January 7, 2012 / The Church & Postmodern Culture
This Christmas season I had the privilege of attending a memorial service, a vigil in …
July 25, 2011
Tony Jones is an ecclesiologist. He blogs and serves as the theologian in residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. His second book on the ECM drops in August, 2011: The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.
It turns out that David Fitch is disappointed with the Emergent/ing/ence Church Movement (ECM). Well, he’d better get in line. It seems that all sorts of people are disappointed in us — in the last week, I’ve read accounts on Facebook and blogs of evangelicals, liberals, mainliners, and GLBT persons who are disappointed with the ECM. Imagine my surprise, via Facebook, to discover that we had disappointed the bisexual and transgendered people of thew world.
No doubt, a lot of people have put a lot of hopes in the EMC, hopes that we were bound to disappoint. More interesting to me than how we’ve disappointed people, however, is what has led so many people, Dave and the authors of Church in the Present Tense among them, to be so disappointed with the modern church that they’d like to overhaul the entire thing.
So, it’s like this: a bunch of us got together about a decade ago and said, “This patient is sick, really sick. Let’s see if we can’t help her get better.” So we did our level best.
Turns out, other physicians and metaphysicians (see what I did there?) also care about this patient, so they started chiming in with their diagnoses. It’s like we were doing our own little surgery on the church and suddenly, there were a bunch of other surgeons in the gallery, shouting directions at us.
“More radical reformation,” said Dr. Fitch. “She needs to be more radically anti-imperialistic.”
“No,” countered Dr. Jamie Smith, “Put some Milbank in that IV bag and give her a radical orthodoxy drip.”
“You’ve strayed too far from evangelical hermeneutics,” said Dr. McKnight. “Just give her some blue parakeet pills.”
“You’re all wrong,” shouted Dr. Corcoran, “These guys don’t even believe that the patient is real; they think this is a game. What they need is a dose of reality.”
I could go on, but I think you get my point. The very openness to conversation that has been engendered by the ECM is also our downfall. We’ve take a pastiche approach to church and theology — we take a little bit from here and a little bit from there. The benefit of that is a great deal more freedom than many leaders in the church feel. The other side of that coin, however, is that we inevitably disappoint anyone who comes from a particular camp, because we’re never really enough of anything.
Church in the Present Tense, in my reading, is along these lines. Each author takes the ECM gently to task, asking us to be more of something. Funny thing is, they don’t agree on what we should be more of, and neither does Dave, who’s interaction with this book precedes mine.
I happen to love this aspect of the ECM. I think that the pastiche model really works, thus I read each of the chapters in this book with keen interest, both challenged by them and wishing I could take each author to the theological woodshed.
I do wish that CitPT had done two things: 1) presented the diversity of the ECM more boldly (a book with four white, male authors just doesn’t wash), and 2) dealt with the very pastiche model that I mention above. Do the authors reject that aspect of the ECM, or are they happy that their tradition gets a hearing therein?