When the revolution is over, the work begins
January 9, 2010
Andrew Jones’s post on the emerging church maturing has again caused a stir in the blogosphere. He talks about the movement going mainline, and ceasing to be radical and controversial. Danielle Shroyer has written a good response called What do you do when a revolution isn’t sexy anymore? (hat-tip to Steve Hayes). Actually, the tension about the end of the emerging church has been running for a number of years now, and immediately after reading Andrew’s post my mind jumped to the September 2008 “death of emerging” conversation. Although a lot of us took part in that conversation, it was the claims made at the Out of Ur blog that caught the attention of a lot of people.
Mark Sayers, in a post that was discussed somewhat earlier this year, wrote that: “at first the movement’s energy and internal dialogue is centered around defining itself against the common enemy. But then as time passes the internal dialogue of the movement begins to shift away from ‘defining against’ to ‘defining itself’.” This seems to be quite accurate of much of what has been happening in the emerging church conversation over the past few years. The moment, I believe, which best captured this was when Dan Kimball declared that he is using missional more, because of the tension around the term emerging, and because the definition has changed form what he intended in The Emerging Church. But many voices has been adding their ideas to the fact that the emerging movement is fractured, and worked to define it. Apart from Mark’s post, I quickly think of Mark Driscoll on this video and Jim Belcher in Deep Church, and in a way Tony Jones’s The New Christians also attempted to help to better define a specific interpretation of emerging. I believe this is already signs of a movement, a revolution, maturing.
When the revolution is over, a lot of work need to start. Danielle mentioned some of this work. This doesn’t mean that the revolution has failed, on the contrary.
The revolution need to be studied, to answer the question: What the hell happened? Andrew talked about this history writing, so did Steve. I believe there is a lot of work to be done to just try and figure out what happened in the church over the past couple of decades. Linked to this, is that we need to critically examen the voices from the revolution. We will have to recognize where we were just being “hip church”, rather than contextualizing the gospel in the Western culture. Voices need to be evaluated, and the reality is that in the long term we are going to look back and recognize that some who seemed to be part of the revolution just “didn’t get it”. This is needed for a movement to mature.
Furthermore we would have to recognize the wider context in which the revolution happened. Brian Mclaren has mentioned a broader conversation a number of times, mentioning that liberation theology, feminist theology, and postcolonial theology was in a way part of the same revolution, but preceded the emerging church. You can listen to an example of him speaking about this here. The emerging church still has a lot of work to do regarding it’s relationship to Third World theology. In spite of Amahoro, from this side of the equator it would seem like the interculturation that Bosch called for still isn’t happening, and till we can say that we (and with we, as an Afrikaner theologian, I’m applying the same challenge to myself than I am to my friends from the First World) are getting this right, serious questions must be asked about our claims that we are moving beyond the modern, colonial, mindset which we have been critiquing.
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church at Wittenberg, it was sexy. It was real sexy! He inspired revolutionaries after him with that act. He became a myth, to say the least. When the young John Calvin, a second generation reformer, wrote his Institutions, it wasn’t sexy at all. He inspired many to take the implications of the Reformation seriously, but he didn’t inspire a revolution with that act. But Calvin was needed. Calvin was needed aso to critique the revolutionaries before him, to point to them where they were stuck in some of the negative aspects of the Roman way they were revolting against. Calvin was needed to make things work in a new way.
I notice young theological students starting their training today, not even bothered by some of the more controversial doctrinal questions that is still running around in emerging conversations, because they were bred and fed in youth ministries that was part of the emerging conversation for years now. And I wonder, what will happen when these young people, not necessarily revolutionaries, but the result of a revolution, start doing church, living the way of Jesus as postmoderns no longer fighting against modernity?