning I had an interesting interaction with a popular Christian blogger over Twitter (yeah, i know…"blogger over twitter"…the future is now!) But I'll get to this interaction in a minute…His blog's focus is to point out the silly things of Christian culture, and generally stupid things that Christians do or say. The blog is amusing and he has also written a couple books, but I have found myself…frustrated by him. He is critical of the church, which is awesome, but he does so without contributing a constructive response to his criticisms. Sometimes I feel like that is true of leaders in the Emerging Church. They don't like what they see, but really, they aren't doing anything new or paradigm shifting. Most of the changes involve their modes of worship inside the church, and their "emergent changes" of how we go out of the church aren't radical at all. They say things like, "we should be relational", and "the church should be missional". Well…of course! Everyone knows that!However, if these leaders really want to move forward as a Church, they need to examine the hard things of the past and begin the painful process of reconciliation. You can't be missional if you don't first deal with racial and cultural issues.So this blogger posted a comment on Twitter: "How do Asians spell LOL? ROR"Yeah…I couldn't help but say back to him: "Why would you say such a racist thing…"To which he responded: "Its not racist. Don't use words you don't understand."Ok.The point of this post is:The Church can't make progress on critical thought alone. Constructive progress must be made towards the future which involves racial reconciliation, generational understanding, and contextual comprehension. Making jokes around racial stereotypes is not the future. Apologizing for them is, even when we never said them.
December 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm
>The privilege of being in power can not be overstated. When you are part of the dominant culture you do stuff like this… un-caring.The worst part to me is a tie A) when it comes to Language, there is no 'Asian'. No one speaks 'asian'. It is not a language. People from Asian countries do not all speak the same language. Ignorance that you can afford when you are privileged. B) the cold response. no concern like 'oh jeez, I may have said something that was not good.' No. unapologetic. wow.but I like what you said about it. This is going to become an increasingly real issue.
December 3, 2010 at 7:53 pm
>All of these issues are very important and I think all three pose unique challenges to the coming generation of Christian communities. The one that sticks out boldly in my mind right now is race.The common saying is that the most segregated hour in the United States is the worship hour. And it's true. Voluntary segregation comes easy. It is easier to surround ourselves with monoculture than to dedicate ourselves to bridging racial and cultural lines. Building and crossing these bridges is a messy and difficult commitment.In my very limited experience, racial and cultural reconciliation in the Church moves backward before it moves forward. I'm postulating that this is the case because when we truly begin to work through the mess, all of the suppressed or unconscious issues crop up and we're surprised that we have to go back and deal with those things before we can move forward. People aren't prepared for this and the result is a desire to become more solidified in our voluntary segregation. We pay lip service to diversity, but we can't do the work of diversity.How we navigate these issues in the future will dictate how the future of Christianity develops.
December 5, 2010 at 6:04 am
>Bo,I agree with so much of what you're saying here, but I can't help but feel that this discussion isn't complete without addressing gender and sexual orientation. Women remain second-class citizens in our churches and institutions – often, even those that purport an egalitarian ethos.Sexual orientation remains understandably contentious. While I reject its delineation as sinful, I think there is a long way that Christians who remain theological conservative on this issue can come. The left and the right can do much better.I agree with your premise that it's better for white males to be talking about this stuff, than NOT be talking about this stuff. We just have to be really cognizant of the need to invite other voices into our spheres of influence.Thanks for the good words, bro.
December 5, 2010 at 7:13 am
>Generation/Context: In a recent conversation, a missionary to Eastern Europe told me of his hopes to link with a prominent ministry in North America. My missionary friend had some reservations, however, as the patriarch of this ministry (60+) tried to get him to buy into the idea that "church looks the same everywhere." They essentially wanted him to be willing to reproduce their model before they would agree to support him. Race/Gender/Politics: I get the feeling that identity faith/limited issue Christianity is going to be an even bigger issue than it has been over the past several decades (at least in the North American context). I think a great question for any Jesus follower, despite their particular concerns, is something like the following: "If Jesus wanted you to change your perspective on this topic, would you be willing to do it?"
December 6, 2010 at 5:46 am
>Peter and Rob – thank you both SO much for those thoughts. I have taken them to heart (and accounted for them in the Weekend Roundup)You've gotten me thinking and I am currently writing a Pod for January that addresses the issues. always appreciated…