what is it?

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After many years of instinctual response, many good conversations with those who are active in it, an official class on the subject, and now an increasing number of books about it I think I have come to a conclusion about the Emerging Church.

However, the Emerging Church has not come to a conclusion about itself, so this is not a judgment but an expression of the trends. There are several paths which still remain for the Emerging Church, and how it chooses as a whole will radically change it, and may in fact help the Church. Or it may not.

Here’s what I see. The Emerging Church has three choices of Being ahead of it. The first choice is it can be an autonomous movement, isolating itself from the broader Church as it seeks to understand its values as the expression of the Church. This essentially argues that the Church as we have known it offers little in the way of future consideration, and little in the way of present participation. Here we can see it fitting in with other movements of the 20th century such as the Campus Crusade or Young Life philosophy, or the Seeker Sensitive philosophy, which happily pursue their course outside the conversation with history or other forms of church. This seems to be the proposition found in Frost and Hirsch. Other churches are beyond hope, so let’s do something new and do our own thing.

Or, the Emerging Church can see itself as the reflection of the Church as a whole, seeking to transform the other churches into understanding that the values and models it expresses are going to be the future of all forms of the Church. This is similar to the autonomous model in a way, but instead of being content doing its own thing, the Emerging Church will see itself as a teaching movement, and will actively seek to change the Church through dialogue, conversation, and real transformation. This path will not just seek to do something new but will seek to show why what is being done is wrong, and will actively “evangelize” the churches in its attempts to re-form the Church as a whole.

This is, in a partial way, how Luther and Calvin understood the Reformation, and in effect the Catholic Church has clearly adapted itself to the Reformation teachings, with Vatican II being essentially more than Luther expected.

Finally, the Emerging Church can see itself as a prophetic movement, neither entirely autonomous nor thinking it is the only expression of the Church that other churches must follow. Instead, it becomes like the monastic movements of history, which gives a forum for those who wish to pursue Christ more deeply, and more thoroughly, while in its exploration informing the broader Church of how to seek Christ within our culture and within our era. This means it will co-exist along the more traditional models, finding peace with them for what they are able to do. Even as it constantly presses the whole Church, it understands the reality that not all people, nor all leaders, are called to embrace the whole of the Emerging Church values and methods.

My judgment is that if it pursues the autonomous course it will be a fleeting movement as it focuses on always being ‘relevant’ and creative, but never settles into being persistent or deep. Like the other movements of this sort it will have an impact but not resonate through history, nor will it transform our communities as it seeks to do.

If it seeks to be a model movement, then it will run into a great deal of frustration as genuinely good Christians really like and find a lot of sustenance in other models of the church. If the goal is to get the Catholic or Orthodox or even the Presbyterian church to embrace the free floating Emerging Church models, then there will only be anger and condemnation when they choose to reject the offered pleas.

However, as a prophetic movement, embracing both its own depths and seeking to understand the depths of the broader church, calling the Church back to its roots while understanding the realities of historical development, it might just be extremely worthwhile. As a monastic movement within the Protestant Church it could be a place where the spiritual, the discontent, the seeking, and the bohemian can find real peace and faith and hope. Some may commit to this their whole lives, others would float between the various models, informing and teaching and showing, without demanding. As it establishes itself for what it is, this prophetic quality would resonate deeply and broadly. For its focus would not be on what others do, either in the positive or the negative, but on becoming what it is for itself according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is no better strategy in spiritual warfare than getting us to obsess about someone else. So too with church movements. And it is in being neither autonomous nor dictorial that the Emerging Church has a real and profound future.

I have no idea which direction this movement will take. Though I suspect the strongest bent is towards the first choice at this point. Not least because this opens the door to an entirely new power structure, and that is a significant temptation, as it has been since the days Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.

Monasteries, however, seem to have had a significantly better ability to persist than ministerial movements.

a review

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Of the Shaping of Things to Come.

I have long ago realized books which impact other people don’t impact me, and that which I love others don’t quite find as valuable. So, this review is certainly just my perspective and I’m not giving it any sort of grade. Who am I? A nobody really, which is freeing in its way.

One can argue my status should preclude my judgment, given their achievements. However as they too dismiss many entirely more faithful and productive people in history in certain ways I don’t feel too bothered by trying to latch back onto those who they dismiss, even as our goals to move the church forward are the same.

I also should note that I value almost all their conclusions, and agree with their core points in many places. But how they approach those points, how they work out these conclusions has a lot of frustration for me, as it smells of much of what I rejected about ministry stuff a number of years ago.

It’s their methodology that bothers me, and their underlying assumptions. Indeed, I know this review can’t do justice to the book and so I make a lot of declarations without dialogue. That is a weakness of the format and the length limits, which I far passed anyhow.

All this being said, I am glad I read this book, even if ultimately there wasn’t anything particularly new for me, and it raised a lot of warning signals in my head. It’s good to know how people are approaching things, and to learn that maybe, just maybe I do in fact have something to offer to the conversation by coming from a different perspective than the usual Leadership model folks.

So there you go.

#1 birthday song

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So here’s a bit of a curious link. It tells you what the #1 song in the country was on the day you were born, or on any day you find particularly interesting.

For me? It’s “Nothing from Nothing” by Billy Preston:

“Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
You gotta have something, if you wanna be with me.
Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
You gotta have something, if you wanna be with me.

Yeah, yeah!
That’s right, baby
Yeah, baby.

I’m not tryin’ to be your hero
‘Cause that zero, is too cold for me – brrr! I’m not tryin’ to be your highness
‘Cause that minus is too low to see.

Oh, yeah
Yeah, yeah

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
And I’m not stuffin’, believe you me
Don’t you remember I told ya, I’m a soldier
In the war on poverty.

Yes, I am
Yeah, yeah
Yeah, baby.

[ break ]

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing – isn’t that right?
You got to have something, if you wanna be with me – oh, baby!
Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
You got to have something to be with me.”

Yeah, baby
That’s right!
Go ‘head!

You got to have something, if you wanna be with me
You got to bring me something, girl – ha! – if you wanna be with me
You got to know how to party
You got to know how to party
You got to know how to party, it’s alright
If you wanna be with me!”


It is a rather catchy song now that I’m listening to it.

politics now and then

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The loss of its morally and socially conservative but politically progressive Catholics has been a calamity, then, for the Democratic Party, and has seriously undermined its claim to be the vehicle of an effective and humane progressive politics. It is often argued that the socially conservative positions of Republicans are at odds with their support for unregulated capitalism, which serves as a ceaseless engine of social disruption, and a force perpetuating social inequality. But anyone putting forward that argument has to be willing to face up to an equally serious problem on the other side—that the extreme individualism presumed by so many of the current Democratic social policies, with their disdain for tradition and their obsession with liberatory rights-talk and atomistic privacy, is at odds with any sustained effort to foster notions of mutuality, accountability, community, and social responsibility.

Wilfred McClay has more to say on party politics and how they have changed over the last fifty years. I agree with him, and this likely is why I vote the way I do.

Scroll down a bit to find the specific comment. First Things splits things up by day not by post.

Better than Wallis

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I’ve fallen off my political discourse of late mostly because, well, it’s good for me to ponder other things. But, a new book just came out, that I haven’t read but will, that fairly well describes my political position.

Crunchy Cons main premise is that something has gone wrong with the conservative movement in this country. We have become too fixated on materialism and consumerism, at the expense of the family and, in turn, the moral character of society. As E. F. Schumacher said, “the essence of civilization is not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

I’ve had many conversations with friends with whom I share almost exact positions on a whole lot of issues. Yet, when it comes to voting they choose a different person than I do. This is a curious thing. When Jim Wallis came out with his book, and his tour, I was intrigued because I wondered if this would be a pull to me. It wasn’t. His message on the surface was Christians don’t have to be Republicans, even as his real message was, “yes, they have to be Democrats.”

Now, for me I appreciate the rhetoric. But, I am of the firm belief that no party really gets to helping the poor, because the poor can’t contribute, and I can’t help remember the Democrat in Los Angeles who evicted the homeless advocate because he was a Republican. Having been quite poor for a good part of my life I have realized that the only people who help the poor are the ones who go above politics and just do good work, or who commit to working without partisanship. Bono being the most well known of this method.

Yet, in many ways I don’t match the typical conservative, being that I’m socially conservative but a bit liberal in all manner of other topics, especially the environment. I’d even probably become a vegetarian if in any way, shape, or form I liked any vegetables (I do like corn… but who can live on corn alone?).

So, I’m intrigued by this book, and by Rod Dreher’s new website on the book. From what I can tell this is a responsible position for a Christian to take on the issues involved, written by someone who really wants to transform the party, and renew Evangelical politics for the better. If this is the new direction of the Christian Right, I think I’ll renew my membership card.

Here’s a review.
I should note, for those who bother with such things, he’s also a contributing editor to Touchstone.

something I like

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Okay, here’s something I liked, as it echoes something I’m currently pondering.

“One of the most subversive questions Alan asks when he is doing a church revitalization consultation with a local congregation is this: ‘If you could start again from scratch, would you do it the same way?'”

Now, if I can be even more subversive (which by the way I can, since this is my blog), what if we didn’t just ask this about a specific local congregation but if we asked this about the Church as a whole. What if we hit rewind to about 60 or so and were able to start over? Or maybe not even that far, what if we returned to 313, when Christianity really got a chance to be a contender?

Would we do things different? Imagine what we would do different. I think we’d have the doctrine of the Trinity, but I think a lot of not only practices but also theology would be different.

Imagine what the world would be like if we had a temporal reset button and could become the Church again for this world reflecting Christ as we should. I suspect we’d end up a little less divisive. Who’s to say? Maybe we would fix the problems we made, and find new ones to burden future generations with.

It’s an interesting thought. I for one might at least encourage the Synod of Whitby to be decided differently. Just to see what would happen.

a realization

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If I really wanted to live as Jesus lived in my context I would move up to Lake Tahoe and go around to various parties and such, getting to know people and telling them how hard it is to pursue God, but that it’s still terribly worth it. And then I would spend a lot of time in the forest alone because I didn’t like crowds. I would also be supported by rich women, as I gave up my full time job in order to go around and talk with people.

A few times a year I would come down to Los Angeles and raise a ruckus for a week or so, then go back to Tahoe.

Of course to make it completely analogous, California would have to be ruled by China or Iran or something like that making the whole lot of us Californians a mite bit rebellious and looking for some practical freedom.

Incarnational ministry is always described somewhat different than this.

I like this…

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From the book I’m reading:

In sleepy suburban Pomona in Los Angeles, the front lawns are freshly cut and their edges trimmed. The streetlights glow a warm amber hue throughout the quiet evenings. Street signs announce that Pomona is a neighborhood-watch zone and tell would-be intruders that, “We report any suspicious persons or activities to our police department.”

Ah, yes, quiet sleepy Pomona. A lovely little village in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley.The “New Hampshire of the West” as many people call it.

different standards

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So I’m reading a book on church and ministry right now. I have strayed away from such books since I finished seminary mostly because I don’t like them. That’s a terrible thing to say, I know, and I’m sorry. I suspect that’s why I haven’t gotten my Emerging Church Membership card in the mail (which gives you a 10% discount at Starbucks and at the Apple store). I almost made up for it by growing a goatee the last few weeks, but this was for a pirate costume party not for “relevance” and I’ve since shaved it off for a cleaner look. I’m clearly not emerging.

In this book I’m reading I came across a sentence which starts this way, “Banks quotes occasionally from an old book…” Great! I’m thinking what, 14th century, 10th century, maybe even 5th century. Or, at the very least maybe something by Wesley, or Fox, or Roger Williams (the baptist, not the baseball player). Footnote #3 leads me to the bottom of the page where the copyright reveals it all. This “old book”? Published in 1976.

Ah, old like that. Keith Green sort of old. Fleetwood Mac kind of old. American Bicentennial, drumming Patriot quarter, kind of old. Almost, but not quite, as old as me kind of old.


By the by, there’s a great deal I agree with in this book I’m reading. It’s not the content that bothers me about ministry books, it’s the approach and style. For whatever reason it brings out the snarkiness in me, and for that I apologize. This should be out of my system in a couple of days.

At least I’m not talking about politics.


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So, I’m looking at the book of Acts the last couple of days, as it is a rather remarkable book, and more remarkable in part because from what I can tell it is almost entirely ignored.

I’m of the opinion the book of Acts may be one of the most important books in the Bible. It gets curiouser and curiouser the more you read it.

Take these verses for instance:

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. (16:6, 7)

The Spirit says no to that which we assume would always be a yes everywhere. We don’t read why, though a couple of verses later we find out the Spirit really wants Paul to go to Macedonia. Interesting. I wonder how many times we are told “no” but try to bull our way forward anyhow, for the supposed sake of the Gospel. I wonder how this has affected history.

I really don’t have a conclusion about this, I just realized it’s not a verse I hear quoted a lot in ministry books.