Why We’re Not Emergent chapter two thoughts and reflections are coming a tad late because I gave my original book to a friend and I had to go find another copy! Luckily, the local Berean Bookstore has about 20+ copies stuffed into the “Church” section of their shelves. And I was worried that it would be difficult to find! I grabbed a new copy and dove into chapter two early this morning, as I spent some much needed time with my coffee.
Chapter Two of Why We’re Not Emergent is written by Ted Kluck. DeYoung challenges readers with some pretty serious and heavy theological insights, questions, and ramifications in his chapters; Kluck balances the book quite nicely with a style that is refreshingly artistic, devotional, reflective, and testimonial. The alternating pairing of the two styles is the source of the book’s challenging yet approachable literary flair that keeps the theologically rich pages turning with a surprisingly miniscule amount of reader effort. Seriously, these guys are both saying a lot regarding the emerging church, theology, philosophy, postmodernism, ecclesiology, and the Bible; at times, it gets heavy, but in a fashion that is totally accessible to everyone. This book is as well produced as it is written.
The second chapter of Why We’re Not Emergent is titled: Rebel Without A Cause: What Is Worth Submitting To? Kluck begins his chapter with reflections of his time spent reading Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis. Kluck points out some of the better points of Bell’s book, but seems to express a bit of reservation with it, overall. He (Kluck) does raise a good point about Bell’s dive back into modernism by the time Velvet’s epilogue is penned. Kluck writes, “And then Bell does a funny thing - he gets modern. His last words are, ‘We need you to join us. It’s better that way. It’s what Jesus had in mind.’ I am taken aback by this. So much so that I put the book down and take a swim. After 177 pages of pro-questioning, he claims to know what God has in mind, and calls us to join his movement, which in ten years (when Bell would be forty-six) might very well be the establishment” (65).
Kluck is right. There seems to be a point when the expressed vagueness that is so in vogue with emergent aficionados becomes less practical and perhaps even detrimental or counter-intuitive. The citation of Bell’s sudden burst of “modern expression” is a fine example of the practical limits of expressed vagueness. As un-cool or un-hip as “joining” might seem to the postmodern mind, it is still, at the end of the day, a hallmark of the Christian faith. Even bigger than that, it is an uncompromising feature of the Kingdom of God Jesus pointed towards and preached. Without it, and its practical ramifications, Bell would not even have a movement or a Mars Hill. There’s something good to be said here regarding that old adage about “The baby and the bath water …”
Kluck continues his critical (the word critical need not be read pejoratively) reflections on the emerging church by moving towards “rebel” imagery. He, of course, goes straight to the one image and film that oozes rebellion: James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause. Kluck suggests that in the film exists a good illustration that speaks directly to our present situation, that is, on the surface, all about rebellion against those things in church that we just can’t continue doing, at least with a peaceful conscious and tranquil heart.
In the film, Kluck writes regarding Dean’s character Jim, “Jim doesn’t want to rebel; he wants somebody worth submitting to, who makes demands on his character in the name of truth. While years of lunch boxes, T-shirts, and other bad kitsch have made James Dean into the face of rebellion, the more I watch the film, the more I’m convinced that he is the picture of us - Christians struggling to figure out what is worth submitting to. Jim wasn’t looking for a cool buddy, for a dad who would roll cigarettes in his shirtsleeves and drive his car fast; he was looking for someone with a backbone. Someone who stood for something that was right. Someone to believe in. And I guess that’s what I was looking for in a church” (64).
The power and truth of Kluck’s above statement should not be lost. The question that begs asking is a hard one: Is the emergent church basically the “cool buddy,” or the “Dad with cigarettes packs rolled up in his shirtsleeves that drive his car fast?” Is the emergent church standing strong for something in the midst of this culture of ours that seemingly stands for everything - and consequently nothing at all? Has the emergent church found something worth submitting to? Has it declared this thing? Has it dispensed with vagueness to make this declaration an authentic declaration? And doesn’t a declaration smack of the same modernism Rob Bell dipped into in his epilogue? Doesn’t a declaration hint at “knowing what God has in mind,” or, at the very least, “the existence of some sort of objective truth or propositional statement?” Here, it seems, the emergent expression begin to unravel, much like an onion.
And how did we arrive here in the first place? Said differently, where did this “emergent” thing come from anyway? Where did this sort of glorified and glamorized rebellion come from in the first place? That’s an excellent question! It is one that Kluck answers succinctly. He writes:
In the 1980s we became disillusioned with organs, pews, and little old ladies, so we built churches with stadium seating that looked like small arenas, put together praise bands that looked like Barbie and Ken, and sold millions of books. We made Christian superstars out of people who claimed to be able to “do it better.” And may have reached lots of people with the gospel. (That’s the good part.)
In the early 2000s the offspring of the 80s generation got disillusioned with their dads’ arenas (where you can get a Christian haircut, a Christian oil change, and buy Christian clothes) and started blogging about their feelings. Let’s meet on the beach (nothing wrong with that), let’s meet in an empty warehouse with exposed brick and ductwork (nothing wrong with that either), and let’s start a movement that won’t have any leaders and that we won’t actually call a movement. Instead of pastors we might have discussion leaders and worship gathering facilitators. Because non-movement are the new movements. Tell your neighbor. And they also sold millions of books, but the books were about things like the spiritual journeys of Bono and Bob Dylan. Christianity was getting hip (59).
Pendulums swing. They do that sort of thing. They always have. One can choose to ride it the whole way to the other side of whatever it is it is swinging away from, or one can try to remain as objective as one can be, step outside of the immediate situation, and critically (the word critical need not be read pejoratively) assess the whole situation. A lot of young people - maybe a whole generation - have taken exception to the way church was done in the 80s and 90s. The pendulum swung. This chapter forces readers to ask themselves if they have gripped the pendulum for dear life and rode it the whole way over to the other - but equally detrimental - side. Have you become swept away by the pendulum? Has it taken YOU for a ride? If so, then you may be more like the folks who built those churches in the 80s and 90s than you care to admit.
The most serious problems I see with emerging or emergent expressions becomes very important at this point in my own reflections because a critical assessment of the above mentioned pendulum swing requires objectivity and truth. How else does one prevent becoming a pawn to knee-jerk reactions? Without objectivity, how does one step back from the immediate situation to assess it and make necessary - and authentic - adjustments? Without truth, how does one actually rise above a transient culture’s constant swing of pendulums? It seems to me, at this point, that emerging and/or emergent expressions are so aligned and embedded in the present host culture, that when the culture swings, and it will, it will go with it. Nothingness.
Work Cited: DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008.