Is it really either-or?

I’m getting tired of the constant use of either-or to describe whether someone is emergent. The latest is this article, which gives seven layers (stages?) that a church can go through on the path to emerging. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, some make me squirm uncomfortably, but the last one makes me mad.

I guess the pinnacle of emerging is the discovery that the Bible talks about injustice, poverty, and compassion. So apparently, the non-emergent churches out there are NOT aware of the biblical emphasis on social issues until they have reached the emergent plateau, and can call themselves an emerging church.

Setting aside the seeker churches (which, it seems to me, tend to view themselves as IN the mission field, and therefore keep their money and attention inside the church), this claim rattles me. Do we really have to be emerging in order to care about social issues? Are we really that blind to them until we have formed community groups, become concerned about conversations instead of conversions, have church in a bar, and grow goatees?

Of course not, and let me give you two examples, from opposite extremes. The first is my brother, Kevin. He left his professional career to devote his life to inner city kids. He and I have briefly discussed the emerging phenomenon, but it doesn’t touch the group he works with. You can imagine that their mission field is too busy avoiding crack dealers, trying not to get shot, and wondering who their daddy is to worry about whether the church is culturally relevant. Kevin’s gospel is two-fold: Jesus loves you, and stay in school. Kevin isn’t postmodern, emerging, or anything else along those lines. However, he is greatly in touch with social issues, and got there without an alternative community group. He did, however, once sport a goatee.

Which brings me to me (although I never went the goatee route). I also do not feel like I’m postmodern, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site. And I haven’t left my cushy white-collar job to live in the hood. However, my wife and I have given loads of money away to churches and organizations whose mission is to tackle these social issues head on: sometimes with the gospel, sometimes by meeting felt needs. It is so ingrained in me not to blow the trumpet and tell you the precise amount or percentage I’ve given away, that even at this point I hesitate to tell you. The point of doing so would be simply to say that I also did not attend a postmodern convention or start a service with an “x” in the name, before I felt convicted by God to start giving this money away.

So let’s not make the mistake of assuming that non-emergent churches don’t care about social issues, and that all emergent churches (and people) do. It just may be that our emergentness (which is a word I think I just made up) and our compassion have nothing to do with each other.

2 thoughts on “Is it really either-or?”

  1. I would be careful in taking some guys interpretation of something McLaren said and posting it on some site as saying much of anything. The difficulty with the “emerging” people is that it is a loosely defined term with a loose membership….anyone and everyone can call themselves emerging and since it appears to be the “new Christian thing”, it seems that many do. Unfortunately, other people may take this article as some test of emergent and begin misapplying it in any number of situations. I pray this doesn’t happen!

    I think your point of not making the mistake of associating concern with social issues only with the emerging church is an excellent one and I appreciate you pointing that out.

    I also have run into a little bit of the us emerging people vs. the them “modernistic” people. It is a somewhat glaring error because it seems that one of the tenets of “emergent” is accepting people where they are instead of demanding that they come to where we are. It just proves that we are all prone to comparing ourselves with others (perhaps – sadly – in the hopes of making us look better).

  2. BTW: This comment was posted in response to the article you mentioned. To me, it points out that there are many viewpoints to whatever was actually said and everyone there probably brought their own preconceived ideas with them and filtered the words through that!:

    I just thought I’d address the seven layers that you took away from that evening. I also was there, but came away with a VERY different feel.

    #1)Mclaren said there are MANY different layers, and the point of them wasn’t to show superiority, but to simply explain that we all need to respect each other along this journey, no matter where we’re at. We need to celebrate movement on all levels, not judge because we’re at a “higher” level than others.

    #2) He didn’t imply all the cynicism you are now as you basically poke fun at anyone who is not at the “seventh” layer.

    #3) NO WONDER Mclaren is getting so much heat! People take his innocent encouragements towards ecclesiological change and twist them. Personally, the feel I got from the evening was to simply figure out a way to include EVERYONE in the emergent discussion … no matter what stage of the game they’re at, or what denominations they’re in. It was amazing to hear from both “willow” and traditional church people, as well as those launching out in their own emergent communities.

    Personally, I had only heard of Mclaren a few weeks before, and it was a random event that allowed me to spend the evening with the emergent crowd at the house. I came away from the evening with the understanding of people’s dissatisfaction with church, but also with the hope that there CAN be change as we love each other towards it. We can’t judge or label each other!

    Please, from someone who is very new to this movement, be VERY careful to not stir up more dissention, and be even MORE careful with how you use someone’s words… especially someone you respect. We need to protect each other, and keep the communication doors open to ALL.

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