Emergence

*This is old. I found it in my archives, unpublished, and I was loathe to delete it, though it seems impossible to complete at this future date. I’ve since come to some conclusions about the Emergent movment, but to say everything right would require an article far too long for me to complete with my current time costraints. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share this “as is” for you consideration.*

“Hey look at that.” I pointed at a bumper sticker on the SUV next to us.

“Yeah? What about it?” Valerie was obviously not impressed.

“It says, ‘I’m proud of my cub scout’ on a bumper sticker!”

“OK. So what?”

“Well, if they’re so proud of their son, how come it’s on a bumper sticker?”

“Because they’re proud of him.”

“Well, look at it this way: it must have been an easy sales pitch – ‘you know, if you were really proud of your son, you’d buy this bumper sticker that says so.’”

“Kyle! They don’t have bumper sticker salesmen. You have to go out of your way to buy one. It’s not something you get pressured into.”

“But, why would somebody be proud of being a cub scout?”

“My brothers were proud of being cub scouts. They went through the whole program. Dale is an Eagle Scout, and Alex is working on his Eagle Scout.”

“Hm. Maybe I just don’t have any appreciation for it because when I was a cub scout, all the leaders were our moms.”

“Some people like achieving things and being honored for them. I liked being on the honor roll in high school, and my parents were proud of me for it.”

I didn’t remember if I was on the honor roll in high school or not. I certainly don’t remember my parents being *proud* of me for it. I do remember getting honor roll certificates nearly every semester in undergrad. I felt about it something close to the way I felt when teachers would compliment me for having the fortitude to go to church on Sundays. What’s to be proud of?

“I guess I’ve felt pretty disjointed from the rest of the world for most of my life. I never fit in, never felt like I was part of the community. And I’ve been exposed to so many communities that achieving something acceptable to them just felt like jumping through another set of hoops. When you’re not part of the group, it’s hard to see the things that are praised by the group as something worth achieving. And, the few times that I’ve really felt like I was a part of the group, that group usually disintegrated within a few months.”

”That’s sad.”

“Is it? I’ve always thought it was normal. It’s been my experience that every organization is always tottering on the brink between disintegration and calcification.”

“That’s not a very charitable view of the world.”

”No? It’s what I’ve experienced.”

“Does that apply to families too?”

“I guess not. Families have something stronger than agreement that keeps them together. They have a covenant that forces them together and prevents them, in a sense, from leaving.”

“But isn’t it still a pretty cynical view of the world?”

“I don’t know. I’ve just never been able to force people to stay.”

I’m repeating this conversation for another reason besides a look into the neuroses of Kyle French, and the other obvious fact that my parents didn’t praise me enough in my endeavors at scouting. (:)) It’s this emergent thing I keep hearing about. I don’t get it.
Everybody who’s anybody is in on it, and its one major distinctive is that it doesn’t know what it is. “Emergent” is the new cool word for what used to be known as “post-modern.” As far as I can tell, everybody switched when it came into view that post-modernism is an oxymoron, since “modern” is the definition for whatever is going on right now. Defining post-modern is as productive as asking what happened before the big bang, or what is the sound of one hand clapping. On the other hand, Emergent means *cutting edge.* We’re here, and we’re different, but we don’t know exactly what we are yet.

I’m supposed to be emergent. I’m fairly certain I am. But I’m leery about it. Being part of a community is important to me, if for no other reason than that it takes an incredible amount of effort. I always feel that I have to either reshape myself into what an acceptable member of the community is supposed to conform to, or reshape the community in such a way that I fit. Fitting in is a decision I have to deliberate about, so I want to know exactly what that entails.

I suppose my uncertainty about whether I’m emergent is in itself proof that I’m emergent. I’m attending at a Baptist church, and I’m confident that *this* isn’t what I want. I’ve seen the charismatic movement up close and, while I’m in agreement with them in a lot of ways, *that’s* not exactly right either. If anything’s emergent, I aught to be. But I don’t know. I’ve been down the road of throwing out tradition, and it’s a very short road. A new system *will* be created, and it can take as little as a week.

I think the key is in how you define “Emergent” (oxymoronic as that may sound). Steve Barna has recently reorganized [The Barna Group](http://www.barna.org/), into an organization more focused on creating leadership within the church than in equipping the leadership they believe is largely non-existent. One of their tools in their new focus is going to be

> 3. BarnaBooks — “a strategic partnership with Tyndale House Publishers … Starting in 2005, these branded books will reveal what is happening in the emerging Church – not the postmodern, candles/coffee/couches types of anti-modern ministries, but the Revolutionary ministry that is percolating to the surface of American society through new forms of ministry such as the cyberchurch, house churches, marketplace ministries, and tribal faith experiences.”

Here you have two different characterization of emergent Christianity, and frankly, I can’t tell the difference. But [Steve Knight](http://www.knightopia.com/journal/archives/000642.html#more) can:
> This is some heavy stuff. It’s just a pity that his view of the “emerging church” is such a caricature. Hopefully he’ll do some better research on the EC and get the real thing.

Again I’m lost. And I’d probably be doing better if I had gone to the [Charlotte Emerging Church Meetup Q&A](http://indieallies.meetup.com/27/events/4469086/) last night, which I missed. But it seems to me that everything truly “emergent” should fall under the category of “formless and void.” If somebody wants to negatively characterize a certain portion of what’s emerging, that may be an unfortunate nuisance, but how can it be inaccurate? Unless, of course, someone is saying that coffee shop Christianity *isn’t* emergent. More hoops to jump through.

6 thoughts on “Emergence”

  1. Sorry about that cubscout thing. I also failed to put “my child is on the honor roll” bumperstickers on my car. I think t was from the perspective that as a child I would have been humiliated had my parents put a bumpersticker like that on their car and I had a strong desire to protect the dignity of my children.

    However, if you didn’t feel praised enough, I would definitely be the one to blame. However, I preferred to praise your unique mind and perhaps downplay your handicraft skills. And for myself a little of the “I’m me and I’m special” weltanschauung goes a long way.
    Ironically though, I believe it’s a true statement. Children are unique and each one is special but making that particular delcaration robs them of both their uniquness and their specialness. Children are individuals and have real abilities and those need to be developed and appreciated and praised, but specifically not generically — and I think they can tell the difference.

    sidebar: the organizations that kids belong to provide parents with those bumperstickers….they don’t have to go looking for them. I received the honor roll ones [the ones that never got to the bumper]in the mail.

    As to your Emergent [as opposed to emerging?] Church: One of the most profound and I though amazingly balanced opinions I’ve ever heard put forth was Rick Joyner saying he didn’t want to be on the “cutting edge”. He wanted to be in the place God had for him, wherever it might be.

    Like the young man I had a conversation with who said, “I know I’m supposed to be a ‘Leader'”. If we’re teaching all kids that they are supposed to be “Leaders” exactly who will there be left for them to lead?

    What if the Lord needed to get light into a place of mediocre occupation….he would have to get a Christian in there somehow.

    [I’ll step off the soap box now and pull in my oar]

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  2. I had one more thought on the “I’m me and I’m special” trend. W.S. Gilbert put it best:

    “If Everybody Somebody
    Then No one’s Anybody!”

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  3. Oh don’t you worry about me getting praise enough. It’s you I have to blame for an ego the size of Manhattan.

    I was thinking the other direction: Praising children in general tells them that *they* are worthwile. But the specific things you praise them for tells them what is valuable. You didn’t praise me for my math skills, or for being on the honor roll, or for being on the swim team, so I grew up thinking those things were unimportant. To this day, I am convinced that my grade in a class tells me more about the teacher than about my own performance. I have little to no interest in sports, and a good number of other socially praised activities. On the other hand, you did praise me for my communication skills and for my creativity. As a result I’d rather be a theology professor than a physicist, and I think ballet is exciting and baseball is boring. In praising me in those things, you praised those things to me.

    I have no problems with that. I’m a happy, well-adjusted kind of guy. But I do have to be careful now that I’m an adult not to be derrisive of people like Valerie’s brothers, who made Eagle Scout. It’s a very high achievement. But it never occurred to me before that conversation that this was something to aspire to. Likewise with the emergent movement. Some people are Emergent, not because their astute theology led them to Emergent conclusions, but because their whole sub-culture has been aspiring to become the things that Emergent claims to be.

    Looking back with what I’d learned so far, I could make some comparisons with the reorganization of the German church under Hitler. Hitler had just come to power, and all of Europe was tripping out over a single word: leadership. Everybody wanted a Führer, an il Duche. So they reorganized the German church under a single man’s leadership. Karl Barth protested, not because reorganizing the church was wrong, but because they had no theological *reason* for reorganising. They had been so busy praising leadership among themselves that everything had to get on the bandwagon to become “more German.”

    The same thing with Emergent, only in reverse: Everybody in the group has been praiseing this amorphous semi-liberal, semi-evangelical, good-for-the-environment Christianity, and praising each other for aspiring or even achieving these ideals. Amorphous is the New Hierarchy. So Emergent comes along and they merge right in. Brad Hightower, whom I like, and who doesn’t call himself Emergent (that I know of), disbands his church, reforms as an informal association, and talks about his evangelism efforts in language I can barely understand. (Just the first paragraph. The rest makes complete sense.) This is what he praises, so this is what they become.

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  4. So, if I had praised your soccer efforts you wouldn’t have been dancing in the middle of the soccer field oblivious to the two teams parting like the red-sea to avoid running over you?

    I think it works both ways. Actually I did praise you in math [I just cautioned you that unless you wanted to pursue a career in math, not to take any more of it because of the excessive homework] And while you seemed to have been born understanding math, numbers never had the same hold on your heart and mind that words did….so which came first the interest or the praise?

    [I have no excuse for my lack of interest in cubscouts — I’m doing better with Dakota….though as I recall you won a prize for a cake]

    Personally, I think the Emergents are asking the wrong questions….or perhaps just praising the wrong things.

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  5. Poor neglected (sort of) child Kyle. Don’t worry, I forgive you for not being a good scout. By the way, how is it possible to declare youself cutting edge or “emergent”. It seems a little contradictory.

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  6. Like I said, this was from a while ago. I don’t really consider myself emergent anymore, although, a lot of people at morningStar, if they heard a clear explanation of the term, would probably think of themsevles that way.

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