Stand to Reason

For crying out loud.  I have so many things on my mind that I want to talk about.  I've tried to head toward other topics like music and book quotes on the Trinity, but the onslaught against the emerging church conversation never ends.  And as a good baptist I can't keep my mouth shut.  So I feel compelled, once again, to respond to an online article.  This time, one that links to me.

Stand to Reason, is an apologetics/discipleship ministry that intends to train Christians to defend the faith.  If you know more about StR and want to share more in the comments, feel free.  As for me, I've seen their site before but never felt compelled to spend much time there.  They may be great, who knows?

In a recent post on the StR blog, Brett Kunkle has decided to tackle the never-ending question, "Is Emergent a Conversation or Movement."  I'll draw out a few quotes and respond.

In quoting the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Mr. Kunkle writes,

It defines a conversation as an "oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas" and a movement as "a series of organized activities working toward an objective" or as "an organized effort to promote or attain an end." From these straightforward definitions, does Emergent qualify as a conversation or movement?

Okay, easy enough.  Let's see what he comes up with.

It seems that Emergent has moved way beyond the conversation stage. They have their own books, their own websites, their own conferences, and their own churches. They no longer offer mere sentiments, observations, or opinions.

Lovers of oak trees have books and websites and conferences, but that doesn't mean there is a movement of oak tree lovers.  They just enjoy studying, talking about, and sharing information on oak trees.  Apologists have books and websites and conferences.  Does that mean they have a movement of apologists?  Or are they just continuing a conversation about the faith that needs defending?

These things constitute a conversation that includes observations and opinions.  But what about that pesky fourth thing?  We may have a movement if we see a fleet of churches who are organized and working together to reach objectives and goals.  Uh, where are they?  Where's the denominational headquarters?  Where's the emergent pope or recognized president?  Where's the website that all emergents go to for directions because we all belong to a movement? 

There is no movement, at least not yet.

And having churches that consider themselves emergent or emerging doesn't mean there is a movement.  It means they agree on a word that helps to identify them, and they don't even agree on that.  And one "emerging church" can be very different from another, and yet another.  That makes for a pretty poor organized movement.

These things clearly show the emerging church is a conversation, and only a conversation so far.  But Kunkle continues.

Emergent is working toward a particular objective: to reform the Church. Now, there is nothing wrong with this objective in and of itself. We would certainly want to think carefully about the reforms being proposed by Emergent, but that is a topic for another day. My inquiry here has to do with Emergent’s insistence on being called a conversation rather than a movement.

It should be the work of every church to work for reformation: semper reformanda.  Just because there's a loose knit web of people who have a lot in common because they are talking about some specific reformational ideas to help us reach emerging generations doesn't mean there is a movement. 

And Kunkle ignores the fact that some who consider themselves emerging don't want anything to do with the church as they know it.  They want to start their own churches.  But a number of others want reform.  And some others are skeptical of getting too organized.  This varied understanding of church is the pulse of a conversation, not a movement that has an objective.

The answer may lie in Emergent’s seemingly ultra-defensive posture...when it comes under criticism. It seems to me that this may be a strategy, albeit an unconscious one, to get out from under ANY criticism. A movement with a clear objective ought to be critically examined so if Emergent can successfully label itself a "conversation" then they can deflect any attempt at examination or critique.

Or it could be that it really IS a conversation.  Getting into motive (conscious or not) puts a writer into a highly flammable situation.  I agree, if it's clearly a movement and they try to deflect criticism, there's something very wrong.  But I already showed there's no evidence of a real movement. 

And I would love to see examples of where those in the conversation are unwilling to accept criticism.  I have seen Brian McLaren (for example ) accept criticism like I haven't seen an evangelical do so.  Here is an example.  There is a new blog with a (sometimes too harsh) critique of Emergent.  Those sympathetic with emergent who comment on that site aren't saying they shouldn't be critiqued.  There is dialogue and critique of both sides.  I think the claim that emergent wants to avoid critique is imaginary.  Theories of evasion and unconscious strategy are fun and all, but unproven.

They have offered a clear critique of the current Church, they draw clear conclusions, and they offer a particular direction which they believe the Church ought to move in. For evidence of this, simply pick up any book by a recognized leader of Emergent.

Really?  I've picked some up and read them.  They are thin on clear conclusions and particular directions, but thick on critique and possible suggestions.  They point out possibilities and dreams of the church.  Believe me, I really wish they were clearer on direction and solutions!

So let us set aside any debate over whether Emergent is a conversation or movement and move on to the more important task of carefully and thoughtfully examining Emergent’s views on and proposals for the Church.

You can approach the emerging church conversation any way you like.  But I suggest it's always better to try to understand it before you speak about it.  And Kunkle, like too many evangelicals, doesn't understand much about the emerging church yet.   Maybe this will open up dialogue that will prove fruitful.