What are we supposed to think when we read that pastor so-and-so is controversial because he is the leader of such-and-such a church (which may or may not call itself a church), which is part of the emergent stream of the emerging conversation inside the emerging or emergent church? If you don't "get it," does that mean you are merely the kind of person who just doesn't "get it," which means you will not understand what the people on the inside who do "get it" are talking about when they talk about "it"?
Yes, on one level we are talking about postmodernism. At the same time we are talking about evangelical Protestants who love postmodernism, which may or may not mean that they are no longer evangelicals, but it surely means that they are free-church Protestants because they are all creating their own future churches out of the pieces of lots of other churches in the past (woven together with media and technology from the present), except for those who are so free church that they now insist that their congregations (because they say so) should no longer be considered old-fashioned churches at all. I think that's what they are saying and I ought to know, since, for some reason, many emerging-church leaders read this blog. I think.
Clearly I am confused. But that's OK. In fact, it's kind of postmodern. Maybe I "get it" after all.
So, journalists, if you are as confused as I am, you need to scroll through the resources at the new covering-the-emerging-church resource page assembled by the religion-beat professionals at ReligionLink.org. They say that this emerging thing is just starting to warm up and get complex, because it's not just for evangelicals anymore.
As the emerging church -- also known as the postmodern church or "po mo" -- evolves, it's also diversifying. Some want to transcend boundaries between conservative evangelicals and liberal mainline churches. Others are seeking more leadership opportunities for women and non-Anglos. And many churches, though they're not all about youth or culture, are borrowing ideas from the emerging church trend, available through the Internet, conferences, books and CDs. Jewish leaders hoping to engage more youth have even consulted with emerging church groups.
So are people messing with (1) the doctrine of the church, (2) traditional doctrines (plural) taught by the church or (3) the very idea that doctrines should exist at all?
ReligionLink says that:
The emerging church seems to be forking in three directions, says scholar Ed Stetzer in his forthcoming book, Breaking the Missional Code: When Churches Become Missionaries in Their Communities (co-author David Putman, Broadman & Holman Publishers, May 2006). The most conservative fork accepts the gospel and the church in their historic forms but seeks to make them more understandable in contemporary culture. A second fork accepts the gospel but questions and reconstructs much of the traditional church form. The third, the most radical, questions and re-envisions both the gospel and the church.
So what does all of this mean?
Early on in my work as a religion reporter -- about 25 years ago -- I started trying to find quick ways to find out who was who in the various Christian groups that I covered. This quest evolved into my fascination with the work of sociologist James Davison Hunter at the University of Virginia (click here for background).
Before long, I learned that you could learn a whole lot in this post-1960s world by asking mainline and Catholic leaders three blunt questions. Think of these as research questions that would work for any Godbeat reporter.
(1) Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen?
(2) Is salvation found through Jesus alone?
(3) Is sex outside of the sacrament of marriage a sin?
Now, it appears that it is time to start asking these old mainline questions among some of the "emerging" evangelical leaders, including the person who often is named as the leader of the progressive pack. As ReligionLink notes:
For a sense of the distance between conservative and liberal emerging evangelicals, read Mark Driscoll's "rant" about Brian McLaren and homosexuality at the Christianity Today blog, Out of Ur. [Out of Ur is the blog of Christianity Today's sister publication, Leadership Journal. CT's blog is here.]
By all means, read it. The rise of a true evangelical left is an emerging story.