Sunday, October 21, 2007

Emergent: The Other White Church?

So as I looked around at the crowd gathered for the Emergence 2007 conference I noticed a profound proliferation of Caucasian faces. It really hit me that, with a few greatly-valued exceptions, the Emergent conversation seems to be a phenomenon of white, middle and upper-class Americans and Europeans. Such an obvious fact made me wonder what exactly was going on here.

Perhaps we should ask the larger question, is Postmodernism - to which Emergent is responding - a demographically isolated event? I've read in the literature that Postmodernism spans cultures, but I've seen very few examples of that multi-cultural experience inside Emergent. I see few African, Latino, or Asian examples of postmodern cultural change, but my expertise is limited to the media I've had available either print or video. This definitely will require more investigation to come up with satisfying answers.

Many have lamented the segregation of the American evangelical church. Most commentators seem to cast their dispersions in the direction of persistent, latent racism that hasn't been addressed in the church. There may be some truth to this. I know that my own upbringing has left me with deep suspicions of others that seem to be rooted at a subconscious level, ignoring the deep friendships I've had with many people of other races.

I wonder, however, if the issue of persistent segregation is more due to xenophobia rather than racism, per se. I find myself equally uncomfortable around unknown people who are different than me regardless of whether that difference is race, economic class, or education level. This is not the final word in my relationship with such people, as my reason and beliefs kick in and allow me to push through to really get to know the individuals I meet, but if I am honest I must admit that the initial xenophobia is more often than not my initial reaction.

If we are left with a church culture segregated by such xenophobia, then the very real possibility exists that the entire postmodernity-fueled convulsion that is the Emergent conversation may not be meaningful at all in churches native to these other cultures. This is something we will definitely need to explore as we move forward.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Emergence 2007 - Austin, TX

I was fortunate enough to catch that one of the Emergence 2007 gatherings was going to be here in Austin a few weeks ago and signed up. The first session ended an hour or so ago, and I wanted to give a quick report of tonight's opening session and some comments on the experience.

Tonight's session was centered around the discussion from the stage between four panelists and a moderator. The focus of tonight's discussions was theology in the Emergent movement.

The discussion was carried out in the form of answers to several key questions. First was considered, "What is the Gospel?". Next was, "How do you view the Bible?" followed by, "What is your theory of atonement?" Several other questions were considered as well. (Fatigue is starting to set in, I'm afraid, so my recollections are starting to get a bit fuzzy....sorry.)

One thing that stands out is my own answer to the question, "What is the Gospel?" as it is something that I've been considering at length for a while now. I believe the Gospel is the reality that we who are blind and deaf to the Creator and spiritual things can enter into a dynamic relationship with the Creator after the model of Jesus. I'm going to have to unpack this for you at a later date, but the implications of this are fairly radical.

There were a couple of metaphors that occurred to me over the course of the evening about the various panelists and, correspondingly, all participants in the emergent discussion. The first is related to "how emergent" some individuals and groups are, which can be compared to a swimming pool. Some stand outside the pool because they fear the water. Some are willing to wade in, but they don't get off the steps so only their ankles get wet. Some get in a little deeper, perhaps up to their waist, while others jump into the deep end wholeheartedly.

Each of these groups were roughly represented by the panelists tonight. Some were basically modernist in their beliefs with a heart for Postmoderns. Some sought to balance modernity with postmodernity, while others threw off all traces of modernity. The discussions, correspondingly, were at times tense as people's presuppositions created friction with others'.

Another metaphor occurred to me while discussing the evening with a friend of mine after the session was adjourned. This particular metaphor concerned the paradigm shift between the modernist evangelical and the postmodernist emergent points of view and has its roots in my profession of computer programming. The modernist point of view is analogous to the structured programming model of the seventies and early eighties, while the emergent point of view is like the object-0riented programming model. For my non-techie readers I'll elaborate a bit.

Structured programming was a major advancement from its predecessors. It provided a systematic way of isolating program behavior into discrete, independent methods. Object orientation (OO), however, seeks to model systems with the same entities found in the real world - that is, an object that has data and behavior in the real world is modeled as closely as possible in the program. OO is a more holistic approach to software systems, but it would not be possible without the structured techniques that undergird the object techniques. In the same way, emergent thought relies on the propositional nature of modernist evangelicalism.

The evening was interesting, but not without frustrations. The most significant of which is the fact that a conference about the emergent conversation is essentially a large group of people sitting and watching an emergent conversation, but only participating by submitting questions. Hopefully tomorrow will allow for more interaction.

That's all for now. I'm beat.